There are one or two points in connection with the question of the payment of Members that I desire to say a few words about. You will perhaps remember, Mr. Whitley, that on 26th February, 1917, Mr. Speaker gave a ruling on the question of the payment of Members' salaries. The Official Report gives it as follows:
Major Newman: May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, a question which I have given you Private Notice: Whether, when a Member elected to this House finds himself unable or neglects to take the Oath of Allegiance, he is entitled to draw his salary as a Member of the House?
I informed the hon. Member and the House—I think it was a week ago—that there were certain legal questions which had arisen, and I thought it was my duty to consult the Law Officers of the Crown with regard to them. I have now done that, and I have had their opinion. Some doubts arose as to the exact moment of time at which a Member's salary became payable, and the question I asked the Law Officers of the Crown was whether there was any statutory Regulation with regard to that, or whether the exact moment was to be fixed administratively. The answer I got was that there was no statutory enactment fixing the exact moment of time at which the salary was to become payable. Therefore, I presume it rests with me and becomes part of my duty to fix by Instructions to the Department concerned the exact moment when the salary becomes payable. I believe, if I fix at that moment the time when an hon. Member qualifies himself to perform his duty as a Member by taking and subscribing the Oath, I shall be carrying out the views of the House, and I propose to issue an Instruction to the Department to that effect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1917, cols. 1691–92, Vol. 90.]
At the time that ruling was given—I do not find fault with it—I do not think either Mr. Speaker or the House contemplated the difficulties and anomalies that were likely to arise on the occasion of a General Election. We have had a General Election since, and we find that certain anomalies have arisen which impose a hardship upon certain Members of the House. On the first day when Members were being sworn in there was such a rush that it was impossible for all the Members who desired to take the oath on that occasion to do so, and the consequence is that in view of the ruling to which I have drawn attention hon. Members who were unfortunate enough not to be able to be sworn in on the first day the House opened will be paid one day's salary less than those who were fortunate enough to be sworn in on the first day. [Hon. Members: "Shame!"] That is a matter possibly that does not seriously affect a large number of Members of the House, but I can assure those hon. Members that so far as the Labour Members who had the misfortune not to be able to be sworn in on the first day are concerned, it imposes a considerable hardship upon them.
I have been asked to raise this matter with a view of ascertaining whether it would not be possible to have a common understanding regarding the date on which payment should be given for the Members of the new House. We think that not only should Members of this new Parliament be paid from the date of swearing in, but that the payment should date from the declaration of the poll, namely, the 28th of December. With regard to the anomaly to which I have drawn attention concerning the date at which the salary should begin, it is a matter which imposes a considerable amount of hardship upon certain Members of the Labour party because on their election to the House of Commons the various offices they held prior to the election cease, and their salaries also cease on their election, and in those cases there will be a certain financial hardship imposed upon them unless the House gives effect to the suggestion I have made.
There is also another matter which I have been requested on behalf of the Labour party to bring to the notice of the Committee. It is that we think that a good case can be made out for each Member of the House of Commons being provided with a free railway pass between the House and his constituency. If an arrangement of this character was given effect to it would remove some of the inequalities that exist under present conditions. For example, hon. Members representing London constituencies have very little expense in the way of travelling, whereas, on the other hand, you have Members representing constituencies in distant parts of the country who are spending from £100 to possibly £200 per annum upon travelling between here and their constituencies. Some Labour Members who retain their trade union con- nection require to travel almost weekly between this House and their constituency, and in their case a very heavy burden is imposed upon them. Suppose they take a third-class railway contract; in some cases it will run to about £100 per year, and if they take a first-class it runs into nearly £200 per year. That makes a big inroad into the salary that is paid so far as those particular Members of the Labour party are concerned. I believe there are Members representing other parties in this House who are also feeling the unfairness of the present arrangement, and I hope the Committee will give very serious consideration to the two particular points I have already put before them. Since we have had this discussion as a party, I have found not only is there some dissatisfaction regarding the date at which the salary begins as far as the Members of the new House of Commons are concerned, and the question of travelling expenses, but I also find that there is an idea in the minds of a considerable number of hon. Members that the time has come when the salary ought to be considerably increased. The salary was fixed in the early days of 1911, and it was then thought to be adequate, but since then the cost of living has increased by something like 120 per cent. and in the case of Labour Members that makes a very serious in-road into their salaries, although it may not seriously affect a large number of the Members of the present House of Commons. I understand that the present House of Commons possibly consists of as wealthy a body of men as ever represented the constituencies of this country in the House of Commons. [Hon. Members: "No."] At any rate that does not apply to the Labour party, and there may be other hon. Members who are in a similar position to the Members of the Labour party, and I hope we shall have their wholehearted supported in our effort to have the three points I have mentioned given some consideration. I trust that as a result of this discussion there will be some rearrangement made that will relieve this hardship and remove the inequalities that have existed up to the present time. I understand we are also entitled to look to the members of the Government themselves for some consideration with respect to this matter, as I understand they have in mind some increase in the salaries of Ministers. I put these points forward for the careful and serious consideration of the Committee, and I hope that, as a result of the discussion that will ensue, we shall get some arrangement that will put us in a better position as regards the date on which the payment of salaries begins and the other inequalities to which I have alluded.
I desire to associate myself on behalf of the party which I represent with the remarks that have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I am quite aware that on this Vote there cannot be more than a broad expression of opinion that will be conveyed to certain quarters, because we cannot increase the Vote.
I do not propose to do that for the purpose of finding a peg on which to hang the few remarks I wish to address to the House, as I do not pro pose to rob Peter to pay Paul. If there is one thing that has been emphasised more than another in the period of the War and at the subsequent Election, it is that Parliament has ceased to be a house of privilege for the well-to-do. The Houses of Parliament are recognised as the right organ through which the voice of the people of this country shall find expression, and that has been more emphasised than ever in the recent industrial unrest. What is the position with which we are faced? It is that the great bulk of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who sit on those benches, representing organised labour, have come to this House to say that their constituents desire that industrial and social problems shall be referred to Parliament for settlement. Those who were here, but are no longer here, such as the Pacifist element and the Anarchist element—
I except the hon. and gallant Member opposite, and I say that those who were here representing Pacifists, Syndicalists, and Anarchists, when they found themselves defeated promptly said, "We will now resort to the direct method," meaning the weapon of the strike to enforce whatever might be their claims. [Hon. Members: "No!"] I am only quoting from speakers like the gentleman who used to sit for Leicester who is no longer here—
Immediately after the declaration of the poll there were gentlemen of that type—I do not profess to carry pedantically the exact quotation of that gentleman, or any other of his type, in my mind.
The relevancy, I would respectfully say, is this: At a moment when on the one side you have a body of people seeking to stir up industrial unrest in the country and urging the direct method, and on the other side you have people represented on these benches who say that the right method of dealing with social and industrial grievances is through Parliament, it becomes of imperative importance that there should be such conditions attached to membership in Parliament as to enable the representatives of the poorest in the land, and the poorest representative of the poorest in the land, to come here without sacrifice and add their voice in advocating what should be the reforms and the remedies for these industrial and social troubles. That is the point that I am making, and it is a point that has been emphasised by the result of the election. It becomes still more emphasised when you have people outside talking of methods of settling our industrial and social ills other than the Parliamentary method. We stand here for the Parliamentary method, and I say that it behaves Parliament, in the interests of social order and in the interests of a happy nation, to extend every possible facility to the poorest of poor men who voice any point of view in the country to come here. That cannot be done as things stand at present. Take the case of the poor men who are here in this Parliament. Probably instead of £100 in respect of the first quarter they will receive after deduction for Income Tax £42 or £43, which I venture to suggest is not sufficient for any man who has been elected and who has no other means. It is because of that that I desire whole heartedly to associate myself with what has emanated from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party in regard to dating the salaries back to the day upon which we became Members of the present Parliament, namely, 28th December. I also desire to associate myself with what he said with regard to railway travelling. I suppose it is one of the things to be considered in connection with the Ways and Communications Bill when it comes up. In principle I entirely agree with him. I am anxious to see Parliament made the real effective voice of the nation for dealing with its troubles, and to that end proper provision must be made not only to enable the wealthy man to come here—that has always been so—but to enable the poorest men in the land to be represented in this House.
Those of us who were present in the House when the last Division took place noticed that something was afoot this evening by the crowded nature of the benches opposite, but few of us could have imagined that at this early date in this present Parliament a proposal of this sort was about to be made.
I was not so fortunate as to share the knowledge of the hon. Member, and from the way in which the right hon. Gentleman made the proposal it was difficult to discover whether he was serious or whether he was making a proposal which he hoped some day might be seriously considered.
If hon. Gentlemen will bear with me, I think they will see that the last thing I desire to do is to insult anybody. From the way in which the right hon. Gentleman made the proposal, I find it difficult to discover whether he intended to press it seriously this evening. Of course all of us, from one point of view, would like to meet the wishes of the hon. Members in whose interests the proposal was primarily made, and it does place some of us in a somewhat invidious position if we are to give a vote on this matter in accordance with the dictates of our conscience, because those of us who may be perhaps more prosperous or more fortunately endowed with this world's goods, are said to be depriving hon. Members of an advantage or a privilege which we enjoy through no merit of our own. If I may speak for myself, I feel the burden of that, but at the same time I venture to suggest that this House ought to be careful as to the spirit in which it approaches a proposal of this sort. I was not a Member of the House when the payment of Members was first proposed or adopted, but I seem to remember that the figure of £400 was fixed somewhat arbitrarily and without discussion as a figure which was not likely to be permanent. This is the first step this evening to increase it. Although the right hon. Gentleman has not suggested any figure to which it should be increased, I gather from his mentioning 125 per cent. that it is proposed that it should be something in the neighbourhood of £800 per year.
We must be careful about this in the interests of Parliament itself. The right place to moot this proposal is in the country before the electors and not on the floor of the House. It will be said that on the very first opportunity we are doing what people said would most certainly be done—we are increasing the salary which we have voted ourselves and which was never given with, the consent of the nation. And this proposal is likely to be repeated indefinitely as long as hon. Members opposite are able to provoke our sympathy, as they do provoke our sympathy, by the proposal which hag been made this evening. I am not saying this in any partisan spirit, and Heaven forbid because I am endowed—whether I am or not matters not—with this world's goods, that I should forbid this privilege that I enjoy to others. I do not approach it in that spirit, but I do suggest for the consideration of the House and of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that these proposals should be made in the country at a time when the country can express an opinion about them. They should be made in the constituencies when hon. Members are proposing themselves for election to this House. When these matters have been talked of in the country when hon. Members opposite have asked their constituents what they think about a proposal to increase their salary to £700 or £800 per year, then we shall be in a position to discuss this question and to vote upon it according to the opinion of the electors so far as they can be gleaned without the invidious comparison between the private means of one Member and another being made. As to the other matter mentioned, I confess again that I imagine it could hardly be seriously intended as worthy of discussion. I took my seat on the first evening. I was present some half or three-quarters of an hour before the Sitting concluded, and there would have been no difficulty in any hon. Gentleman taking the Oath on that occasion.
As to the other point regarding the payment of railway fares, I venture to think that the right hon. Gentleman made out a case which might receive the sympathetic consideration of those responsible. That question seems to me to stand on an entirely different footing horn the question of an increase of salary, and, whatever course may be taken with regard to that, I hope that the proposal as to the railway fares may meet with immediate acquiescence, if that be possible, on the part of the authorities concerned. I hope hon. Members will not think these remarks are intended in any discourteous spirit, but I venture to think that the proposal for an increase in salary should be dropped.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not feel that I am showing any discourtesy in not making a long speech when I say to him that it is not possible for the Government to agree to his proposals. I confess—I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will not think that I am saying anything offensive to any of them—that I did notice a difference between the vehemence, assurance, and vigour with which my right hon. Friend advocated some of the proposals and that which he displayed in regard to others. It did seem to me that he meant this to be taken as a suggestion that a change should be made rather than that he expected that the change should take place at once. I think he was right. I do not wish at all to press the point just made by my hon. Friend behind me, but to the best of my knowledge there was no mention whatever of any suggestion for an increase of salary throughout the whole of the General Election. At all events, I never saw anything of it in any speech which came to my notice, and though, of course, the House of Commons has the power to make changes of this kind, I should think it surprising.
I do not think that is on the same footing, and I do not think that a proposal of this kind should be seriously pressed until it has been ventilated in the country and until the people have some idea that it is going to be made. I confess I have a good deal of sympathy with the proposal that the salary should count from the date of the election. There does not on the face of it seem any strong reason why that should not take place, but there really is a strong reason in the reply of Mr. Speaker which was read out by my right hon. Friend. He said that the Law Officers could give him no guidance as to a definite time, but since that ruling was given the House of Commons, as a matter of fact, has itself given a clear indication as to the time a man does become for effective purposes a Member of Parliament. In the Franchise Bill it is laid down that the deposit is not to be returned until the Member has taken the oath, and that clearly indicates, so far as that Act can indicate it, that is the time when a man does become a Member of Parliament. That is reasonable on the face of it if we are to look upon the salary as something paid for services rendered, because you cannot perform any of the functions of a Member until you have taken the oath and are therefore in a position to take your part in the work of the House. That, therefore, seems the reasonable time. There is another stronger reason against it, and if it could be overcome I should have no objection to seeing it dated back. A man does not really become a Member of Parliament until he takes the oath, and one could not say that you could make that retrospective after the oath is taken. The difficulty of doing that would be too great.
Surely the House of Commons is not prepared to state that the salary shall be paid to a man as soon as he is returned as a Member of Parliament—that it should be paid to him when he does not take the one step necessary to enable him to perform any of the duties connected with the House! I am sorry to say that it is an unanswerable reason, otherwise I should be very glad indeed to agree.
In a case of that kind I should be quite willing. But I think the other proposals are on a different footing. I noticed that Members of the House have a good deal of sympathy with the suggestion that railway fares should be paid. I feel that sympathy for myself, but, after all, it would be really an addition to our salaries—it is on precisely the same footing as raising one's salary. My right hon. Friend says that by the present arrangement it is very hard that a Member representing a distant constituency should be on the same footing as one in. London. That is perfectly true and if that were the only consideration I should be prepared to meet it. But it is not. A man whose home is in London and who is elected for a London constituency is saved all sorts of expenses which are incurred by a man who lives in a provincial town and has to come to London and make it his home. But I am afraid I cannot, at present at least, hold out any hope of being able to agree to that proposal. As regards salary, I do not think the time has come for asking that it should be increased. I think that members of the Government and Members of the House are on a perfectly different footing. I remember very well when the payment of Members was agreed to. My right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister carried it through in the face of a good deal of opposition. One of the grounds on which he justified it was this: "This is not," he said, "remuneration, not a recompense, not a salary; it is something to help Members of Parliament, not by any means really in payment for their services." This is the difference between Members of the House and members of the Government. The latter are whole-time people. They are not allowed to do anything else. They are not permitted to take directorships or anything, but have to devote themselves to the work for which the salary is given. It may be a question whether that salary is too small or too large. But that has to be decided by the House of Commons on precisely the same principle by which it decides the payment of Civil servants—that is whether or not the amount is too large or too small in order to secure the best men available to do the work. That seems to me to be on a different footing. But, of course, prejudice remains, and any Government will hesitate a great deal before it suggests raising the salary. It is bound to do so, and, as I mentioned in answer to a question, that the Government are considering it, and if we make proposals I shall give a reason. But it is really based on what I think is a principle, that it is necessary to get the best men for the post. I should certainly desire, if such a change were made at all, it should be not so much at the initiative of the Government as with the real consent of the House of Commons itself. I can assure my right hon. Friend below the Gangway that in the troublous times in front of us it is in the interest, not of the House of Commons only, but of the nation, so far as it can be done, that this should be the forum where all these disputes can be settled, and I would be sorry to do anything which would make it more difficult to do this. But, for the reasons I have given, I do not think the Members of the House of Commons should ask me at this stage to make any change in the existing arrangement.
I have listened with interest to my right hon. Friend's speech. I agree with the greater part of it. The point I do differ with him is as to free travelling for Members of Parliament. I have listened to more than one Debate on the question, but it has always seemed to me very hard to defend our present system, and its rank inequality and unfairness. Why should a Member who sits for a North Country constituency have to pay as many pounds for coming here to do his duty as the London Member has to pay in pence? It cannot be right. When the matter was discused before, at the time when the payment of Members did not obtain, there was no strong argument for paying railway fares, but now the whole position has changed. You pay the Member £400 a year. Yet the Member who sits for a Northern constituency is taxed to the extent of one-quarter or one-half of his salary, and tills is not fair as compared with the position of a London Member. When the House of Commons was an unpaid assembly possibly no strong case could have been made out for free travelling, but now that hon. Members are paid and have to go to and from their constituencies, the question does arise why should a special burden be imposed on a particular class of Members who happen to represent Northern or Western Country constituencies. I think there is great unfairness on that ground, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be willing to reconsider the matter. It would not be a very great concession. It would not involve any money payment. It would only mean that the Northern Country Member should be able to come to the House on the same terms as the London Member.
There is the constitutional point as to the position when Mr. Speaker was elected. Before the Members had been sworn in Mr. Speaker was nominated and seconded by two Members, or shall I say by two private individuals, because at that time no one had been sworn in as a Member of Parliament. But after Mr. Speaker had been duly elected and taken his seat, then those of us who participated in the proceedings—or as many as possible—were sworn in, and others took the oath on the following day. If we are not to be considered Members of Parliament until we are sworn in and our salary is to date from the date when we are sworn in, how can we elect a Speaker of this House when we are not Members of this House? I put that question to the Leader of the House, who is a Scotsman like myself and probably will be able to dissect the problem. With regard to his objection to the payment of travelling expenses, hon. Members will remember that several hundred pounds extra were voted for the Chief Secretary for Iceland because of additional travelling expenses to that distressful country. If it was necessary that a special or extra allowance should be made to the Chief Secretary for Ireland to permit him to fulfil his particular duties as a Member of the House and a representative of the Crown, it is surely not too much to ask that the other Members of this House, who are doing no less useful work, though perhaps in a more humble capacity as ordinary Members of the House, should claim to have this matter sympathetically considered by the Government.
I will not indulge in wild rhodomontade, but give a concrete instance of how this question affects myself. I have to pay £66 10s. a year for a season ticket, which is third-class. At the time of my nomination I was receiving £300 from the Ministry of Food, but I was ordered to give it up at a moment's notice at the time I was nominated. As a consequence, from 1st December to 5th February I had no employment whatever—through no fault of my own. We were not allowed to take up our duties as Members of Parliament until the 5th February. Again that was no fault of our own. I ask, with all respect, is it any advantage to have a Member for a constituency living in that constituency? If it is not, then he might as well come to live in London, because it would be very much better. I have a constituency which covers 310 square miles, which I endeavour, as far as possible, to visit. Will anybody tell me how I am to do it? My next item is Income Tax, £31 10s., or £97 16s. a year, out of the bare £400 a year, which is all I have coming in from anywhere. I have to come to London to live. I cannot live here on less than 12s. a day, I find. That is another £3 or £4 a week, and I do not indulge in luxuries—only coffee. That brings my total to £253 16s. a year. With the multitude of letters I am getting, I have to spend £1 a week on postage. That is altogether £303 16s. a year. Fortunately, I live in a small house. I am bringing up my grandchildren, whose father is still in the Army. I have lived, then, on £100 a year in Derbyshire, and keep my family there. I am not asking for an increase of salary. I never paid Income Tax in my life till January last, but I have been doing a great deal of public work in Derbyshire. I want to bring the advantage of that public life to the House of Commons and to continue my public work in Derbyshire, as well to give the value of my experience to the House of Commons. How can I do it? I shall have to find lodgings, if that is possible, in London. I do not know how I am going to do it for less than the figure I named. I want to make an appeal to the Leader of the House, in whose honesty I have always believed, although I have been opposed to him all my life. I do not believe that he is a political strategist, at least, I did not think he was until a few minutes ago, and I hope he will give up that position. I would put this question to him. Supposing the House should decide to-night—what is very unlikely, after what he has said—that Members of Parliament should be paid their railway fares, would it alter the right hon. Gentleman's view as to reconsidering the position he took up a moment or two ago? I am not speaking as one hon. Member on the other side has spoken, although he spoke in all good faith. I have not 1s. in the world, or only a few shillings until I get my salary, which will be about £40. I shall have to pay all that away as soon as I get it and buy another season ticket for the quarter. That is a concrete instance of how the matter affects the working-man Member of Parliament and I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the position.
I should like to support the plea made by the hon. and gallant Member for Durham (Major Hills), that the question of railway fares stands in a different position from the other questions. Not only is there inequality between the Member who has a seat near London and those who, like the majority of Labour Members, are from the North, the far-industrial centres, and from Wales, but also the man who takes part in the public life in his own part of the world is penalised as compared with the man who takes no part at all. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of Members having trade union business, but whether it is a trade union business or other business the men who take a share in public life are penalised. On that ground there is special urgency for some sort of assistance in regard to railway fares being given to those Members who live a great way from London.
We have heard the case of the man who lives in a cottage, the case of a man who is dependent entirely upon his salary, and we have heard one Member opposite tell us that this is a question which ought to be submitted to the constituencies. If I am in order, I should like to ask that hon. Member whether he would apply the same principle to every question that comes before this House? For instance, would he apply it to a matter that has been foreshadowed, namely, the application of Conscription? The hon.
Gentleman, suggested that the constituencies should be the judge as to the work or merit of a man or as to the strength of his income. I would respectfully suggest that in that case the hon. Member himself would be taking a very severe risk. I want to put the case of a man who is a trade union official, as I happen to be myself, whose members are generous enough to continue his salary while he is a Member of this House. Even under those conditions the trade union official, whose salary is still paid by his organisation, is out of pocket. I want to give you my own particular case. I am speaking from my own point of view. There are cases of Members in this House who were trade union officials and who on their election to Parliament had to resign their positions, according to the constitution of their organisation. These men were receiving more than £400. They had to break up their homes to come to live in London and practically became London Members, but even then their salaries, if they were living in London, would be more than they are getting as Members of Parliament. My salary is still paid, thanks to the generosity of my union but my railway contract is £105, and I am not so fortunate as my hon. Friend (Mr. White). I wish I could find lodgings at 12s. a day. I have searched in vain all over London for anything less than £1 a day.
It costs me £5 a week for hotel expenses, it cost me over £2 a week for a railway contract and, as the penalty of fame, there are charity balls and football clubs which will not be ignored. I shall be expected to disgorge a certain sum out of my ordinary normal salary to enable me to do my duty by my Constituents. It is not fair. The hon. Member opposite may be fortunate. His lines may be cast in pleasant places. Ours are not from the financial point of view. Every consideration ought to be given to men who are placed in the position of trade union officials and who have no other resources than the meagre £400 a year that the Government allows Members of Parliament.