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3.32 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The resolution before the House increases the maxima for allowances for day subsistence, overnight attendance and secretarial support and extends the range of circumstances in which your Lordships would be eligible for these allowances.

As your Lordships are aware, they were recommended by the independent Senior Salaries Review Body. The SSRB report was published in March this year. It made clear that Peers should not be out of pocket as a result of carrying out their parliamentary duties and concluded that the present levels of allowances failed to fulfil that important principle.

Evidence indicated that the current day subsistence allowance of £37 did not cover many of the incidental costs incurred by Peers in attending this House. The SSRB recommended that the day subsistence allowance should be raised to a maximum of £60 per day.

It also recommended that the overnight allowance should be increased from £84 to a maximum of £120 payable for each night following a day of attendance, and for the preceding night, where a Member attends a sitting of this House or of a committee. That increase reflects better the rising costs of hotels in London. Extending eligibility to six days rather than five, where that is necessary, will, I hope be regarded as only a fair recognition of the work carried out by Members of this House.

The SSRB recommended that the secretarial allowance should be raised from £36 to a maximum of £50 a day. That is payable, on claim, for the number of days on which the Member attends the House, or an official delegation, or is on a committee visit away from the House, and for a maximum of a further 40 days where such an expense has been necessarily incurred. There is an increase of 10 days to the additional number of days your Lordships could be paid for secretarial assistance and some welcome flexibility on the definition of an eligible day.

Your Lordships will be extremely pleased to know that we shall shortly be bringing forward an order to provide for increases to the salaries of Lords Ministers--I pause for approval--as recommended elsewhere in the SSRB's report. That will mean that Lords Ministers will receive an additional £2,000 per annum this year from 20th June and a further £2,000 next year, in April 2002. That will ensure that the cash differential between the salaries of Ministers in the other place and in this House does not widen. There is even better news. That increase will also apply to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley. Lords Ministers' night subsistence allowance automatically rises on a formula which is worked out as 220 times the overnight allowance.

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It is plain from the evidence and the comments in the report that not all noble Lords are fully aware of what costs may be reimbursed or the proper basis for any claim. The SSRB has therefore made the eminently sensible recommendation that the House authorities should publish a guide which sets out the appropriate information and I am sure that your Lordships will feel that that will be of assistance and convenience to us all.

The report contains a recommendation that we ought to have free postage on business matters in the same way as those in the Commons. The Chairman of Committees said that, if that meets with the approval of the House, the relevant committee will attend to that question first. It is not entirely straightforward but it seems anomalous that your Lordships may have free use of a telephone but not free postage on the same basis as the Commons. So the postage question is likely to be dealt with first, followed by the question of written guidance and the question of further upgrading of hotel costs in the future.

The recommendations are entirely a matter for your Lordships. The SSRB raised wider questions. Should noble Lords feel that matters outside the ambit of this Motion are usefully to be considered, I am of course more than happy to take them away and discuss them appropriately. I commend the Motion to the House.

Moved to resolve, That this House approves the following proposals with respect to expenses incurred by Members of this House after 19th June 2001--

    (1) For the purposes of paragraph (1) of the resolution of 20th July 1994 (office, secretarial and research allowance), the appropriate amount for expenses incurred in the period beginning with 20th June 2001 and ending with 31st July 2001 should be £50; and paragraph (3)(b) of the 1994 resolution should apply as if that were the appropriate amount for expenses incurred in the year preceding 1st August 2001.

    (2) In paragraph (1) of the 1994 resolution, the reference to attendance at relevant sittings or meetings should include a reference to attendance on visits away from the House--

    (a) as a member of an official delegation; or

    (b) as a member of a committee of this House.

    (3) The days which a Lord may specify under paragraph (4) of the 1994 resolution--

    (a) should include days on which this House sits but which are not days of attendance by him; and

    (b) should be subject to a maximum of 40.

    (4) In determining, in accordance with paragraph (2) of the resolution of 25th July 1991, the limit on the expenses which a Lord may recover under paragraph (1)(a) of that resolution (day subsistence), the maximum daily amount for a day in the period beginning with 20th June 2001 and ending with 31st July 2001 should be £60; and paragraph (7)(b) of the 1994 resolution should apply as if that were the maximum daily amount for a day in the year preceding 1st August 2001.

    (5) In determining, in accordance with paragraph (4) of the 1991 resolution, the limit on the expenses which a Lord may recover under paragraph (1)(b) of that resolution (night subsistence), the maximum daily amount for a day in the period beginning with 20th June 2001 and ending with 31st July 2001 should be £120; and paragraph (8)(b) of the 1994 resolution should apply as if that were the maximum daily amount for a day in the year preceding 1st August 2001.

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    (6) For the purposes of paragraph (4) of the 1991 resolution there should be added to the maximum daily amount for the days referred to there the maximum daily amount for each other day which falls immediately before a day of attendance at a sitting of this House if the Lord incurs expenses in staying overnight away from his only or main residence before the sitting and it is necessary for him to do so for the purpose of attendance at the sitting.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am pleased to support the Motion to which the Leader of the House spoke. However, I do not entirely welcome the report; it failed to deal with some of the recommendations, which I shall raise in a moment.

I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who worked with others on all sides of the House so as to present a case to the SSRB. That followed a lot of work done prior to the 1997 general election and it is extraordinary how long it has taken to reach this stage.

There are positive aspects. It is important that we retain the attendance-related rather than the salary system of payment. After all, this is still a part-time and voluntary House and the system should therefore stay that way unless and until a new House is in place and determines otherwise.

The recommendations provide a significant uprating of Back-Bench allowances and secretarial expenses. I should have liked to see the secretarial assistance extended across the year. But, as a first go, we should certainly accept what is proposed. And I very much welcome the increase in ministerial pay, not just because of my own position, but also as genuine recognition of the burden that is placed upon government Ministers in this House who have to respond for their entire departments rather than just their specific subject interest.

Some aspects of the report were sloppy. For instance, on page 29 it talks about myself and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, as being business managers in the House of Lords. I am sure that that is a position that both he and I should very much like to have. It talks about the Appointments Commission nominating people's Peers or people's Peers being nominated by businesses, trade unions, charities and others. Of course, as we all know, they are self-nominated and not nominated by those bodies.

The report also has a curious phrase on page 17 where it says that,

    "The House now sees itself as much more business oriented ... Members expect to contribute in a professional way".

I am not sure what "business oriented" means and in what way debates were not "professional" over the course of the past few years. I wonder therefore how much the SSRB understands the way in which this House operates.

In relation to the demerits, I regret that the committee rejected the suggestion that severance pay should be made available for Ministers and office-holders who retire over the age of 65. I see the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who I believe to be over that age,

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and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who was Leader of the Opposition. The idea that just because one accepts a ministerial office to which may be attached a ministerial pension--none of my colleagues who exists on those pensions will ever be rich men on the back of them--should not mean that there should not also be severance pay for Ministers over the age of 65.

I would also like to have seen recognition of the special work carried out by senior Ministers in this House. I refer in particular to the work done in the last Parliament by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. We suggest in our evidence that up to four senior Ministers in this House should be given pay equivalent to those of Cabinet rank.

I fail to understand why the Senior Salaries Review Body has accepted that Members of another place should have the joy of visits from their spouses up to 15 times per year but that your Lordships should have that only twice per year. Two trips in 177 days is not much for those who live far away. Perhaps that is one of the items upon which the noble and learned Lord will reflect in future.

A more serious position is that of the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers. I made clear in my evidence that it is time to recognise that there is a difference between Opposition spokesmen and spokeswomen and Back-Benchers. For the record, perhaps it will be useful to remind noble Lords that apart from myself and my noble friend Lord Henley, the Chief Whip, all Opposition and Liberal Democrat Front-Benchers work on the same basis as Back-Benchers.

I believe that there are simple solutions to this problem; perhaps the extension of the ministerial secretarial allowance or a strong case for deemed attendance. When Front-Benchers are working from home at their computers they have excellent access to information but they have to leave home and come to this House in order to claim their expenses.

I turn finally to the question of free postage, which I hoped would be able to be dealt with in this Motion. I am not sure why we have to wait for a committee of the House to agree it, although I am sure that it will be agreed. Certainly, we shall lend our support to the Government in so doing.

I apologise for responding at length. We do not have many opportunities to do so. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will feel that some of these points are worth pursuing and perhaps we can see changes to what I regard as serious injustices which still exist in this House.

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