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 Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East 12:00 am, 12th July 1956

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.