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Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I have nothing much to add to the Leader of the House's remarks, except to pay brief tribute to the work of those being discharged from Committees. I pay particular tribute to the work that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) did on behalf of the House of Commons Commission, of which he has been a distinguished member for the past few years.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I shall briefly explain the purpose of the motion relating to the House of Commons Members' Fund, and the purpose of the fund itself. There are two kinds of beneficiaries of the fund, all of whom are either elderly members of it, or their dependants. Recurring as-of-right payments are made to those who are not entitled to a parliamentary pension because they left the House before 1964, or because, as widows or widowers of former Members, they have their small parliamentary contributory pension fund benefits topped up. In addition, some beneficiaries receive discretionary payments because of hardship and their personal circumstances. The discretionary payments can be recurring in order to improve a person's standard of living; more frequently, they are one-off grants to improve quality of life, or to facilitate a minor home adaptation.
The fund currently has some 120 beneficiaries. The average value of the recurring payments is a modest £2,000 per annum. A handful of one-off grants are made each year, with an average value of about £5,000 per annum. Such relatively small sums can make a big difference in some circumstances.
The fund is governed by a variety of Acts of Parliament that stipulate the basis on which payments can be made and the amounts payable. The legislation is exceptionally complex and not understood by anybody, including the fund's trustees. We undoubtedly ought to regularise the legislation at some future stage, and the trustees hope to work with others, including the Leader of the House, to do so in the coming period. But the legislation does require that we appropriate the contributions that all Members make each month, and the £215,000 a year that the Treasury contributes, in order to make such money available to pay for the grants that we make to Members as of right, and on a discretionary basis. This motion gives effect to that, and I hope that the House will support it.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I shall not keep the House long. Since we last appointed a retired Member of the House as a trustee, the retired Members association has been set up. In future, we should perhaps consult the association and more widely in order to establish who the pension trustee should be. As it stands, we could well be contravening the terms of the Pensions Act 2004. I do not ask that a change be made tonight, but I do ask the Leader of the House to take cognisance of my comments.
With the leave of the House, I shall deal with the one point that has been raised. Nominations to replace retiring trustees have come forward in the usual way. In fact, there is no legal obligation to consult any particular organisation, but we do take account of that point when there are new regulations under the scheme. A retired Members association would be an appropriate body to consult in such circumstances. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)
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recognises, however, that the trustees' work is quite onerous. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and disagree with his modesty. He does understand these arrangements, as I have learned to my cost in correspondence with him. It is important that the House have such expertise available to it, and I pay tribute to him and to the other trustees who do such important work for us.
That John Burnett, Tony Colman and Lord Stewartby be discharged as Managing Trustees of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund and Mr Clive Betts, Nick Harvey and Lord Naseby be appointed as Managing Trustees in pursuance of section 1 of the Parliamentary and other Pensions Act 1987. [Mr. Heppell.]
That John Burnett and Tony Colman be discharged as Managing Trustees of the House of Commons Members' Fund and Mr Clive Betts and Nick Harvey be appointed as Managing Trustees in pursuance of section 2 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939. [Mr. Heppell.]
That Mr Richard Bacon, Dr William McCrea and Dr Nick Palmer be appointed members, and that Mr George Osborne be discharged as a member, of the Public Accounts Commission under section 2(2)(c) of the National Audit Act 1983. [Mr. Heppell.]
That pursuant to section 4(4) of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948 and section 1(4) of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1957, in the year commencing 1st October 2005 there be appropriated for the purposes of section 4 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948:
Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): I beg to present a petition that is part of a large series against council tax instituted by the IsItFair campaign. The petition has been signed by 307 people in the Gosport area, and it was organised by my constituent Alan Scard, who acted as my agent in the recent election. The petition gives me a chance to thank him for his exceptional support and friendship.
I share my constituents' anger and distress at the fact that, partly because the Government have switched support from the south of England to the north, the council tax has become a most unfair burden, especially for those on fixed incomes. However, I must say that I do not share the petitioners' view about a proposed solution.
The petition declares that the year-on-year, inflation-busting increases in council tax are causing hardship to many and take no account of ability to pay: further, that the proposed property revaluation and rebanding exercise will make an already flawed system even worse.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons votes to replace council tax with a fair and equitable tax that, without recourse to any supplementary benefit, takes into account ability to pay from disposable income, such tax to be based on a system that is free from any geographically or politically motivated discrimination, and that clearly identifies the fiscal and managerial responsibilities of all involved parties.
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