I beg to move,
That this House reaffirms its decision of 24th May, 1954, regarding Members' expenses and pensions and the financial position of junior Ministers, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to implement it without further delay.
May I begin, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by expressing my regret at the indisposition of the Lord Privy Seal which, I trust, will be very temporary, and my appreciation of the fact that the Prime Minister has, at very short notice, come to the House to take his place.
The Motion which I have just moved was put on the Order Paper so that this debate would take place on a range of subjects covering not only Members' allowances but also pensions and junior Ministers' salaries, and not because we wished to force this Motion to a Division. I should make clear at the start what I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and I made clear in our letter to the Prime Minister; that we did not propose to press this to a Division but would, in fact, withdraw the Motion at the end of the debate. If, by any chance, objection were to be raised to our seeking leave to withdraw the Motion I would, for my part, advise any hon. Members who feel as I do on this matter to abstain from any vote that might be challenged.
Our reason for doing this, as was also, I hope, made clear in the letter to which I have just referred, is that we believe that a decision without a free vote would make this a party issue, and we do not wish that it should be treated as a party issue. We think that this should be a matter for the House of Commons as a whole and should remain as such, as, I think, in the main, in the past it always has been. The Prime Minister has decided not to allow a free vote. I do not propose to argue about that, but I trust, nevertheless, that if we are not to have a free vote—and, I hope, no vote at all in consequence—we shall, at any rate, have a free discussion.
I should also like to make it plain that I am speaking here as an hon. Member of the House—not officially for the Opposition, not officially for the Labour Party—in much the same way, indeed, I think I can say in precisely the same way, as my predecessor, Lord Attlee, spoke on 13th May, 1954. Perhaps I should add just this. I feel that the position which I occupy at the moment is one which, like that of Leader of the House, carries with it certain responsibilities, certain concern for the position in the House, and on those grounds alone I think that I am justified in intervening in this debate. I realise that it is possible that my standing here at this Box to speak on this Motion might lead to misrepresentation and misunderstanding, but I am convinced that that is a risk that must be taken because I feel that the situation of hon. Members today is so serious that it must be discussed.
I also regret the circumstances which have led up to this debate. I believe that all hon. Members will agree with me when I say that talking about their own financial difficulties is about the last thing in the world that they want to do. It is embarrassing; it is unpleasant; no one likes to parade grievances. I am sure that all of us would wish that we never had to do this, and that some way could be found of meeting our difficulties without a debate of this kind. But when one is aware that a number of hon. Members are in quite serious hardship, when one believes that the efficient working of Parliament is being affected, when one has anxieties about the consequences on the quality of future aspirants to this House, I think it is one's duty to speak up and to go through the rather unpleasant experience of a debate on our financial position.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the developments in 1953 and 1954 are, I am sure, fresh in the minds of most of us and there is no need for me to go over the ground again. We all recall the appointment of the Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, in November, 1953. We recall too, the Report of the Select Committee in February, 1954, and the Government's refusal to accept the recommendations of that Committee. There followed the two debates of 13th and 24th May, in the second of which a Resolution in favour of an increase of £500 a year in Members' allowances, the reference also to the Members' Fund of the question of pensions and a call upon the Government to act upon the matter of junior Ministers' salaries, was passed.
We recall that that Resolution was carried, on a free vote, by a majority of 114. Thereafter, the Government—unfortunately, as many of us think—declined to accept this decision of the House and introduced, instead, the Sessional allowances for hon. Members of £2 for each of four of the working days—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That is the situation in which we are today.
We raise this issue again, in the first place because that decision of the House was never carried out by the Government and some of us feel that it ought not to be left indefinitely without being implemented. Secondly, we raise it because in the last two and a half years, since the Committee reported, prices, unfortunately, have risen again substantially. May I say one or two words about those two reasons? As to the Government's attitude in refusing to implement the decision of the House, I do not myself feel that any adequate explanation really was given. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who was then Prime Minister, explained, as he was quite entitled to do, that the Government could not be bound by a decision of the House on a Resolution which involved the imposition of a charge.
Technically, he was right in saying that. But I cannot but feel that it was an unfortunate precedent for a Government deliberately to reject the decision of the House on a free vote by a very substantial majority. Nor was there at the time any explanation given. We were simply told that it was not appropriate "in present circumstances" for the recommendations of the Committee to be adopted, and the same phrase was used when the then Prime Minister was discussing the Resolution carried by the House.
The right hon Gentleman also added some words, that he did not think that the carrying of the Resolution involved a sufficiently-wide measure of agreement. I felt at the time that that was a rather unfortunate phrase, because it implied that there had to be an absolutely overwhelming majority before anything could be done in a matter of this kind. I think that hon. Members would agree with me that, if that were to be the case, it would be placing in the hands of a very small group of Members a virtual veto of any action being taken in a matter of this kind.
However, as I have said, there is one encouraging feature about the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford on that occasion. He did not, as I understand, reject the proposals of the Committee or the Resolution of the House indefinitely and permanently. The words which he used were that neither the recommendations nor the Resolution could be adopted "in present circumstances."
My hon. Friend may have knowledge about that which is not in my mind, but, in any case, I was relying entirely on what was said in the House at that stage, and what was said, I repeat, was that "in present circumstances" the Government could not accept the decision of the House.
The second reason for raising this matter now is the rise in prices which has occurred since then. I would, however, first recall to hon. Members the fact that the introduction of the Sessional allowance was not itself regarded, by, I think, a majority of the House, as really an adequate answer to the problem. It was, of course, accepted as better than nothing, but certainly most, if not all, of those who voted in favour of the Resolution of 24th May, 1954, were dissatisfied with the alternative which the Government eventually introduced.
The introduction of the Sessional allowance provided hon. Members with not much more than half the increase in pay proposed by the Select Committee, and then, of course, only those who were taking the Sessional allowance were, so to speak, getting full value from it. Since 1954, according to my calculations, the value of £280 a year which, in round figures, is generally said to be the amount of the Sessional allowance, has been reduced by about half by reason of the rise in prices.
The effect today is that even with the full Sessional allowance of £280 a year the real value of a Member's allowances at £1,280 a year is 20 per cent., or one-fifth, less in real terms than the £1,000 a year to which the allowance was raised in 1946. At the same time, during these last two and a half years, no action has been taken on the pension issue, apart from the very minor concession in the Finance Bill, allowing the contribution for tax purposes; nor, of course, has any action been taken upon the pay of junior Ministers. May I say a few words about these two matters?
On the question of pensions, it is fair to say that there was no general acceptance in the House among hon. Members of the recommendations of the Select Committee, and the Resolution which was carried made that quite plain. I think that it would also be right to say that there was a widespread desire for a proper pension scheme of some kind, and a widespread feeling that the present arrangements under the means test, with the very limited help that was available, were in no way adequate to the needs of the situation. At a later stage certain proposals were put forward in a White Paper for a contributory scheme in which no help whatever was to be provided by the Government. But that scheme was rejected, I think from the start, as being entirely unsatisfactory.
I know that other hon. Members wish to speak on this subject and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), who is a Member of the Members' Fund, in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant), whose sad bereavement keeps him away from the House today. I would only say that it seems to me not unreasonable that there should be for hon. Members who have served many years in this House, a modest pension as of right, comparable to superannuation payment, which is now becoming increasingly common throughout the whole of industry.
As to junior Ministers, most of them, at present, are paid £2,000 a year, of which £500 a year is for Parliamentary allowance, against which, and to that extent, they can claim expenses. The argument there is a rather different one from that which is put forward in respect of hon. Members. It is a two-fold argument. On the one hand, that the work of junior Ministers is sufficiently important to justify a higher salary, and, secondly, that they are in a particularly difficult position because, if they join the Government while receiving the salary I have mentioned, they give up the right and opportunity to earn money in any other way, and, therefore, many of them, who are presumably earning money in other ways, make a financial sacrifice in doing so.
I think that the argument generally adduced is what one might describe as an incentive argument rather more than a purely hardship argument, unless one were to say that a salary of £2,000 a year, including £500 for Parliamentary allowance, still leaves a junior Minister in a state of hardship. Of course, the second argument concerning junior Ministers would not apply in the case of those who, previously, have not been earning anything extra. It does not apply in the case of the full-time Member who earns nothing else when he is a back bencher. My own view about the position of junior Ministers is frankly this. I agree entirely that some adjustment should be made in their salary, but from my point of view I do not think that one can give it priority over the position of hon. Members generally.
The general picture today could, therefore, be not unfairly described in the following manner. There was widespread agreement in 1953 and the early months of 1954 that hon. Members were very much underpaid. We did not receive as much increase as most of us thought was fair and reasonable in 1954, but what we did receive has now been to a very substantial extent whittled away by the rise in prices since then. The consequence is that we are drifting back towards precisely the same position as we were in in 1953.
I do not think that I can do better than read to the House a passage from paragraph 27 of the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Expenses, &c., which describes the position admirably. This is what the Committee said about Members at that time, and I venture to suggest it is just as true today:
Some have sold or mortgaged their homes: the savings that others had made before entering Parliament are now exhausted and debts are accumulating: others have sacrificed pension rights which they had established with a company or firm, in whose employ they were before entering Parliament, and are now at an age when it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to find employment when they leave the House of Commons: some have to refuse invitations to public functions which they ought to attend: in some cases, in order to supplement the family income, the wife of the Member has had to find employment: for a long time some have not been able to afford lunch or dinner in the dining room of the House of Commons and use only the tea room.
I am sorry to repeat it, but, from my personal knowledge of the position of many hon. Members, it seems to me that that situation again obtains.
It is a curious fact that as long ago as 1937, when an increase in salary or allowances from £400 to £600 a year was made, Mr. Neville Chamberlain discovered exactly the same situation. If the House will bear with me, I should like to remind hon. Members of what he said. He, together with Mr. Baldwin, had made an investigation at that time into the financial position of Members, and it was as a result of that investigation that the proposal was made, and, of course, carried out, for an increase in
salary. This is what Mr. Chamberlain said, speaking, as Prime Minister, in the debate on that occasion, on 22nd June, 1937:
We found cases where Members, with the most careful attention to all possible, and a great many undesirable economies, nevertheless were living beyond their means and slowly wasting away the savings that they had accumulated before they entered this House. We found other cases where they were obliged to curtail or to diminish the amount of education that they were giving or hoping to give to their children. We found cases where they were actually giving themselves insufficient food in their anxiety to keep within their means, and there were quite a number of cases where Members admitted that they were unable to give that amount of time to their duties in this House which they would desire to do, because they simply could not afford to spend the whole week in London, with the extra expense which that entailed upon them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1937; Vol. 325, c. 1051.]
It is remarkable how extraordinarily similar is the situation today compared with that in 1937.
May I now turn to the latest developments in this matter? I do not think that anybody can say that hon. Members have been precipitate in their actions. I must tell the House that shortly after I became Leader of the Opposition I did speak to the Prime Minister about the situation, which I knew to be already serious. He was good enough to suggest that I should talk to the Lord Privy Seal about it, and a number of private discussions followed. Although there was no question of any negotiation or detailed discussion, I was satisfied at that time that the Government were considering the matter seriously. I do not want to say that our hopes were unduly raised, though I must admit that I had at that time rather better expectations than were perhaps justified. This period when we were still hoping for action by the Government lasted from January until May.
When, finally, after those months had passed, the Government told us that they could not do anything at the moment, we—that is, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery and myself—put forward the proposal for an outside inquiry. We did this, if I may say so, on the principle that finding it impossible to discuss the matter and get anywhere at all, we fell back, not unreasonably, I think, on what is a very common alternative in any industrial negotiations, asking for some kind of external survey of the situation.
On that point, surely it is a fact, which must be within the knowledge of the Prime Minister, that the previous Leader of the Opposition approached the Prime Minister on this question immediately after the General Election. It was subject to continual negotiation before my right hon. Friend took office as Leader of the Opposition.
My hon. Friend may well be right. I must make this plain, that there was no negotiation at all, but it is quite true that in fact, since the Election, there have been more or less continuous contacts of this kind until last May.
I was speaking about this proposal for an outside inquiry. I have no very strong views about it, but I do not myself think that it should be ruled out altogether. We have had a recent precedent for it in the Commonwealth of Australia, a precedent which, I think, ended not unsatisfactorily from the point of view of Members of the Australian Parliament. However, the Prime Minister rejected that proposal, and it was as a result of his rejection that we decided that we must have this debate which we are having today. We did so, because we felt that it would draw attention to the situation which I have, in part, described.
I wish to refer, if I may, to one other very serious consequence of the present situation, namely, the effect which I fear it is beginning to have upon the efficiency of the House of Commons. This is to some extent bound up with the issue, so often discussed, as to whether Members of Parliament should be part-time or full-time. We are often lectured by the newspapers and told to get another job in order to earn some extra money. Let us examine that suggestion for a moment.
There are three points to be made about it, none of which can, I think, be disputed. First, it is a simple fact that only a limited number of Members can do other part-time jobs. If one is in business and can find a congenial partner, it is, of course, possible to do some part-time work in that business. It is possible to be a lawyer in practice at the Bar, though not always very easy, and still play some part in the House of Commons; there are variations in the extent to which those who are barristers do come to the House—no doubt with perfectly good reason. It is possible, in some cases, for hon. Members to earn some extra money in journalism, though I venture to suggest that that is a rather overcrowded profession.
It is impossible for a Member to take on any ordinary salaried job. It is impossible for a miner to go back to the coal mines. It is impossible for an engineer to go back to the bench, or for a factory worker to go and work in a factory again. I think we must recognise this, and we must tell the country that there are very strict limits to the extent to which hon. Members can do other jobs.
The second point, which, I think, is equally unchallengeable though seldom appreciated, is that the House of Commons simply could not work if everybody had part-time jobs. After all, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and sometimes on Wednesday mornings as well, there are, in the normal way, Standing Committees which must be manned; and there are many other meetings of one kind or another which we all have to attend. The plain fact is that if it were not for those full-time Members who carry the burden today, the House of Commons would not function as it ought. That is an important point, and, incidentally, a point which I was interested to find was made with great clarity by Mr. Lees-Smith in the 1937 debate.
My third point follows from the others. We may not wish to insist on all being full-time politicians—I understand the arguments against that—but we must, surely, have some full-time politicians and we must have sufficient pay and allowances to make it possible for those who wish and who are able to do so to become full-time politicians. That seems to me to be the essential point.
The situation in which we find ourselves today is affecting the efficiency of the House in these ways. First, it is a fact—at least, as far as our party is concerned—that we are finding it increasingly difficult to man the Standing Committees when there are five of them, at the peak period. We are doing so because although there is a large number of Members who cannot get part-time employment, there are some who can do it if they are very hard pressed, although they may not want to do it. What is happening is that a number of my hon. Friends are being driven precisely into this position, with the consequence that we are finding it increasingly difficult to man these Standing Committees.
Would it not be right to say that there is probably a number of Members—I am not one, as I live in London—who live outside London and who, for one reason or another, find it increasingly difficult to come into London and to have to maintain two homes?
I was coming to that as the second way in which the work of the House of Commons is being affected.
If the Prime Minister talks to his own Chief Whip, I think he will bear out that there is quite a number of hon. Members who simply cannot afford to stay here the full week unless they absolutely must. If there are no Divisions, if it is a quiet day on a Monday or Thursday, they simply stay at home to save themselves the expenses of a hotel in London. That is profoundly unsatisfactory. That is not the way that this House of Commons should be run and I cannot feel that any serious parliamentarian—and we are all serious parliamentarians in that sense; we all love this place—can be satisfied with this situation.
The third point is that I am afraid there are, or there are bound to be, consequences on the type of people who can come to this House. If one has part-time employment available, well and good, but if not, and with no pension and with all the insecurity and with the heavy expenses involved, and with the way in which prices have risen, it is a tremendous deterrent. That is, again, a bad thing. Nobody wants to have salary and allowances on a scale which attracts people by reason of the amount of money that they will receive—there is no danger whatever of that—but it is a serious matter if the pay is so inadequate that people are discouraged from coming here on that account.
This is the last point I would venture to make. People look for part-time employment. It is not always desirable that they should do so if it involves their being under obligations to outside bodies and influences of which they had better be independent. Therefore, for all these reasons, we must say that the situation is not at all satisfactory.
I come, finally, to the point made by the Government. I hope that I have carried the Prime Minister with me in quite a lot of what I have said this afternoon—I know he is concerned about this. He tells us, however, "Well, I am sorry, but we cannot do anything about this now." I should like to make my own position clear on this matter. I do not think anybody will accuse me of not being concerned about the problem of inflation—anybody who has held the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer knows very well what a grave problem it is; and though we may not agree, and frequently disagree, with the Government's economic policy, of course we understand the danger of the situation. I would say that to start with.
I would go further and say this. If, as some people imply, the attitude of hon. Members in this House to our own pay were to be a decisive issue in the battle against inflation; if, secondly, the Prime Minister were to say, "I am not asking you to wait for long. I am asking you to wait only for a definite specified period"—three months or something of that kind; if, furthermore, he were to assure us that at the end of that period a proper arrangement really would be made and the Government would bring a long-term, permanent solution to this problem to the House, for my part—and I speak as an individual—I would regard that as, at any rate, a discussable proposition.
I think it fair, however, to add a number of qualifications. So far as the Prime Minister has gone up to now, I do not read that as his intention. If it is his intention, we should be very glad to hear it from him later on. Since 1947, however, wage rates have risen by approximately 65 per cent.; earnings, of course, have risen substantially more. There have been also, during this period, substantial increases in salaries—of teachers, civil servants, judges, and so on.
The Parliamentary allowances since 1946—a year earlier—have gone up, not by 65 per cent., but—again, I take only the case of somebody drawing the full sessional allowance of £280 a year—by 28 per cent. only. While others have had a considerable increase in real income since the end of the war, we have suffered a cut of 20 per cent. I do not think it is reasonable to say to us, "Although you have had a cut in real income, although others have had an increase in real income"—and there has been much talk about the rise in consumption, and so on—"nevertheless, because there is an inflationary position, you cannot be considered at all."
I have seen no evidence to the effect that either the trade union leaders or the employers would be likely to be affected by anything reasonable that we were likely to do. If I am wrong about that, I would gladly withdraw it, but so far there has been no evidence of that kind.
The next point is that we cannot, I am sure the Prime Minister will understand, ignore the past history of all this. We were told in 1954 that the Government of the day could not accept the Resolution of the House "in present circumstances." We have been told now that we should set an example—I understand the argument; but when I asked the Lord Privy Seal the other day in what circumstances he envisaged we would not have to set an example, he referred, curiously enough, to the year 1953–54, the very same year in which the Government turned down the proposals of the Select Committee. That was not exactly reassuring. In the circumstances, we were bound to be rather worried lest—I hope this is not the case—we were simply being, so to speak, held at bay and told, "Well you will get it sometime, but we are giving you no assurances whatever."
At this stage, I should like to refer to what has happened in Australia. Everybody knows, I think, that the general level of pay and allowances in the House of Commons for Members of Parliament is, in the main, well below that paid in other countries. The evidence is set out in great detail in the Select Committee's Report. I do not want to refer to it except to mention the recent change in Australia, where, as a result of the independent inquiry, the recommendations of which were accepted in toto by the Australian Government, the salary has been put up from £1,750 to £2,350 a year, together with allowances of £600 or £800 a year for expenses according to the position of the Member, all of it subject to tax in the ordinary way although against that income expenses can be claimed.
Yes, but it is, I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree, a quite substantial increase.
I should like to quote from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Journal something that Mr. Menzies is reported to have said. This is what the Prime Minister of Australia said in introducing the Measure which carried out the Australian recommendations. It is rather appropriate to us. He is reported to have said that:
Since the Report was tabled, an impression had been created in some quarters that Members of the Commonwealth Parliament were leading the way in a new race for salary increases. Nothing could be further from the truth! The facts established that quite the contrary had been the case. In 1952, Members and Senators had received modest increases in allowances which had brought them more or less into line with general rates.
I cannot think that we even went as far as that.
Over the four-and-half years since then, there had been no increases whatsoever. Yet, in that time, as the Report showed, there had been a substantial increase of the general rate of earnings in Australia. There had been major increases in all salaries and wages affected by the last margins award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Salaries throughout the Commonwealth Public Service had risen, and in consequence the salaries of permanent heads of departments had been substantially increased. There had been also a substantial rise in the salaries of judges of the High Court and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. … This recommendation that the allowances paid to Members of the Commonwealth Parliament be increased was not an extravagant increase to put them ahead of everybody else, but a very modest increase which brought them into line, once again, to some extent, with the general standard.
I venture to say that to a certain extent we find ourselves in exactly the same position here today.
I should like to ask the Government a few questions on the prospect for Members. First, are we to assume that if prices go on rising and the position gets worse—and we all hope that this will not happen—there is even less chance of the Government doing anything to help the position of hon. Members? I hope that the Prime Minister will not take that line, because that would make the situation of hon. Members quite impossible. Alternatively, if, as we very much hope, prices are stabilised, will he assure us that we shall not then be told that in consequence of this nothing could be done, so that in this case, also, no action is taken?
Could he say when he thinks the Government are likely to take action in this matter? Can he give us an assurance that the matter will be dealt with in the autumn? Can he also tell us whether the Government, when they come to deal with the problem—and I assume that they are going to deal with it sometime, and, I hope, fairly soon—will deal with all the problems, including that of pensions as well as allowances and Ministers' salaries? Will the Government give serious consideration to the basic problem here, which is how to avoid the constant trouble of bringing the matter up again and again? All of us would like to avoid these debates. We do not ask for anything unreasonable or extravagant, but we do feel that we are entitled to fair consideration in the light of what has been said.
Finally, I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he can say what procedure he envisages for the further handling of this subject. Will the Government make up their own minds? Will they have further discussions with the leaders of the Opposition? Do they need another committee, or what is their idea?
I will conclude by quoting paragraph 54 of the Select Committee's Report, which, I think, sets out the matter admirably:
In the considered judgment of Your Committee the payment made to Members of Parliament should be of such an amount as to enable men and women from all walks of life to enter their field of public service without finding the financial sacrifice for themselves and their families too great. Your Committee believe that the enduring strength and authority of Parliament depends upon the quality of its members. Qualities of temperament, character, ability and experience are needed. The House of Commons must also be representative of the people and should not be drawn from certain sections only; the field of choice should be wide. Few would support the idea of a House of Commons composed principally of full-time politicians in the sense of men and women cut off from any practical share in the work of the nation. It would be no less damaging to the country if the House were to become a place where Members could not give of their best because of a dominating need to escape from financial pressure.
That is the danger which besets us today. I beg the Government not to under-rate it, and I ask them either themselves to bring forward a speedy solution or to allow the House of Commons itself, with its accustomed sense of responsibility, freely to decide the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), when he opened this debate, said—and in this I fully agree with him—that it is extremely disagreeable to have to discuss this topic, and I shall try to do it in a spirit which is in accord with what I think is the wish of the House, as if we were talking among ourselves about this problem which besets us. I will try to put the Government's reasons for the position we have taken at this time as clearly and as fairly as I can.
I should like to begin by thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, who I hope will very soon be back leading the House. I feel that this is so much a House of Commons matter that it is my duty as my right hon. Friend is not here, to discuss it with my fellow Members.
First, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was a pity that there could not be a vote—not a pity that there could not be a vote, but a pity that this matter should in any way become a party matter. I share his view. I have no desire that it should become a party matter. I want to explain at the outset that the reason, which I made clear in my letter in answer to the right hon. Gentleman, we could not allow a free vote was because the motives for our attitude, whether the House thinks them right or wrong, are inherent, in our view, in the present economic situation. If the Government take that view, the Government must take responsibility for carrying that view through. It would be wrong to say that this or that ought to be done in the national interest and leave the matter without any authoritative lead from the Government. That is the reason; not that we want it to be party political, but because that is the view we take.
I observed this morning in The Times a leading article on this subject which contained two sentences which I cannot help feeling sum up fairly truly what hon.
Members feel in different degrees in different parts of the House. These are the two sentences:
There are Members on both sides of the House who are convinced that there is a strong case for the remuneration of Members to be raised. In all probability there are on both sides of the House also Members who know in their hearts that whatever should be done cannot be done now.
That is exactly the position which the Government have to take at the present time. I can assure hon. Members that it is very much easier to come down to the House and say that we are going to take this action and give this increase, and receive the usual acclamation and cheers which would follow; but we have to try to consider this matter, as the right hon. Gentleman quite properly said, in its relationship to the national position.
I think I must set out one or two facts as they appear to the Government. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Motion of 1954. That, of course, called for three things. First, an increase of £500 in the salary of hon. Members; secondly, that the proposal for a pension scheme should be remitted for advice to the trustees of the Members' Fund; and, thirdly, that the salaries of junior Ministers should be raised. Those were the three recommendations. The issue before the House this afternoon is a very simple one, but I should like, before I talk about the question of our pay, to say a few words about Members' pensions, because as a result of the Motion of 1954, the trustees of the Members' Fund have put before the House plans for a contributory pension scheme.
I know that different views can be held about whether there should be a pension scheme for Members. If there is to be a contributory scheme, it may be argued, as has already been explained, that hon. Members cannot afford any substantial contribution without an increase in their salaries. The question of such a scheme I accept as part of the wider question of Members' salaries. A full pension scheme would, I think, benefit all hon. Members irrespective of their means, but the matter which gives us most concern and which I want to refer to first this afternoon is the position of former Members and their dependants who are in need. Here, I come to the Members' Fund itself, which is so wisely guided and humanely administered by the trustees. I join with the right hon. Gentleman in expressing sincere regret at the reason why the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) cannot be with us today.
Last November the trustees made a recommendation, and hon. Members will recall that the House authorised an increase in the scale of benefits. The Government Actuary has reported recently that, as some of us know to be the case, the Members' Fund has a substantial surplus. The trustees may now find it possible to increase the benefit. Furthermore, the Government do not exclude the question of themselves making a contribution to the Fund should the need arise, and should the consequence of that raising call for it.
I come to the question of Members' salaries. Following the 1954 motion there has been an increase, not of £500, but the sessional allowances, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and the question we are discussing today is whether we should ourselves further increase that salary this year. The Government view is that this cannot be done, or should not be done, at this moment. I will not deny—I do not deny—that some increase in the salary of Members would be justified now if there were not certain special considerations, but in the Government's view there are special considerations, and they govern this question.
As the result of a number of measures, some of which the right hon. Gentleman has acclaimed—supported, at any rate—we have now reached a position where we may hope that, with continued restraint on all sides, we may achieve a greater stability in prices. This is something we all want to see. This is something from which we shall all benefit. Last month there was stability. It will be interesting to see—we do not yet know—the figure this month.
This is not a debate on the economic situation of the nation, and there may be differences, as the right hon. Gentleman says, on how to do battle with inflation—of course there may—but there is this much in common, that our primary aim must be to check it. That is not a matter of party politics. It is a matter of the national interest. We have had further evidence today of the response of another section of industry to the need for stability, and there are the reports I mentioned at Question time, and the statements put out today, all of which, I think, will make further contributions towards stability, and I hope that more in this strain will follow.
I need not tell the House after that that an increase here at this time in the full glare of publicity, in which we have to live as Members of Parliament, whether we like it or whether we do not, cannot but have its effect at once on other sections of the community, at a time when we are urging restraint. In this respect we hold a special position, because we are the cynosure of all eyes at all times. I do not think, therefore, that Members of Parliament can be compared exactly to any other salaried person or official or profession. We are in this special position, and we must not be the ones to set the spiral working again. I ask hon. Members to consider how the nation would view that action at the present time in the light of the appeals which have been made and the responses which are being made to those appeals.
The right hon. Gentleman is saying that we have achieved stability, or are achieving it, and that we must set an example, but, as my right hon. Friend asked, what happens if we do not achieve stability? Wages will rise. Do we ever get an increase, too?
We are making this effort now, which is within the knowledge of the House and the nation, and the argument I am presenting to the House—and it is a serious one—is that if we take this step at this moment it will be interpreted by the nation as a whole that we do not take the serious view we do take of the battle against inflation. I do not think I can put it more simply than that.
I am not committing myself, I do not want to commit myself, to maintaining this position for one moment longer than seems to us absolutely necessary, but at this moment and in this climate for this House to take this action would, I am sure, be helpful neither to us nor to the nation. It is, no doubt, true that there are a number of Members in the House—I know there are, on both sides—for whom this is a serious matter, very serious indeed. I wish it were within our power to take action now.
I myself do not think it would be right for the salaries of Members of Parliament to be linked with the salaries of civil servants. I do not think that is right. I think we are in a different category. Nor on balance do I think it right that there should be an outside inquiry into the salaries of Members of Parliament. When a decision can be taken I think it should be taken and will be taken on the responsibility of the Government. [Interruption.] An hon. Member asks, "When?" I cannot tell him, but it will be at the first moment we think that it is fair, in relation to what we are attempting to do, to take that decision. That is the utmost that it is within the power of anybody who is Prime Minister at this time to say. I would gladly say more if I did not think it would imperil even graver issues than the salaries of Members of Parliament.
That is the decision we have taken, and I regret we have to take it, but I am sure we have no choice in the matter at all. I should not like the House on that account to think—I am sure it does not think—we do not all of us know something of the problems the present situation creates, but it creates them for an even wider circle than Members of Parliament, and if this attempt we are making to achieve stability in prices is to have the best chance of success I cannot today give a definite undertaking of time or date when we shall do it, except that there will be no delay beyond what we believe to be necessary in the broadest national interest.
No one is capable of saying "No" with more charm and less argument than the right hon. Gentleman. He has spoken with great charm and moderation, and I would be the last person to try to introduce a little controversy into this matter which, he says, is so uncontroversial. Indeed, the suggestion he put forward, that we have to keep this matter entirely outside the ambit of party controversy, while he puts on the Whips every time, seemed to me a somewhat astonishing suggestion, and one which really does fall into the category of the old story of the man who, charged with patricide and matricide, pleaded for leniency on the ground that he was an orphan.
I want to make my own reply, since each of us is speaking for himself, to one observation which the right hon. Gentleman made. He asked, what would the country think about this? I represent a marginal constituency. My political prospects are never secure. I have to consider the interests of my constituents in every matter, because I have only a narrow majority.
I have spoken to my constituents, and I have advocated a substantial rise. I have spoken on the Floor of the House about this and have appeared on television and advocated it, and I have not had a single letter from anybody who suggests that he or she disagrees with the proposition. That, at least, is the evidence that can be given on behalf of one large and important industrial constituency as to constituents' views on this matter.
At the height of the controversy about old-age pensions about two years ago, when hon. Members on both sides of the House were urging an increase which was finally granted, I attended a meeting of old-age pensioners. I was asked by one old-age pensioner, "Do you think that you should be talking about raising your own salaries when old-age pensioners are waiting?" I said that I agreed that their claims should come first and, when I had given the facts about my own position, he got up and said, "I am sorry that I asked the question. I hope that you get your rise." That, from a man of eighty living in poverty, is an indication of the sort of view one expects the British public to take on this issue.
It is constantly said that it is unpleasant that we have to decide this ourselves. I have managed to extract somehow from the capitalist system a sufficient subsistence to enable me to stay here and be a full-time Socialist. Therefore, I am not facing a financial difficulty. I will be quite frank about it. I rely on the generosity of partners who have been associated with me in my profession for a great many years and who treat me with a generosity which I probably do not deserve. I have to decide how to vote, at the discretion of my colleagues, who are working just now whilst I am here, and who have no such subsistence.
The real difficulty of this decision must be the difficulty that applies to many hon. Members who are wealthy or have large incomes but somehow find it possible to say that in the national interest they are going to condemn their colleagues to the endurance of miserable poverty. I have considered the arguments against the proposal with all sincerity. There is one case against it which I could put and which is nearly decisive against it. It is that this House is a thoroughly bad employer of labour.
I think that the House heard with a gasp of astonishment the other day the wages that we are paying to kitchen porters, waitresses and waiters on whom we rely on a higher standard of discretion and courtesy than is demanded from employees in any other establishment; and I was shocked by the argument put forward that they are willing to accept the wages. I hope that the Kitchen Committee will put that right straight away. Until it is put right, I shall find it very difficult to think that I can vote myself money whilst we are tolerating people having salaries of that kind.
It is put time after time that this payment of Members was some innovation brought into our procedure by the Liberal Government of 1906, to which, if he is called, I am sure the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) will make reference. But the payment of Members is part of the habitual practice of this House, and always has been. I have not come armed today with dates or with aids to historical accuracy. I remember a counsel who quoted a Statute rather vaguely. When the learned judge asked for the reference he replied, "I cannot give the precise reference, m'lud, but I know that it was passed in the reign of an Edward or a Henry." I am prepared to say, at least, that this was passed in the reign of an Edward, and an early Edward.
Members for the shires got 4s. and members for the boroughs 2s. a day, but that, of course, was before a Tory Chancellor had tried to control the cost of living. It was in fact possible to live on that pay, and it was often regarded as so substantial that some boroughs refused to pay it to the Treasury. The result was that there was developed a special writ which was called "De expensis bergensium levitandi." It enabled the Member to go to a court and ask it to levy upon the revenues of the borough his expenses for coming to the House and his arrears of pay. Lord Campbell expressed the view round about 1860 that that writ had not been abolished and that it would still he possible to demand some reimbursement for Members from the rates. I am not making a threat. I am merely carrying on the historical argument.
Payment was sometimes made in money and sometimes in kind. A famous Member took a cade and a half of herring a year for his salary, that is, 1,080 herring, but Members did not attend for very long in those days. The House did not sit many days a year. That payment was abolished by the most corrupt of Parliaments, that of Charles II. Most of the Members were receiving private subsidies, not only from the King of England, but also from the King of France. The great and distinguished founder of the Churchill fortunes, the famous man to whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) has paid a brilliant tribute in a brilliant biography, was then laying the foundations of his fame by an adroit jump from the bedroom window of the King's mistress.
The great Samuel Pepys, who has risen very much in the esteem of our people as a result of the researches done recently into his life, commented on 30th March, 1668, that the standard of Member had gone down since payment had ceased. He deplored that payment had been abolished because, when a borough had to pay its Member, it went out of its way to find someone who would do his duty diligently and effectively.
I think that Oldham has the right to say to its Member, "We send you to Parliament and we pay you and we expect you to give every priority to our affairs and not to your own interests." As Parliament is run today, with Standing Committees every morning, business every day, meetings in Committee Rooms every hour, and with those of us who take an interest in colonial affairs meeting almost daily and hour by hour, the Member who absents himself habitually from the House is merely committing a mean and contemptible fraud upon his fellows, because someone has to take on additional burdens and labours in his absence and has to do his work.
Our job is here. It is a matter for the conscience and decision of each hon. Member as to what other work he can undertake. It has always been rather accepted that a barrister practising in London can do some work at the courts, but a barrister practising in Edinburgh cannot possibly attend court. Perhaps a solicitor can go to his office in the morning and come to the House in the afternoon, but I do not think that the House gains greatly by the additional experience which a man practising his profession is supposed to be able to contribute to our debates. When his professional experience is needed, he is quite often not here anyhow. But that is a matter for the conscience of every Member, and every liberal-minded Member would resent any interference by the Whips or by the parties or by the Government which was intended to impose too strict a control upon the activities of each Member.
The Prime Minister coupled most of his remarks with a somewhat astonishing statement about our economic situation, which has fluctuated somewhat in the oratorical efforts of right hon. Gentlemen opposite over the last two years. But it might interest the House to know that when, at long last, the actual payment of Members was restored, and of course every hon. Member knows perfectly well that from the time of abolition until the reintroduction of payment, members were paid on selective draft either shares in the South Sea Bubble enterprise or tickets in the state lottery, or with one of the scores of sinecure offices.
Many of the statesmen of the Regency period had their debts paid by Parliament when they required it, and no one saw anything wrong in that in the days when the Earl of Durham said that a man could jog along on £30,000 a year. It was virtually impossible for a poor man to come to the House. One exception was Creevey, who managed on the principle that he never fed at home. He breakfasted, lunched and dined out, passing from one big house to another, enjoying the hospitality of the period. And those were good days to live in if one happened to be a member of the upper class. For a long period, of course, the Irish Members lived on the bounty of their constituents who had funds to contribute, and the first working class member, Mr. Thomas Burke, had the same.
Yes, that was the case. I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. One also remembers that the early Labour Members had to live almost collectively together in rooms to reduce the expense.
When I heard the Prime Minister speak today, I wondered where I had heard it before. By the courtesy of one of my hon. Friends, I sent to the Library for the HANSARD which records the first Motion for the payment of Members proposed in 1909. The First Commissioner of Works, Mr. Lewis Harcourt, speaking on behalf of the Government, said:
I will now pass for a few moments to the more contentious part of this Motion. The late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, standing at this box two years ago, said, on behalf of the Government, that he cordially agreed with this principle, but he also added that he found himself subject to limitations both of time and money. I am sorry to say that we find ourselves no less short of either of those commodities. As to time, the situation is somewhat eased by the terms chosen by my hon. Friend in his Motion. He proposes to postpone until the introduction of a general Reform Bill the dealing with this specific matter, and, as we are all well aware, a general Reform Bill is more appropriate to the end of a Parliament, a date which is still somewhat remote.
That was a somewhat optimistic statement to make in May, 1909—
As to money, I shall be able to inform my hon. Friends better on that question after the passage of the Finance Bill, and again still better at the conclusion of the present financial year. In the financial exigencies of the country I could not pledge the Government to make this provision under present circumstances. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1909; Vol. 4, c. 1917–18.]
They have always been in favour, in principle—always. And there has always been an economic crisis—always. The Labour Government passed the last real increase in 1946, when a very great many Labour Members had come here. I dislike arguing ad hominem, and I always try to avoid it, but on this occasion I am glad to talk of one of my colleagues who came to this House as senior Member for Oldham in 1945.
Just what happened? I saw him come here. He was a man of great integrity, of great sincerity, and with a passionate desire to serve. I think perhaps it was a tragedy that he came here a little too late. Had he come here ten years before, he would have been a very distinguished Member of this House. He had a wife and family in Wigan living in a council house. He had to come down here and pay hotel expenses on four nights a week at an hotel in Russell Square. He had to bear all the expenses which bear down upon any hon. Member. He had to maintain a home in Wigan and support his family and partake in what activities of the House he could. I can say now that I sought to help him, but he was too honest and too sturdy an individual to accept any help of that kind from any individual. He had to write every letter himself, and he was not a man with long clerical experience, though he had a good brain and great ability.
After five years of that life, he was struck down by a stroke which left him paralysed until he died. We had to persuade him over some months, with the full consent of the people of Oldham, to defer a resignation that was inevitable so that he could continue to receive a moderate salary. In the end, his wife died shortly after him as a result of the accumulated strain.
Sir, this is not the way to treat our public men. The right hon. Gentleman must know that it is not possible for anyone who has a home in the country to maintain himself today in an hotel in London and to perform his Parliamentary duties on this salary. I have said, and I make no bones about it, that I return the whole of my salary as expenses. I do, in fact, spend in that way the whole of my Parliamentary salary, and I do not think there is much extravagance in so doing. I have given up a full-time secretary and instead have the services of a first-class secretarial agency. Their bill for this year will require nearly £400 of that salary as a start.
One has to contribute to some of the constituency costs. One has to maintain a standard of hospitality here. I cannot think that any hon. Member on either side of the House would not wish to offer some modest hospitality when distinguished people come from his constituency or people come to consult him on constituency business.
Of course, we get the cost of travelling to our constituencies, but not to the constituencies of other people. So there is the burden of travelling expenses, of postages, of trunk calls. All these things are going up in price, and everybody else has had a rise. You know, Sir, that the House of Commons has been unusually generous in this respect. We have always, very rightly, declined to frustrate or oppose any proposals for the benefit of anyone else on the ground that we were being badly treated ourselves. It is right that we should do so, but in the course of the last few years, we have granted rises to many people much better off than we are—[HON. MEMBERS: "Last night."] Yes, of course.
What is this financial problem? Let us look at it. The original proposal for the payment of hon. Members envisaged a total expenditure of about £200,000 a year. It is obvious that £300,000 a year today could provide a rise of £500 for every hon. Member. We have just increased the subsidy to the Covent Garden Opera Company by £70,000, making it in all £270,000 a year. I do not oppose that, I think it is money well spent. I do not raise it as a point of criticism, but is it really in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman to say that this very small increase in public expenditure will produce an economic crisis?
To be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, of course he does not say that. What he does say, to be fair to him, is that if it is given to us, other people will say they must have it too. It never has been so. Let the right hon. Gentleman put the proposal through on a simple basis. Let him say that Parliament in its wisdom in 1911 passed a salary of £400 a year to each Member of Parliament—I keep on using the word "salary" but, of course, it is not a salary, it is substantially an expense allowance. Let the right hon. Gentleman say, "We will bring it up to that sum of £400 again, which now represents £1,700 a year." What possible excuse can there be for saying to hon. Members, "We ask you to go on accepting year after year a sum which, in purchasing power, gives less than Parliament carried by an overwhelming majority in 1911." So long as the right hon. Gentleman takes that attitude, I think he is being unfair and unjust to the House. I do not want to put the matter in any unnecessarily controversial form.
Many of us are not in need of an increase—not myself, I had better say—but those who are not in need of an in- crease are, by their vote and action, depriving colleagues in the gravest need. Some I know are having to borrow money, some have had to mortgage houses. I have myself negotiated some of these things, and so I know they are happening. Some have had to surrender life insurance policies and commute savings made for their old age. They are being compelled to do it.
I conclude by saying that, in my opinion, the generous-hearted, decent people of Britain are not influenced by articles written by journalists with their expense allowances of £6,000 or £7,000 per year—
The people of Britain are the most generous-hearted on the face of the earth. I do not believe that they want us to grudge ourselves the elementary comforts of life, nor do I think that any sane man would wish to see us deprived of the necessary clerical assistance which is essential to the full and proper performance of our duties.
I should like to pay my tribute to the temporate way in which the Leader of the Opposition opened the debate. He has set a standard which we should all try to follow during the debate.
In this matter, I find myself in the same sort of dilemma as many hon. Members on both sides of the House. For example, I entirely agree with the Prime Minister that this moment is not the right time for us to consider increases in pay for Ministers, junior Ministers, or Members of Parliament, for the reason which he has given. We are all trying to stabilise the cost of living, and the only way we can do that is to persuade labour to stabilise wages. It would not be much use for the Prime Minister to exhort trade unionists to take this course of action or for employers to stabilise dividends or reduce prices if the House of Commons at the same time granted Members of Parliament an increase in salary.
The other side of the dilemma which worries me is that that decision, right as it may be in present circumstances, does not solve the problem, one which all of us know to exist, that of how Members of Parliament are to live in the conditions which appertain today. I hope we have got beyond the stage when people say such things as "Why pay them anything at all?", or what I always think is an equally ridiculous thing to say, "You came here at £1,000 a year. If you did not like the money, why did you come here?" That is a very stupid thing to say, and I hope it is not the consideration which will enter into our discussions today.
The only consideration which really arises is, as the Prime Minister said, that we are agreed that something ought to be done, but we cannot agree as to when is the time for it and what is the way in which to do it. I do not think it is much use comparing present conditions with conditions in the nineteenth century or even at the beginning of this century. Comparing what exists now with what existed in the past, Parliament has, in its wisdom, created an entirely different state of society in four very distinct respects. First, we have agreed that no man should be excluded from the House merely on grounds of wealth; in other words, the right to membership of this House should not be restricted to those who have money before they come here. The second difference is that membership of this House, as the Leader of the Opposition said and as the Prime Minister admitted, is virtually a full-time job.
The third is that, in so far as membership of the House may not be a full-time job, there are very few part-time jobs which, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) pointed out, can be joined with membership of the House. A man may be connected with a family business, in which case his partners will probably help him. He may be a barrister or an established journalist. He may be a solicitor. He may earn something as a company director or as a trade union official. If he is not in that category—after all, the category must represent a relatively small percentage of hon. Members—what is a Member to do? What is he to do if he is a coal miner, a railway worker, a farmer, a commercial traveller or a young executive in a business in the North of England? There is no job that such a man is fitted to do that he can combine with membership of the House.
The last difference is that taxation is at such a level today that it is impossible for a man in ten or fifteen years to accumulate a sum of money upon which he can live while he is a Member of Parliament. I always remember the story of the late Rev. F. E. Smith, who made enough in ten years to enable him to come into the House. Even in the most favourable circumstances, that could not be done today. In all those respects, conditions are quite different from what they were at the beginning of the century.
It is no good either for people to put forward the argument that, if one pays Members of Parliament enough to live on, one is turning politics into a career. It is a career now, but a very poorly paid one. The career argument can be used the other way round. If we are to exclude, by reason of their occupation, large numbers of people from coming here, because if they come here they cannot live, then we are depriving ourselves of some of the most useful types of men that we ougth to have here.
I cannot imagine, for example, a young doctor with a family, a young engineer or technician, or an executive in a growing business coming here. We are not too well blessed with that type of person in the House, and we could do with far more of them as Members. That sort of man would be doubly foolish if he risked everything to come here on what is, after all, a very inadequate salary in, I suppose, one of the most hazardous of occupations that one could imagine.
I want to say a word about junior Ministers, if for no other reason than that I was one for just over four years. As the Leader of the Opposition said, they draw only half their Parliamentary salary and they get no sessional allowance. They have also to give up any other income which they may have earned before they came here. I should say, without the slightest hesitation, having tried it, that a man who remains a junior Minister for any length of time has to make a choice; he must be a man of some private means, or he must finish up in debt. It is a great pity that we have to restrict our choice of junior Ministers to men with private means or men who are prepared to run the risk of finishing up in the bankruptcy court. Incidentally, I have never been able to understand why junior Ministers should draw only half their Parliamentary salary and senior Ministers none of it, when we have always understood that the Parliamentary salary was given to them primarily to enable them to carry on their work as Members of Parliament.
The last thing I want to do, and I hope we shall refrain from doing it in the debate, is to put forward hard luck stories, because it is a fact that in this discussion the daily Press is, on the whole, hostile to us—
A large part of it is. The greater part of the daily Press and a large part of vocal public opinion—I am not talking about the non-vocal part—is hostile to any increase in pay to Members of Parliament.
Two things always strike me about the matter. First, a large percentage of our colleagues in the House—although we may differ in politics, we are, nevertheless collagues—are never seen in the Dining Room, and for a simple reason. I know what it is; they cannot afford it. Secondly, we are increasingly called upon to entertain Members of Parliament from overseas. One of the most pleasing features of the past few years has been growing communication between the Members of the Commonwealth in all parts of the world, men whom we ought to get to know and to whom we are the virtual hosts while they are here. They are certainly hosts to us when we are in their countries. The fact is that many hon. Members cannot afford to do the most simple entertaining for those men.
I find those things extremely distressing, and I should like to feel that we could do something about them. Some of the hostile public opinion expressed in the Press and elsewhere mainly arises from the fact that the average member of the public simply does not understand what Members of Parliament do and what expenses they are called upon to incur. I am very glad that the Leader of the Opposition said that he does not propose to press this matter to a Division. Something far more than the question of our salaries is at stake. What is at stake is the prestige and dignity of Parliament.
Somehow or other we have to try to remove this controversy from sordid considerations. I wish that we could remove it almost from debate on the Floor of the House. I feel, as I know many hon. Members do, that in the very nature of things this must be a somewhat undignified debate. We realise that, and we do not like it any more than anyone else. The only part of the Prime Minister's statement with which I am in some disagreement was that suggesting that he was not prepared to refer the matter to an outside committee. I shall not make any suggestion about how it should be done, but I have always believed that the danger of referring the matter to a Select Committee is the disadvantage that we are really considering our own salaries and recommendations made by a Select Committee and suffer from that great disadvantage.
I have often wondered whether it is so revolutionary to recommend that some outside body of three or four eminent people should look at all the conditions of membership, not merely salaries, but amenities, pensions, privileges and all the other things which concern us. Such a committee would consist of perhaps the Governor of the Bank of England, the chairman of the T.U.C., the President of the F.B.I. and perhaps one other, perhaps the President of the Royal Society. Some body of men of that sort could look at this sort of matter from a very wide angle, understanding quite naturally that no Government could possibly be bound by it.
I was attracted by the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who said that he had nothing definite to put forward but felt that it would be an advantage if the whole matter were studied from outside.
Whatever may be the merits as between a Select Committee and a distinguished body such as the hon. Member has mentioned, the difficulty is not in making recommendations. The facts are well known. The trouble arises because of the failure of the Government to implement an honourable decision of the House and the general expectation that they would have been bound by a free vote of the House. There is no guarantee that the hon. Member's honourable body would get any more respect than a Select Committee.
Or over-rating it; but it is no good under-rating it. The advantage of what the Leader of the Opposition suggested, that we should have a body of men, not hon. Members, to make recommendations, is that the public would more readily accept that than if the recommendations were made by hon. Members. The only thing about which I am anxious is that this matter should be settled in such a way that the dignity of Parliament is upheld and settled in a manner worthy of Parliament's long history and traditions.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey (Sir D. Gammans) that the dignity of the House should be upheld. To be a Member of this House is the greatest honour that our fellow countrymen can pay us. I noticed that the Prime Minister referred to The Times, as I expected he would. In its leading article today—I thought it particularly miserable—it said that the House should not by any act of its own drive down the £ still further.
The Prime Minister read two other quotations of what I thought was a most pompous and smug leading article. It would not have been so smug if The Times attacked those companies who report increased dividends. I should like to hear of The Times refusing to take money for publishing reports of companies which increase dividends. So long as it does not do that, we need not take its criticisms very seriously. We are supposed to be stopping an increase in Members' salaries because other people might follow in our footsteps. I do not think for a single moment that the leaders of the trade unions in this country will stop their claims for increased wages just because we do not press our claim. That should be clearly understood.
I saw on the main page of The Times—and our whole trouble is supposed to be that inflation makes it difficult to export; we have heard that over and over again, but I am not sure that the Government understand it—that the June figures for exports of British manufactures are the second highest on record. The total for the first part of 1956 was 14 per cent. higher than for the first half of 1955. In other words, inflation is not at all killing our export trade. We may have a balance of payments problem because the Government do not sufficiently stop imports coming in, but nevertheless we are able increasingly to export and to reach the second highest figures on record.
I should like to apologise for the absence of the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) who has had a sad family bereavement and who intended to speak. I modestly hope that I can speak in his place as one of the trustees of the Members' Fund. I have been going into some figures which may surprise the House. I am sorry that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is not present, because he knows something about the discussions which we have had with him and with the Lord Privy Seal, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, over the last few years. Some of my figures I would put under the heading of, "How the Exchequer gains from M.P.s."
In the last twenty years in unclaimed salaries the Exchequer gained £37,510 and in by-elections saved £46,300. For the sessional allowances which started only two years ago, the figures of those undrawn are about £28,700 for 1954–55 and £9,700 for 1955–56. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) in his Select Committee Report recommended that hon. Members should have £1,500 a year. That was not granted and instead the Government introduced a Sessional allowance of £2 a day for the four sitting days each week. The saving by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in not implementing the recommendation for £1,500 a year in 1954–55 was no less than £114,000 and in 1955–56 it was £187,500.
M.P.s are self-employed persons and accordingly pay 8s. 5d. a week instead of 6s. 9d. as National Insurance contributions. That is a saving of £2,730 a year. It is true that against this must be set about £2 10s. in extra allowances for Income Tax purposes in expenses, which is £1,575, but the Government's net gain is still £1,155. For the eight years during which this scheme has operated the total saving therefore amounts to £9,240.
I am sorry that there are so many figures, but I want to have them on the record when the Chancellor of the Exchequer tries to tell the House that he has no money. I should explain that Members receive no unemployment insurance benefit, and because of that the Exchequer saves 6s. a week in employers' contributions. That works out at £9,828 a year, and for the last eight years, therefore, the Treasury has saved £78,624.
I should like to go back to the figure of £9,828 which is saved by the Government because they are not our employers. When the trustees, upon the instructions of the House, raised the question of the pensions scheme with the Government Actuary, he said that we needed £235,000 in order to start it, with full rights for all Members, irrespective of their previous service. The Home Secretary is a great mathematician, although he has not yet been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and will know that 4 per cent. of £235,000 is about the amount which the Government save by reason of the fact that they do not employ Members.
The next time the Financial Secretary or the Chancellor says that if only somebody could show him the way to get enough money to start a pension fund, we must point out to him that the Government save enough money to establish such a pension fund by reason of the fact that they do not have to pay the 6s. a week employers' contribution. That goes part of the way towards bridging the difficulties about the establishment of a pension fund. I should say that all the figures which I have read out add up to £511,000, or over half a million pounds, and that is what the Exchequer has gained from Members in one way or another.
The next thing to remember is that the Government's policy of a high Bank Rate has depreciated the capital in the Members' Fund from £80,090 to £69,786, which is a loss of 12½ per cent. The capital assets in the fund have fallen by £10,300. The Government have gained more than £500,000 and, incidentally, have knocked down our fund's capital by over £10,000.
In case Members have forgotten the position in respect of the Members' Fund, I should point out that we are allowed to pay an ex-M.P. a maximum of £300 a year. Let us assume that he has served for ten years. If he is receiving an income of £75 or less per year from other sources, it is not taken into account, but the most that he can get from the fund is £300. Reference has been made to such people as Cecil Poole and Maurice Webb, who died not long ago in complete poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has referred to the case of an old colleague of his.
These cases come from both sides of the House. I know of a case concerning a man who was a Member for twenty-five years and whom everybody thought was well off, but whose widow has applied to the fund. There is a lot of disguised poverty among Members on both sides of the House. People are naturally rather anxious not to say too much about their own cases and we, as trustees of the fund, are bound in confidence not to mention any names. Hon. Members would be surprised if they knew the kind of person who, having retired and not stood as a candidate at the last Election, comes to us with no funds at all, or with a miserable £75 or less in the Post Office. It is quite clear that Members cannot save, and many ex-Members or widows of ex-Members are receiving payment from the fund. The widow is entitled only to £255 a year, assuming that she has an income of £75 or less from other sources.
We have to apply a very strict means test. If a man is receiving National Assistance and that assistance is increased, we have to decrease our payment accordingly. We once asked George Buchanan, the former Chairman of the National Assistance Board, to meet the trustees of the fund, and we found that a most extraordinary situation existed. We were both acting upon the same principle of a means test and, therefore, if the Assistance Board raised the amount received by an ex-Member we had to knock off an equal amount from what we paid him. It is very unpleasant for the trustees to have to make an annual inquiry into the financial position of ex-Members—including ex-Cabinet Ministers—or their widows. The maximum we can pay is £300, and if a person is in receipt of more than £75 from other sources we can pay him only so much as will make his total income £300.
In 1948 an ex-Member, with ten years' service, and in the same position, received £250 a year, and £150 a year in 1938, but as the £ is now worth only about one-third of what it was in 1938 we should certainly be paying at least £450 a year. All this time the £12 contribution has not been altered. Under the provisions of the Finance Bill of this year Members are being allowed for the first time to count that £12 as an expense against Income Tax. That is important, because it raises another possibility. Those who were in the House when the scheme started in 1936 will remember that the great idea of Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Chamberlain and Sir John Simon, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, was that the taxpayers should not be affected either way.
In other words, Members' contributions could not be used to count as an expense against Income Tax, and payments out of the fund were paid free of tax. This £12 will be allowed for the first time as an expense for Income Tax purposes, and there is a possibility that the Special Commissioners may rule that payments out should be taxable. It is quite likely that they will do so, in view of the fact that in the old days the idea was to keep the fund entirely apart from all questions of Income Tax. The Commissioners may now rule that since payments in may be counted as expenses, payments out should be made liable to Income Tax.
If they do so it will mean that the £80,000 in the fund will be doubly taxed. I hope that I have made myself clear. It is difficult to explain the position. Obviously the sums of £12 which each Member has paid each year since we have been here in order to build up this £80,000 fund have not been allowed to count as an expense against Income Tax. Future payments will be. But if the £80,000 already in the fund is taxed when paid out it will mean that we are paying the tax twice over, and the recipients will be denuded of a sum up to a maximum of £25 a year.
As I have said before, it is quite impossible for hon. Members to save. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and others have suggested—as Earl Attlee suggested when he was here—that many hon. Members cannot afford not to stand for re-election. Mr. Attlee, as he then was, said that some Members were dying on their feet, and that is not an exaggeration. When Members disappear without having resigned we can understand what kind of straits they are in. I believe that a proper pensions scheme is certainly as necessary as a proper increase in salary, or, as Earl Lloyd-George insisted on calling it, allowance.
As one becomes older, one realises the importance of an adequate pension scheme. I am sure that at 21 most people do not think of the possibility of being pensioned, or of death. Few people at that age think of taking out life insurance policies. But as hon. Members get older they realise the importance of an adequate pension scheme. I have shown to the House, and I am sure that someone in the Treasury will read my figures, that a pension scheme could be founded on those amounts the Government save by not having to pay the employer's insurance contribution in respect of Members of Parliament. That would be the interest on the £235,000 which the Government Actuary said was necessary.
Although this Motion refers only to the figures in the 1954 Motion, I believe that the salary of Members of Parliament should be £2,500 a year and that their pension should be £500 a year. Although the Prime Minister does not seem to like the idea, I think that they should be tied in some way to the salary bracket of senior civil servants, so that we do not have to go through this miserable, undignified perennial argument, and expose to the public the poverty of Members of Parliament. I hope that the Government can do something, and the sooner the better.
I am sure that no one will disagree with me when I say that all hon. Members were profoundly interested in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. Speaking for myself, I found his facts incontrovertible and his conclusion inescapable. But I am not so interested in the immediate position of this House, and of hon. Members, as in the future. I look with some alarm at the tendency today for the entrants into politics being constricted into ever narrowing channels. We have to recognise that Parliament is the greatest power point in the whole of the British Empire. Our decisions affect every phase of our lives, whether political, economic or, in many cases, domestic. Therefore it is essential that we should recruit into this House the finest characters and talents in the country.
Yet, as I have said, the field of recruitment is so narrow that we find when we inquire among our younger men—men of exceptional business capacity, or professors in the universities, men of high calibre—and ask, "Why do not you stand for Parliament?" we nearly always get the reply, either, "I cannot afford it", or, "It is too risky". It is, of course, known to everyone in this House, but to very few people outside, that even apprenticeship to politics is an expensive business.
The effort to prepare oneself in economics and politics, and in what might be called the machinery of party warfare, is not an inexpensive business. And the cost of nursing a constituency for two or three years is something known only to those who have been prospective Parliamentary candidates. All this is left entirely out of account when consideration is given to what a man should receive when he becomes a Member of Parliament. But this is a slight handicap compared with what often happens when he becomes the victor at the poll, and then discovers that he has to give up his bread and butter job.
If the House will forgive a personal note, I won my first election in 1929 and was proud that I was to become a Member of this ancient and historic assembly, but I shall never forget receiving, within a couple of days, a letter from the London School of Economics, of which I was then a secretary, saying that now I had been elected a Member of Parliament of course I was expected to resign and that they would be prepared to accept three months' notice. My total income went down with a bump. That sort of thing happens more often than one likes to think about. A man gets into Parliament and then realises that his outside job has gone and that his Parliamentary salary will allow him no more than the merest fringe on which to live.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) mentioned that his expenses were £1,000 a year. The year before last my expenses—and these figures have been checked by the Inland Revenue—for a marginal and extensive country constituency, were £960. For 1955 they amounted to £1,014. As everyone will know, that excludes expenditure on purely party activities and the expenditure of one's wife, and entertainment. It comes down to this, therefore, that no man can get into Parliament today and survive for more than a few years unless he has some outside business, or has inherited or acquired wealth. It is, I think, true that there are only five occupations consistent with Membership of this House. By occupations I include the occupation of looking after inherited wealth, which is perhaps an occupation just as much as any other. On this side of the House we have our fair share of those hon. Members who are occupied in looking after inherited property of all kinds, and the party opposite is not nearly so lacking in people in that particular occupation today as in the early days of its history. Next, we get the trade union and co-operative organisers, or nominees; then we have the lawyers, the literary men, and finally the company directors and partners. Unless a man belongs to one of those very narrow groups, his life in Parliament is short and miserable, and he seeks to end it as quickly as possible and get into wider and more remunerative fields. I should like the profession of politics in this country to be so arranged that every schoolboy could feel that he had the Garter of a Prime Minister in his satchel, but that is not true today.
I think it true to say that the ambitious, knowledgeable and talented schoolboy will consider any career as being open to him with the exception of politics. That he considers a profession open only to the rich or exceptionally lucky man. Therefore, we find that we not not getting the best of our young people as candidates for Parliament. It is our job to see that we make it possible to recruit the best talent and character into this House.
However great the financial punishment on the ordinary Member, by an odd quirk it becomes intensified when a man accepts a junior Ministerial position. I do not think there is any other field of activity in which, when a man is promoted, he receives fewer and smaller emoluments than if he had never been promoted at all. But that is the case in this House. In the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Church; in business, in the learned professions and so on, when a man goes up a step in rank or grade his income usually rises. But here we have the fierce and vindictive rule that the moment an hon. Member becomes a junior Minister he must sacrifice every other form of outside income, except, of course, inherited wealth.
That tilts the balance in such a way, such an unjust way, that gravitating automatically to the Front Bench on both sides of the House we have men with inherited wealth who do not necessarily command all the talent, brain, wisdom or character in the country. I think that among the reforms which this House ought to place on the list of those most urgent—top urgent—is that of seeing that junior Ministers get a remuneration which is, at least, adequate for their increased responsibilities.
I have mentioned the financial punishment. Let me now refer to something which is never referred to by members of the Press when they are discussing this matter, and that is the hazards of political life. Even if Members of Parliament were paid something like American Congressmen, something almost fabulous to our ideas, we must recognise that this is almost danger money; the equivalent of specialist money for a specialist job which at any moment may end with the swing of the pendulum against one.
I never like quoting my own experience in these matters, but I think my experience can be paralleled by that of many others. In thirty years of political life I have fought nine elections and the record has been: 1924, out; 1929, in; 1931, out; 1934, by-election, out; 1935, in; 1945, out; 1950, out; 1951, in; 1955 in—
That is what hon. Members said last time, but I am still here. There is no other profession in which there are such hazards as in political life yet, as we all know, this is the focal centre of the whole British Commonwealth of Nations. We ought to see to it, even if we do nothing to reduce the hazards—and I do not suggest we should do anything to reduce the hazards —that when the ball is running with a man he should be able to score a few goals and not be further penalised on getting into the House or on achieving his first promotion.
I have survived, bobbing up and down every now and then like a cork, but the periods of deep immersion were most unpleasant and I would not willingly see others go through the same experience as I have gone through. After almost every General Election I have had to make a complete overhaul of my activities and endeavours.
One thing I cannot help noticing is that during the last thirty years this House has narrowed its membership to four or five professions. The doctors, nonconformist ministers, university professors, and members of many other trades and occupations are disappearing from this House and we are no longer as widely recruited as we were in the years just before the war. That I think is thoroughly bad for the nation. Obviously we must do something to persuade men of character and talent to come into politics and to give the best possible service they can to the country, and we shall no do that until we establish satisfactory scales of salaries and expenses.
Finally, may I refer to the need for a much better pension scheme than the charity we have at the moment? With the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) I want to see an equitable pension scheme for Members. To my mind that brooks no delay. Whilst some may agree with the Prime Minister that there may be some justification for delaying an overall increase in Members' salaries, there can be no justification for the present scandalous state of affairs of the Pensions Fund. There is no justification for that at all. Whatever the Prime Minister and Members of the Government may feel about this not being an opportune time for a review of salaries, no one can hold with any justification that it is not absolutely urgent and imperative to give hon. Members of this House at least as good a pension scheme, as, shall we say, the teachers enjoy.
I want to make clear that by every method I shall support to the fullest any proposals for ameliorating the lot of those of our colleagues who, as it were, have had their enthusiasm and idealism replaced by rheumatism, their agility replaced by senility and their position in the front ranks of progress replaced by a place in a bath chair or in a sick bed. I am ashamed to think of some of my late colleagues who have gone down in bitterness, poverty and sorrow after years of splendid service to this country. I pledge myself to do all I can to remedy these grave blots on our political escutcheon. I want to do everything I can to see that we get a decent scheme of emoluments for Members of this House and a good scheme of pensions for those who have left. Unless we do that we shall have our Parliament getting narrower and narrower in scope, less good in talent and ability, and we shall no longer hold our position as the Mother of Parliaments and the leader and pattern of the whole democratic world.
I find myself almost in complete agreement with the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham), to which I shall be returning in a few moments.
I want to assert once again that this is of course not a party matter; it is entirely a House of Commons matter. It is not even a Government matter. This House is responsible, through its individual Members, for the character of this House, for its reputation, for its position in the country and for the control it exercises over the Executive. It is therefore responsible for the conditions under which its own Members find themselves from time to time. It is distasteful, as has been said, that we have continually to be raising this matter. It would be very much better if some scheme could be formulated by which it could be decided almost automatically, subject only to the natural, final review of the House.
I now come to the matter which was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, the letters which were sent by him and myself in the correspondence we had with the Prime Minister. I expect some surprise was expressed that we should have been suggesting that this matter should be referred to some outside tribunal. So far as I am concerned, that was for two reasons. One was that a Committee had been appointed by this House, a Committee of Members from both sides of the House. I had the great honour of being chosen by my colleagues to preside over it. That Committee had come to a unanimous conclusion and put the matter before the House. The House accepted the major part of that conclusion by a great majority, but the Government completely ignored it and refused to accept the opinion expressed by a Committee which they had themselves joined in appointing.
What were we to do when a new Parliament came into existence and again no action had been taken, although the circumstances, instead of improving, were steadily getting worse? It had been suggested that we were judges in our own case, and it occurred to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) and myself that there was a precedent in Australia and that we should submit the question to an outside tribunal which would judge it without being accused of being a judge in its own case. We both realised, of course, that the final word must be with this House. This House is really in command of this matter. That was how the question was raised in that correspondence.
I have always taken the view that those of us who have been appointed to a special committee and have joined in framing a report should submit that report to the House and take very little part in the subsequent discussion of the report in the House. We had reported and done our work, and it was for the House to express its views upon it. On the incidents referred to in that Report, I have nothing to say except this: the facts were put before us by the majority of Members of the House, and if it is distasteful for us to discuss here, in public, our own affairs, hon. Members will realise the extraordinary position of the Committee in finding hon. Members putting before us their own financial positions and the crisis with which so many were faced. On the information given to us we had not the slightest doubt in coming to a conclusion as to a finding of facts; and that finding of facts is set out very shortly in paragraph 52, which reads:
The evidence leaves Your Committee no option but to report that the expenses necessarily entailed by Membership of Parliament are such that the present payment of £1,000 a year is not sufficient to enable Members to meet these expenses and to keep themselves and their families in reasonable circumstances while attending to their extensive Parliamentary duties.
That is a finding of fact based upon the evidence which was put before us—and a unanimous finding of fact.
What I desire to do at this point is to state the approach which we made to this matter, speaking certainly for myself and, I believe, for most, if not all, of the Members of the Committee. It was an approach very similar to that of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham.
Perhaps, if I begin in this way, it may explain to the House what was most prominently in my mind: this institution, the House of Commons, is the most important institution in this country, and it is the most important democratic institution in the world. If anybody had asked any of us fifty years ago what was the tendency of the countries of the world towards the formation of their own forms of Government, we should have had no hesitation at that time in saying that, gradually, all of them would have democratic institutions based upon the pattern set by this House of Commons. Not only is it the Mother of Parliaments, but it is the pattern of Parliaments. Not only do they copy us in our rules and orders, but they follow us almost daily in our procedure; and that is the high regard in which this House is held throughout the democratic world.
Today, however, democracy is on the defensive—much more on the defensive, I think, than it has ever been. We thought that it was only a question of time when, by evolution, other countries of the world would follow our example, but today the free democracies are suffering in the cause of democracy; there are millions of people over vast areas who, willingly or unwillingly, have to submit to government either of the dictator or of an oligarchy.
If that is so, it is therefore necessary for us to inquire into our position in this House, for whether democracy succeeds or fails will depend upon the representatives of the people in the institution. If they are worthy, then one can visualise the time when they will win through everywhere, but if they are not, and democracy fails, then that will not only be a tragedy for the country in which it fails, but it will also be a tragedy for democracy the world over. As we know, an institution succeeds or fails on one question—the quality, ability and perfor- mance of its members. That is why we strongly stressed the point in paragraph 54 of our Report, in which we said that the qualities needed in Members of Parliament are qualities of temperament, character, and ability; and, in the course of time, there would be added the quality of experience.
Secondly, we must be representative of the people. There is no need for me to say "of all the people", because if we are representative of the people, then we are representative of all the people. It is quite wrong to think that we could form a truly democratic, responsible Government if we drew our Members from only certain sections. If the choice is limited, then the House and the Members composing it are not truly representative.
No one suggests, I suppose, that the membership of the House should be limited to those who can give full attendance here and devote themselves to the duties of this House, knowing from the outset that because of their conditions outside the House and because of their financial position they will not be handicapped in anything they do. That, again, is set out in paragraph 54 of the Report, in which the Members of the Committee said:
The House of Commons must also be representative of the people, and should not be drawn from certain sections only the field of choice should be wide. Few would support the idea of a House of Commons composed principally of full-time politicians in the sense of men and women cut off from any practical share in the work of the nation. It would be no less damaging to the country if the House were to become a place where Members could not give of their best because of a dominating need to escape from financial pressure.
I cannot add to that, and I do not suppose anybody would challenge it. The disappointment is that, while apparently accepting that position—and we know from what the Prime Minister said today that they do accept it—the Government do not proceed to follow with the corollary.
What is obvious is that because of the tremendous strain put upon hon. Members, the House is deprived of the assistance and guidance of many men and women who ought to be here taking part in our discussions. They are unable to be here because the strain is far too great. Reference has already been made to members of my profession members of the Bar. In the old days, without doubt, a great many members of the Bar could combine their duties in the House with their work, certainly in London. It is becoming more and more difficult for them to do so. Few of them with any substantial practice, and certainly few juniors, can attend the House and still do their work. Certainly if they are on circuit outside London they cannot carry out their professional duties and at the same time attend properly to their duties here.
I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) that if we put ourselves forward as candidates before the electors and they choose to send us here to represent them, our primary duty is to them in the House, and anything else must be secondary to that. The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred to his position as a solicitor. Quite rightly, he says that he depends on the good will, the help and the benevolence of his partners, without which he could not possibly do what he is doing in this House. That applies now to the other professions. What doctor can possibly carry on his practice and attend the House? What architect, unless perchance he has his main office somewhere within easy reach of Westminster? This House, therefore, by the mere strain which is imposed, is being deprived of the finest guidance that it ought to be getting on the professional side.
If one turns to the business side, possibly one can get directorships, but only in London, and even there it certainly does not apply to any active work connected with the larger concerns. If a business is outside London the position is impossible. Of course, as has been pointed out time and time again, no one who is employed in any work can in any circumstances continue in that work and also be present in the House.
It cannot be right that this condition of things should continue. There are certain hon. Members who are gifted and can add to their income by journalism or by appearing on television or radio, but is it right that a man or a woman elected to this House should then have to seek work outside, but within easy reach of the House, in order to add to his or her income? It is putting Members of this House in an absolutely invidious position.
It will be noticed that, in the main, I have spoken only about the younger people. Though the Select Committee was deeply concerned about the present condition of many hon. Members, it was much more concerned as to what kind of House we were to have in the future. It wanted to know who would be attracted, when we ought to be attracting the very best that can be attracted from every walk of life. The area should be of the widest and the quality of the highest. Reference has also been made by one hon. Member after another to the impossibility of young men now turning their minds towards service in this House.
That is my answer to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has quite obviously said, "I realise that this difficult position ought not to exist. It should be put right, and some day or other it will be put right, but at the present moment I do not think it can be put right." Why? I hope that this present financial strain and stress is a temporary and passing one, and according to the speeches by Government spokesmen from that Box conditions are improving. What is much more important is the quality of the membership of the House. More attention should be paid to that. The cost—what does it amount to? At the most it amounts to something between £¼ million and £300,000. More stress is being placed upon that than on this House and its future.
Young men are today being turned from offering themselves for public service. Public service is the finest service that any young man or woman can undertake. In that respect this country has a wonderful record, and its voluntary service is an example to all the world. Those young people, instead of being encouraged in that public service, are now having their minds turned from it, and I am asking the Government to reconsider the matter.
They should say to these young people, "We can now assure you that your reasonable expenses will be met. You need not be absolutely frightened. There will be no undue strain upon you. Come and assist in the counsels of the country. It will be the finest thing you can possibly do and the finest way of serving your people." At present, the Government, instead of assisting the House in that way and drawing to it the very best of our people, are pushing them away, and by so doing are doing harm not only to the House and to the country but to democracy as a whole.
I find the greatest degree of difficulty in making a speech on this matter at all, because it seems to me that the wrong people are present. We have had a succession of speeches from those people who are committed to the proposition that Members of Parliament should be treated decently, but the solid phalanx of hon. Gentlemen opposite who seemed to put pressure on the Cabinet a year or two ago are noticeable by their absence this evening. That is the position with which we are faced. Of course, there is a wide difference between the back benchers on this side of the House and those on the other. We read from time to time how hon. Gentlemen on the other side are rewarded by being made directors of the companies with which the Conservative Party is associated and which are normally the paymasters of that party—which never publishes its balance-sheets in any case.
The hon. and gallant Member gives me my point, which is that the Labour Party publishes its balance-sheets but his party does not. In any case, if one analyses the number of directors on the two sides I should say that there is no doubt where the majority lies. As a matter of fact a director on this side—
No, I will not give way. I remember the hon. Member tugging at the coat of the hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) when he was speaking on the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill, and his bad manners on that occasion stuck in my throat. He was actually hidden from Mr. Speaker on that occasion and could not be called to order, but let him behave himself now.
The hon. Member could not give me any information.
As I say, I think that I am speaking to the wrong people. Last week, in the course of the debate on the economic situation, I said that of course we need not be surprised that hon. Members opposite should treat the factory workers in the car industry with a lack of consideration, bearing in mind that that has been their attitude throughout the whole history of this business. I said that they showed their spinelessness by putting up with such things. In so far as I was challenged I was prepared to give chapter and verse for the allegations I then made, and I hope to substantiate them now.
There is no question about the economics of this present case. On 25th January, 1954, the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer
… what a Member of Parliament's salary of £400 in 1911, £600 in 1937 and £1,000 in 1946, respectively, would be equivalent to in purchasing power on 1st January, 1954."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 208.]
The Answer he received was that the £400 in 1911 was then equal to about £1,470; the £600 in 1937 was the equivalent of about £1,389 and the £1,000 in 1946 was equal to about £1,446. To that, I think, we should have to add another 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. to get the equivalent figure today.
Those were the conditions in which the House considered this problem at the time, but everyone knows of the conversations that took place, and of the great interest there was in the Lobby on this subject. We all know of the rumour that was rampant at the time—and was never denied—that the Prime Minister of the day, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), wanted to do justice to the Members. The right hon. Gentleman in many ways cherishes this place and is probably the most remarkable figure we have here. We heard that that decent feeling was not shared by other Members of the Cabinet. We do know that, notoriously at that time, the then right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now the Lord Chancellor took a prominent part in defeating the proposal. He left this House to be Lord Chancellor, and the incumbent who holds that office for a month receives a pension equivalent to half of his salary. I think that in those circumstances there was something odious about the fact that he would not recognise not only the distress that existed but the justice of the case put up at the time.
I do not know what the Lord Chancellor gets now, but presumably if he gets £10,000—it may be more—it would be £5,000. That is elementary arithmetic.
There is no question that the problem did receive a great deal of consideration in the Cabinet at the time. There can be no question that the real opposition came from the rank and file of the Tory Party in the country. The Tory Party was considerably opposed to doing justice by Members of Parliament. In effect the party which is always quoting Burke to the effect that a Member of Parliament should be elected here not only for his ability but for his judgment and should not be driven like some dumb beast into the Lobby, was the party that collapsed first under the impact of its rank and file on a matter of elementary justice.
It was rather remarkable that in that debate the whole case was given away in similar terms to those which we have heard from the Prime Minister today. I will not quote the Leader of the House too much now, because he is absent. But I remember the colourful phrase which he used about the number of old Members of this House who, after they left the House, having given honourable service had, he said, literally "to be rescued". He deliberately used that phrase.
We found then that the same sort of howl went up from the Conservative Party that presumably went up on the occasion of the hanging debate recently. There is this difference. I listened to the Lord Chancellor again in the other place a few days ago. He was all in favour of putting murderers to speedy death by the rope. Presumably the Tory Party want to put Members of this House to death by slow starvation. There has been evidence produced on both sides of the House of the genuine poverty of old Members of this House. There is no question about that whatever.
We then had The Times coming into the picture. The Times always has to be quoted on occasions like this. Today The Times says that the moment is not opportune. When we read a leading article in The Times two years ago, when it was opportune, a completely new set of values emerged. The Times said that there was great public alarm about it, and that the people did not want it. It said that Members of Parliament were overpaid and all that sort of thing. Much lip service has been given here to the desirability that Parliament should be broadly based. We all ought to be able to come into it. The leader writer of The Times does not believe that.
I remember using a phrase in a letter which I wrote to The Times in which I referred to an ex-engine fitter like myself, and I was surprised at the spate of mail from Conservative old ladies all over the country to the effect, "What the heck is an ex-engine fitter doing in the House? We want educated people". That is really fantastic. What was the truth of the matter?
I canvassed five Labour Members then representing the City of Leeds. They were my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Lady who represents Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), the hon. Member who now represents Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), and Mr. Porter who was then the Member for the now defunct constituency of Leeds, Central. What was their experience? There was one letter from a bookmaker who suggested that we should "not cut ourselves another slice of cake," to use his words. There was another from a grateful constituent of mine who thought that I at least should have the extra money. I think that is a pretty typical cross-section. There was not a great deal of despondency and alarm that between us we in the House should lay on the national Exchequer a sum which was very little in excess of the cost of the alterations which were made to the Royal yacht "Britannia," presumably to please the whims of those people who were to use it.
How is democracy to be preserved? Democracy is not preserved merely by tons of unctious rectitude such as we have heard today and by strings of clichés about the dignity of Parliament. Democracy is there when we see a man, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West referred to, going down to old age in decency and dignity after a lifetime of service. Democracy is not served when we hear of cases like those of Cecil Poole and Maurice Webb. No one ought to have to bear so much as Maurice Webb did.
When we hear of these cases we are saddened. But it is by our collective action before that we can protect these people, and not by the sort of things that we say afterwards. If I mention these cases it is only because I have known those concerned intimately. Hon. Members opposite must know of similar cases within their own experience. It is not the things that we do in isolation which really count; it is how we prevent the recurrence of those things. Hon. Gentlemen opposite and the Prime Minister in particular are merely perpetuating this state of affairs today.
There were conversations, following upon the Select Committee's Report, between my right hon. Friend now the Leader of the Opposition and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer which we on this side thought had gone beyond a matter of principle. It was with shocked and pained surprise that we found that the Government were holding things up on account of the clamour of their people in the country. What did we get from it? We had the contemptible offer of a daily allowance. It would have been far more honest to have given Members £250, £280 or £300 as a straight rise. In spite of all the protests on the other side, it emerged recently that every single Member of this House claimed that allowance except one. We are not even told who that hon. Member is. No one will tell us today. In spite of all the protests from hon Members opposite, when it really came to a question of claiming the money in secrecy, with no one to know, they put out their hands for the money. I think that that is a serious clash between public profession and private performance.
I was one of those to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. I said that I would not draw it during the lifetime of the Parliament which voted it, and I did not draw it. I said at the Election, when I was frequently asked about this, that if I were re-elected I would draw it, and I now do.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is perfectly honourable in making that statement. I would be interested to know if all his friends could say the same. At all events, the point is a fair one to make, that the people who opposed this allowance now draw it.
What we are considering at the moment is the perpetuation of a state of poverty and misery, and the plight particularly of the provincial Member of Parliament. Most people have offered a personal alibi in this matter and, in case anybody should think that I am so vehement because I want to state a personal claim, I will say that I am in fact not doing so; I am thinking of other people. Trade unions have been mentioned. I am not a trade union official, but I do get some assistance in that way. There are certain circumstances personal to my case which really do not put me into the hardship class.
I will say, however, that if I were a shop steward handling a case on the factory floor, I should not prosecute a claim with a better heart than I do here. I do not subscribe to this suggestion that this matter should not be pressed merely because the people concerned are Members of Parliament. The people must know that they must pay for democracy, and that our democracy cannot be run on the cheap.
We have been considering the plight of the provincial Member of Parliament. Hon. Members opposite must know of these things. We have the case of a man trying to run a home in his constituency, possibly in Scotland, and trying to run a place in London as well. I know of the difficulties, though I have no clash of responsibilities of that sort, despite the fact that I represent a northern constituency. Mention has been made of the hazards of membership, how people lose £100 every time Parliament dissolves. A Member gets no salary for those three weeks. I do not suffer in that way, but I have colleagues who, in effect, lose £100 every time there is an Election.
I can, I think, with perfect propriety address hon. Members opposite about this matter, because I do enjoy the personal friendship of many of them, after having been in the House for several years. There are many hon. Gentlemen opposite to whom an increase would be very welcome indeed. I have been told—I hope it is true, because it shows good sense—that about 30 per cent. of the Members of the party opposite would be in favour of an increase in allowances or salaries, as the case may be. The fact is that the Government sacrifice their own supporters. They have not even done justice by them.
There is a duty resting very firmly on the gentlemen of the party opposite. Parliament has voted on this matter, and it is a negation of democracy itself, a free vote having been taken on the assumption that the Government would bow to the freely expressed will of the House, for the Government to betray it.
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene again? I entirely agree that there are many of us on this side of the House who could well do with an increase. I could myself. But I think it is right that we should share in the self-sacrifice which we are asking the country as a whole to accept.
The hon. Gentleman really cannot get away with that. Let me repeat two figures. If £225,000 is spent upon the Royal Yacht "Britannia", nobody suggests that is starting an inflationary spiral. If about £250,000 is spent upon bringing Members up from a state of poverty and giving them a decent sustenance, nobody would suggest that that is going to start an inflationary spiral. We have already lagged behind completely. [Interruption.] As regards the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), it is far better that the passage of time should give him a thirst and take him away for a drink than that he should keep on interrupting me sotto voce.
What is fundamentally behind the attitude of the party opposite? I am not speaking of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) now; I am looking towards him, but I am not quarrelling so much with him again. I am speaking to the solid core of the Conservative Party and those in control of the party which is responsible for this situation. There must be something in their philosophy which has made them take this line.
What is behind all this procrastination, this evasion, this double-crossing, double-dealing and sheer skulduggery we have had to put up this? I think it was very well said by John Stuart Mill some eighty or hundred years ago. He said:
An unpaid legislature and an unpaid magistracy are terms essentially aristocratic—contrivances for keeping legislature and judicature exclusively in the hands of those who can serve without pay.
He went on to say—and it is more true today than then—
Of the able men the country produces, nine-tenths at least are of the class who cannot serve without pay.
It seems to me that it is the aristocratic concept which lies at the heart of all this problem. The party of hon. Gentlemen opposite is still living in the past, still fundamentally believing that we can run a country on the old ways of privilege and patronage. I do not think the Judicature can grumble very much; they are doing very well, except, of course, the lay magistrates, who do not even get the 30s. a day which local councillors are allowed for lost time and expenses. Those at the top seem to have been pretty well looked after.
In face of all these facts, I find the Prime Minister's statement—which I took down—that we must not take any action which starts an inflationary spiral—to be, quite frankly, ridiculous. He said they had very little choice in the matter. What he ought to have said was that they had not got the guts.
Let us come down to cases. We have the ridiculous situation now in the Civil Service where, as a result of the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service, a Minister is receiving about £1,000 less than his permanent officials. Surely, that is a cockeyed sense of values. I should have thought it was worth while to see that the principle of the supremacy of Ministers should be maintained I am one of those who tend to think that the civil servants and managers generally have too much to say, and I am all in favour of asserting the claims of the elected element everywhere. Generally speaking, we have all the hazards of the election and all that sort of thing, and those who take Ministerial office know that they are only the tenants of today, who will be the evicted of tomorrow. I should have thought there was some point in keeping Ministerial salaries well above those of the permanent officials, if only to stop the permanent officials getting above themselves.
What do we find in the middle ranges of the Civil Service? I should like to quote some figures of salary at round about our level, speaking now of about £1,000. I say at once, before using any figures at all, that I am not suggesting they are excessive; the Royal Commission conceded these increases on the principle of a fair comparison with the current rate for outside employment. That was the basis on which they were given. A chief executive officer, whose minimum in 1946 was £1,055, now receives £1,635; he has gone up £580. There is a whole list which I have here showing the figures for an administrative principal, a works group officer (senior grade), a chief accountant, etc., the figures for whom are of the range with which we are concerned this afternoon. Their salaries have increased by £580, by £688, £583, £730, £635 and £680. The increases bring the level of salary to as high as 65 per cent. above the 1946 level.
I notice that somebody is pointing to the clock. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) is, I think, in a hurry to be called, but as there has been so much agreement today and as mine is the first controversial speech to be made so far, I do not think it unreasonable that I should address the House. I have not troubled it for a long time. The judges, the governors, the Civil Service, the town clerks and the police have all been dealt with. If one considers comparative values, it seems to me that only lavatory attendants are below us today.
I want to say this, and I hope I get some agreement with my closing remarks at least. It is a sense of vocation that brings most Members into the House. There are very few introverts in the House; most of us are extroverts. We tend to come here because we think that we do things rather better than other people can do them for us. Most of us who are sent here have a sense of vocation, in the same way as the teachers have a sense of vocation, in the same way that people enter the Church. There is no doubt that hon. Gentlemen and Ladies, on all sides of the House, are prepared to sacrifice pensions, security and jobs to come here to do a job in which they consider that they are doing a public service and serving their fellows.
The only thing about which I feel deep disagreement in the rather melancholy remarks by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who leads the Liberal Party, is the kind of idea that after he came into the House the mould was broken and nobody quite as good has been made since. I do not believe that to be true.
I still have the same sense of pleased surprise that I get from time to time in talking with hon. Members in the Lobbies to know the kind of sense of service that brings many people into this House. I recall that in 1950 I found somebody who sacrificed thirty-six years of super annuated service under a public authority to come into this House because he knew that he would probably be the only person to win the constituency for our party. It may be said that that is quixotic, but I state it to the House as an indication that that spirit of service still lives amongst us.
I still know people who are prepared to give up trade union jobs because they feel a sense of vocation and probably because it is the thing they have always wanted to do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman who leads the Liberal Party need not be so melancholy about it. He may mourn the death of the Liberal Party but he need not mourn the death of public service. It is still very much alive.
Do we really say that only those who can afford to come into the House of Commons should come into it? That is what the question really amounts to. What of the other services that Members give, the kind of things that people do not realise? People in the public galleries who look down upon us and sometimes see a sparse attendance think that there are very few people attending to business. But we know, for instance, of all those Members who give their time, day in and day out for many days, considering Private Bills, when three or four Members listen to the evidence of great corporations, have before them lawyers with their briefs, marked probably 50 or 80 guineas a day, and use their judgment in matters of that kind, deciding, for instance, great questions of city boundary extensions. These are the jobs that are done by hon. Members away from the limelight.
It is not always the most vocal Members who are the most useful ones. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] My case for making a speech at all is that this is only the second speech I have made in the House since December, so the joke is not on me.
I do not think I need answer the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne). He intervenes in the debates from time to time, and we listen to him always with interest and sympathy.
Not another country in the world treats its representatives as badly as we do. The hon. Member for Louth speaks about America. A senator in the United States is safe and secure after two terms of office—there is no question of that—on a salary that we would consider completely extravagant; but I still think that it is far more dignified of America to do that sort of thing than it is for us to do the kind of thing we do here. In this House, we tend to treat ourselves, not as the representative assembly of the country, but as something less.
In the set-up of this House—this is something else in which I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Baines)—we are not complete masters in our house in the regulation of this place, running it with a house committee and Commissioners of the House, as a Select Committee proposed. Even when the House took a decision, after due consideration, that our salaries should be increased, the Government of the day decided to double-cross us. That is what we are protesting about today, and I cannot really see much hope for us from hon. Members opposite.
In spite of what the Prime Minister has said this afternoon, my hon. Friend, who is a great historical researcher, recognised it as the kind of speech that was made in 1909. It is the same sort of speech that the Conservative Party will continue to put forward on these occasions. I believe that it will have to be left to a Labour Government, which has a fundamental belief in democracy, to bring back a sense of justice in this House. When that day comes, hon. Members opposite will damn the increase before they get it, they will accept it when it comes, and at the election that follows they will blame us for giving it to ourselves.
—or one which has done less service to the cause that I and many of my hon. Friends have tried to further during these years.
I do not want to waste time in dealing in any detail with what the hon. Member said, but before I say why I cannot support the immediate raising of salaries, I want to turn to the very important issue of pensions. There is no doubt whatever that there are hon. Gentlemen in this House today who are carrying on under the most severe physical disabilities—
—and who ought not to be here. I know hon. Members, on the other side and on this side of the House too, who, if they were to have any reasonable treatment at all by this House, would and should retire because they are in no physical condition to carry on these duties.
Whatever arguments may be adduced—and I think they can be—for not dealing with an immediate increase in Members' salaries, these arguments cannot apply to pensions. The Government say that we must set an example, and I agree, but it is a good example for employers to pension their employees. We are trying to get firms all over the country to provide for the retirement of their workers. We should not really be going contrary to the concept of Governmental policy in instituting some form of pension for hon. Members of this House. It would, indeed, be in accord with the climate of economic opinion.
I cannot support the increase in Members' salaries at the present time, but I would not go as far as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the reason for it. I do not really believe that if we increased our own salaries it would necessarily result in an increase in wage demands by workers in industry. I do not think it would, because what trade union leaders and others look at are not the salaries of Members of Parliament, judges or town clerks, but the profits of industry. Therefore, I do not think it would necessarily lead to increased wage demands.
What I do believe is that we have at the moment a very crucial battle to fight against the wages-prices spiral, and that it is fitting that we should ask ourselves to make some sort of contribution towards the winning of that battle. Much as I recognise the undoubted justice of this case, I feel that the Government are entitled, and indeed it is an obligation upon them, to ask us to withhold this demand until we can see some evidence of winning this battle against rising prices.
I want to say a few words about what happened in 1954, and it is very difficult for me to say them after the kind of speech to which we have just listened, but I say them despite the discouragement which that speech gives me. I took some little part in trying to get some sort of arrangement in 1954, and I and my hon. Friends who voted for an increase then were pilloried in the yellow Press, particularly the Daily Express and its associated newspapers. We endured a good deal of abuse from some members of our own party, and we endured even more abuse from some of our less intelligent supporters in the country. I said at the time I did this that I did not regret it, and nothing has subsequently caused me to alter my belief.
In 1954, this change could have been accomplished without any real difficulty at all. I say with regret that our Government succumbed to the less worthy elements of our party. I looked with extreme distaste on the sight of some of my hon. Friends with immense incomes which they had not earned taking the view that some hon. Gentlemen in this House who were in a much inferior position should not get a rise in their remuneration. I go as far as to say that no man who is not dependent upon his Parliamentary salary ought to turn round and say that other hon. Gentlemen should not get an increase in their pay.
I must confess that I am not dependent upon a Parliamentary salary, but I would not for one moment, if I held contrary views to those which I have, deem that I ought not to express them. This issue in 1954 never had a fair chance. We had the yellow Press, and we also had that extraordinary attempt by the Daily Telegraph to beat up irresponsible opinion among middle-class supporters of the Conservative Party. It was a disreputable act for what is a reputable newspaper, and the issue never really had a chance of being considered in its true perspective.
Let me now turn for a moment to the question of what we are going to do about Members of Parliament and their salaries, because this is really quite a fundamental problem to our democracy. I do not pretend that I really know the answer. I had hoped a few years ago that we might see a lessening in Parliamentary business as a result of freeing the economy and other devices, which would cause Members of Parliament to bear less of a burden than had been the case, in my experience at any rate, in the years since the war. The real fact is that, having freed the economy as far as is possible—and perhaps even further than is possible—we are still left in the position that this House is not capable of dealing with all the business with which it is required to deal, and the pressure upon Parliamentary time and upon Members of Parliament remains as great as it was in the days when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were trying to bring about the social revolution.
We really do know now that we cannot conceive a state of affairs in the immediate or even distant future when the leisurely pace of Parliament will be able to be resumed, and we can only look forward to the fact that, for good or evil, Members elected to this House will have to spend much more of their time doing their job than was the case with their predecessors twenty or thirty years ago.
That means that we have to consider seriously and in true perspective what sort of remuneration we are going to give for that job. I agree with everybody who has said that a sense of vocation must exceed the attraction of the reward in this job. I would not like to see a House of Commons in which the attraction of the reward exceeded the sense of vocation, and, whatever we do, we must not do anything that will cause us to create a state of affairs in which men come here not because they believe in public service, but because they believe that this is a well-paid and comfortable job.
At the moment, the United Kingdom Parliament is the hardest worked and the worst paid of all the Parliaments in the world, and that is having very evil effects. I think that some of the pictures which have been drawn of the evils have been slightly overdrawn today, because this is a vital assembly which will survive even such speeches as that just made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West. In these circumstances, this is having a very bad effect upon the House, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, only a rich man, a kept man, a journalist or perhaps a lawyer, and even bachelors, will in future be able to take their places if we continue the present salary scales. There is no reason for believing that Members of this House, like artists, do their best when starving in garrets; they do not. There is no ground for the belief that poverty is a good forcing ground for statesmanship. What strikes me as being the biggest evil is that the present remuneration of Members prevents the dignified discharge of a Member's duties.
A short time ago one of my colleagues here told me that he could not afford to go into his Conservative club in his constituency because he might be treated and he could not afford to treat anybody in return. That is a very serious state of affairs for any Member of Parliament, Conservative or Labour. He could not mix with his own supporters and constituents because he was afraid of incurring the obligation to return hospitality which his circumstances would not allow him to do. There are more serious consequences of this state of affairs than that.
I refer to the division of this House between the Dining Room and the Tea Room, which is not a good thing. I do not say that this goes on to a disastrous extent, because there is a sense of unity in this place which is one of the most uplifting experiences that any man can have. We know that behind the necessary area of dispute there is a sense of unity here which is a great safeguard for the whole democratic concept, but this difference between those who can afford a decent meal and those who can have only a scratch one is not calculated to improve conditions in this place.
The second and even more important objection to this state of affairs is that it renders Members susceptible to pressure from outside. This is quite the most important of all the objections to the existing state of affairs. I suppose there are few Members who have been in this House even so long or so short a time as I have, according to the way one looks at it, who have not been approached at some time or another by some organisation suggesting that if they would do so-and-so the organisation would do this, that or the other. Because I work I have been in the fortunate position that I am able to tell them exactly where they are to go, but to hon. Members who had no other source of income that would present an immense temptation. I say to those unsympathetic people outside in certain places that to safeguard Members of the House of Commons against temptation is a very important factor in our public life.
The third reason why I do not support the existing salary set-up is that it tends to make Members less independently-minded. It may appear odd to the public that Members want to be independently-minded, but for the healthy functioning of the party system that is essential. The independently-minded Member is much the more valuable Member of this House than the purely passive one who goes with the stream. The man who is beholden to his constituency or to his association or to some trade body or trade union outside is not the best man to represent the people of this country in the House of Commons.
Hon. Members have said that there is no objection amongst the members of the public to raising the salaries of Members of this House and that, on the whole, the public would welcome it. I am not so sure that this is the right view. I believe that there is a substantial section of the public filled with a great deal of envy and resentment against Members of Parliament. One cannot go into any pub without meeting one man who could run the affairs of the country much better than any Member of Parliament—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is probably right."]—and if one goes into a cocktail bar, they can all do it.
This is a factor which we ought to recognise, because it is important to our relations with the public. I had the first experience of this attitude when, in 1948, I wrote an article in the Daily Mail to the effect that the salaries of junior Ministers were hopelessly inadequate and ought to be increased. I should have thought that any responsible person reading that article which, although it may not have been well written, put the facts before the public, would have seen the good sense of it, at any rate to some extent. I was astounded at the spate of abuse I received, including two letters from my constituents stating that I was not fit to be a Member of Parliament. It is true that hon. Gentlemen opposite were the junior Ministers on that occasion, and that lessens the value of my case to some extent, but it by no means justified what happened.
That may be so, but we must recognise that there is a good deal of envy amongst certain sections of the public of Members of Parliament, and we have to try to take those people with us.
I believe that during the next six months or so we must get down seriously to judging the future pattern of Members' remuneration. We have now seen that there is no question of reducing materially the business of this House. If anything, if we are to do our job properly, we shall have to do more. There are the nationalised industries, for example, which go on without any let or hindrance, and they will have to be dealt with in some way or other. Therefore, we must try in the next few months to work out a pattern of Members' remuneration. We must make our case to the public. We must deal with those people who are unreasonable in their attitude towards us, and we must try to explain matters to them. At the same time we must try to get a pattern which will make a life in this House tolerable to the man who has no other income.
It must be remembered that only because there are people who come here and do full-time work can others exist who do part-time work, and we ought not to have a state of affairs in which the man who has no other income cannot share in the full-time work of this House. There ought to be no such exclusion in terms of income.
Therefore, whilst I support the Government in their present view that we must lead and set an example to the people of this country, for the next month or so at any rate, we must make the country generally realise that to continue this state of affairs in the House of Commons is damaging to the democratic concept. I agree that not everyone wants the democratic concept, but if the majority of people in this nation want a democracy of the kind we have, they must look upon their servants in this House with a little more understanding and must appreciate that to continue the existing state of affairs will be a bad thing for democracy.
I hope I shall not embarrass the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) if I say to him that all of us on this side of the House express our appreciation of the speech he has made. It is infinitely more valuable coming from that side of the House than from this side, and we appreciate very much what the hon. Gentleman has said. I go further and express the hope that not only what the hon. Gentleman calls "the yellow Press" but The Times, following its leading article this morning, will publish at length the speech he has made in this House this evening. I thank him personally for what he has said.
It is significant that every speech made here today has been on exactly the same lines. Not one made since the commencement of this debate has opposed the suggestion put before the House in the Motion before us. The only cold water thrown on it was poured by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself, and that was referred to by the hon. Member for Cheadle in his reference to postponement because of our economic circumstances.
I want to devote my speech to the question of pensions, and so all I want to say about salaries is that it is not we who should be setting the example. The example of rising wages and rising salaries have already been set. It has been set by other people whose salaries have been increased. In every sphere of our national activity people have been receiving increases except Members of Parliament, who find themselves tagging along behind what is happening throughout the country.
Therefore, it is due to us that real consideration should be given to the question of Members' salaries, not at some later date when the Government have decided that it is the right moment because the economic circumstances may be better, but now. It has been proved in every speech today that this is an urgent matter, and there is no doubt about the evidence. To put it another way, we owe it to our families that their sacrifices to our public service should not be exploited.
As I have said, the main point I want to raise is the question of pensions. However serious the salary question may be, and it is serious, the pensions situation is considerably worse. Take a Member who has been here for at least ten years. He may be over sixty. Because of his membership, he has had to sever all association with industry. He might lose his seat and cease to render service to the House. In almost no circumstances is anyone prepared to give him a situation in keeping with his dignity as an ex-Member or suitable to his physical ability. If he has been living solely on his Parliamentary salary during his ten years of service to the House, he will not have been able to save out of it.
What happens? After rendering that service to the country, he has to approach a committee, composed of persons who were his colleagues in the House, and say, "Look, I am in a mess. My commitments are greater because of the time I spent in the House. Can you help me?" What a position for a man of public service to be in. What is the Committee's reply? My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) has given some indication of it. The Committee will say, "Ten years' service, and you have finished with the House? All right. Whatever income you may have now we will make up to the fabulous sum of £6 a week." This concerns not only hon. Members who have left the House. There must be very many hon. Members here now who are facing that prospect.
I want to make what I feel is a very reasonable and practical suggestion to the Government. I do not want them to think for a moment that I regard the other matter as unimportant or not urgent. It is very urgent. If there is anything at all in the argument that the economic situation will not allow an increase in salaries and that there will have to be postponement, will the Government do what I am about to suggest, and do it now, in order to relieve the burden upon the shoulders of those who have left us and the threat to those who are still with us?
We have been told that the Members' Fund stands at about £80,000, which has all arisen from our modest contributions month by month. I suggest that the Chancellor should say now that he will underwrite the fund to the tune of, say, £70,000 or thereabouts. In other words, should the fund fall below about £70,000, the Chancellor would make it up from Treasury funds. The cost to him would be very small indeed in terms of money these days. I suggest that from that fund he should pay half the Parliamentary salary, whatever it might be at a given time—I stress this—without any question to any applicant who has served more than ten years, is no longer in Parliament and has reached the age of sixty or sixty-five. The exact age is arguable; these would be men who were, in effect, beyond absorption in industry.
I have not done a great deal of research into the cases of individuals in previous Parliaments, but I am sure that the number who would be considered in this respect would be very small. Suppose it amounted to about 100. The commitment would be only £50,000 a year. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton has told us in no uncertain terms in his excellent speech what the Government have had out of Members of Parliament. If we think in terms of a maximum of even £50,000 a year from Treasury funds, it is a flea-bite compared with other sums that we discuss, and it is not much in comparison with the figures referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton. Much of it would come from better-off ex-Members in Income Tax, even if they applied for the pension, but I should certainly take the view that people who would have to pay back a great deal of it in Income Tax would not trouble to apply for it, and, therefore, the sum would be nothing like the £50,000 which I have suggested.
I suggest that there could be no earthly objection to such a course from any source that we could imagine. I am sure that we should have not the slightest criticism from any member of the public. However, I am confident that, by doing this, we should take away the worry and uncertainty in the minds of hon. Members who are getting a little older.
Perhaps it is a sign of my advancing years that I should talk like this, but I assure the House that I am not speaking in a personal sense at all. This is a very serious matter indeed. I am perfectly sure that dignity could be upheld and fairness would be done to all Members and ex-Members of Parliament. I do not make my suggestion as a cure for the whole problem. I do not accept the Government's statement that they cannot do it now because of the economic circumstances. What I do say, however, is that, if they are going to stick to that point of view, this is something of an interim character which they can do, and by doing it they can relieve the anxieties of those who have already left the House and contribute a great deal towards a feeling of security on the part of many present Members. That is the aspect that I want to stress, although the other is also important.
The tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), like that of the Leader of the Opposition, was in very marked contrast to the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). The allegations which the hon. Member made against the present Lord Chancellor can be treated with the contempt that they deserve.
That speech aside, I should say that, whatever differences there might be in our discussions between one side of the House and the other in the somewhat delicate matter of our remuneration, they are differences not on the merits or the facts of the case, which are well known, but broadly speaking on the timing. We speak only for ourselves, of course. For my part—I do not think that very many hon. Members would disagree with me—I feel it to be wholly wrong that anybody should be debarred from Membership of the House owing to lack of financial means.
Equally, at the other end of the scale—and here again there will be general agreement—it would be wrong if Membership conferred upon the individual Member a standard of living higher than he would enjoy if he were not a Member. Again, we all agree that it is undesirable, for a number of obvious reasons, that hon. Members should be looking over their shoulders every weekend, wondering how on earth they can keep themselves in London in the middle of the week, and a wife and family several hundreds of miles away.
As has been pointed out by several hon. Members, the whole position and tempo of Parliament is now quite different from what it used to be. Since the war, the pressure of legislation has become much heavier. I sometimes think that the legislative meal which we are asked to eat is so heavy as to be indigestible. Moreover, in the last six years, the parties have been very evenly balanced, so that it is much more difficult for that reason, apart from other reasons, to get away.
The hon. Member can describe it as he likes. I would not know whether a workshop is more exclusive than membership of this House.
To a greater extent, membership of House is becoming a whole-time occupation. As the Leader of the Opposition said, if there were not a large number of Members prepared to devote almost all their time to the House, the House could not function, because we could not man the Committees, apart from anything else, although we all agree that we would not like to see 625 full-time Members, none of them having a stake or interest outside and therefore none of them feeling in their own affairs the effects of the legislation which goes through the House. That would be very undesirable.
Where there is a disagreement it is not on the merits, but on the timing. It is very important that we should not overstate the case for an increase in our remuneration. A credit squeeze is in operation at the moment to try to cure inflation. In my view that is quite right, although hon. Members opposite may take a different view. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) told us that he knew several hon. Members in difficulties who had had to mortgage their houses and surrender life insurance policies in order to keep going. That is deplorable, but I must point out that those circumstances, deplorable though they are, are not difficulties peculiar to Members of Parliament. A number of other people, including those living on fixed incomes and pensions, many of whom have rendered very distinguished service to the State, services much more distinguished than many of us will ever render, have had to mortgage houses and properties and surrender life insurance policies.
The hon. Member is doing great harm to the general case by confusing payment for services rendered and expenses as we have here, and pensions. There are no pensions for Members of Parliament. The kind of case he is making, no doubt very sincerely, is part of the misrepresentation which confuses the issue in the country.
All I am saying is that it is not right and does the reputation of Parliament no good to overstate the case of the financial difficulties which both sides of the House suffer.
The Chancellor is quite rightly imposing a credit squeeze, and he is asking all sections of the community to exercise restraint. He is asking the trade unions to exercise restraint in respect of wages; he is asking companies to exercise restraint in respect of dividends; he is asking individuals and local authorities to exercise restraint in respect of expenditure. Of course, it is a very popular and easy line to take to say, "Hooray for the credit squeeze. Let us have economies to get the finances of the country right—so long as the cuts apply to you and not to me."
I do not think that as Members of Parliament, collectively or individually, we could argue like that. I very strongly hold the view that Parliament must itself practice what it preaches to others. We cannot say to our constituents, "Many of the things you want to do now have to be postponed until tomorrow, but count us out; we Members of Parliament are beings apart; we are outside all this."
I am not confusing the issue at all. If the hon. Member would do me the credit of listening for a second, I will say why. The Chancellor is imposing cuts in expenditure over a wide section of the community. He is asking hon. Members on this side of the House to help him in that respect. He is asking hon. Members opposite to help him, but whether they do so or not is up to them. For my part, I could not say to my constituents, "Cuts for you. All sorts of things you want, both collectively and individually, you cannot have now, they must be postponed because of the economic condition of the country, but that does not apply to me, I am a being apart, I am a Member of Parliament, I want a higher salary."
Where I differ with hon. Members opposite is that I believe that if we were to say that now, we should not only drag Parliament into disrepute, but do something else.
The hon. Member is now arguing the excuse of the credit squeeze and the request to workers to restrain their wage demands. Will he say why the Government did not concede this increase in salaries when the House voted for it when there was no credit squeeze?
If I were an hon. Member opposite, I should not make too much criticism of Chancellors of the Exchequer who impose credit squeezes, because successive Chancellors of the Exchequer of the party opposite tried to impose credit squeezes. They did a lot of talking, but very little else.
Where I differ from hon. Members opposite is that I believe that if I am to ask my constituents to exercise restraint, then there is a double obligation on me to exercise that restraint and more in respect of my remuneration.
I do not think we can take seriously the argument that this is the wrong time to increase Members' salaries. It always is the wrong time. Soon after I came into the House I was asked to make a contribution towards a collection being made for a former Member who was in dire distress. The position of Members was known then. It has always been known. It was known in 1954, but the Government of the day would not take the necessary action. The burden of the Prime Minister's speech was that this is not the right time. I do not suppose that at any time in the history of Parliament a weaker speech has been made by a Prime Minister—but I shall not go into that in detail.
Last night, the last Bill which we discussed was the Governors' Pensions Bill, which increased the pensions of colonial Governors to £3,000. I do not know whether it was bad planning, or intentional, that these two matters should come so close together. I am not objecting to the fact that colonial Governors are going to receive pensions of £3,000 a year, but it seems rather strange that the Government were asking the House to raise their pensions to £3,000 a year last night but will not contribute one penny towards a pension scheme for Members of this House today.
Perhaps I should explain my position in relation to the debate. I have no other job, nor have I a subvention from any trade union. But my position is not quite as bad as that of many of my colleagues, especially those with young children. Further, when I was elected I took the view that my constituents elected me to come here, and that this was where they expected me to spend most of my time. Consequently, I suppose that I am what one might call a professional politician.
It is very difficult and embarrassing periodically to have to discuss our own salaries in this way. That is why I regret that the Prime Minister did not accede to the suggestion that an independent inquiry should be set up. I never really imagined for one moment that he would agree to such a proposal. It is quite definite that if such a committee had been set up its recommendations would have been very different from those put forward by a Select Committee of this House, and they would have blown sky high the myth that this is a part-time job.
Some sections of the Press have not been very helpful to us. I have often wondered whether it is presumption on our part to consider that we are worth more than one-tenth the value of the editor of the Sunday Express, or presumption on his part that we are not. I have also read in the Press references to the huge salaries paid to Members of Parliament, and to the fact that they receive free travel, free stationery and other emoluments. When I read about these other emoluments, I wondered whether I was missing something, or whether I had not been a Member sufficiently long to find out what these other emoluments are.
Anyway, I certainly have not discovered them.
The payment of Members of Parliament is not something which has suddenly cropped up in the twentieth century. I believe that the first time they were paid was in 1232. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) pointed out earlier, it is significant that Members were not paid during the period of greatest political corruption in this country. In 1232, by an Act which I do not think has ever been repealed, constituents had to pay their Members 4s. a day if they were knights and 2s. a day if they were burgesses. Some people may think that people had a strange sense of values in those days. We do not operate that system today. We do not decide that knights necessarily should have more than ordinary commoners. We have a different arrangement, whereby we make quite certain that the wealthiest Members receive the biggest Parliamentary salaries—because they are able to claim the largest expenses.
Surely that is an intolerable position. Surely it should be taken for granted that, at least during the time when we are doing the same job, we should have the same standard of living. I hope that the Financial Secretary will consider this question very seriously. We should not have to go through this degrading experience of having to add up how many pennies we have spent during the year before we make out our expenses. It is known throughout the House what the expenses of Members of Parliament are generally. I can see no reason why a sum should not be fixed which Members should be allowed to charge as expenses so that we should all be paid the same amount, at any rate whilst we are doing the job of Member of Parliament.
I want to make one other suggestion to the Government about the payment of Ministers. I have never been able to understand why a Minister—either of junior or Cabinet rank—should not be able to claim the same expenses as an ordinary Member of Parliament. When any changes are made they should be made upon the basis that a Minister should receive, first, his salary as a Member of Parliament; secondly, the same expenses as ordinary Members of Parliament and, on top of that, a further amount in respect of the important work which he undertakes. I suppose that the present situation dates back to the time when Ministers had to resign their seats if they were appointed and fight again. That is not the case today, and a Minister should now receive his Parliamentary salary first of all.
The Prime Minister's speech indicated that he has no knowledge whatever of what it means to a Member of Parliament to have to live on his Parliamentary salary. When he left office in 1945 he did not try the experience of living upon a Parliamentary salary; he became the director of a bank. Of course, his experi- ence of foreign affairs qualified him very well for such a position. Furthermore, he does not seem to realise how exacting the day-to-day business of Parliament is at present. I should think that it is a very long time since the Prime Minister was a member of a Standing Committee—if he ever did undertake such work. I wonder if he knows that in the present Session 26 Bills have been sent to Standing Committees, in addition to those sent to the Scottish Standing Committee which, to me, seems to have been sitting in almost permanent session.
In addition to the Standing Committees considering Bills, there are 17 Select Committees, one of which has five sub-committees and another four. All these have to be manned by Members, and, as has been said by one hon. Member opposite, it is only because some Members are full-time Members that it is possible for others to be part-time Members. It is true that not a single occupant of the Front Bench has ever had the experience of having to live on the salary of a Member of Parliament.
I think it true to say that at the present time there is not a single hon. Member on the benches opposite who has not a private income, or a pension, or a job, or a directorship, or a union contribution, or a job at the Conservative Central Office. Yet I understand that quite a number of hon. Members opposite are finding present conditions very difficult. If that be true of them, how much more true must it be of those Members of Parliament who have to rely entirely on their Parliamentary salaries?
I wish to come back to 1954 and to the dictatorship mentality of the Conservative Government. We talk about democracy and about Parliament being supreme—that the will of Parliament must prevail. But that is just nonsense. It was not the will of Parliament which prevailed then, it was the will of the Cabinet. We are not living under a Parliamentary democracy, where the will of Parliament prevails, but under a Cabinet dictatorship. To me, that seems to present a constitutional issue which has been passed over very lightly.
In connection with another matter, the News Chronicle either this morning or yesterday, said this:
The Government is not bound to support the Bill"—
that is the Bill which has just been defeated in another place—
but must permit the elected Members of Parliament to have the last word.
I admit that that was dealing with an entirely different problem, but the principle is the same. The elected Members of Parliament should have had the last word in this matter when a free vote of the House was granted.
It is just nonsense to say that, in order to do their job efficiently as Members of Parliament, hon. Members of this House must hold some outside engagement and keep in touch with industry. If any hon. Member is not keeping in touch with the problems of the industries in his constituency, is not keeping in touch with all the different facets of life, he is not doing his job properly. Therefore, it is nonsense to say that he must do an outside job. Of course, as has been said, this can be only a part-time job for some, because it is a full-time job for others. I wonder how many hon. Members go to their constituents at Election time and say, "I hope that you will elect me, but, of course, I do not intend to make this a full-time job"? If the electorate were offered the choice between a Member of Parliament who was to be full-time and one who was to be a part-time Member, I know which one they would elect.
I warn the Government that it is the view of some hon. Members on this side of the House that the same rules as are at present applied to Ministers should be applied to back benchers. I am not arguing one way or the other whether that is right. I am just telling the Government Front Bench that the view is held by a good many hon. Members on this side of the House. The number is likely to increase, and the treatment which the Government is giving the House is just the very treatment which will increase that number. So perhaps the Government should not be surprised if, at some future time, a Labour Government says that they propose to pass legislation to carry that into effect. I know then from where the strongest demand for adequate salaries would come.
What sort of House of Commons do we want? Everyone is agreed that we want a House of Commons which is representative of every section of the community; of the employers and employees; of the professions, of those who secured their education at universities and those who were educated mainly in the workshop and the mine and are able to bring to the deliberations of this House the commonsense approach of the workshop and the mine. We should see to it that we have a House composed in that way of the best men and brains by ensuring that, during the time hon. Members are here, they are not perpetually suffering from financial worries—and, of course, the chief worry is not regarding the man himself but his wife and family.
I am sure that even the Government must at times have made the comparison between our remuneration and that paid to Members of Parliaments abroad. If one goes to an international conference, it is very noticeable that, while the British representatives are very popular, they are regarded as the poor relations of the family. I do not think that does any good to British prestige. From the fact that we are known to be paid so much less, I think there arises a danger that some people abroad may believe that we are "making something on the side"—I think that is the phrase which is used. I am happy to say that I think there is not another Parliament in the world so free from corruption as the British Parliament.
I should like to mention an experience I had while on a train journey a year or two ago. There was an American in the same compartment, and with the persistent questioning in which some Americans indulge, he eventually discovered that I was a Member of Parliament. He said, "How much do they pay you?" I said, "A thousand a year". I did not go into details and tell him that it was £1,000 less expenses. He said, "But you cannot possibly live on that." I said, "I am afraid that we have to." He said, "What jobs have you got in your gift?" I said, "None." He then asked me, "What jobs has your party got in its gift?" I said, "None." He thought that over for a moment and then he looked at me and said, "Do you mean to tell me that you cannot even appoint the sub-postmasters in your constituency?" I suppose he thought that since, according to him, I could not possibly manage on £1,000 a year, I had certain jobs in my gift and that that was how I managed. So I say there is the danger that the impression may be abroad that, if we are paid in such a way, we obtain money in other ways.
I come back to the point, which was made so much of by the Prime Minister, that this is not the right time to increase our salaries. It never is the right time. Why was it not the right time in April, 1955, just before the General Election, when the Chancellor said that the party opposite had saved the country, and when he was able to distribute £150 million in tax relief? Was not that the time when consideration should have been given to this problem? No, the statement that this is not the time is not a reason, it is an excuse.
Hon. Members are overstating the case if they say that by relieving the position with regard to expenses and so on there will be such opposition from the country that their task will be even more difficult. The only opposition last time came from local Conservative organisations. We ought to express gratitude to those Conservative Members of Parliament who stood up against their local organisations on that occasion. There was no other opposition throughout the country.
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) said that there was jealousy of Members of Parliament. If there is jealousy it must be confined to local Conservative organisations. I have not found it elsewhere. I think my experience has been that of most hon. Members, and I know that at the Election in my constituency there was not a single question asked on this matter. I do not think the Express newspapers necessarily represent the views of the people of this country, nor that people necessarily want politics on the cheap. This is a full-time job and an important job. I can think of no more important and satisfying job than trying to do our work here on behalf of 50 million people. I am sure those 50 million would not react in the way the Prime Minister suggested they would react.
I cannot find myself in substantial agreement with much of what the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) has said. Although I support the claim for a substantial increase in hon. Members' emoluments, I do not believe that an increase at this time would meet with approval in the country. I believe the opposition would come, not only from members of the Conservative Party throughout the country, but we should find very powerful opposition from old-age pensioners.
I find the opposition in my constituency very strong even at this time. Although the Government have said quite firmly that no increase is to be given at present, I have had a considerable number of letters from old-age pensioners on this subject. I say quite frankly that I could not possibly vote myself an increase in salary unless something substantial were done for old-age pensioners. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may think that a very strange point of view, but it is the point of view which I take—[An HON. MEMBER: "Which everyone takes."] It would be a convenience to me if I were permitted to speak one sentence without interruption.
I think we have ourselves very largely to blame for the attitude of mind of the general public on this subject. I think our public relations generally have been very bad. We have failed over the years to educate the public to a proper appreciation of what a Member of Parliament has to do on his salary and what the job entails. It is all very well for the man in the street to say, "You knew what you were letting yourself in for when you put up for election", but in fact we do not know what we are letting ourselves in for then. Subsequently we know, and if we find the task beyond us after the first Election the responsibility for carrying on rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the hon. Member who wishes to continue as a Member.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde has told us of the difficulty in which many hon. Members find themselves and which I do not doubt for a moment, but if the task is beyond them they ought not to stand again. It is not right for a man in any walk of life to carry on any vocation which jeopardises the security of his family.
I am simply pointing out that to be a Member of this House is not a task imposed on anyone; it rests entirely on the personal responsibility of the man or woman seeking to be an hon. Member.
I wish to draw the attention of the wider public to some of the things that we have to do and for which I think we should be recompensed. One very minor discrimination is that all of us who have London constituencies are able to telephone anybody within our constituencies free of any charge. The telephone boxes are free to us, but any Member of Parliament who represents a constituency outside the London area and wishes to telephone to that constituency has to pay for the call. That is a discrimination which is utterly unfair.
On the question of travel discrimination works the reverse way. Every Member of Parliament is entitled to a free travel warrant between this place and his constituency. Maybe he goes to his constituency only once a week when he leaves here on a Thursday night or on Friday. Often he does not live in the constituency and perhaps for a week he does not need to go there. If it happens that his place of residence is not in his constituency he does not get the travel warrant.
I think the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) is under a general misapprehension. I do not want to defend the generosity of the Government, but it is a fact that a Member of Parliament gets a travel warrant for the journey between his constituency and this place and between his home and this place. That is a well-known fact.
If I travel by my own car to Chigwell, which is 11 miles from here, I am given no Income Tax allowance for that by the Income Tax authorities. I also get no Income Tax allowance for travelling by my car from Chigwell to Ilford, which is four miles. On the other hand, when I drive about inside Ilford it seems that I can use as much petrol as I need and claim an Income Tax allowance for it. That is an inconsistency and it ought to be put right.
I wish the hon. Member would keep quiet.
I turn to the question of secretarial expenses and postage. The general public believe that secretarial assistance and free postage are provided, and when we tell people that this assistance is not provided they are astonished. It has always seemed to me distressing, if I may use the term, to see many hon. Members, from both sides of the House, in the Library every morning from about 9.30 or 9.45 dealing with their constituency correspondence in longhand because they cannot afford the services of a secretary to deal with it. I do not think their constituents sent them here to act as personal secretaries and wet nurses to everybody in the division.
Some hon. Members are more fortunate. I have a job; all the money I have, I earn. None is unearned. I am therefore in a position to pay, out of my Parliamentary salary, for the services of a secretary. People say, "But you get an allowance for that". I never know what they mean by that statement. What happens is that an hon. Member pays his secretary and charges that against his £1,000 as an ordinary expense; but he does not get an additional sum of money for having paid the secretary's salary.
The position is the same in connection with expenses on postage and stationery. I do not know what all hon. Members spend on postage in the course of a year, but I know the figures in my own case because we keep a postage book and a telephone and telegram account. My bill for stamps and telephone and telegram expenses last year was £132; and I believe that to be an average figure for hon. Members. The general public are firmly of the opinion that they already pay this bill, but in fact they do not; we pay it.
Next, we have that wonderful provision of Schedule E under which we can charge only those expenses necessarily incurred in the execution of our duties as Members of Parliament. It seems to me that not all tax inspectors agree about which expenses are necessarily incurred in the execution of these duties.
Although I agree that at this time we ought not to increase our salaries, it seems to me that even now the Government ought to find it possible, without exacerbating public opinion or encouraging wage claims, to provide free secretarial services, postage facilities, and other facilities of that sort for hon. Members.
While I do not entirely agree with all the points made by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper), perhaps I may deal during my speech with those points with which I do agree. In the first place, I should like to follow the very fair practice of all hon. Members speaking in the debate by saying frankly, that I am not entirely dependent upon my Parliamentary salary, and I regard my intervention this evening more in the sense of a public duty than anything else.
I want first to join the hon. Member for Ilford, South in expressing surprise that the general public have not been clearly advised by the national Press of the financial position of Members of Parliament. As a matter of fact, if a Member of Parliament sees a mis-statement in some weekly periodical and takes the trouble to write to correct it, it is within our experience that if it is a correction of a misrepresentation of the pension or pay of hon. Members, the newspapers do not think it of sufficient importance to give publicity to the correction. Over many years a certain section of the Press has been deliberately misrepresenting the cash which an hon. Member receives and not giving reasonable publicity to the explanations which hon. Members have sought to make, either in the House or by letter to the Press.
It is extremely important that the public should know that the largest part of the £1,000 paid to an hon. Member goes in his expenses and that what is left for the hon. Member to live on is less than the ordinary artisan gets today in the factory or the workshop. Speaking as a life-long trade unionist, I should have no hesitation in going to my trade union branch or to a meeting of my constituents and telling them frankly that when we reach the situation in which hon. Members, after they have met all their expenses, do not receive as much as an ordinary artisan in the factories, it is time that the situation was changed. Is it suggested for one moment that there would be any opposition in those circumstances to an improvement in the position of hon. Members so that they may live more in accordance with the general standard of the people?
When the unanimous Report of the Select Committee was presented two years ago, I contribute an article to the London Star recommending it as the right and proper solution or at least as one way to improve the financial and pension position of Members of Parliament. In accordance with the usual democratic tradition, the Telegraph and Argus of Bradford, which is the evening paper in my constituency, felt that my contribution to the Star was of such importance and such great public interest that it reproduced the whole of the article for my benefit and the benefit of the electors. The paper gave it great play. I should like to pay this tribute to the editor; he published a leading article more or less supporting my article.
Despite all the humbug and hyprocrisy about the people being opposed to the increase, there was not a single letter in the Press—not even from an old lady of the Primrose League—criticising my article. Nor did I receive a critical letter from one of my constituents. After all, the average citizens are decent-minded individuals. They like fair play, and they like to feel that those who represent them are receiving fair consideration from the community.
I should like now to refer to the events of two years ago. In the first place, the Government of the day agreed that it was right and proper that the financial position of hon. Members should be examined, and a Select Committee, by common agreement of the House of Commons, was set up. Because of the political complexion of the Government of the day, that Select Committee had a Conservative majority. It spent a very long time, very rightly and properly, in examining the whole position of hon. Members, and eventually presented one of the most interesting human documents that I have read for many long years. That document revealed the poverty and tragedy of people who sought to serve the community, who put public-spirited service before the meaner aims of life.
What happened? The Government themselves were impressed by the Report, and said, "Yes, we think that this is a proper matter for a free vote of the House. It is a House of Commons matter. It is one upon which the supreme court of the land should decide". As a consequence there was a free vote, which resulted in a majority of 114 in favour of the recommendations of the Committee, subject to the pensions scheme being referred to the Trustees for further consideration.
I want to say this to the Government, and I do so with the greatest sincerity. I do not know whether it was then realised that when the Government decided not to implement the decision of the House of Commons—arrived at on a free vote, with the approval of the Government—they were acting in defiance of the High Court of Parliament. They were, in fact, conserving for themselves a power and a right which does not belong to Her Majesty the Queen—I think that I am perfectly right Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
I am stating the fact.
The Government were usurping powers that are not in the hands of the reigning sovereign. In other words, they were over-riding the will of Parliament, which was that the dignity of Parliament should be maintained. By doing so, they struck a very severe blow at the principle of democracy. It is no use for Ministers to talk about the glorious democratic system of the British Parliament, if, when it suits them, they are going to throw it overboard. This democracy of ours is the greatest in the world, and it is our duty to try to preserve it by all means in our power. One of the greatest tragedies occurred two years ago, when the Government did that disservice to democracy, which may have very serious repercussions in the future.
I always regarded the Report of that Select Committee, not as a solution of the problem, but as a kind of first-aid until Parliament felt that it could deal with the matter more effectively and with greater satisfaction to hon. Members. I never regarded the recommendation except as something which would help hon. Members to get over their immediate difficulties. It is a shocking thing that two years ago such a very reasonable recommendation was turned down, and that we had substituted for it a system of sessional allowances.
It is all very well for the Prime Minister to come to the House and to say "Yes, we admit that there is a case, but the time is not opportune". I ask, when will the time be opportune? The Prime Minister knows very well that some junior Ministers today are in such a serious financial condition that it is affecting their ability to discharge their responsibilities to their families. There is no denying that. I warn the Government that unless something is speedily done for junior Ministers, as well as for the more financially-embarrassed Members, they will find themselves with a few resignations on their hands. We cannot expect, and I am sure that the general public does not expect, that whether a person be a junior Minister or an hon. Member, he should sacrifice his family life and his family because someone, in a mood of stupidity, pretends that the responsibility cannot be met.
It will be a bad day when we cannot afford to meet the responsibility of paying Ministers, junior Ministers and Members of Parliament a salary commensurate with the job, and one which will allow them to live, not extravagantly, but a decent life such as other citizens enjoy. A democracy that cannot do that is not worthy of the name. In the Dominion of Australia they have dealt with the position. A population no greater than that of London can deal with it without passing each of its representatives through the political cesspool, and without pretending that difficulties do not prevail.
Nobody believes that if hon. Members received this modest rise, which would result in their being paid about £300 a year more, it would create a demand by workers for increases in wages. There are only two factors—and I speak from long experience of the trade union movement—which decide an application for increased wages, and those are the increased cost of living and the ability of the industry to pay the increased rates. There is no other consideration. The Prime Minister comes to the House pretending that he is so nervous lest he disturbs the trade unions throughout the country. I wish he had been a little more nervous about the Government's policy which is causing the demand for increased wages and the serious inflationary position.
I want to deal also with another point concerning the quality of Members of Parliament and the quality of Ministers. Ever since the war we have been rolling from one financial crisis to another, and apart from our sacrifices in the war, and many other circumstances which have created difficulties, I believe that one of the major factors in our repeated financial crises is the fact that the quality of the service of Ministers and of Members of Parliament has been seriously affected by the limitations which are imposed.
I am not suggesting that all Ministers are inefficient; they are not. But the Ministers, in the main, whether they are principal Ministers or junior Ministers, are drawn from the Members of this House and, therefore, the quality of Ministers depends upon the quality of the Members of the House of Commons. What have we been doing for many years? We have been making it financially impossible for young men and young women to come into the House of Commons because they are not prepared to sacrifice, not only their financial position, but the interests of their families.
We have to get away from that position. We have to make up our minds that Parliament shall be open to the best possible brains, from whatever source they come, and it can only be open if we make sure that the salaries and the conditions of Members of Parliament are such that they will be able to live a reasonably respectable life and be able to carry out their duties to the community without having financial worries following them wherever they go.
There is another argument which is very often used. It is said: why do not Members get some outside interest? I am not one of those who would like to see passed in this House of Commons legislation which prohibited Members of Parliament from carrying on outside vocations. I think there is a great deal to be said for a mixture of representation from every section of the community.
But there are two distinct classes of outside interest. There is the Member who is a director of one or a number of companies, who comes in to the House of Commons because he wants to give public service. Like many of us, he has probably served on local authorities for many years, and he has the urge to come to the House of Commons in order to contribute to our work the benefit of his knowledge and experience. He comes to the House of Commons, but he wants to retain his connection with industry and with the firms with which he has been associated. I should be the last man in the world to say that we ought to try to stop him. It is a good thing that these men do come forward.
There are other types of directorships and appointments which are not quite so honest, not quite so clear-cut, or as good from the Parliamentary point of view. They are the appointments which are given to Members because they are Members of the House of Commons, because the people who give the appointments think the influence of Members on Ministers or in the House on policy can be used for the furtherance of the interests of the particular concern giving the directorship or because of some other consideration.
I know Members of this House who have been asked to do all sorts of things for monetary consideration, to use their position and influence as Members in the furtherance of something which they would not touch at all. I mention this because it shows how dangerous it is to pay Members a salary which is an invitation to them to seek something which affects not only their freedom in the House, but effects their standard of Membership of the House.
I have always been regarded as a reasonable man in local government and in industrial negotiation. I believe that reasonableness, common sense and common decency are all that the British people want to see. I appeal to the Home Secretary, and I ask him to convey my appeal to the Prime Minister. Let us get rid of this humbug and hypocrisy about not being able to pay Members of Parliament a miserable £1,500 a year, when we know very well that out of that £1,500 a year half will go in the costs of carrying out the job.
Why should we refuse to meet the situation? We have allowed an increase in pensions and an increase in all kinds of salaries for Government officials, etc. I am not complaining; they were perfectly justified increases. But why should a Member of Parliament always be told that the time is not opportune? If there is a case—and the Government do not reject our claim that there is an overwhelming case—if Members of Parliament are really in financial difficulties because they are trying to do a public job, trying to uphold the dignity of this House and of democratic Government in our country, then, if the Government have not got the guts to meet that case, they are not worthy to guide the destiny of this great democratic nation.
The debate, opened by the Leader of the Opposition in a speech of study, moderation and objectivity and continued by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in that vein, has been remarkably free from party rancour and even from party political difference. One or two speeches, however, from the benches opposite have been guilty of an over-simplification. They have sought to show that the private financial position of hon. Members could be divided into two groups, aligned roughly in accordance with the two political parties which face one another on the House. I believe that today that is quite untrue.
I do not usually turn to a paper like the Sunday Express when I want to get information—I generally read other newspapers—but I noticed some time ago that it was running a series giving, I thought in questionable taste, the private incomes of hon. Members. I think it has done all parties in succession. I have not noticed that any actions for libel have followed those statements which appeared in that newspaper, and so I think that the information which I have derived from it is that, broadly speaking, the private incomes, whether earned or unearned or outside resources other than the emoluments that this House pays to those who serve it, are divided up amongst the parties and cannot be aligned with any particular party.
I think that the case for an increase, and a substantial increase too, in the emoluments of Members of Parliament has been very fully made, but I hasten to say that I am entirely at one with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that this is not the time to do it. I will revert to that later. If the Report from the Select Committee on Members' Expenses in 1954 was accurate then in suggesting the right figure for emoluments and the level to which they should be raised, I am not at all sure that that Report today is not rather out of date and that if we were reconsidering the matter with another Committee we should not be right to fix higher levels.
I support one of my hon. Friends in saying that, when the question comes to be considered, there should be some improvements in kind to reflect the direct services to which a Member must have access if he is to discharge his duties. The Member, of course, would benefit from them only in exact proportion to his use of the services in carrying out those very duties.
We should not be frightened by those who suggested at the time that it would be a great mistake to restore franked postage because it would be abused. If a fixed allowance of franked envelopes were given, up to, perhaps, £100 worth a year for each hon. Member, it might well be that some Members—not more than a small minority—might use them for purposes for which they were not intended. If a Member were to do this, however, he would probably find that before the year was out he was having to pay 2½d. for letters he was writing to his own constituents.
One point in the Report of the Select Committee which has been echoed in terms of support in the debate this afternoon is the proposal to institute service pensions as opposed to those pensions, which are not large in number or, indeed, large in amount, which can be awarded on grounds of hardship from the Members' Fund. I believe that the proposal for service pensions—and I say this regrettably—is wholly unsound, and that it would be contrary to the public interest to bring a scheme of that kind in at all. I say that regardless of whether the finance for it is provided by deductions from hon. Members' salaries or entirely by the State, or by a combination of both.
I think it would still be wrong to award it, and for one reason which overrides what otherwise I would find to be an attractive idea. We could not institute such a scheme without having fixed a term of years of service, on the lines of the Committee's Report, after which a Member would qualify to draw a pension. There might, in the vicissitudes of politics, come a time when a Member who has given a large number of years' service but has never qualified for the pension might find himself standing once again as a candidate, when may be there was some swing against the views which his political party represented in the country and in his constituency.
The British people are very tolerant. They do not like a good batsman being knocked out before his time, or in any way other than by being clean bowled. I think there will be quite a serious risk on such an occasion that if that respected Member, who had given a number of years' service, was confronted by a young candidate, the word might be passed round that it would be rather a pity if Mr. Snooks lost his seat this time, or if Major Patriot was not allowed to serve in another Parliament.
I think the institution of such a pension would carry with it the risk of a form of corruption based upon the kindness and tolerance of the British people, but not wholly in accordance with the clear decision which the people ought to take on the merits of a political case put forward at an election in that constituency.
To take the case of a man who lost a leg in the war and who would have a sentimental advantage, would the hon. and gallant Gentleman regard that as a form of corruption?
No, of course not. That is not a form of corruption; it is a very great misfortune to him, which some hon. Members, to our recent knowledge, bore with great fortitude while they were Members of this House. I do not think that the rise of the Member whom the hon. Gentleman opposite has in mind, as I have, who rose to be a Cabinet Minister in this House, was in any way due to the fact that he was given a good start off because he had only one leg. His promotion was based on his merits.
I have said that I think the case is made out, but in a short speech, and it needed only to be a short speech, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House that it could not be done now. The reasons he gave were certainly not political reasons. They were reasons which are based on nothing less than the public interest, because it is right that if this House sets itself out to be composed of public-spirited people who come here to give public service, it is part of that service not only that they should say that they are public-spirited, but that they should endeavour, at some sacrifice to themselves in many cases, to demonstrate that they are capable in fact of being public-spirited. I venture to think that it would be wrong at this time for increases in the emoluments of Members of Parliament to be made in advance of the times.
I trust that I have not been sanctimonious in my approach to this matter. I believe it to be true that if we were to accede to what we wish to do—that is to improve the emoluments of all of us—we should be going against, militating against, the successful accomplishment of our task, the battle against inflation which has to be carried on by Government, Parliament and people.
It is not necessary for me to comment on that. I was not a party to that decision, because I was not a Member of the House at the time; but I will say that I thought at that time that the Government were right not to accede to the demand. I hasten to add that the reason they did not accede appeared to me, from a distance in the country, to be a different reason from the one that exists today for postponing the demand.
The reason given at that time was that there were certain classes of the community in respect of whom the time was overdue for an improvement in their financial situation, and it would have been wrong to have given increases to Members of Parliament first. When I became a Parliamentary candidate last year, I noted that these improvements had in fact been made in the incomes of the classes of the community I have referred to.
I was not a little astonished at the last argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Worcestershire, South (Commander Agnew). He might have been wiser had he cut short his reply to the intervention of my hon. Friend. In the course of his main speech, the hon. and gallant Member said that he agreed with the Prime Minister that this was not the appropriate time. He added that two years ago, during a fiscal year in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave away £150 million in Income Tax relief, the time was not opportune either. I wonder if ever it will be opportune. Every time this matter has been debated, in the minds of those who have opposed, it has never been opportune to grant an increase.
In the middle of his speech, the hon. and gallant Gentleman presented what seemed to me to be a curious argument, that Members who are advanced in years have a special sentimental value to their constituents and are tempted or cajoled to stay on longer. He said, for some reason or other, that if we had a pension scheme that would increase that tendency. In fact, there is no pension scheme now, and because of the absence of such a scheme there are hon. Members who have been tempted, indeed almost forced, to stay on and maintain their membership when they might well have retired—and really perhaps ought to have retired. They cannot afford to retire, because they have nothing to retire on. They have to give many years of good and faithful service to the country as Members of this House. At a time when, had they been in any other occupation, they would have retired on a superannuation or pension scheme, because of the absence of any such scheme they have been forced, in certain circumstances, to maintain their membership of the House.
I sought to catch your eye, Sir, with some misgivings. Probably every hon. Member who has joined in the debate may have had to conquer similar misgivings. In my own case, they arose because I wondered if it were possible for one who is himself affected, being entirely dependent upon our emoluments—as they have been described—to speak objectively as every hon. Member ought to endeavour to speak in making a speech in this House. I think we ought not to speak if there is a risk that we would be prejudiced by our own personal conditions.
This is, of course, for me and for a large number of my colleagues a full-time job. It cannot be otherwise, because we not only give service to our constituents and to our country, but we give additional service to Parliament and to the machinery and operation of Parliament. So for that reason it must be a full-time job, and I, in common with many of my colleagues, work a a minimum of a 16-hour day. If one includes the hours that we spend at weekends in the service of our constituents, it is seldom less than an 80-hour week, so that it is not merely a full-time job, but a double-time job, and the possibility of earning anything other than our Parliamentary salary does not exist for some hon. Members.
So, as I say, Sir, it was with some misgivings that I endeavoured to catch your eye, because I do not want to make this a personal matter. However, this is a United Kingdom Parliament, and Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom. No other Scottish Member has sought to catch your eye, Sir, and as one who intimately knows the problems of my colleagues and fellow-countrymen who are hon. Members on this side of the House, it seemed to me that it might not be inappropriate if I ventured to say a word or two for some of them who, I know, are severely affected by the present limits of their incomes as Members of Parliament.
It is difficult for a Scottish Member, as indeed for a Member representing any constituency—I was going to say north of the Trent, but I think I may say north of St. Albans—to have a subsidiary occupation in London. It is particularly difficult for Scottish Members, especially those of the Opposition, because Scottish constituencies tend to select Labour candidates who have served an apprenticeship in local government and in the workshops and in the mines as working men. They are a little chary about selecting candidates who are members of professions, so we have amongst my colleagues who are Scottish Members representing constituencies as Labour Members of Parliament, an overwhelming majority of working men. It is, in the nature of things, impossible for them to have subsidiary occupations.
The additional expenses of my compatriots are on average higher than those of other Members of Parliament. I do not want to over-paint the picture; I want to avoid any exaggeration. Let me say at once that some of my hon. Friends who have no other source of income manage to exist on their Parliamentary salary. They can do so only because they are exceedingly frugal. Most of them are teetotallers, and a great many are nonsmokers as well. When they come to London, they spend the whole of their time in the Palace of Westminster. Their only sortie's out of the precincts of the House are to go to their trains at Euston or King's Cross at the end of the week or to the cheap lodgings which most of them use on the other side of the river
Their constituents are not exacting in their demands upon them. Their constituents, like my own, do not make extravagant demands on their Members when visiting them in this building. They do not expect expensive meals; they are satisfied with a cup of tea in the Cafeteria, a very fortunate circumstance for us. Also, they do not eat in the Members' Dining Room.
The majority of my colleagues have not had a meal in the Members' Dining Room for three years. I have not. I could not afford it. Some of my colleagues bring their lunch at the beginning of the week. If it is possible for them to do so, those who live within a reasonable distance bring their lunch every day, buy a cup of tea in the Members' Tea Room and sit there eating their sandwiches and drinking their tea.
There is a particularly glaring case concerning one of my colleagues. There was a three-line Whip on the Tuesday. He did not come here on the Monday. He travelled during the Monday night. He had a Question affecting his constituency on the Order Paper for the Thursday. He had enough money to buy his lunches and teas but not enough to pay his lodgings. He was a man with a family. He did what I think he ought not to have done, but it was the only course open to him. On the Tuesday night, after the vote for which the three-line Whip had been issued, he took the train back to Scotland in order to get somewhere to sleep, and he came back during the daytime on Wednesday for a vote on the Wednesday night. In some way or another, he managed to survive through that night—I believe he slept in the House—in order to ask the Question affecting his constituency on the Thursday.
It is a most remarkable circumstance that, throughout the debate, no hon. Member has opposed the principle. Every hon. Member has been at great pains to explain patiently to the House that he knows that the case has been proved up to the hilt and his only opposition is on the matter of the timing. One hon. Member said that he would not feel easy in his conscience if he voted for the Motion unless old-age pensioners got more, and he said that that might seem an odd point of view. I assure him that it is not odd. We all say exactly the same thing.
The expenses necessarily and unavoidably incurred, as the official phrase goes, by Members of Parliament in the conduct of their duties, vary, but from inquiries which I have made, I discovered that nowadays the unavoidable expenses of Members average £600 a year. That is the average which, when all the deductions which we all have are taken into account, leaves him with about £600 a year on which to live.
If a Member has a wife and four children, each member of the family has precisely what an old-age pensioner has, £2 a week on which to live. Because a Member of Parliament is expected—his constituents expect him if no one else does—to present a respectable appearance and to present himself in some decency in his constituency, his expenses put him in a position worse than that of the old-age pensioner.
That is the stark fact, and let us have no more of this nonsense so frequently put out that we must do nothing until old-age pensioners get more. We are all in favour of old-age pensioners getting more immediately. The time is always opportune for that, but to say that because they do not get enough now Members of Parliament must not receive anything, is a non sequitur.
It is not pleasant and not at all dignified that we should have to speak of our own case in this manner, and I have only ventured to speak on behalf of my Scottish colleagues because they will not speak for themselves. They have not sought to enter the debate, but I know their circumstances and conditions. A considerable percentage are good colleagues of mine and give good service to the House and are first-class representatives of their constituents. They demand little of life except—they do not regard it as a duty—the privilege of continuing to serve Parliament and their constituencies. I thought that someone should speak on their behalf, and I have ventured to do so tonight.
I know that one or two hon. Members who have not yet spoken have been sitting here all day trying to catch your eye, Sir, and although there is much more to be said, I will content myself with thus inadequately stating the case of my hon. Friends. I do not think that on this day we can change the mind of the Government, because in this debate the case was put and answered before back benchers had an opportunity to state their case. As this is a House of Commons matter, I do not think that that was a very good way to conduct the debate.
However, apparently the decision has been made. I hope that it is merely temporary and that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who made a first-class and objective speech in opening the debate, will succeed in obtaining from the Home Secretary an answer to the one question, What is a reasonable time? Is it three months? It cannot be very much longer. We have a great admiration, affection and respect for the institution of the Parliament of this country. We feel aggrieved and definitely worried about the future of this institution when we condemn its Members to the kind of existence to which they are condemned. We feel that the issue is of greater importance than our personal problems. It is a long-term matter, but the solution cannot be much longer delayed and I hope that we shall have some definite and practical hope held out to us by the Home Secretary.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) has made a case that has sunk deep into the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House. What he said proves not only that the present situation causes anxiety and hardship which should not be suffered by hon. Members in the execution of their duty, but that it is frankly a disgrace to this honourable House that such conditions should be suffered to continue.
We are told that we have to put up with this and suffer in silence because it is part of the Government's fight against the inflationary boom. That argument reminds me of the lawyer defending a gangster who had murdered his parents and whose plea was that the court should show indulgence to that poor young man because he was an orphan.
The Government are themselves responsible for the inflationary boom; it is their own policy which has produced this situation. How long are we going to have to wait, and how much is the community going to suffer—not just Members of Parliament, but old-age pensioners, workers and everybody else—while they apply this wage freeze? How long must this situation continue before some of these crying grievances are redressed? It is to be one, two or three months? How high must the cost of living soar and how desperate the plight of some hon. Members become before the Government move in the matter?
I want to make one final point, which has been implicit in many speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of the House but has never been put explicitly. Let us accept, for a moment, the Government's wage freeze argument. The Government's policy upon this issue is not to refuse any increase in wages, salaries and emoluments unconditionally, but to couple them with a rise in output. The point has been made again and again that when the present scale of salaries for Members of Parliament was fixed the assumption was that the job was a half-time or at most a two-thirds-time job. Everybody admits that it is a full-time job today. Very well; we have increased our output, and upon the Government's own wage freeze argument we should receive an increase in salary of between 50 per cent. and 100 per cent.
The real value of the £400 that we were granted when salaries were originally applied and Parliament was strictly a half-time job is well above the value of the present salary, when the job is a full-time one. On the Government's own policy, therefore, that wage increases should be related to increases in output, hon. Members of this House are due for a substantial increase in salary now.
Any Member of this House who urges at any time that the emoluments of hon. Members should be increased lays himself open to charges which may be made by the envious or by others arguing in good faith but without being acquainted with the facts of the situation. In view of that, I hope that the House will forgive me if I mention how this matter of a possible increase would affect me, because, for all of us, that is the measuring rod by which to judge how the increase will affect other hon. Members, and how good is the case for an increase.
I have the undoubted good fortune to have both a London home and a London constituency. A journey four stations along by underground railway takes me home from here; a journey another four stations along the line will take me to the town hall of my constituency. There can be few Members more fortunate than I in that respect, in the matter of saving not only expense but time and energy. In addition, as has been pointed out, many incidental advantages accrue to a Member who represents a London constituency. Despite the attempts at framing an Income Tax allowance which will have some regard to the needs of provincial Members, occasions crop up every day when the London Member finds himself at an advantage.
In addition to that, I think I should mention that I am able to add to my Parliamentary income by writing. But since my writings deal entirely with educational matters, they are not one of the more lucrative forms of literature or journalism. I have now no children dependent on me. My wife is able to earn a small sum of money. In all those respects, therefore, compared with many hon. Members, I am fortunately placed, and as a result I find that I can just about manage, but no more.
I do not think I am a person of particularly extravagant tastes, and I am conscious all the time that though I can just about manage, I still cannot really do the job as it ought to be done; that I am myself doing parts of my work which, in the public interest, I should be employing someone else to do for me, so as to be able to concentrate on those parts of our work that can be done only by the person whom the electorate has chosen and who has acquired experience of how to handle Parliamentary life and problems.
That is all I propose to weary the House with about my own position. The reason why I have said it is that if that be my position, with the many factors that make it easy for me, how desperate must be the position of hon. Members—and I accept that they are to be found on both sides of the House—who have provincial and distant constituencies and a family of young children dependent on them? My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) illustrated with moving eloquence what must be the position of his fellow-countrymen. I am sure he will agree, indeed, I think he said, that one does not need to go as far north as the Border to find these difficulties arising. Lest it be thought that I am putting the position of London Members too easily, may I say that there are many of my colleagues—again on both sides of the House—who are London Members, but who do not happen to enjoy the other quite modest advantages that I happen to enjoy, who find they are in a situation of extreme difficulty.
These difficulties attack a Member in a peculiarly exasperating and undignified fashion, and nag all the time at the morale and good spirits which he ought to enjoy, if he is to do the exacting job of being a legislator properly. Is it reasonable that an hon. Member should have to look at his Whip when he receives it and assess the number of attendances at this House which is absolutely required on the one hand, and what he can afford in hotel bills on the other? If the public realised that—and it is true that many hon. Members are in that position—they would say, "That is not what we want. Whatever opinion we may have expressed about Members' salaries, we never intended that a result of that kind should follow."
If an hon. Member finds that one of his constituents is in the kind of trouble about which it is proper to ask for the help of his Member, and which has to be dealt with quickly if it is to be dealt with at all, is it right or reasonable that the Member should have to say to himself—as many hon. Members who represent distant constituencies have tosay—"Is this really one of the cases where I can afford a trunk telephone call?" I cannot believe that the public wish hon. Members of this House to be placed in that position.
Perhaps the most absurd and grotesque thing of all is that if this House sits later than usual, hon. Members make the discovery that the fact that one does not normally eat during the night because one is asleep. But if one is made to work during the night, the digestive desires for food are as apparent as during the day-time. Is it reasonable that when that happens hon. Members should have seriously to consider whether they can afford to eat, or whether they must pretend they are spending the night asleep when in fact they are spending it at work?
The last anxiety of all, if an hon. Member's career continues for many years, is the nagging question which comes to him, "Ought I, out of regard to the need of my constituents to be represented by someone in possession of full vigour, ought I out of regard perhaps for the natural ambitions and hopes of younger men, to conclude my Parliamentary career?" He cannot answer that question on its merits, but has to weigh it against the question, "Can I honestly afford to do so?"
I have mentioned four examples of the kind of anxieties which affect hon. Members. Those are only four out of a very considerable list. One reason why they are not mentioned so often, particularly by those who suffer from these anxieties, is the indignity of having to mention them. One reason I am very glad to have had this opportunity to speak in the debate is that these anxieties do not nag me so bitterly as they do some hon. Members. Consequently, I can give them the expression which I believe they ought to have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) described how that kind of thing battered down year after year the energy and vital force of our friend the late Frank Fairhurst. The real tragedy of that story was not the death at the end, it was the years of anxiety, exhaustion and frustration to which he was subjected. It is only after men like Frank Fairhurst are dead that it is considered seemly to describe the anxieties they go through. If any hon. Members in any part of the House imagine that there are not cases like that happening to some hon. Members now, they are mistaken, and it is just as well that we should realise that.
Ordinary decency and convention would prevent us mentioning by name any hon. Members in that position now, but it is a rather macabre situation that we can only describe these difficulties after they have prematurely terminated the life of the hon. Member who was subjected to them. If anyone was moved—who could not have been moved?—by the speech of my hon. Friend, let him remember that my hon. Friend was not describing merely a piece of past history, but something which happens to some of our colleagues at present.
I turn from those aspects of the matter to some of the plain, simple, mathematical facts. I now want to mention one or two things which will be within the knowledge of hon. Members, but which are not within the knowledge of the general public. Only a few days ago, I met a man from a constituency neighbouring mine. Normally, one would have regarded him—as no doubt in most matters he is—as a knowledgeable, well-informed person. He was quite genuinely and sincerely under the impression that the entire postage bills of all hon. Members were paid out of public funds. He was a man with plenty of opportunity to inform himself adequately. That is only one of many misapprehensions among the general public.
It may be as well, perhaps, to put on record the plain, factual position that hon. Members of this House, private Members, receive £1,000 a year salary and a sessional allowance which in the normal Session is likely to amount to perhaps £260 or at the most £280. They have to travel to their constituencies from here, and the cost of such travel is met from public funds. If they write to Government Departments, they may use an envelope with "0.H.M.S." on it. By a recent concession, they may do the same if they write to the head of a nationalised industry. I think that must be included in the "other emoluments" mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), who may not have noticed that that concession had recently been granted. That may be what escaped my hon. Friend's notice.
Next, there is a limited amount of stationery, but nothing like enough.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of salaries, in view of the fact that someone might read his speech and not read mine, perhaps he will permit me to say that an hon. Member suffers a deduction of about £100 from his salary for the three weeks every time he fights an Election.
That is so.
Hon. Members are subject to the law of the land with regard to Income Tax—and a great many members of the public are unaware of that. Towards the end of their lives they may get something which nobody in any other occupation would dream of calling a pension; they may be given the opportunity of receiving a benevolent allowance, subject to a means test. That is what it would be called in any other occupation—not a pension. For that, of course, an hon. Member has been contributing regularly at the rate of £12 a year all the time he has been in the House. I think I have now rehearsed everything that any private Member gets as a result of being a Member of Parliament.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. If his service is just short of ten years he has parted permanently with his contribution to the Members' Fund. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), in a very well-informed speech, pointed out the austere bargain which the Exchequer drives with hon. Members both in regard to expenses and in regard to the administration of the Members' Fund.
Perhaps whilst speaking of the Members' Fund I could address one question to the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister gave an indication that if the Members' Fund were to begin to pay out rather larger amounts, the Government might make a contribution of some kind. It was not clear to the House precisely what the Prime Minister had in mind. Was he thinking of a lump sum contribution? Was he thinking of the Government being prepared to underwrite a more generous scale of benefits? It would be helpful if that question could be answered when the Home Secretary replies.
Against those emoluments, we know very well the expenses which hon. Members have to meet. The way in which many hon. Members have to deal with the position is, as I have suggested, by simply not spending enough to be able to do their job as it ought to be done—simply because they have not got the money to spend. I do not think I need elaborate that part of the matter further, because it is significant that every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has agreed that there is no doubt at all that hon. Members ought to be more highly paid than they are. I am certain that nobody who has taken part in the debate today disputes that.
I doubt whether any hon. Member, whatever part he may or may not have taken in the debate, questions that need. It has been established by the Select Committee inquiry, it has been established in earlier years, it has been admitted both today and on earlier occasions by the Government. There is no dispute that in comparison with their work, in comparison with other sections of the community and in comparison with other Parliaments—and the comparison which one most naturally makes is with the Parliaments of the Dominions of the British Commonwealth—hon. Members of this House are not properly paid, and that that results for some of them merely in a diminution in their efficiency and for others in desperate hardship and anxiety which never leaves them all the time that they are Members of the House.
That makes the task of an hon. Member, in a winding-up speech, a little more difficult than usual, because normally if one's task is to conclude a debate from this side of the House, one endeavours to summarise and answer the arguments which have been advanced against one's point of view. It would be extremely difficult to do that in this debate, but there are certain arguments, Mr. Speaker, that have a certain currency with the general public—arguments which have been advanced not so much in this House as outside it—to which I think it would be proper to refer.
There is one, perhaps the crudest of the lot, which, expressed in its more dignified form, says that nothing should be done about Members' pay until the electorate have had the opportunity to pronounce upon the matter. In its cruder form it says "If you want more pay—put it in your Election address". The difficulty about dealing with that argument is that if one is talking to this House, which is acquainted with the facts of the matter and has political knowledge, the moment one touches it the argument falls to pieces and becomes so absurd that people wonder why one should attempt to answer it at all.
Since it has been advanced, however, I think it is worth while to ask this question. Does anybody really believe that at a General Election the question of how much Members of Parliament ought to be paid is a major issue? Are we really expected, in an Election address which attempts, in about 500 words, to cover issues of home and world politics, to refer to a matter which might cost the electorate about £300,000 a year? Are we to have Elections conducted on something like these lines: "My name is Smith. My opponent, Mr. Robinson, wants £1,500 a year. I am prepared to do the job for a mere £1,000"? But the man who says that has to look over his shoulder for the wealthy man who will come along and say "I will do it for nothing".
If candidates did conduct Elections in that manner, I think that our electorate, having more sense than some of the newspapers which have conducted this campaign, would be inclined to say to the man who offered to do it for nothing "That is probably what you are worth." All this might sound absurd, but if there is any substance in this argument about the Election address that is really what we are being asked to do.
To be more serious on that point, however, is it suggested that hon. Members who want an increase have concealed their views from their constituents? I do not believe it. This matter has been discussed over and over again, and any constituent who is at all interested in what his Member thinks about it must know what that Member's view is. If there are any of my own constituents who do not know what my view is about the matter I am all the more happy to have this opportunity of addressing the House.
But this argument cuts both ways. If it is suggested that hon. Members who would speak or vote here for an increase ought to tell their constituents so, and I agree that they ought—although, as I say, it is not one of the major issues on which election hangs—surely it is equally true that some hon. Members who in their constituencies have taken the seemingly more popular line of advancing arguments against increasing our salaries might have been here today to advance some of those arguments against us. I think that that is a consideration to be borne in mind.
Another general argument advanced is that, after all, we can get other work. Junior Ministers, of course, cannot, and I would agree that, just as there is a case for the Member of Parliament so there is a case for the junior Minister. Perhaps I may, as an ex-Whip, mention that there are still three unhappy people—Government assistant Whips who do exactly he same work as Government Whips but do not get anything at all in addition to their Parliamentary salaries. It is one of the absurdities of the whole position.
But compare a Member who does no other work than that of a Member of Parliament—and many of us must, or the House would not work—with a junior Minister. I must say, without malice against junior Ministers, that if the junior Minister cannot manage solely on what he gets a fortiori the Member of Parliament cannot manage solely on what he gets. I have tried both and speak from experience.
If it is said that of course a Member of Parliament can get out of the difficulty by taking up other work, I would ask, what other work? [An HON. MEMBER: "Mining."] We understand that the future of the mining industry lies partly—I do not understand this matter very well—in the possibility of the discovery of some valuable deposits and the sinking of new shafts, and if one of them happened to be in Parliament Square the suggestion made by my hon. Friend might come to fruition, but that has not happened so far.
We know, as I think the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) has said, that there are about five occupations available to hon. Members. Even if there were more occupations available is it desirable that all Members should, in order to make ends meet, have to seek other work? I appreciate the argument which says that it would not be a good thing if every single Member of the House were engaged upon Parliamentary duties and nothing else; that we might then become too self-centred a body. I will, for the sake of argument, accept that; but I say that if a Parliament composed entirely of whole-time Members is undesirable, a House of Commons composed entirely of part-time Members would be impossible, because the work would not be done.
Let me say a word for some of my colleagues who engage in work such as sitting in the Public Accounts Committee and obscure but essential Select Committees, work which has absolutely no glory attached to it, is often tedious and in no sense makes a Member more attractive to his constituents, but which is an enormous consumer of time. If there were no hon. Members prepared to do that, and some of them are Members who could quite easily earn money during that time, Parliament would not work.
If we say that we value Parliamentary democratic institutions, we ought to have regard to the fact that these institutions would not work unless we had a considerable number of whole-time Members; and if a man in the twentieth century says, "I think that every Member ought to go out and spend part of his time earning money elsewhere", even if that were practicable and that advice were followed, it would make our democratic system unworkable in the running of a State so vast and complex as our own.
There is another argument which has been advanced to some extent in this House today by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper). He said that, after all, we choose to be Members of Parliament. He painted for us the picture of the hon. Member who got in the first time and then realised what he had let himself in for. But, said the hon. Member for Ilford, South, he need not stand again. It is entirely his own responsibility if he stands again. Is that advanced as an argument for doing nothing about Members' emoluments? If it is, where does it take us?
Is such a Member to go to his local party organisation supporters in his constituency and say, "I am sorry, but you will have to find another candidate next time because I just cannot afford it"? Or is he to go to his electors and say, "I am not going to be your Member of Parliament next time because I cannot afford it"? If he does, have the electors no rights in this matter? It is true to say that we are here because we want to be, but we are not here for that reason alone. We are here because our constituents want us to be here.
If we say that nobody need be an M.P. if he does not want to be, what we are really saying to the electors and to our constituents is, "This is a democracy, you can choose whoever you wish to be your M.P., but of course you must choose someone who either has independent means or pursues one of some half-dozen occupations which will enable him to earn money on the side when he is not attending to his Parliamentary duties; or you must choose someone whose age or family position is such that he can manage on an inadequate salary." We can call that whatever system of government we like, but we cannot call it democracy. That is the heart of the matter, emphasised by the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). This argument that we choose to be Members of Parliament and if we do not like it we need not be Members is really an argument that the choice of the electors ought to be limited to the more wealthy and the more fortunate.
The process of limiting that choice is going on gradually now. It is not something which will happen catastrophically; it is something which, if we do nothing, will creep upon us gradually. Progressively fewer of those people who do not enjoy any of these advantages of independent means or the kind of occupation which can be combined with Membership of the House will offer themselves to the electorate. It will become increasingly difficult for young men with young children dependent upon them even to begin to offer themselves to the electorate. In this connection it should be remembered that most of us arrived here only after we had had one or two unsuccessful tries, and it is a good thing that that should be so. The age of entry into this House is quite high enough already, as high as is healthy for democracy. If we do nothing about this salary situation, it will gradually become higher.
The weight of evidence piles up on every side. The arguments advanced against the case do not carry conviction. What really is the only argument of any substance against the Motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? It is the argument that this is not the right time to do it. It really does not lie in the mouth of the Government to say that now, if I may say so, with respect, they having refused to do it after the judgment of the House in 1954 and after the Report of the Select Committee. We were entertained with the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Worcestershire, South (Commander Agnew), who explained that on this occasion there was one reason why it was not right to do it, and that last time it also was not right to do it but for a different reason then. I did hope that he would look into the future and say what will be the reason advanced next time, because I am sure there will be a next time. The ingenious mind which produced those few arguments will not be at a loss for a reason why the time is not appropriate.
What has happened? It is not only a matter of time but of method. We are told we must not do what the Motion urges now because there is a danger of inflation. We were told in 1954 that we must not do it for reasons which satisfied the hon. and gallant Member for Worcestershire, South. We are not given any future date on which we could do it. We were told some years ago that we ought not to do it before the matter was properly examined. We had it examined by a Select Committee. Nothing was done after the Report of the Select Committee because to have done anything would suggest that the Government was being asked blindly to follow the recommendations of a Select Committee.
It is not to be done through a Select Committee of this House. The Prime Minister does not think it right to deal with the question by means of an outside inquiry. It is not to be done by means of a straight increase of Members' salaries. Unless the Home Secretary has something to tell us, it is not to be done by an increase of services, as was suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Worcestershire, South, or by an increase of pensions, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). Here may I say that I share the admiration which has been expressed for the splendid speech of the hon. Member for Cheadle.
Apparently, everyone is agreed that what the Motion urges ought to be done; but it ought not to be done in this way, it ought not to be done in that way, or the other way; it ought not to be done either in the present, in the past, or in the future. That is really the position which the Government ask us to accept.
I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this question. Is this really a happy or a dignified position for the Government to take up, where they have always to hunt round for some reason for not doing something which nobody in this House is prepared to get up and say ought not to be done? This chasing of subterfuges, I am afraid, really springs from a nervousness, a timidity, a fear to face the stream of propaganda which comes from a rather malicious element in the community. It is the Government's job not to be intimidated by that kind of thing.
The rather narrow and mean spirits who would be unmoved by the description given by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, and who would conduct the kind of campaign which we have had in the newspapers in this matter seem to me to be like the ghosts in the Homeric poems who fed on blood but would scatter and disappear if spoken to with the resolute voice of a man. It is with resolution that we ask the Government now to speak on this issue.
I have left myself very little time to reply, mainly for two reasons. The first is that I was anxious that as many back bench Members as possible should speak, which I know was the general desire, and the second that I, in common with so many Members of the House, am so much in agreement with what has been said that I have very little to add.
I have sat throughout practically the whole debate, and as I sat here I could not help thinking of one or two things. Some people are critical of this House and of Members, and, in particular, their long holidays and so on. Somebody who was writing the other day said how empty the House is on various occasions and that he was perfectly certain that it would not be empty when we were discussing Member's pay. I would hardly describe today as a very full House while I have been here.
We have had some very good speeches indeed, and one or two very moving speeches, particularly the speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor). We all know that the difficulty in this matter is not confined to one side of the House—that is well known. Hon. Members may be surprised to hear that I have been conscious of this problem almost ever since I can remember. My father was a Member of Parliament when I was born. There was no pay at all in those days, and he was a Member for twenty-one years before any payment of any kind was introduced. It is true that he became a Minister after sixteen years—
It was not altogether that. He used to do a bit of work himself as well. I am very well aware of the great difficulties which not only he but a great number of his colleagues faced at that time. I met them as a small boy, and I know what a terribly difficult time he had. It was his great privilege to move the Resolution in August, 1911, which brought the first payment to Members of £400 a year.
I would say to the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus), who said that in 1911 it was only a half-time job, that I do not think anybody who reads the history of 1909 to 1911 could assume that the House of Commons was a half-time job. In fact, it was a time-and-a-half job for two or three years, particularly between 1909 and 1911 and really up to the war. I have that experience of my early days in this matter. I have also had my own experience in regard to Parliamentary Secretaries. I know exactly the difficulties which confront them, and they are very serious indeed.
I have little else to add. I agreed with most of the things that have been said here today, although there were one or two things with which I did not agree. I am not at all sure that I would agree with the need for an outside inquiry into this matter. This is essentially a House of Commons affair. After all, who knows the difficulties of Members of Parliament better than Members of the House of Commons?
That is quite irrelevant. The suggestion has been made that there should be an outside inquiry, and I have said why I disagree with it. That is all, and if the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, I cannot help him.
Nor do I agree with linking up with the pay of the Civil Service, although I agree very much with what has been said by my hon. Friend, and repeated, I think, by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), to the effect that we should do anything we can to avoid the constant airing in the House of the difficulties of Members of Parliament, which are very serious. I entirely agree with that, but I feel that it is a matter which is best left to ourselves.
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) and the hon. Member for Fulham raised the question of the Members' Fund. I was out of the Chamber at the time the point was made, but I understand that the Government were asked if they would underwrite the Fund for, say, £75,000 in order to enable the Trustees to make the pensions more generous. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated this afternoon that the Government do not exclude the possibility of making a contribution to the Members' Fund.
I think that when I have finished speaking the hon. Member will realise that include would be better.
As to the order of the contribution which might be desirable and the way in which it would be used, I think we should be advised in that matter by the Trustees. I can only repeat that the Government are sympathetic towards helping ex-Members and will be happy to receive a proposal of that sort from the Trustees. I can also say that it will be considered very rapidly.
I have very little to add to what has already been said, and I can in fact only say one more word. The Government, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, agree that an increase is justified, but I can only repeat what my right hon. Friend said—because there is nothing else I can say—that while they agree about that, they do not think it is possible at this present moment; but there will be no delay whatsoever beyond what is necessary in the national interest.