Skip to main content

Members Of The House Of Commons (Remuneration And Conditions Of Service)

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 22 January 1975

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

3.35 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the setting up of a new permanent review body to examine and make recommendations to Parliament from time to time upon the emoluments, expenses and conditions of service of Members of the House of Commons.
It is inevitable under the procedure of this House that one must give notice of a Bill of this kind, and I gave that notice many months ago. I could not at that time have foreseen that on 19th December the Lord President would make a statement on the matter. My first thought when he had done so was that I had better withdraw what I proposed to do. On reflection, however, and on rereading what the right hon. Gentleman said and noticing that he had invited hon. Members on all sides of the House to make their views known and, indeed, anticipated some of the things I intended to say, I considered that since Lord Boyle might read what is said it would be as well if I proceeded.

First, I have two points to make. I am not concerned with, nor do I intend to mention, the level of salary which any Member of Parliament should be paid. That is a matter for the Government of the day and is not a subject on which in this context I have any views. I am concerned with the machinery by which that figure is arrived at, and that is the major point of the Bill. Second, I would suggest that if the Bill becomes effective it should become effective only from the first day on which the next Parliament meets. I object to a Parliament changing salaries during its life.

I now proceed to the principle upon which the Bill is based. It is wrong for any person or any body of persons to fix their own salary. Perhaps it is particularly wrong in the case of Members of Parliament, because of the influence they have. I appreciate the difficulties and I shall seek to meet them. There are admirable precedents in other matters for Parliament putting certain things at a distance from itself, whether it be the nationalised industries or the BBC. There are certain things which, whilst we remain ultimately responsible for them, are hived off by Parliament, and I suggest that that is acceptable here. The problem is whether we can devise sensible machinery which will have that effect. I believe that we can.

First, one may reasonably say "Haven't we got Lord Boyle?" I pay tribute to what Lord Boyle has done and the skill with which he has done it, but there are still faults in the system. First, he is asked to prescribe all too frequently. Secondly, there is room for pressure within the House and elsewhere to bring his machinery into operation. Thirdly, he can, without any impropriety, be prodded into action by the Lord President or any one of us. I should like to see machinery which is so remote that that cannot happen. I want to find machinery which will have that effect. I went to find machinery which will provide that that matter is discussed once and will not be discussed again. I also want to devise machinery which is seen to be fair.

Clearly, in the discussions of this kind of thing one is always open to amendments. However, my suggestion is that a High Court judge—and if I were asked to name one I would suggest the Vice-Chancellor of the Chancery Division of the High Court, because I am advised that he has arithmetical expertise—should on or before 1st December each year, by whatever means seem to him appropriate, take evidence and obtain three figures. The first would be the average weekly earnings in this country. The second would be the salary level of an assistant secretary in the Civil Service, and the third would be the salary level of a circuit judge.

I have selected these three after careful thought. The first I select because it links us to some extent with the prosperity or lack of it, of the people we represent. I select the second because I do not think it should lie in us to have any better opinion of ourselves than is necessary. I do not think anyone could say we were guilty of that fault if we linked ourselves to that status. I suggest the third, the circuit judge, because I am advised that he is, if I may put it without offence, the lowest form of judge and has recesses similar to ours. His salary is a little high, the average weekly wage is a little low, and the assistant secretary comes appropriately in the middle.

It should be that judge's function, a fairly simple function, to strike an average of those three salaries. I shall not state the figure, but the Bill should say that the salary of a Member of Parliament shall for ever after be X per cent. of that average. It is for the Government to fix the X.

I hope it does not seem complicated. I do not think it is. The purpose of it all is that we shall not again be put in the position, which I believe to be deeply embarrassing, of trying ourselves to say what we should be paid. I well remember that after an election some years ago a political opponent offered me mild congratulations, and then said "I suppose the first thing you will do will be to raise your own salaries." That was an offensive observation, but I felt in no position to resent it because it turned out to be absolutely true. If we have regard to the repute of the House in which we serve, we should so arrange matters that that sort of remark cannot justly be made again.

I entered the House 30 years ago. I have never known a period exceeding three or four years in which we have not had to revert to this argument. I want to get rid of it for ever.

Perhaps I may say with humility that I am an appropriate person to raise the matter, because I shall have little interest in it. I near the end of my career, and anything I may say can affect only those who come after.

I hope that Lord Boyle, who may decide the matter, is listening with his customary patience and tolerance. I also hope that a Bill of the kind I propose will appeal to hon. Members throughout the House as the final decision on the question, subject to any revision of detail that seems appropriate to be taken by the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Evelyn King, Mr. Peter Doig and Mr. Alan Beith.

Members Of The House Of Commons (Remuneration And Conditions Of Service)

Mr. Evelyn King accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the setting up of a new permanent review body to examine and make recommendations to Parliament from time to time upon the emoluments, expenses, pensions and conditions of service of Members of the House of Commons: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 9th May and to be printed. [Bill 64.]