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Members' Salaries

Volume 675: debated on Tuesday 9 April 1963

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With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

As I think the House knows, I have had several discussions in recent months with the right hon. Gentlemen the Leaders of the Labour and Liberal Parties and with back bench Members of all parties on the subject of Members' pay, to which that of Ministers' pay is related.

I have considered the representations that have been made to me and I think it right that I should now inform the House of the Government's decision.

The pay of Members was last increased in 1957. I recognise that there are individual cases of difficulty. Nevertheless, I do not think that it would be right for the Government at the present time to propose any increase. In fairness to hon. Members, I ought also to add that the Government do not expect to propose any increase in the pay of Ministers or Members during the life of this Parliament.

Is the Prime Minister aware that this statement is dismally unsatisfactory, and that it entirely fails to measure up to what is required by the dignity of Parliament? Has not the right hon. Gentleman studied the evidence made available to him about conditions in which individual hon. Members, who are practically the lowest-paid legislators in the world, have to live? There are a number of hon. Members—and this can be substantiated if the right hon. Gentleman has not seen the evidence—who have to sacrifice long accumulated insurance policies and private savings to live. Has this evidence made no impact whatsoever on the right hon. Gentleman or on the Government?

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the National Incomes Commission, which was set up by the Government with some idea of getting some sense into an incomes policy, pays its chairman two-and-a-half times as much as the Chancellor of the Exchequer is paid, and that its part-time members are paid double the net payment of a Member of this House? In view of all this, does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that he should think again? In view of his statement, will he now agree to the establishment of a Select Committee to examine the issue, because it is the House, and not the Government, which is responsible in this matter?

I stress that there is hardly a legislature in the world which is worse paid than this House, and less able to do its job in that sense. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore consider urgently the appointment of a Select Committee again to review the whole question and make recommendations to the House?

I shall consider that, but it is not really so much a question of ascertaining the facts which the Select Committee could no doubt do; and, as the right hon. Gentleman truthfully says, I am aware of some of the hardships that exist. The question is really a simple one. Is it right at this time in the life of a Parliament, and in view of the general situation, to make a proposal which, if it were to be effective, would mean a very substantial increase in the remuneration paid to Ministers and Members? We have most carefully considered this, and we do not think that this is the opportune time for doing so.

But when will be time? The right hon. Gentleman knows that the last time this was considered, with support from both sides of the House, it was turned down because the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pay pause policy was in operation. There has now been a big change in the Government's economic policy. Does not the Prime Minister feel that if he goes on with his argument it never will be time? When will the right hon. Gentleman look at this, not in terms of timing—there are always difficulties about this—but in terms of the dignity and efficient working of the House?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the need for a Select Committee is not to assemble more facts, of which the right hon. Gentleman says he has an abundance before him—and I am surprised that he has taken the line he has having seen those facts—but, on behalf of the whole House, to recommend to the House what scales ought to be in force to maintain the dignity of the whole House, and possibly to recommend what machinery should be set up for the future to ensure that this matter is dealt with to some extent automatically without having these rather undignified exchanges across the Floor of the House?

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's views, but the Government have the responsibility for making proposals for increased finances, and the Government's view is that this matter should not be dealt with in the concluding stages of this Parliament, but should be left to the next Parliament.

Does the Prime Minister agree that sooner or later Parliament will have to face this problem? Is it altogether wise or right to defer it until after a General Election? Would not that give an unsatisfactory impression that Parliament is reluctant to tell the general public what it proposes to do until after a General Election is over?

No, Sir. Although I regret the circumstances which were called to my attention, I think that at this late stage of this Parliament it would be better to leave this responsibility to our successors.

While appreciating the reasons behind my right hon. Friend's statement, which I wish to support, would not it be possible for my right hon. Friend to get together with the leaders of the other two parties and agree on a substantial increase in Ministers' and Members' salaries, and make a joint statement that the parties would agree to these improvements at the beginning of the next Parliament?

That is a matter worth considering, but it will rest with the Government of the day to take the responsibility.

Is the Prime Minister aware that an increase in Parliamentary salaries would make no difference at all to the living standards of a certain number of hon. Members? Is he further aware that there is a possibility open to most hon. Members to supplement their incomes by becoming the representatives of pressure groups, either open or private? Is he also aware that we still have a nineteenth century hang-over of amateur status, and that those of us who feel deeply for this House find an element of cowardice and something which is not quite honourable in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is not seeking to establish for all hon. Members a standard which, though not opulent, would allow them to fulfil both their private and public responsibilities without recourse, unless they so wished, to other sources of income?

While I appreciate the motives behind the hon. Lady's intervention, I think that this raises a much larger question if it is to be said that membership of this House is to be confined to Members who are not allowed to do any other work.

In one of his supplementary answers to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the concluding stages of this Parliament and said that it would be wrong to make such a decision at this stage. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to clarify that statement? Would he say exactly what period is covered by the concluding stages of this Parliament?

I think that the hon. Gentleman, who is very learned in the law, knows what are the statutory limits of this Parliament.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that these discussions about Parliamentary salaries are lowering to the dignity of the House? Would not he further agree that it might perhaps be better if we referred this question to an outside body, for example, to the N.E.D.C?

That has been discussed. But the responsibility cannot be other than that of the Government of the day to make a proposal on finance and for the House of Commons of the day to support it or refuse it.