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The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, it has been agreed between the usual channels that the House will sit at 2.15 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when there are three introductions. This means that the House will sit at that time every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from Tuesday 21st October to Wednesday 19th November inclusive. Any further 2.15 sittings will be announced in due course. Sitting time on Thursday remains at 3 p.m.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move on behalf of my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean that the order of commitment be discharged.
Last year the Senior Salaries Review Body completed a major review of parliamentary pay and allowances. In addition to reviewing the levels of ministerial salaries, the SSRB made a recommendation (recommendation 14) on the way in which salaries should be increased in the future. This was in direct response to item (vi) of the remit which it was given by the then Prime Minister to consider,
This automatic annual adjustment has already been put in place for Members of another place, under the resolution of that House of 10th July 1996. This Bill provides exactly the same mechanism for Ministers.
The Bill will mean that an annual Ministerial and Other Salaries Order, with its attendant debate, will no longer be necessary as increases will be calculated by simply applying a standard percentage increase under an agreed formula. The Bill will not do away with the need to obtain parliamentary approval for special orders where a structural change is necessary, for instance, the 1996 Ministerial and Other Salaries Order or the Solicitor General's Salary Order this year. If, at some time in the future, it is necessary to change the formula which underlies this linking mechanism, it would be necessary for Parliament to approve a new order setting out a replacement formula. I commend the Bill to the House.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for the way in which he introduced the Bill. He will not be altogether surprised to hear that we welcome the Bill as we hope that it will at last bring some form of order to this delicate and difficult subject. Certainly we on this side of the House, with our recent experience of ministerial office, see no reason why Ministers should not be rewarded for what are after all long hours and sometimes, it seems, more kicks than halfpence. I am sure that with his experience the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal can at least sympathise with that observation.
We are equally aware that Ministers are quite rightly brought to account by Parliament and censured if they fail. It is one of the few remaining professions where there is little protection of employment legislation in force. We in no way suggest that such legislation should be extended to Ministers. I note that the principle of the Bill had the warm support of all sides of the House before the election. We were grateful to the Labour Party for that support and we reciprocate it now. We believe that in delicate matters of this kind it is important, if possible, to proceed on a non-partisan basis, even given the caveat that I well remember from another place that Back-Benchers should always beware when both Opposition Front Benches appear to be in agreement.
Far be it from me to venture even the gentlest advice to the Government in matters of this kind. However, I hope, if I may say so, that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal will not allow his colleagues to wear hair shirts too publicly in a sort of competitive bidding for who can take the lowest salary increase. I am sure that all of us, whatever our political differences, recognise that Ministers work long hours; that we need to attract people of ability to politics; and that a proper level of salaries has an important role to play in attracting people
I wish to ask the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal one question. I wonder whether he will recall that during the course of exchanges on allied matters before the election he properly asked me what progress had occurred in the further investigation by the Perry Committee of salaries for Ministers and allowances for Members of this place. I know that is something he and his party feel strongly about. Can he take this opportunity--perhaps it is not entirely in order--to advise the House what the present position is and whether progress has been made under his prompting?
Lord Howell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for the final point that he made which I also wish to make. The House will recall that when we debated these matters in November of last year, almost a year ago, one or two of us asked about junior Ministers' salaries and about the expenses of Members of this House. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, charitably and kindly agreed to refer those matters back to the Top Salaries Review Body. Subsequently some of us were asked to give evidence to that body. I was asked but could not attend because unfortunately I was in hospital. However, other people attended. Since then there has been total silence.
The Top Salaries Review Body having been asked 12 months ago to review a matter, it is totally discourteous to this House for it not to report back to the House. I do not wish to go over the ground. However, as in the previous Government, in this Government junior Ministers are working extremely hard, carrying great responsibilities of state, but being paid salaries which are less than those of Back-Bench Members of Parliament in another place. That cannot be right. An old trade union principle of paying the rate for the job should apply to Ministers who carry responsibility in this House or anywhere else. The matter needs to be rectified. With regard to the dignity of this place, it cannot be right for Ministers serving in this House to be so underpaid.
As regards our expenses, no one whom I have met wishes to make any profit from serving in this House. But allowances for Members of the House of Lords are inadequate. For example, one cannot possibly stay in a decent London hotel for the overnight rate that is paid. If one has a flat or accommodation, as some of us do, and has to take it for 12 months, it is ludicrous that it is empty for four months of that time; but one is expected to subsidise the country.
The position regarding secretarial allowances is even worse. This is an important new point. We now have more and more working Peers who require to undertake research. They require some secretarial assistance.
I support the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will ensure that the Top Salaries Review Body pays this House the courtesy of listening to our representations with great care and of replying to them.
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