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Lord Roper: My Lords, we, on these Benches, also support the Motions put forward by the Lord Privy Seal. We are grateful that the Government have moved quickly and backdated the proposals in the 48th report of the Senior Salaries Review Body to the beginning of this Parliament.
We are also grateful for the work done by the group of Back-Benchers in which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, played an active part, as did my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. That was an important example of the way in which Back-Benchers
As he stated, there are two matters on which we want to see early action taken. I am glad that the Leader of the House mentioned the question of free postage, which is referred to in paragraph 4.36 of the report. It is important that early action is taken.
Similarly, a number of my noble friends pointed out to me the fact that although in paragraph 4.40 reference is made to the difference between this place and the other place as regards spouse travel, no recommendation is made in the report. However, it seems that that is a matter to which early attention should be paid.
A number of my noble friends have spoken to me--they may well wish to intervene in the debate--about the necessity for noble Lords to maintain their professional knowledge. They referred to the absence in the report or anywhere else of provisions to enable them to attend professional conferences on matters which they cover in this House. This is a complicated matter on which a good deal of further examination is needed. Perhaps I may draw that to the attention of the Leader of the House in the hope that it can be examined within further studies, either within committees of the House or by a subsequent report of the Senior Salaries Review Body.
We welcome the Motions tabled today and the assurances we have received from the Leader of the House.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I gave notice to my noble and learned friend the Lord Privy Seal of my intention to raise a relatively minor matter. I hope that he may be able to give a sympathetic response. I wonder whether the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS) could be included in the section of the resolution which deals with relevant sittings and meetings. I declare an interest as one of the nine Members of your Lordships' House who are participating in the scheme this year. I understand from Sir Neil Thorne, the chairman of the scheme, that it is intended in future that there should be six Members of this House who join the scheme each year. Therefore, this issue will return year after year.
Members of this House will know that the AFPS enjoys universal cross-party support and that the Ministry of Defence is particularly keen that parliamentarians who are not old enough to have enjoyed the experience of National Service should be able to learn about the services at first hand through their membership of AFPS. In the other place, Members participating in the AFPS are able to reclaim expenses under the extended travel scheme as they are viewed as wholly, necessarily and exclusively incurred in the carrying out of parliamentary duties. My request to my noble and learned friend is that we in this House should treat the AFPS in the same way and regard
Lord Ezra: My Lords, I should like to follow up the point made by my noble friend Lord Roper about the possible reimbursement of expenses for attendance at professional meetings. My noble friend Lord Methuen is not in his place because he is attending the first meeting of the Science and Technology Select Committee. He has asked me to say that he is disappointed that provision has not been made for such expenses.
Members of professional bodies are now encouraged, indeed in many cases required, to participate in continual professional development. He would like to see a method whereby Members of the House could be enabled in appropriate circumstances to participate in such activities without the embarrassment of soliciting beneficial or free attendance. He considers it to be to the advantage of this House that Members participate in such events so that they can be better informed on relevant topics which may arise in the House or in Select Committees. For example, there was recently a conference on signalling safety organised by the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers which he would very much have liked to attend but could not do so because of the cost. He hopes that this proposal might be further considered and looks forward to a constructive response.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I am glad that the subject of free postage has been mentioned. The postbag received by many Peers becomes bulkier day by day on matters relating to the House. I welcome the statement and hope that an early report is made to the House.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I pay tribute to the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, in leading the informal group in preparing certain submissions to the House.
There is one point that I should like to raise. I particularly welcome the better provision for office expenses. The previous figures were ludicrous. They are not particularly generous now compared to the £48,000 plus which Members of another place receive for office and research expenditure.
There is a related point. I recognise that it is understandably not included in the report we are considering but it is directly and inextricably related. I refer to office accommodation. Frankly, we need basic office space. I am meek in what I want; namely, a worktop for a computer and space to be able to write; adequate shelving and adequate files. That is all I ask for. Many noble Lords do not have that; I am fortunate in that I do. I have only just achieved it. I do not know how many noble Lords are aware that 14 of us have been given notice that we are to be removed from our present accommodation to make space for additional civil servants from the Lord Chancellor's Department. I am sure that we shall be offered other accommodation. However, I believe that that reflects
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am grateful for the kind words which have been said about the manner in which we have reached the present stage. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that this has been an unfolding story in which he has played a part. I well recall in 1995, together with others, trying to press the chairman of the Senior Salaries Review Body, but we did not make much progress.
The House should not be timid in asking for what it believes it is entitled to have. Far too often in my life people say, "What is the point of asking? We will only be turned down". Unless we ask and ask in the proper manner--I do not mean in a servile manner but in a dignified manner--we shall not get anything.
I believe that the present outcome is eminently satisfactory. Reference was made to the collegiate nature of the representation. In the past, each Bench followed its particular interest, but on 8th July 1999, when my noble friend Lord Carter brought to the House the ministerial salaries review, I took the opportunity to say that I support Ministers but asked about the workers and the rest of us. He had to be diplomatic, as he always is, but he reminded us that an opportunity would soon arise, and it did.
With the approval of the senior Whips, I set up a small committee and the House should have placed on the record its indebtedness to those who served on it. Its members were the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and myself. The eight representatives of the four Benches met six times and we did not always agree. However, we did agree that we must concentrate on the three pillars of the existing regime and see whether we could improve them. We gathered together the evidence and submitted it. Other noble Lords submitted evidence individually.
I made a point of going back to my group two or three times during the process in order to remind Members where we were and to consult. Suggestions were made and they were incorporated in a document which was approved--not every word and comma, but it was approved. When I saw Sir Michael Perry, he went out of his way to say that the submission was well put together and that it saved him and his committee a great deal of work in drawing things together. It was well received and I should like to place on the record the indebtedness of the House and those affected by the report to Sir Michael Perry and his committee. We are also indebted to the Leader of the House and to the Chief Whip because representations had to be made to the Prime Minister, the Treasury and others and we have not been let down.
Reference was made to certain matters that should have been included. I am sorry that the issue of spouses' comparability was not included. A number of Members of this House receive 15 spouse journey tickets--they are the Ministers--and they always have. I do not understand the grounds on which it is believed necessary for the spouse of a Minister, who has a busy life, to be able to come to London in order to be helpful, sympathetic and comforting while other noble Lords--I do not include myself because I live near to London--are denied. That is a small but significant issue. There ought not to be a differentiation on such a matter between Ministers and Back Benchers in this House. I hope that in reply the Leader of the House will indicate some sympathy with the suggestion. This House and its committees ought to have some powers; they ought to be able to take action without the constant need to go to the Senior Salaries Review Body to dot every "i" and cross every "t".
I also hope that he will reconsider another vexing issue. Some Members of this House are part of parliamentary delegations who go about their business but are disadvantaged. Members of the other place receive the comparable overnight allowance in an annual payment. Whenever they travel abroad, they receive their allowances and their hotel accommodation is paid. In addition, they have received their overnight allowance, but Members of your Lordships' House have not. The chairman of a committee told me that there are in mind trips abroad which might take three days. During that time, Peers will be denied their overnight allowance which is used to pay the rent of a London flat. Eventually, the question will be asked, "Do we really need to go for three days"--which is what they should do--"or should we cut it down to one or two days?". The quality of the work done in this House could well be affected by the impact of such payments. I hope that the Minister will take account of it.
At the end of the day we never get what we want. In the play, A View from the Bridge, by Arthur Miller, the interlocutor said at the end of a terrible time, "We in this community settle for half". I believe that we have obtained more than half; we have obtained considerably more than what we wanted. However, there is still a need to press the case. I am grateful to all those colleagues I mentioned who helped us to get as far as we have. We are grateful to the Minister and his colleagues but there is still work to be done.
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