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Members (Expenses And Allowances)

Volume 793: debated on Thursday 18 December 1969

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that further provision as regards facilities for Members of this House should be made as follows:—
  • (a) as from 1st October 1969 provision should be made for payment to Members of this House of an allowance in respect of expenses incurred for their parliamentary duties on secretarial asistance within a maximum of £500 for the 12 months beginning with that date or any subsequent 1st October;
  • (b) for journeys commenced after the date of this Resolution the facilities now available to Members of this House for free travel on certain journeys by rail, sea and air should be extended to cover travel by road by public transport;
  • (c) for journeys commenced after the date of this Resolution the limit on the allowances which under the Resolution of this House of 18th May 1961 are now payable to Members of this House for travel by road on certain journeys shall be replaced by a limit in respect of the use of a car of 6d. a mile.—[Mr. Penn.)
  • 10.16 p.m.

    I am sorry that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport is grimacing at the thought that an hon. Member should seek to intervene for a short time. This is a matter of great importance to several hundred motoring Members of the House. I declare my interest at once as chairman of the House of Commons Motor Club, and a persistent critic of the inadequate mileage allowance which has obtained since its first inauguration in 1962. In fact, it was my agitation for four years before that date, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was Chancellor, that brought about the inauguration of a mileage allowance at all. Prior to 1962, Members could claim allowances for travel to and from Westminster and their constituencies by rail only and not by road in any circumstances.

    I am grateful for an increase of 33⅓ per cent. in the mileage allowance, from 41½d. to 6d. per mile.

    I am grateful for that crumb of comfort, and my intervention this evening is to make only two short and limited points, the brevity of neither of which, however, need militate in any way against their intrinsic importance.

    First, I deny that there is any probity whatever in the contemporary circumstance to be attached to the findings of the Lawrence Committee. The Lawrence Committee said that Members should be paid a first-class rail allowance. The Lawrence Committee sat in days when the railway network of this country was many times greater than it is now. It is utterly valueless to tell me that I should travel to and from my constituency by rail or that I may travel within my constituency by rail, for the rail services simply do not exist.

    When the House rises tonight, say, at 11 o'clock, I shall wish to return to my home at Broadway in my constituency of Worcestershire, South. I have no means of doing so by rail until the 9.15 a.m. train tomorrow. Therefore, I have to travel home by car. If I travel home by car, I am automatically out of pocket to the tune of ls. 4d. per mile travelled, for reasons which I shall in a moment explain. That means that I am subsidising the Government by a sum of £6 for my journey home from the House tonight.

    I say that the Lawrence Committee has no relevance to Members' travel today because railway services do not exist. No hon. Member sitting in a county constituency can deny this. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House who sits in the county constituency of Workington, my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip who sits in the county constituency of Penrith and the Borders, and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) who sits in the county constituency of Bodmin in Cornwall.

    I accept your correction at once, Mr. Speaker. These are all county constituencies in which a great deal of travel is entailed by road because no form of public transport is available.

    Next Monday is a typical example of a day in my own constituency. I calculate that I shall have to travel about 130 miles by road. I shall be driving a 4·5 litre car.

    Yes, NAB 1. The A.A. says that the recognised allowance for that cubic capacity is Is. 8½d. a mile. I am to be reimbursed at the rate of 6d. per mile. There is therefore throughout a net loss of ls. 2½d. a mile. If on the other hand I go out in a Mini—[Interruption.] I would not look very funny. I frequently come to the House of Commons in a Mini. [An HON. MEMBER: "Travelling incognito?" No, not travelling incognito. [An HON. MEMBER: "What's the number of that one?"] The Mini is NAB 10. If I drive a Mini I shall be reimbursed on the new scale of 6d. But the A.A. says that when driving a Mini the correct rate is 8·8d. per mile.

    All Members of Parliament do not choose to drive Minis. It would be not unreasonable to say that the average vehicle used by M.P.s is a 1300 c.c. car. Therefore, they should be reimbursed on the basis of about 1s. a mile.

    Lawrence having no relevance, I should like to quote the new rates as applied by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to county councils. The letter I will quote is dated 19th November, 1969. I will place a copy of it in the Library because it is still a private document, but it was brought to me by the county council. They say on that date, only three weeks ago:
    "The new rate recommended is: for motor cars from 501 to 999 c.c., 11¼d. per mile "—
    I remind the House that a Mini is 1000 c.c. and does not fall within the 11¼d. rate—
    "from 1000 c.c. to 1199 c.c. is 12·75d. per mile "—
    that would cover a Mini—
    "over 1199 c.c., 14·25d. per mile or 1s. 2¼d."
    So that the average car driven by the average M.P., which is in a third category, should be reimbursed at 1s. 2¼d. per mile, but is now being reimbursed at 6d. per mile. Members are being deprived of 8¼d. per mile. This is an intolerable state of affairs. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) described it, it is a derisory advance in motor allowances.

    I hope that the 450 members of the House of Commons Motor Club will join with me after Christmas in unanimous condemnation of this niggardly and parsimonious treatment and impose on the Treasury by the will of this House the demand that a proper reimbursement is paid for motor car mileage incurred by hon. Members wholly, exclusively and necessarily in pursuit of their Parliamentary and constituency duties.

    10.25 p.m.

    I am sure that the mileage allowances proposed are not good enough. However, I am not sure whether I have a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Member for Worcester, South (Sir G. Nabarro), because not all of us are able to choose from our quartet of motor cars whether we make a profit or a loss out of our journeys home—[Interruption.] I thought that the Mini was an economical vehicle. In any case, I do not understand why the mileage allowance for Members of Parliament should be lower than that for representatives of other authorities.

    I was hoping that my right hon. Friend would say something in defence or explanation of the proposals on the Order Paper, because they need some explanation. I cannot understand why the Government always do things by halves when they are dealing with matters relating to the conditions of Members of Parliament.

    My special criticism lies much more with the inadequacy of the provision for secretarial assistance, because this is essential not to getting home but to doing our jobs. I cannot understand why there is a limit of £500 when the allowance itself is conditional on actual expenditure. Where an hon. Member does not spend £500 on secretarial assistance—and there may be exceptional cases where £500 is not spent—the hon. Member concerned will not draw more than he spends. As I understand it, that is the effect of the proposal. It is certified expenditure on secretarial assistance received and paid for by the hon. Member in the course of his duties. There is no question of giving an hon. Member an indirect increase in pay.

    It must be borne in mind, too, that hon. Members have had no improvement in their remuneration for the five years since the Lawrence Committee's proposals were adopted in October 1964. There is no hidden increase in pay, yet many people outside may be tempted to regard this as an indirect improvement in the pay of Members of Parliament, as an evasion of the Prices and Incomes Policy and as a dodge. It is nothing of the sort.

    Why cannot the Government make adequate provision while they are about it? No one can get a secretary for £500 a year, and many hon. Members occupy a position in public and political activity where they receive a very large mail. I am sure that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South is one of them. The more speeches one makes, the more correspondence one gets. The more correspondence a Member gets, the more it costs to deal with it. The more work a Member does, the less take-home pay he has. That is really putting any vocation on its head.

    Many members of the public do not understand. We are constantly having thrown at us that one of the first things that this Parliament did when it was elected in 1964 was to increase its own pay. This is because of the absurd method of combining remuneration and expenditure for hon. Members. I regard the Lawrence proposals in this respect as being quite unacceptable and based on wrong principles. I believe that we should get this matter straight before long.

    This is not the moment to dwell upon our lot. But surely Members of Parliament are entitled to be serviced like other people in comparable vocations. At present secretarial assistance is not provided officially. We have to provide our own. Until now we have had to pay for the whole of it.

    Those of us who are fortunate occupy desks normally supplied to Grade I shorthand-typists in the Civil Service—without the typewriter. There is a mean-ness about the provision for the work of Members of Parliament which is quite disgraceful, and we demean ourselves by putting up with it.

    It is time that the House of Commons proclaimed loud and long that it will insist on proper provision to do its work, and the Government should not be afraid. I feel very strongly about this matter, because it has been going on all the time.

    Some hon. Members who have been here 20, 21 and 25 years have seen little or no improvement in their conditions. No wonder Members of Parliament are not regarded by members of the public as they should be when they see them perched on seats in the corridors and in the Lobbies trying to dictate to their secretaries. A Member is fortunate indeed if he has a desk, and more fortunate still if he has a room.

    In the corridor upstairs, where I am fortunate indeed to have a small room, a senior Member of this House told me that he had just obtained a share of a room—and he has been here longer than I [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]

    This is not good enough for the so-called Mother of Parliaments. What have we to be proud of in this place if we cannot ask for reasonable conditions to do a job of work which is becoming increasingly complex, increasingly onerous, and an increasing strain upon hon. Members.

    I have no hesitation in asking the Government to take their courage in both hands on this matter and deal with it properly and fairly next time round. Let us have the whole system of the provision of services and remuneration of Members properly considered. No half measures will be satisfactory. The public will not esteem us any higher than we esteem ourselves.

    I am sorry to speak strongly to my right hon. Friend—

    I know that in some quarters there was a proposal to do better than this. Unhappily, wiser counsel did not prevail. When I was asked, with other hon. Members, to suggest what I thought should be done, I said that a maximum secretarial allowance of £85 a month would be a fair amount to offer, subject to certification. I should he surprised if other hon. Members put it lower.

    I have no knowledge of what went on in the Government, but, from what I hear, a limit of £500 was not the amount that was seriously considered. It was higher than that. Whether it was because of the Government's feelings about prices and incomes, their nervousness about the whole situation, their fear of public opinion, their belief that they might suffer something in prestige or integrity if they came forward with a reasonable proposition, I do not know, but I sincerely hope that the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who was Chairman of a sub-committee that dealt with this matter, will say frankly and openly whether he regards this sum of £500 as adequate.

    No. I am about to finish, and others wish to speak.

    As Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, I presume to say that this is not satisfactory. The Government should take heed of this dissatisfaction, and in arranging their future consideration of this matter they should have regard both to the urgency of it and the desirability of dealing with it courageously and adequately, and have no fear of public opinion. Public opinion will support the House of Commons in being able to do its job properly, and we ask the Government to support us in our claim to do so.

    10.36 p.m.

    The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) having challenged me to speak; I accept the challenge.

    This is a difficult matter. Many people outside regard us as having a cushy, well-paid job, overpaid, underworked, and so on, which is a totally false picture. On the other hand, I think that one ought to put to people who talk like that the danger to a democratic system of having their elected representatives so badly paid that they are subject to other kinds of pressure. I worked hard to get a pension scheme established. I worked hard to get the level raised to what it is now. It is important that our financial emoluments, allowances, or whatever they arc, are such that we are not subject to the criticism that we may be subject to other pressures.

    Having said that, I say something else to which I have come round to thinking, not altogether willingly. It is undignified for us to have to talk about this kind of thing. I cannot see why the salary of a Cabinet Minister should not be equated with that of a High Court judge; that of a junior Minister with that of a county court judge, and that of Members with some level in the public service, to take us for all time out of this humiliating discussion about our own remuneration. There are figures in our report about the extent to which the remuneration has diminished since it was fixed in 1964. The same applies to pensions. I cannot see why our pensions should not be governed by public pension increase Acts, so that we do not have to intervene and legislate for ourselves.

    I do not always agree with my hon. Friend, "NAB 1", or whatever it may be, but on this question of car allowances I cannot see why we should not be equated with the right level of the public service and get the same allowance as they do, without any argument about whether it is right for an hon. Member to get this allowance.

    I resent this business of having to discuss our own allowances, our salaries, and so on, all the time. I hope that at some time there will be agreement on both sides of the House on some kind of structure which will take this issue out of our day-to-day discussions.

    It is a terrible thing to have to admit that we have to go for help to the Establishment. The petrol allowance is a little mean. The secretarial allowance, as a beginning is not too bad. Therefore I shall not vote against this Motion tonight.

    10.40 p.m.

    The hour is late and this debate is short. I shall endeavour to be characteristically brief. It is important to begin my contribution by saying frankly to my right hon. Friend that although I shall be critical of his statement to the House last week and of the Motion tonight, I think I speak on behalf of all hon. Members in saying that we thank him and the Select Committee for its Sixth Report containing positive proposals for improving the services available to hon. Members.

    As a member of the all-party group of back-benchers, I thank hon. Members in all parties for their kind assistance and support in recent months. In particular, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) for his remarks tonight. His speech followed very closely the contents of the article he contributed to a recent issue of Political Quarterly in which he wrote that it is
    "Only part of the wider alliance within the establishment to discourage back-benchers from being over-zealous in their ambitions to usurp the functions and responsibilities of the Executive Inadequacies in pay, accommodation, secretarial and other help in doing their job curb a Member of Parliament's potential for mischief. The devil, it is said, finds mischief for idle hands, to do—but not without a shorthand typist, or a place to put one's papers, or a desk a one's own; and not when the more work, the greater expense the less the take-home pay."
    That puts much of the case for a drastic and radical improvement in the conditions of service for Members of Parliament in a nutshell. This House of Commons is by far the worst serviced and poorest paid of any assembly in any major democracy. If any hon. Members disagree, I refer them to the very comprehensive Answer I had from my right hon. Friend on 5th May, which takes up Cols. 41–2-3 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for that day. Hon. Members will find set out there precisely and in detail just how far behind we are in terms of salary and every other condition of service pertaining to the work of an hon. Member.

    Dealing specifically with paragraph (a), in a Parliamentary Question last week I described the secretarial allowance as a gross insult to offer hon. Members a secretarial allowance of £500 a year when it is clear that private secretaries in the Civil Service, in the Treasury, for example, are receiving a scale of £826 to £1,120 per annum, plus £125 per annum in Inner London weighting allowance, and in addition allowances for typing, shorthand and audio-dictation proficiency.

    Our conditions of service in this and every other respect should be no less favourable than those of the administrative grade in the Civil Service. This applies to salary as well. They should cover personal insurance contributions, Selective Employment Tax, holidays and sick pay. I very much hope that in the reference to the National Board for Prices and Incomes, which I understand is to be made next April, this will be borne in mind.

    My right hon. Friend and the Cabinet have failed to take advantage of the recommendation of the Sixth Report of the Select Committee. To make the radical improvements which are necessary Paragraph 5 says that the Committee
    "… therefore recommend that, regardless of any possible later review of salary, provision should be made at public expense for secretarial assistance or an allowance to meet the cost up to a maximum of one full-time secretary per Member."
    I do not think that £500 per annum as a secretarial allowance in any way meets that point.

    It seems to some of us that some Cabinet Ministers now living on £9,750 a year, with very adequate secretarial facilities in their Departments, have forgotten what life is like for the rest of us on the back benches. I very much hope that it is not the case, as has been widely rumoured, that the dark, dead hand of the Treasury has been a major inhibition on my right hon. Friend in coming to a more radical decision on these matters.

    There is an obvious need for the most thoroughgoing reform of the conditions of service pertaining to Members in the 1970s. It is clear that our salaries and services fall below those of other comparable countries. It is obvious that the problems of the 1970s will require in a modern parliamentary democracy the attraction into the political arena of men and women of the highest calibre. This is particularly true of the new developments in science and technology, which will so vitally affect the quality of life in Britain in the 1970s.

    If the House is to be enabled to make informed choices between conflicting alternatives, we must have the facilities at our disposal and the Members attracted to this House to enable us to come to an informed judgment. We can do that only if we are prepared to have radically revised salaries and conditions of service for Members.

    The standing of the House in the country, unfortunately, is not high. There are reasons for that, some good, some bad. But it is surely self-evident by now that we Members of the House of Commons will never earn the respect of our fellow citizens until we are prepared to respect ourselves enough by ensuring that we are properly paid and serviced.

    10.47 p.m.

    It is embarrassing to take up the time of the House and the nation in discussing our own pay. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that this is one of the many things the House should not discuss at all, and that it should be left to an entirely independent body to settle for us—certainly not to the Treasury. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

    But I hope that I may say an impartial word on this subject, since unless the Prime Minister decides to emulate King Charles II or Oliver Cromwell by seeking not to dissolve this Parliament at all, I shall not be affected by the proposals.

    The Motion can be looked at in two ways—either as an effective increase in Members' pay or as enabling Members to have more help in discharging their duties. I should like first to look at them as an effective increase in Members' pay. I hold a general principle, which I commend to the voters, that it is fatal to under-pay your masters. If you do, they will drag you down to their own level. I think that we could all adduce some very irritating examples of that.

    I agree, as so often, with the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens), that Parliament should attract a very large number of people. There should be a genuinely wide choice of candidates. It is not enough to say that Parliament is a vocation. Here I draw a parallel between parsons and politicions: both are under-paid and both are regarded as fair game by the Press.

    Next, it is most important that hon. Members should have independence. We are less independent than we have ever been. It is not simply a question of the money; it is a question of the pace of change. We all get out of date much quicker in the House. It is noticeable that the most independent Members are those whose professions are such that they do not get out of date and who can perfectly easily earn a living outside. If hon. Members are to retain independence on the back benches, pay is not the only consideration. They should also have some assurance of an instant pension if they lose their seats to give them the same impartiality, for example, which has always been accorded to the Lord Chancellor. However strongly any hon. Member may feel the vocation to be an M.P., if he is at all considerate for his family he must hesitate before throwing away his livelihood.

    How much are hon. Members underpaid? Is this extra £500 sufficient? That depends on the job we are expected to do. The job is divided into two, the parliamentary part and the constituency part. I will deal first with our rôle in Parliament.

    The first question is, are we to be experts? If hon. Members are to be experts they are grossly underpaid. If they are not to be experts, then, subject to certain safeguards, they are not so grossly underpaid. Very few real experts today could afford to take a job even as badly paid as that of a Minister. It is a myth that the House of Commons has experts on everything. Today, subjects are much more complex; change is more rapid and no one who enters the House as an expert can remain one if he is also to do his job as a Member.

    What we are experts in, if we are experts at all, is in influencing public opinion, and that is exactly as it should be. It is a grave mistake to encourage the myth of the expert in Parliament. I doubt, for example, the value of the so-called Specialist Committees. Very often, in my experience, the hon. Members who sit on those Committees, myself included, do not even know the questions to ask and if, by chance, we are briefed to ask the right ones, we cannot understand the answers.

    Proof of what I say lies in the outside world. We are called experts but when firms wish to influence what happens in this House they prefer to go to officials and not to us. How can we possibly be experts with the proliferation of activities of the State? We are all spread far too thin. Parliament is attempting to do far too many things for any of us to remain experts. As the Law Guardian has said,
    "It is ridiculous to expect sound law to result from a legislative process in which no one has time to think."
    I would add, "or to travel or to read". The attempt to be experts has made us inward looking and isolated. We are shut up here rather like a school on a cruise. As a result we leave the voters floating between rival disillusionments.

    What is the job—for what is he paid—of the hon. Member in his constituency and what is expected of him? Before one increases a person's pay or alters his terms of service, one must consider his job. The hon. Member is treated nowadays by his constituents largely as a fixer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] He is regarded much in the same way as older children regard Father Christmas; that he can be approached about absolutely anything and that, at best, he may be able to bend the administrative process. This is bad for the administrative process, because it makes administrators feel that a bad system can be endured because the hon. Member can, where necessary, put it straight. However, the hon. Member is regarded primarily as a fixer to deal with grievances.

    I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw that innuendo at once a5, utterly unworthy. He may be regarded as a fixer in the Cities of London and Westminster, but I am no fixer in Worcestershire, South. Neither have I ever been regarded as Father Christmas.

    I am amazed to learn that my hon. Friend has never, for example, got one of his constituents a house. [Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh."] After all—[Interruption.]

    Order. The hon. Gentleman must address himself to the Motion. He is beginning to get rather wide of it.

    Will the Motion and these expenses enable us to do our job properly? I suggest that hon. Members should not have to deal with expenses in this way; that they should not have to argue with tax inspectors and keep records of what they do. They should be treated like people of comparable stature in the world outside and trusted to be honourable.

    If the Motion will result in hon. Members being given more help, we must ask if we need more help. If we are to run the country in detail from the House of Commons and adjust matters in detail for our constituents, then £500 is inadequate. But is it the true job of Parliament to do things in this detail? I do not think it is. Are we merely considering a palliative to cure a wrong situation?

    We should be doing what this House was built for; namely, to discuss broad issues which can be dealt with by means of oratory. It is when we deal with broad issues, particularly those which appeal to the emotions—for example, divorce reform, which touches everybody and which we can all understand—that this House comes to life.

    Our role here should be, in commercial terms, much more that of an outside director, making a detached appraisal of matters and causing second thoughts by asking questions, possessing the ultimate power to change the Executive should that be necessary. Certainly our role should not include trying to do every single thing in detail. Before further Motions of this sort are proposed, we should do what any other organisation would do; namely, have a review of the functions of Parliament and of the role of hon. Members in the light of present needs.

    11.0 p.m.

    I venture to take part in this debate as Chairman of the Parliamentary Reform Group of this side of the House which has spent a lot of time concerning itself with services to hon. Members and carrying out its own researches the results of which they put to the Services Committee. We hope that it has made some small contribution to the changes which have taken place. The interest we have taken stems basically, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) has said, from the fact that we are not satisfied that the services we have enable us to do our job efficiently. When we contrast those services with equal work outside, we are far behind the sort of services provided in outside offices and industry, and something must therefore be done quickly.

    If we look at the improvements which have taken place in this Parliament, they seem substantial: more office space; photo copying; free postage; free telephone calls and so on. But they appear substantial simply because there was nothing there before. As a new Member I am bound to ask myself what some of my colleagues have been doing in this place for many years, putting up with the sort of services they have had. While I am nothing like satisfied, there have been improvements in this Parliament and they should not be ignored.

    I should like to thank the Leader of the House for showing himself interested in what we are trying to work towards and the improvements which have been brought about. In his statement the other day, he described this as a break-through. That was optimistic, but in a sense right, because what the Government have clearly recognised is that a Member's salary should be a personal one and that the services which are there to make him efficient should be paid for by the State. This was clearly brought out in the questionnaire which the Parliamentary Reform Group sent to all Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. In 80 per cent. of the replies—and there was a high return which shows the interest in the subject—Members thought that their secretaries should be paid for by the State. There is therefore a recognition in this Motion that we are moving towards this idea of a personal salary and services paid for by the State. I am glad the Government have not gone for pooling of secretaries, but believe that we should make other arrangements. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and other hon. Members who say that £500 is not enough. It should be at least £750 in the first interim period so that there can be reasonable sharing of secretaries.

    The provision on public transport is a useful addition and gets rid of some irritating and costly anomalies, but I would argue that if we are serious Members of Parliament we should be able to travel the country on parliamentary business and should have a free pass to move round the country. This is not a favour but something to help us in our Parliamentary work. I do not see why we should not follow the example of other countries in this matter.

    On the question of car journeys, I agree, for once, with the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) that the figure is not large enough, and that it should be brought into line with other professions, there seems to be no reason why it should not.

    I support this as an interim measure, pending a full review of hon. Members' remuneration offered by the Government. I notice that the Leader of the House, in his statement, talked of this being deferred to the next Parliament. Why must it wait until then? Why not have the review in this Parliament so that it is ready to put into operation in the next? This would surely make a great deal more sense. There are so many things to be looked at, and some have been mentioned this evening.

    In my view, and, I think, in the view of all hon. Members, if we have efficient services, we shall be producing outward-looking Members of Parliament who can devote their time to essential Parliamentary work. It is a criminal waste of time that we should spend our time doing our own secretarial work when it should be done for us in an efficient way.

    Therefore, this Order is a modest step in the right direction, and I presume that the House will support it. But I must warn my right hon. Friend on behalf of my group and, I am sure, on behalf of many other hon. Members that many more such steps need to be taken to improve the efficiency and to provide opportunities for research facilities so that we may be convinced that the House is something like as well equipped as many other Parliaments in other parts of the world.

    This is not something to which the public will object. When the public see us as Members of Parliament caring about efficiency and caring about the services which will enable us to do our job properly, they will support us and it is up to us to tell the people. Let us not be afraid to do so. If we approach it in that light, we will have a much more efficient Parliament and in that respect a much better parliamentary system.

    11.7 p.m.

    I make no apology for speaking out on this occasion, as on many others, on this important matter as a comparatively new Member of Parliament. There is some evidence that hon. Members who have been here a longer time become brainwashed into some kind of docile acquiescence in the present state of affairs. It is therefore the duty of new Members to look at the extraordinary state of affairs and the extraordinary conditions in which we are asked to work, conditions in which no self-respecting person would work, conditions with which no Member of Parliament in any Parliament in the developed world has to deal. From the facts and figures which have been given, it is utterly clear that any Member of Parliament in any other country in the developed world has a substantial advantage in the performance of his duties compared with his colleagues here. We should not have to put up with these conditions, and I am astonished that we have done so for so long.

    The business of equipping and servicing Members of Parliament transcends all others in the business of shaping a modern and efficient administration. The job of a Member of Parliament is important. We have the twin rôle of representing the interests of our constituents, endeavouring to ventilate their grievances and sort out problems for them—and very important work it is, and rewarding work, too, if only we are able to do it properly—and, equally important, scrutinising the activities of the Government. How can we do this without being properly equipped and properly staffed?

    There has been talk about the development or Specialist Committees and it is a development I favour, but there is not the smallest point in hon. Members sitting on Specialist Committees if they do not have the research staff to back them up and if they sit there merely scratching their heads trying to think of intelligent questions to ask so that they can get on the record. If we are to do something properly, let us be properly staffed.

    Why have the Government taken this extraordinary step? With courage and good sense, in July the Leader of the House announced that the Government accepted in principle the recommendations of the Services Committee. If they have accepted them in principle, why on earth have they not accepted them in practice? And if they were not to accept them in practice, why did they accept them in principle?

    The answer is that for some reason they were afraid of public reaction and they thought that if we lingered over it and if hon. Members were given only half as much, the public would be only half as annoyed. It is high time that the public realised the kind of work we do and the kind of circumstances in which we do it and also realised that it is to their benefit to staff us properly. It is true that our constituents may not always appreciate what we do, but it is high time that they acknowledged that we do an awful lot of it.

    When I am told that a newspaper report this morning says that hon. Members have long holidays and do no work and so on, I wonder what the newspaper concerned does with its facilities here in the Lobby, for it has learned very little about the life of a Member of Parliament. Members of all parties put in something like 70 hours a week, not for salaries about which the hon. Gentleman talks. Many Members' salaries are entirely consumed by their expenses. I am delighted that something is to be done at last, but why are we not doing it properly? These half measures are no good. We do a proper job, we work hard and do important work. We cannot expect people to regard us as important if we say that a Member has only half a secretary. I accept the argument of the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) that we are venturing into a kind of system whereby the Member who does his work best is the worst off.

    I worked in those conditions as a doctor in the National Health Service for many years, under the pool system, when one's expenses were taken out of a global sum. It is true that if one does not answer any letters one soon stops getting them. But the fact remains that hon. Members who do their work diligently, and Members in all parties do so, find that their work increases. The most frustrating aspect of membership of this House, which is otherwise a thing we all greatly appreciate, is the constant feeling of having to cut corners and having to do work badly. We have to do work badly because we are inadequately serviced and staffed. Being so overloaded with routine work we are having to do important things after inadequate preparation.

    It is time that we were properly staffed. We do not want half measures, we want a proper secretary; we do not want half expenses for our cars. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that this ought to be taken away from us and it should be attached to some kind of scale, to Civil Service conditions. The mileage allowance ought to be tied to the mileage allowance paid to local government officers. I welcome this as merely a step. It is time that this House stopped being so diffident about what it does and time we told people sincerely that if they want the job doing properly we have to be properly equipped.

    The hon. Member has reminded us that he is a doctor, so he will be well qualified to answer my question. How does our case compare with the nurses and the physiotherapists?

    It is fair to say that nurses do not have to pay for the drugs they administer, they do not have to provide their equipment. I yield to no one in my support for the nurses' struggle for better conditions—or for other groups. Their sense of vocation should not be exploited, but it has no parallel with our position in any way.

    11.14 p.m.

    If I may make one comment on the point made by the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley), I would say that I am one of those who was never grossly over-paid and I know precisely what under-payment means. I am still complaining, perhaps even louder than ever, because of the conditions in this House, and the sort of expenses borne by Members out of their parliamentary salary, of which the general public have no knowledge whatever. Those hon. Members who have to rely on their salary, and nothing else are in many cases in an extremely difficult situation, especially those who come from outside London and have to maintain a house in their constituency and a place to live in London apart from employing a secretary if they are to do their work properly.

    It is not about that which I want to talk. I have in my hand a memorandum which has been given to me—and my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister have been sent a copy—by the secretaries of this House who have set down on paper their views on this question. There is another side to this. People do not realise the conditions in which secretaries work in this House.

    I should like to give some points from this memorandum. First, in some cases there are no contracts of employment. Second, some secretaries when they start work are asked to be classed as self-employed to save the Member the cost of the employer's stamp and S.E.T. This is true of some Members—not all Members—who are financially embarrassed. Third, no guarantee is given for sick pay, and some secretaries have not received pay when they have been off sick, as Members have to pay for temporary staff to take their place. Fourth, there is no security of employment for secretaries who are working for Members with marginal seats. If a Member loses his seat, no compensation is paid to the secretary, and no redundancy pay.

    Fifth, there is no pension scheme. Sixth, nearly all secretaries are receiving less than the average secretary in London, and may have to work for other Members in the evenings to supplement their pay. Seventh, secretaries are unwilling to ask for an increase as they know that Members have not had an increase since 1964. Secretaries who work for backbench Members and Members who have no additional income are most affected. Eighth, they have no luncheon vouchers and no cheap canteen meals. The secretaries have to go to that miserable hole of a cafeteria where the conditions are awful, and the food, apart from being dear, is lousy. Ninth, they have cramped working conditions and the toilets are inadequate and below modern standards. Tenth, some Members, like myself, employ their wives, who are top-line secretaries and have given up first-class jobs where they were earning £20 or £25 a week. So payment for two jobs has to come out of one salary.

    Those points were submitted by secretaries serving Members on both sides of the House. One may wonder why they work for Members of Parliament. They do so for prestige reasons and because the job is interesting. Some are daughters of rich families and are not in the same position as the ordinary working girl who has to take on more work than she can bear to earn enough money to live.

    It is a disgrace that this should happen in the House of Commons. If the general public wants to know who are underpaid, they are here in the House of Commons—not us, but the secretaries, and it is not generally understood that their salaries come out of our wages. We must put our secretarial assistance on a proper basis, pay and conditions must be related to the Civil Service, and there must be proper safeguards; and this must be done as soon as possible.

    11.19 p.m.

    This is the second time I have been provoked to get on my feet today. The House will be glad to know that this time the provocation has not come from an hon. Member on this side of the House, but from reading an article in today's Daily Mail which many hon. Members may have seen. We all share the distaste of the right hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) for discussing our own position. This is not helped when the country reads comments such as that in today's Daily Mail:

    "Under our Code, M.P.s would not put up their own pay by £500 a year every time they imposed a wage freeze on the rest of us."
    Behind that is the situation that the public regard Members of Parliament as jumping on a band-wagon or cost-price spiral for which they hold us collectively responsible. They regard it as a some-what unseemly spectacle. The information put out in such leading articles—an article which is not an exception—is inaccurate, tendentious and thoroughly dishonest. The leader writers know it and the editors know it, but it makes no difference.

    I should like to put forward a proposal. It is in my view impossible for hon. Members effectively, because we are all tarred with the same brush, to defend ourselves in this matter. I have long argued that there is a need, for want of a better term, for a public relations organisation to represent to the public the House of Commons as an institution. Such an organisation should be respon- sible to no party, but to Mr. Speaker and the House. It should be in no way political, but should exist to defend the institution of Parliament, to explain it and to attempt to demolish the enormous amount of ignorance that exists about parliamentary institutions.

    The right hon. Gentleman made an interesting analysis of the relative position of this House and the other legislatures in Western Europe. I will give one example. I personally regard it as a great privilege indeed to represent the House in a most humble capacity in the Council of Europe and the W.E.U. But I happen to know, the authorities know, the Services Committee knows, and everyone who is a member of the delegations knows, that on the whole we are all substantially out of pocket on these occasions. We are virtually the paupers of these organisations. I say no more than that. The Government know about it. It is an undesirable situation, and must be put right quickly.

    We need feel no shame in trying to deal with this matter sensibly and honestly when we know that a few weeks ago the United States Congress collectively increased their salaries from 30,000 to 42,500 dollars, the increase being twice the salary of a British M.P. This is the type of background against which we should consider this matter.

    Finally, I wish to raise a matter of principle. This is a fundamental matter for which the House of Commons must be responsible. We must do what we honestly feel to be right and best for ourselves and we must be prepared to defend our actions to the public. This responsibility should not be delegated by the House of Commons to anybody, least of all the Treasury. We should decide these issues for ourselves and must be prepared to defend them. The place in which the Government can exercise their responsibility in limiting our claims on the public purse is in the Services Committee, in which the Government can use their majority to enforce on us what they regard as a necessary and proper mode of economy.

    The CLERK at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER and The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS.

    11.25 p.m.

    I wish to speak only a few sentences in support of what has been said by a number of hon. Members, that I believe that hon. Members in all parts of the House will appreciate the terms in which the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) has spoken, especially his references to the article in the Daily Mail. That article is lying, malicious and utterly disreputable.

    The hon. Members for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) and Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) have done a great service to the House of Commons in the way in which they have organised the various parties to combine in order to present this case. The House owes them a debt for having continued to press this case all through these months and years when it has not been easy to do so.

    I can understand the Government feeling that it is a little harsh that the full blast of opinion from the House of Commons should be directed apparently only at them. Whatever may be said by hon. Members opposite, Labour Governments in this respect have a better record than Conservative Governments. There are some very honourable exceptions in the Conservative Party. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) has always fought strongly for the rights of Members of Parliament, and the same applied in an earlier House to Lord Boothby and others.

    One of my hon. Friends asked why so little was done in the past, and he is right to ask that. The late Aneurin Bevan proposed 25 years ago that the salary of a Member of Parliament should be attached to some category in the Civil Service. Conservative Governments could have moved in that direction if they had wished, but they left it to the Labour Government to increase the salary in 1964. Certainly the advances proposed now are substantially greater than was ever proposed when Conservative Governments were in power, and we must take into account the fact that Conservative majorities have been composed primarily of those who had sources of income irrespective of their salaries as Members of Parliament. Therefore, hon. Gentlemen opposite must recognise that the primary pressure has come from the Labour Party and that the primary concessions have come from the Labour Government.

    Having said that, I think that the Government should understand what has been the temper of this debate. I hope that they will not think that these proposals are sufficient merely to take the heat out of the controversy, because in some respects they are insulting. It is utterly insulting that the Treasury should approve proposals for allowances for Members of Parliament which are fantastically lower than those provided for those who work in the Treasury.

    This is a disgraceful state of affairs. It is disgraceful that it should be proposed, and disgraceful that it should be accepted, as it is accepted. Therefore, we should not accept it, and, in one sense, I would like to have seen hon. Members vote against the Order, in order to display to the Government the feelings of the House about it.

    If we do not try and devise some other method of saying to the Government what we think, they will go away with the feeling that they do not have to worry about the subject much more. I hope that the Government will not take that attitude, and that they will recognise the growing fury in the House.

    Being an hon. Member on the back benches is a reputable occupation. It is one which is essential for the maintenance of human rights and democracy. We are the people who are responsible, we must resist, and we intend to resist. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will not accept the fact that he gets this Resolution through as a congratulation for the Government. I hope that he will report back to the Government that they must take more comprehensive measures very soon in order to satisfy the House of Commons.

    11.30 p.m.

    The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
    (Mr. Fred Peart)

    In the short time that we have had for debate hon. Members have made some very distinctive contributions. I am not being condescending. It always happens when we have a shorter debate; hon. Members have to speak for a shorter period of time and so speak with more precision and clarity.

    I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that I will take note of the temper of the debate. He is right; I should do. I am on record only this week, in the Sunday Times, in an interview that I gave, as paying tribute to my hon. Friend because of the way in which he, with many others, has exerted the authority of Parliament, even though as Leader of the House I had certain difficulties. I recognise this and always shall.

    This is why I dislike the remarks of the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith). He said that the Member of Parliament is less independent than he has ever been. I do not accept that. I have been in the House nearly a quarter of a century, and I believe that back benchers on both sides not only serve through ability and character but are still able to exert a major check on the Executive.

    I believe it. I give one example to my hon. Friend. [Interruption.] He must listen to me. I believe, from my experience since the war, that this is so. He may have a different view. I think of the House of Lords reform Bill, and there are many other matters. I do not accept the theory that back bench Members are less independent.

    Neither do I believe that a Member of Parliament is regarded as a fixer or Father Christmas or only an orator. It may be that the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster is regarded in this way in the City of London; I do not know. They certainly do not regard Members like that in my constituency, and I should be ashamed if they did.

    I believe that the reply by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) was right. I do not accept that view. I believe that our Members of Parliament honourably represent their constituencies, their political views and their ideologies. Their approach to those things is rather different from what has been suggested.

    I am sorry that the hon. Member said what he did. I always thought he was a very independent Member. Strange to say, I regretted that he had decided to retire. But I hope he will think again about what he said.

    As I have attacked the hon. Gentleman, I must give way, but time is limited.

    I still maintain—possibly we differ on the interpretation of a word —that we all know that 95 per cent. of our constituents who come to see us or write to us want something for themselves. They may wish to put the administrative process straight; they may wish a grievance to be put straight. In that sense I used the word "fix".

    I do not deny that, but I do not regard that as "fixing". If a Member of Parliament represents the interests of an individual constituent who tries to check bureaucracy and tries to further the interests of a constituent, that is not "fixing" in the way I mean. I hope the hon. Gentleman will think about that again.

    We have had an extremely interesting debate. I should like—[Interruption.] I do not want to be side-tracked by other arguments. I believe I should pay tribute to my colleagues on the Services Committee. An hon. Member referred to the views of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). The right hon. and learned Gentleman has played a very honourable and vigorous part in the cause of the individual Member of Parliament and has given steadfast support in the campaign in the Services Committee. I pay tribute to him. Whatever arguments there may be about what we are doing tonight, no one must question either his integrity or his energy in this respect. This has been an all-party effort in the Services Committee. I pay tribute to the members of the committee.

    I must speak as a member of the Government. As long as I am Chairman of the Services Committee, of course it is my duty to make myself responsible to my colleagues, but speaking as a member of the Government I must remind my hon. Friends of what I said in the statement that I made on 11th December:
    "Any further contribution to parliamentary expenses proposed now, therefore, would be of an interim nature, until the whole question of remuneration of Members is reviewed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1969; Vol. 793, c. 654.]

    I announced the reference long before I made my statement about expenses. I know that there is a view that it should be referred now—

    I hope that my hon. Friend will be patient. I listened very carefully to all his representations. I think that he and many of his colleagues put them forward in a proper way, and I listened very carefully. I am putting the Government's view. I made a statement about the reference before I made the announcement on secretarial assistance.

    I appreciate that. But I should like to put this point to my right hon. Friend. He has announced to the House that the whole question of Members salaries will be referred to the National Board for Prices and Incomes by the Government in the next Parliament. Does that remit oblige the Opposition and the Liberal Party, in the unlikely event of a Conservative victory in the next election, to undertake that they will implement the decision that he has announced and any findings of the National Board for Prices and Incomes?

    This is a statement of the Government. I hope that whatever Government came in, when there is a General Election, would fulfil the promise that we have made.

    It is not for me to give an undertaking. I am merely saying what a Labour Government will do. As this has been an all-party approach on the Services Committee, I would hope that any other Administration, whether it be Liberal or Conservative, would agree with it. However, I cannot answer that. I am merely saying what we would do, and I believe that this is right.

    There have been arguments about mileage. I recognise that the Lawrence Committee decisions should be reviewed. This is why we have said that the matter should be considered. The Lawrence Committee undoubtedly laid down certain principles. Indeed, these had to be considered when we discussed the matter not only on the Services Committee, but elsewhere. No one can argue about the mileage allowance being derisory. It was a 33⅓ per cent. increase.

    Indeed, the hon. Gentleman did. He, as a leading member of the Motor Club, made representations to me about this. I understand and have great sympathy with the arguments. This also would be a matter for review.

    I never regarded the allowance for secretarial assistance as part of a salary increase. I agree with the comments made about the Daily Mail. I am glad that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Lang-stone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) expressed his views in the way that he did. It was a disgraceful article. I do not know whether the Daily Mail will take note of what we say.

    The great tragedy is that many of our friends in the Press sometimes give a wrong impression when they should not do so. Unfortunately, many people believe that a Member's salary is his own as a net figure. They do not realise that an hon. Member has to cater for many expenses. This creates, and always has created, considerable hardship. As a back bencher I always campaigned for a greater salary. I believe that this is still right. But the decision of the Government is that this should also be studied.

    In an interview in The Sunday Times I said that our Members of Parliament were the worst paid not only in Western Europe, but in the whole world. This is disgraceful.

    But let us be fair about the £500 for secretarial assistance. This is the first major breakthrough in this direction. I hope that my hon. Friends will understand that this is the first time that it has ever been done. It was never thought about when I was a back bencher. I have always believed that this was right. So I say to my hon. Friends who may say that it should be £750 or £1,000—

    Yes; but my hon. Friend should know the facts of life.

    This is the first break-through. Indeed, the whole question of further remuneration will be considered by the board which has been mentioned. I ask my hon. Friends not to be pessimistic. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) said that I had suggested a modest step in the right direction, and he hoped that there would be more steps. We have tried to do much more about postage, telephones, and other matters. Let us not underestimate what has been done. As a Member for a rural constituency, I regard this as a tremendous improvement. I recognise the views of my hon. Friends on both sides of the House. I know that they would like to push the case much more strongly, that they would like more action and larger increases, but improvements have been made, and this is important.

    The hon. Member for Langstone raised the matter of our representation at international gatherings, and referred to the Council of Europe. I was once a delegate at that Council, and it is still true that our representatives there have fewer facilities than those enjoyed by the representatives from other European countries. This matter, too, is being looked into. I have taken the initiative in this, and I think that what the hon. Gentleman said is right.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) raised the question of paying for secretaries. I agree that one probably has to pay a four-figure salary for a secretary. I recognise that facilities in this House are not sufficient for the staff. That is why it is important to have a new building. Right lion. and hon. Members on both sides will recognise that the Services Committee has been considering how to increase our accommodation, not only by filling in in the Palace of Westminster, but by other means. In the last resort, the only way to bring about a real improvement is to go ahead with a new building. The House has agreed to that, but it will take time.

    A start has been made on improving conditions and pay. Hon. Members have made their views known tonight, and I shall convey them to my colleagues. I hope that the House will agree to this Motion and recognise that although it is an interim measure, it is a step forward.

    Surely we do not have to wait for a new building before we can deal with the question of secretaries, and getting a decent remuneration to pay for pension rights, redundancy payments, National Insurance stamps, and so on? Surely that can be dealt with by providing a proper salary now?

    rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

    Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

    Question put accordingly and agreed to.

    Resolved,

    That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that further provision as regards facilities for Members of this House should be made as follows:—
  • (a) as from 1st October 1969 provision should be made for payment to Members of this House of an allowance in respect of expenses incurred for their parliamentary duties on secretarial assistance within a maximum of £500 for the 12 months beginning with that date or any subsequent 1st October;
  • (b) for journeys commenced after the date of this Resolution the facilities now available to Members of this House for free travel on certain journeys by rail, sea and air should be extended to cover travel by road by public transport;
  • (c) for journeys commenced after the date of this Resolution the limit on the allowances which under the Resolution of this House of 18th May 1961 are now payable to Members of this House for travel by road on certain journeys shall be replaced by a limit in respect of the use of a car of 6d. a mile.