Orders of the Day — Members' Salaries

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th July 1956.

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Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West 12:00 am, 12th July 1956

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—