House of Lords: Financial Support for Members — Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:58 pm on 14th December 2009.

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Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench 6:58 pm, 14th December 2009

My Lords, much of what I propose to say has already been said; therefore, I shall be very brief. I regard it as an exceptional privilege to have been in this House for 20 years. As a rule, I speak only on medicine, science and education, with an occasional swipe at the dualling of the A1 in north Northumberland. However, one issue that has arisen today relates to the fact that the SSRB report-I believe that it is structurally and architecturally sensible in many regards-contains a substantial number of flaws. I hope very much that the working group will have every opportunity to iron out those flaws. The SSRB has taken little account of the fact that a large number of Members of this House undertake a huge range of activities outside the Chamber which are directly relevant to the work of this House, such as activities involved with charities-I undertake such activities as I am involved with more than 12 charities- and all-party groups.

We recently produced three major reports, rather like in the work of a Select Committee. I sat on Select Committees for some 15 years. Such activities are not fully recognised by the SSRB. They generate a huge volume of work and correspondence, which continue even during the recess. During the Easter Recess this year, under the Lord Speaker's outreach programme, I spoke to 350 lady members of the County Durham women's institute. It must have been successful, because in August I was asked to repeat my speech to 200 ladies of the Northumberland women's institute. These activities are not taken full account of in the SSRB report.

I employ a secretary who works for me throughout the year. The payments that will be made available for secretarial support will not cover the activity for the whole year. I do not have a flat in London, but I stay at the Athenaeum Club, the Oxford and Cambridge Club or the Royal Society of Medicine. I was told in this Chamber many years ago that one could take account of the subscriptions paid to those clubs when making one's claim for overnight expenses. That is ignored by the SSRB.

Finally, perhaps I may add that the mere thought that my late wife would have been compelled to travel second class when I was travelling first class is so horrifying as not even to be contemplated-particularly given that we are to debate the Equality Bill in the House tomorrow. I end simply by offering the working group, when constituted, the best of good wishes for Christmas, coupled with the very best of wishes for a fruitful and productive new year.