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I have dedicated 19 years of my life to this House, and in the last Session for which statistics are available I attended 88.4 per cent of the sittings, despite the fact that I have a 400-mile commute to make. Often in the past, bucket-and-spade holidays with my children when they were young had to be cut short or, indeed, sacrificed altogether. I am sure that very few of your Lordships could put their hand on their heart and say that they have never "clocked in" for two minutes and then disappeared. In my 19 years I admit to having done so twice, and once was on my wedding day.
In the old days, I remember being a teller in the Lobby at 3 am when more than 400 Peers trooped through it. I wonder how many members of the SSRB are awake and working at 3 am. My dear friend the late Lord Weatherill, who was such a loved and respected Convenor of the Cross Benches, always used to remind me that for every minute you are on your feet in the Chamber, you ought to spend at least an hour in
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Every morning, my wife's final words to me are, "What time will you be back?" Of course, it is impossible to know, particularly if you are involved in a Bill. I remember preparing a speech for the last Energy Bill nine times before I delivered it on the tenth sitting day in Grand Committee. Likewise, if there are likely to be votes, as we all know, it is difficult to ascertain the exact time of the vote. It must not be forgotten that that could play complete havoc with any social life that one might try to have, let alone spending quality time with one's spouse, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, mentioned. Again, the SSRB has completely failed to take that into account.
Now I, too, turn to travel, especially for those of us who travel long distances. It is incredible to think that the recommendation is: if you are not working, you should travel second-class. In the past, I have often taken the sleeper to Edinburgh, and while it is difficult to sleep on such a conveyance, it is also difficult to claim that one is actually working. The idea of having to share a compartment with a complete stranger or, for that matter, another noble Lord is really unbelievable. The proposal that spouses should travel second-class on long journeys-and I emphasise that they are long journeys-while accompanying a Member of this House who might legitimately be working is, in my view, completely unacceptable. Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, mentioned, the recommended six visits per annum for a spouse is just nasty and indeed mean.
With regard to overnight expenses, there are hotels where, if you are lucky, you can get a room for £140 a night. However, you might well incur a taxi fare of £20 each way. Travelling late at night, particularly for elderly female Members of this House, is a very scary experience. Not for one moment am I suggesting that any Member of your Lordships' House should stay in a five-star hotel, but it is interesting to note that some of them charge upwards of £470, plus VAT, per night, and that is before you have had a peanut, let alone breakfast.
Another aspect of parliamentary duties which has been completely overlooked is being a member of an all-party parliamentary group, of which there are 584. I am the office bearer in three of them and a member of a further six. These take time to prepare for, particularly if you are chairing a session and then have to lobby and hold telephone or face-to-face meetings with officials and/or Members of the other place. Again, the SSRB has totally failed to take that on board.
My youngest son, who, at the moment, is an unqualified accountant, is charged out at £125 an hour. If he was qualified, that would be nearer £200. If a senior partner is charged out, it is for £600 an hour. I have
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I hope that by now I have proven how derisory the £200 per day attendance suggestion is. At the moment the cost to the taxpayer for a Member of this House is £3.81 a year. To put that in context, unaccountable government quangos with salaried members last year cost each and every UK household the staggering amount of £3,641 a year. I wonder who gives the best value.
Before I came here I had a secretary for six hours a week. Now I have to have someone for 36 hours a week to do all the things that I would normally do if I was not here. This, again, is something that the SSRB has totally failed to take into account. I agree with what other noble Lords have said about non-sitting days and secretarial allowances. One other fundamental point is that we must not forget that we all have a Writ of Summons to attend Parliament.
Your Lordships will be delighted to hear that I conclude by reiterating that I think this report is an utter insult to those of us who have dedicated our lives to working here. I greatly look forward to the reply of the noble Baroness, who is held in such respect and affection throughout the House. This report will undoubtedly have a negative effect on attendance figures, but perhaps that is exactly what Her Majesty's Government want.
Baroness Shephard of Northwold: My Lords, we have already enjoyed some lighter moments in the course of this debate, but, fundamentally, it is an extremely serious debate. Its seriousness is equalled only by the seriousness of the situation in which the institution of Parliament finds itself. The SSRB report says that our debate is taking place against,
This creeping contempt for the institution of Parliament has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. Many noble Lords know much better than I, a relative newcomer, that the House of Lords is one of the most extraordinary institutions in the world. We also know that while this is one of the largest second Chambers in the world, it is the least costly, as has been pointed out. We cost the taxpayer less than a third of the cost of the House of Commons. That is not based on allowances; that is the total cost. We also sit for more days, scrutinise more legislation and sit for longer hours than any other second Chamber in the world. I know these facts because I constantly dish them out as I travel about doing outreach work on behalf of the Lord Speaker, as do many other noble Lords. When you produce these facts for the enormous variety of groups addressed by many colleagues in this House, people are first astonished, and then extremely, and pleasantly, surprised.
Our unsalaried Members bring to our legislative functions the broadest possible range of experience, wisdom and knowledge from all parts of British society. This, too, has already been mentioned. Our membership is more diverse in terms of gender, faith and race than that of the House of Commons. Our work also benefits from the expertise of Members with a wide range of disabilities.
We are being asked today to agree the architecture. We need to make the Leader of the House aware that people do not like the term "architecture". I wonder how much easier this process would be if "framework" had been used. People do not like "architecture"; it is not just the gargoyles, it is the architecture as well. I shall refer to the framework of new arrangements for our fees and allowances. We are also being asked to agree to the establishment of an ad hoc committee to examine the practicalities of their application. I suggest that, as we debate them, we need to have in the forefront of our minds not only the reputation of our House and of the whole institution of Parliament but the question of whether the SSRB proposals will damage or enhance the unique qualities of the House as a legislative Chamber and, in particular, whether their adoption will make it easier or more difficult for people from all walks of life to become Members. The majority of speakers who have mentioned this seem to feel that the proposals may well make it more difficult to maintain our diverse representation.
Many noble Lords are deeply unhappy that this matter has to be debated. I do not share that view, given the events and feelings in another place. We rightly pride ourselves on being a self-regulating House, but if we do not debate this and do not take decisions for ourselves, someone else will do it for us. After all, it is very clear from the report that the Prime Minister himself has demanded that this exercise result in a reduction in costs.
Many feel that the proposals do not take into account noble Lords' wide variety of circumstances. I share that view. I find it shocking and incredible that the SSRB does not have one woman member. I did not think that that was legal. I understand that, not long ago, the SSRB interviewed people for the five vacancies but could not find a single woman to fill them. I hope it is watching, because if it advertises again, it may well find people suitable to help it in its deliberations. Indeed, if there had been women on the SSRB, its proposals would have recognised the issues surrounding Members having to ring up an agency late at night to see whether a hotel somewhere in Brixton could accommodate them. We cannot use taxis; that is also right. We routinely sit later than the other place-that is another point. If there had been women on the SSRB, someone would have said that older women might find such arrangements difficult.
Some of the proposals are unfriendly to families, spouses and partners. Much has been made of the suggestion that noble Lords may travel first class only if they are working. This introduces a whole new range of inspectorates. Or should the public be alerted to spot whether a noble Lord is working in the first-class compartment? Of course, it could be more embarrassing when we examine what goes on in sleepers.
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I am also very concerned, as are we all, that the new arrangements should not result in people becoming Peers only because they can afford to, and because they live within the M25. One of the marvellous things about this House-I have already mentioned diversity-is its geographical diversity, which enriches every debate and consideration that we make. Paragraph 1.15 of the report gives a nod to this concern and then dismisses it. We have heard already-and we shall certainly hear more in this debate-from those who strongly believe that that concern should not be dismissed so lightly.
The detail of exactly how the new arrangements will work is of key importance. That detail has been raised again and again. If the Motion is eventually agreed, the ad hoc committee will have much work to do. The so-called architecture-namely the introduction of the merged daily fee-will undoubtedly cause difficulty for some. On the other hand, it would bring clarity, certainty and even comprehensibility to a system which we all accept has just grown.
We cannot ignore the crisis of confidence in the public mind with regard to the whole of Parliament. Although that crisis has been caused largely by events in another place, we are not, in the public's mind, absolved from the responsibility of reforming ourselves. It was this House which agreed that the whole issue of our allowances should be subjected to the outside scrutiny of the SSRB. We have its report. Its conclusions are unacceptable to some, but most of us think that they need to be refined in detail.
As I said, I am a relative newcomer to this House. In my four and a half years here, I have grown to understand and to value more than I can say its unique qualities, the respect it rightly receives from the public and the extraordinary and vital position that it occupies in the legislative structure of our country. I would not wish for any of that respect to be lost or diminished by our taking the wrong decision today. We have the prized tradition of regulating ourselves. The Motion enables us to continue that tradition and I intend to support it.
Lord Nickson: My Lords, after those five Exocets, perhaps I should declare an interest-not a pecuniary one but as a former chairman of the SSRB rather a long time ago. Then, 40 per cent of our membership were women, and a tremendous contribution they made too. When, as my noble friend Lord Butler will well remember, I succeeded my predecessor, Lord Plowden, he said to me, "My boy, if you take this on, you do realise that it is the ultimate poison pill". That was 20 years ago and I am still here. In those days, not only were women well represented on the SSRB but we carried out our roles voluntarily-in our own time and without pay. That is as may be.
Having heard those five speeches, I well understand the concern that many noble Lords have about the details of the report, but I support wholeheartedly the Motion in the name of the House Committee and the line taken by the Government. I draw a parallel with what happened to a report that was presented to another place in 1992-93, for which I suppose I had responsibility as the author, and with what happened in the other place. I very much hope that, despite their reservations, your Lordships will look at the bigger picture.
As has been said many times in this debate and in the one held a fortnight ago on the report of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the ripples of public opinion, to use a current phrase, may only just be lapping the sandbags around the Peers' Entrance and we may not have had the catastrophic flooding that occurred in the climate change of public opinion relating to politicians in another place. However, we must realise that, whether we talk about the architecture, the cathedral or the framework, we absolutely have to accept that it would be a tragic mistake for this House to reject a report that was commissioned by this House and, through the Prime Minister, the Government. It would be a very great mistake to reject it.
I am not saying that all the detail is perfect, as it very clearly is not; nor am I saying that any of the reports for which I was responsible for six years were perfect-they were not. I cannot remember a single report that was totally accepted in every detail by the Government. Sometimes reports were staged for reasons of economic imperative and so on; sometimes details were altered; and sometimes one felt that some of the details were altered just to keep us on our toes. In one case, I remember that when we returned, bloodied, to discuss what had happened to our report, I was so moved by what had occurred that I instructed the staff of the OME to play the last Sir Humphrey episode of "Yes, Prime Minister", and the parallels were very great. We did that instead of reading the minutes.
I want to refer, in particular, to a report commissioned in 1991 on office cost allowances in another place. I shall not bore your Lordships with it too much but one recommendation was made in order that Members of Parliament could achieve,
When the report was debated, it was rejected, together with the architecture and the framework. Many of your Lordships were almost certainly in the other place at the time, and the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, may remember this, as he told me shortly afterwards what had happened when, as John MacGregor, he was Lord President. However, the report was rejected and the Members in another place voted themselves 20 per cent more than had been recommended. I want to read three short extracts from that debate:
"Let us not fool ourselves: whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue, it is being observed by the public out there, and the public are about to undergo an economic phase in which they will have not inflation-plus rises but perhaps inflation-minus rises.
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"The Government commission an independent report. They establish a committee of people who are distinguished in their fields, under the chairmanship of Sir David Nickson. The secretariat is provided by the Office of Manpower Economics"-
In general terms, they must accept the recommendations made. That report was rejected. Had it not been rejected and had its architecture or some of its framework been adopted, I think that very many of the problems that we have seen in recent months might not have occurred.
I have two last points but I do not want to go into any detail. I am not saying that everything is perfect. When I chaired the SSRB, it was called the Top Salaries Review Body. I felt that that title was slightly inappropriate and your Lordships may feel that the change to the Senior Salaries Review Body was perhaps a wise one at the time. It is entirely right that the House Committee should consider this matter. No doubt it will consider the points made so eloquently by many noble Lords who are unhappy but, when the time comes to consider this, I urge the House to accept the report in broad principles, as it would be most unfortunate if we took a different view.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, the former chairman of the SSRB has just urged us to accept the report, as have the leaders of all the political parties in your Lordships' House and the leaders in the other place. I guess that they would have urged us to accept it even before a word was written, because it is suggested that there has been abuse. I looked into that and Bill Cockburn, the current chairman of the SSRB, said that it will restore public confidence.
We are told by the Sunday Times that public confidence in your Lordships' House has been damaged. The Sunday Times, which was scooped by the Telegraph as regards MPs expenses, decided that it had to look under every conceivable leaf to see whether it could find abuse here. I asked House of Lords research staff to check on the abuse and, up to a couple of weeks ago, the alleged abuse was by 29 Members of your Lordships' House out of 735 Members, 582 of whom claimed some allowances. That is the level of abuse. There have been another two cases in the past two weeks. As has been indicated, many of those instances would be found not to be abuse at all precisely because there is no definition of "main home" in the current
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I accept that the SSRB has tried its best to produce some kind of balanced recommendations, but even the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out that it has failed in a number of respects. The fact is that, as has been mentioned, it has failed to get a reasonable balance at all in its recommendations. I accept that transition would be of some little help to some, but that is not an answer. We are talking about a basic system of allowances and expenses for your Lordships' House. We are now told, if we accept the Motion before us today, we must agree with the architecture and principles. Even the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in asking us to agree, pointed out that much of the architecture of the recommendations is faulty, to put it mildly.
My noble friend the Leader of the House tried very hard to define architecture and principles, but anyone listening would be bound to accept that she failed. Unfortunately she did not and could not define architecture and principles properly-it is impossible-yet we are being asked in this debate simply to agree with the architecture and principles. For my part, I cannot agree, I do not agree. That is not to say that I am suggesting to your Lordships that we should vote tonight. I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken that that would not be helpful, but the fact is that the architecture and principles are not something that I, for one, can agree with.
There are some major recommendations. The one on taxation is surely absurd. We are not on a salary, we are on expenses. If, eventually, there is an elected House-which I do not believe would be any better than the present one-and Members are on salaries, that is one thing, but to talk about now asking a Government to change the law to allow the taxation to take place is another. I hope that whoever is in government in this country in the near future will not accept that recommendation. I hope that they will not dream of putting into a Finance Bill the taxation of our allowances.
I agree with the idea of an ad hoc committee, particularly one made up of Back-Benchers with no Front-Benchers on it-perhaps a few former Front-Benchers. I have heard rumours about who would be chairman of the ad hoc committee. If the name that I have heard is accurate, I would strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. The SSRB has come up with one or two good things. It has now defined "main residence". Not everybody will agree with the actual definition but I could accept some of it. The idea that we should now simply agree this resolution seems to me to be unacceptable to the House.
I urge my noble friend, when she comes to wind up the debate, not just to listen and say that we will go back and let the House Committee decide once we have agreed the architecture and principles. If we accept the resolution, we also accept what the House
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"We recommend that the views of members should be taken into account and inform the final resolutions to be put before the House. The SSRB's report asks the House to consider a number of issues ... we would propose to set up an ad hoc group to consider and consult on issues in the report and advise on their implementation".
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