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House of Lords

Tuesday, 9th June 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.

House of Lords Reform: Pay Implications

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked the Leader of the House:

    Whether he considers it equitable that, over the last financial year, the aggregate of parliamentary salaries (exclusive of ministerial salaries) for Members of the House of Lords was about £156,000 compared with £42 million for Members of the House of Commons; and what commitments of time the Government will expect of unpaid working Peers in a reconstituted House of Lords.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, the noble Lord asks an interesting Question, or rather he asks two interesting questions. I am sure that the whole House will be aware that your Lordships are not paid a salary for all your hard work. Members of the other place are paid a salary for the job they do, which includes representing their constituents. The noble Lord thus draws a false comparison. Direct questions of equity between the two Houses do not arise.

As regards the noble Lord's second question, the Government continue to expect from all Peers the commitment of time necessary to ensure that the House as whole fulfils its functions. If only all noble Lords would take their duties as seriously and work as hard as the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that exceptionally courteous reply. I assure him that it is extremely welcome at last to hear some thinking on this subject from the Government in this House on this occasion. Is there perhaps some new Labour principle of noblesse oblige that working Peers should work without pay? Have the Government given thought to the composition of the House? Will its members not have to be either very old, with Peers in receipt of retirement pensions from other employment, or in receipt of private means, like not a few of the recent appointments to your Lordships' House?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I think of little else other than the composition of your Lordships' House. It is with me daily. The noble Lord asks a very interesting question. We must wait to see what the House looks like when the interim House has arrived.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, although a certain lightheartedness has crept into the questions

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and answers, is the noble Lord the Leader of the House not aware that this is a serious matter? Is he not aware also that at this point in time Ministers and Members in your Lordships' House are perhaps the most poorly paid members of any major legislative body, certainly in Europe? If my noble friend wishes to defend the situation, can he tell us of any major legislative chamber in Europe which treats its members worse than Members of your Lordships' House are treated at present?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am indeed well aware that Ministers of your Lordships' House are underpaid and overworked. I am aware also that the allowances and expenses paid to your Lordships for the work that your Lordships do occasions a great deal of unrest. Being aware of those two facts, it is incumbent upon me, as Leader of the House, to make sure that my ministerial colleagues are also aware of them.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, in what respects will the Bill which the Government now propose to introduce differ from the Parliament (No. 2) Bill of the 1968-69 Session? Were Michael Foot, Robert Sheldon and other Labour MPs right to destroy that Bill on the basis that it would create a quango based on party political patronage or were they guilty of constitutional outrage in allowing themselves, with Enoch Powell and many hereditary Peers, to destroy the Bill?

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord must wait for the terms of the Bill which will be published in due course at a time when the Government believe it proper to do so. He can then no doubt make a proper comparison.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the great problem with Peers' expenses is that they are updated with reference to the RPI? Therefore, in real terms, they can never improve. However, the expenses in the other place are updated in all kinds of strange and wonderful ways which mean that they improve all the time.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am well aware that that is my noble friend's view because he has expressed it to me on a number of occasions.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, has my noble friend read the Fabian pamphlet published by my noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, on the future composition of your Lordships' House? It suggests a Wednesday night lottery draw with a seat in your Lordships' House instead of money for the winners.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I have read the pamphlet. I did not realise that it was quite as colourful as my noble friend now reminds me.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, will the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal accept that

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Ministers in this House are certainly not well paid compared with their colleagues in the House of Commons? This is totally altruistic from my point of view, obviously. However, will the noble Lord assure me that he is doing his best for his colleagues just as my noble friend Lord Cranborne did for his? Secondly, in any reform which the Government propose, will they cost the proposals? Does he believe that a reformed House of Lords will be nearer the cost of £311,000 per Member of the other place or nearer to the £918,000 per Member of the European Parliament?

Lord Richard: My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first two questions is yes as, indeed, is the answer to his final question.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, as Members of your Lordships' House can claim just over £30 per day in out-of-pocket expenses and bearing in mind the fact that the House sits on average for just under seven hours a day, that equates to an hourly rate of about £4.50 or £4.60. Does my noble friend the Leader of the House think that that is a reasonable recompense for the efforts of noble Lords?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am aware of how long the House sits, and I am also aware of the expenses that noble Lords are entitled to draw. Further than that, my noble friend must not tempt me.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the noble Lord the Leader of the House say whether there is any truth in rumours which are circulating to the effect that quite a few of the new Peers on the opposite Benches are finding their duties rather more onerous than they expected? If that is so, can the noble Lord tell the House with what confidence he approaches the appointment of so many more Peers on the Benches opposite?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I approach the possibility of the creation of sufficient Labour life Peers to give us broad parity with the number of Conservative life Peers with a great deal of equanimity.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, is it not a bit much that we have to subsidise the House in the matter of our travel refunds, sometimes for a period of six weeks? Cannot a system of vouchers be introduced as is the case in the other place? After all, the number of times that noble Lords are travelling is known and, therefore, such a system could not be abused. I believe that that would be very much better.

Lord Richard: My Lords, that is an interesting possibility. With the permission of my noble friend and of the House, I should like to look into the matter.

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Coal-powered Generating Stations

2.44 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking following the recent representations made by American power companies about coal-powered generating stations in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, the Government have noted carefully all the representations which have been made during the review of energy sources for power generation. The review is still under way. The Government will make an announcement when a conclusion is reached: we hope that this will be soon.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Can my noble friend confirm reports that the Government intend to arrange for the generators to take 26 million tonnes of coal a year for the next five years? Further, in view of what he said, can my noble friend say whether the Government believe that electricity from gas-fired power stations really is cheaper than that from coal-fired stations, especially when one has to take into consideration the huge cost involved in building new gas-fired stations? Finally, how much importance do the Government place on security of supply, bearing in mind that the generally accepted reserves in this country would last about 100 years?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, my noble friend is tempting me to anticipate the conclusion of the review which, as I indicated, will shortly be forthcoming. However, I fear that I must disappoint him in that regard. The point about security of supply to which my noble friend alluded is something which falls to be dealt with in the review.

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