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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:01 pm on 14th December 2009.

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Photo of Lord James of Blackheath Lord James of Blackheath Conservative 7:01 pm, 14th December 2009

My Lords, as we approach the end of this lengthy debate I should like to make a few points which derive from it, but which should be kept in mind as we approach the end.

The first is that, although it may behove us that we should not under any circumstances renege on an obligation to present this House's responsible attitude to the public, the electorate and the world outside, equally we do not have a responsibility to wreck this House against the interest of the electorate and the nation-especially as we approach the juncture of Governments in an election year. That would be an act of total folly, and we must not do it. Why might we do it? I have not heard this mentioned in this debate, but by my calculation, the actual net cost in unclaimable money for every Peer in this House each year will be £16,600, compared with the figure which appears to be on the table. That is an excessive burden to be imposed upon an individual who, perhaps, does not have any other pensions to carry forward and who is then being asked to subsidise from what little they have the cost of government in this way. This requires explanation.

The report proposes that we should be paid £140 for 150 days' attendance. This amounts to exactly £51,000. If you took the total currently available from our three expense allocations, the maximum you could earn would be £49,725. This means that, on the face of it, we are being offered a small improvement on what we have. That level would be fine-except for the fact that conditionality has been introduced, which cuts away a large part of the claimability that you can achieve within those figures. I have taken, as a median figure, 110 days as a reasonable average that we could each attain; 150 days is not feasible. You cannot attain a 100 per cent record. If you attain 110 days, your maximum payment under the new formula is £37,400. You would lose £13,600 of what appears to be available. In addition, you have lost £3,000 of the top-up on secretarial costs. Thereby, the aggregate cost of the two is £16,600, compared with what you could get at present. That checks back perfectly, because you could take the figure as being the total secretarial cost of £11,250 plus the £3,000, and, taking account of the difference between the £26,100 which was claimable on accommodation and the £21,000 now proposed, you arrive at the figure of £16,600.

I have a couple of questions. First, I cannot understand the logic of including in the £200 allowance compensation for secretarial costs. Is this not rewarding those who have been claiming secretarial costs without having a secretary by letting them keep that money? I should have thought that the easy way would be to allow separate secretarial costs only if they could be proved on a receipt. They should not otherwise be allowed. That would cure the problem.

Secondly, I was interested in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, on income tax. He came very close to a fundamental truth, but did not go the whole way. The report is strange on this issue. One of the two paragraphs on income tax implies that tax would be applied only to the £200, but not to accommodation costs. Would that not create a new and horrendous tax conflict, in so far as accommodation costs are not tax allowable for any normal business activity? Why should we suddenly create for ourselves tax-free accommodation? We would only put ourselves in greater odium with the public if we did that. That does not seem to stack up.

A comment in the report is hugely offensive. It states that we should have to show that we can be useful when we are here. The very function of this House is to be useful collectively. That is what we are here for. It is strange; how do we prove that we are useful? I sit on the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee and calculate that I have attended 50 of its meetings over the past three years. I have been useful at the Merits Committee for precisely five minutes. Have I, therefore, been useless for the rest of that time? No; I would claim that I had been extremely useful, because, in that five minutes, one bit of expertise happened to be absolutely important. I sank the proposal for a Manchester casino. It was like being the pilot of the plane with one torpedo left that sank the Bismarck. As far as I was concerned, it was a triumph. However, frankly, I had to sit there for 50 meetings as the token oik among all those learned lawyers and Cabinet secretaries before I found my moment of value. That is what this House is about. We all bring some moment of expertise that is waiting to be made useful. Sooner or later, we are all useful, and that is why this place is unique.

We cannot just score points. What are we going to do? Like big boy scouts, do we have to do a good deed a day for ever more in this House to justify putting in an expense claim? There are strange things in this report, and I hope that the committee under my noble friend Lord Wakeham, or whoever chairs it, will take a broad view of the fact that we have to work on this to a point whereby the House survives the calamity which will otherwise unfold.