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Does the SSRB believe that work connected with Parliament ceases the moment that we leave the House? The post and e-mails continue for us all and need to be dealt with. There is regularly homework to be done for future sittings or committees. I use some of the Recess time to keep myself updated on matters on which I speak in the House, such as the countryside. I am fully aware that it is not the same as being an MP, but it is necessary and it should be acknowledged, as the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has just said. Why are we to be deprived of the 40 days' allowance? No argument has been put forward to support that recommendation. We are entitled to know why this is to be so arbitrarily taken away from us.
The review body must have regard to the need to recruit, train and motivate suitably able and qualified people, but there is no mention of that in the report. I am now in the top 25 longest-serving Peers, yet I believe I am still in the lowest quartile age-wise. The average age of the House, as has been said, is 69. We have seen the Government appoint some excellent younger Peers but how long have they stayed when they discover that they can earn much more elsewhere? The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised this in a wonderfully humorous manner in the recent adjournment debate on the gracious Speech, but it is a serious point. It is a concern for the future of the House that we cannot retain such people at this point in their careers. I do not expect that the influx of new Peers after the next general election will correct this. It is something that the SSRB has ignored to Parliament's detriment.
Other Peers have commented on Recommendation 26, but I was not surprised to note in the report the amount of empire-building that the unaccountable SSRB is seeking. Recommendations 7 and 20 seek to give that quango an even greater role in controlling this House. The report also institutes a lot of new, petty bureaucratic regulations that I do not want to go into, as other noble Lords have done so.
Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House or, indeed, the Lord Speaker convey to the SSRB the great unhappiness with the report that exists in the House? As has been said, it needs to be made aware that the report is not up to the quality of reports produced by committees of this House. It is not up to the quality of a report that should be submitted to
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Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, it is imperative that this House now accepts for the time being the SSRB report, with all its manifest flaws. The present situation cannot continue, and there is nothing else on the table for us to take at this stage. I very much hope that an ad hoc committee will have the flexibility to deal with the large number of very good points made in the House today. The reputation of this House is at stake. It is not a question of abuse of the House by the majority of Peers-a minority may be at fault, and certainly there are allegations in that regard-but of perception. I am speaking in the debate because I am increasingly concerned about the perception of members of the public who watch BBC Parliament, and who will watch this debate. It will also be viewed by the press. If we do not wholeheartedly accept the Motion before the House, we will get very adverse publicity. We absolutely have to swallow this bitter pill, but I hope that the working party will ameliorate many aspects of it. It will be necessary at some stage-but not now-to consider the £140 payment for those who take a room for the night in London.
The method of establishing the principal residence may not be best achieved by counting the number of nights you sleep there, because people take holidays and have other duties which may be London-based. I live in Devon but spend a lot of time in London and have other commitments, including with charities. All of us have children or grandchildren whom we want to see and will spend nights with them, not necessarily in one's flat or rented accommodation in London. The measure is a rather rough, cumbersome way of working out what a principal residence is, but that is a matter for the working party. These further considerations must not stop us accepting the report today.
I am anxious to be extremely short, bearing in mind the time, but I wish to make one further point. I pay for a part-time secretary for 12 months. Perhaps at a later stage we should press for secretaries to be employed by the House of Lords rather than being employed ad hoc by Members. That would get rid of the problem of coming in and sitting on a Bench in this Chamber in order to pay for one's secretary during the Summer Recess if one loses the 40 days.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I do not wish to try the patience of the House. However, I welcome the proposal to put quarterly information
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Some noble Lords have said that it might be a good idea for IPSA to examine this House. It should be remembered that the 646 Members in the other place can claim additional costs of approximately £24,000. They can claim £103 for secretarial costs, £14,000 for an office allowance and £25 per day for subsistence. That is a substantial amount compared with noble Lords' allowances. Mention has been made today, and in an earlier debate, that IPSA will cost the House of Commons £8 million. However, we should remember that that £8 million relates only to the payment of MPs' salaries and expenses. There will still be a Finance Department, or, as we older Members used to call it, a Fees Office, which will pay for the security staff, the cleaners, the Metropolitan Police, the badge messengers and all the other staff who look after the House. The £8 million accounts for only a small part of that administration; I do not know what the rest costs. To suggest that IPSA administers the expenses of this House is like taking a hammer to crack a walnut.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, much of what I propose to say has already been said; therefore, I shall be very brief. I regard it as an exceptional privilege to have been in this House for 20 years. As a rule, I speak only on medicine, science and education, with an occasional swipe at the dualling of the A1 in north Northumberland. However, one issue that has arisen today relates to the fact that the SSRB report-I believe that it is structurally and architecturally sensible in many regards-contains a substantial number of flaws. I hope very much that the working group will have every opportunity to iron out those flaws. The SSRB has taken little account of the fact that a large number of Members of this House undertake a huge range of activities outside the Chamber which are directly relevant to the work of this House, such as activities involved with charities-I undertake such activities as I am involved with more than 12 charities- and all-party groups.
We recently produced three major reports, rather like in the work of a Select Committee. I sat on Select Committees for some 15 years. Such activities are not fully recognised by the SSRB. They generate a huge volume of work and correspondence, which continue even during the Recess. During the Easter Recess this year, under the Lord Speaker's outreach programme, I spoke to 350 lady members of the County Durham women's institute. It must have been successful, because in August I was asked to repeat my speech to 200 ladies of the Northumberland women's institute. These activities are not taken full account of in the SSRB report.
I employ a secretary who works for me throughout the year. The payments that will be made available for secretarial support will not cover the activity for the whole year. I do not have a flat in London, but I stay at the Athenaeum Club, the Oxford and Cambridge Club or the Royal Society of Medicine. I was told in this Chamber many years ago that one could take account of the subscriptions paid to those clubs when making one's claim for overnight expenses. That is ignored by the SSRB.
Finally, perhaps I may add that the mere thought that my late wife would have been compelled to travel second class when I was travelling first class is so horrifying as not even to be contemplated-particularly given that we are to debate the Equality Bill in the House tomorrow. I end simply by offering the working group, when constituted, the best of good wishes for Christmas, coupled with the very best of wishes for a fruitful and productive new year.
The first is that, although it may behove us that we should not under any circumstances renege on an obligation to present this House's responsible attitude to the public, the electorate and the world outside, equally we do not have a responsibility to wreck this House against the interest of the electorate and the nation-especially as we approach the juncture of Governments in an election year. That would be an act of total folly, and we must not do it. Why might we do it? I have not heard this mentioned in this debate, but by my calculation, the actual net cost in unclaimable money for every Peer in this House each year will be £16,600, compared with the figure which appears to be on the table. That is an excessive burden to be imposed upon an individual who, perhaps, does not have any other pensions to carry forward and who is then being asked to subsidise from what little they have the cost of government in this way. This requires explanation.
The report proposes that we should be paid £140 for 150 days' attendance. This amounts to exactly £51,000. If you took the total currently available from our three expense allocations, the maximum you could earn would be £49,725. This means that, on the face of it, we are being offered a small improvement on what we have. That level would be fine-except for the fact that conditionality has been introduced, which cuts away a large part of the claimability that you can achieve within those figures. I have taken, as a median figure, 110 days as a reasonable average that we could each attain; 150 days is not feasible. You cannot attain a 100 per cent record. If you attain 110 days, your maximum payment under the new formula is £37,400. You would lose £13,600 of what appears to be available. In addition, you have lost £3,000 of the top-up on secretarial costs. Thereby, the aggregate cost of the two is £16,600, compared with what you could get at present. That checks back perfectly, because you could take the figure as being the total secretarial cost of £11,250 plus the £3,000, and, taking account of the
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I have a couple of questions. First, I cannot understand the logic of including in the £200 allowance compensation for secretarial costs. Is this not rewarding those who have been claiming secretarial costs without having a secretary, by letting them keep that money? I should have thought that the easy way would be to allow separate secretarial costs only if they could be proved on a receipt. They should not otherwise be allowed. That would cure the problem.
Secondly, I was interested in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, on income tax. He came very close to a fundamental truth, but did not go the whole way. The report is strange on this issue. One of the two paragraphs on income tax implies that tax would be applied only to the £200, but not to accommodation costs. Would that not create a new and horrendous tax conflict, in so far as accommodation costs are not tax-allowable for any normal business activity? Why should we suddenly create for ourselves tax-free accommodation? We would only put ourselves in greater odium with the public if we did that. That does not seem to stack up.
A comment in the report is hugely offensive. It states that we should have to show that we can be useful when we are here. The very function of this House is to be useful collectively. That is what we are here for. It is strange; how do we prove that we are useful? I sit on the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee and calculate that I have attended 50 of its meetings over the past three years. I have been useful at the Merits Committee for precisely five minutes. Have I, therefore, been useless for the rest of that time? No; I would claim that I had been extremely useful, because, in that five minutes, one bit of expertise happened to be absolutely important. I sank the proposal for a Manchester casino. It was like being the pilot of the plane with one torpedo left that sank the Bismarck. As far as I was concerned, it was a triumph. However, frankly, I had to sit there for 50 meetings as the token oik among all those learned lawyers and Cabinet secretaries before I found my moment of value. That is what this House is about. We all bring some moment of expertise that is waiting to be made useful. Sooner or later, we are all useful, and that is why this place is unique.
We cannot just score points. What are we going to do? Like big boy scouts, do we have to do a good deed a day for ever more in this House to justify putting in an expense claim? There are strange things in this report, and I hope that the committee under my noble friend Lord Wakeham, or whoever chairs it, will take a broad view of the fact that we have to work on this to a point whereby the House survives the calamity which will otherwise unfold.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: At the conclusion of our long debate, after 35 speakers, I want again to thank Members of your Lordships' House for allowing me to speak twice during our considerations. As the Leader of the whole House and as a member of
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As we reach the end of our debate on a new system of financial support for your Lordships' House, we need to be clear about what is in front of it and what is not. What is not in front of it is the SSRB report itself. The House is not being asked to endorse all aspects of the report, warts and all. The House is not being asked to approve everything in the report, and it is not being asked to accept its every recommendation. However, the House is being asked to approve the Motion put forward by the House Committee to accept the principles and architecture of the report, as the Motion states, but, following the publication of the SSRB report, to refer the particulars and practicalities of the new system of financial support for Members of this House to an ad hoc group to consider, consult on and advise on implementing the new system, and to review the system, once implemented, after 12 months. It is for the ad hoc group, nominated by all the principal groupings of the House, including Back-Bench Members of this House, to look in detail at all the issues that Members have raised in today's debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, for drawing a parallel between the work of the Eames committee and the work that is ongoing. Whatever else the debate may have done, it has shown that there is indeed a large range of issues for the ad hoc group to consider if the House tonight approves its establishment.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, gave us a clear picture of the architecture, as well as of the flying buttresses. He was right to stress the need for flexibility but he was also right to say that, while we should be willing to accept independent advice, we have to ensure that the flying buttresses are dismantled. I am confident that an ad hoc committee can do exactly that.
When eventually we get to debate-and, I hope, accept-the subsequent report of the House Committee, I hope that it will be something with which we can all feel comfortable. I sense this evening that we do not all feel comfortable with the SSRB report, but I hope that that is what we will achieve in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, set out the problems relating to the current system-in a nutshell, a cheap and cheerful system which delivers rough justice with a lack of clarity. As he said, there has to be change, but he broadly recognised the changes outlined in the SSRB report and referred to some of the problems that need to be ironed out. Both the noble Lord and the right reverend Prelate mentioned the need to heed the advice of an independent body, especially in the current political climate.
The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, spoke of the need for clarity and flexibility. That is absolutely right. Flexibility is crucial to maintaining the diversity of this House that we all cherish. We have to make sure that we continue to be a diverse House, with men and women from many backgrounds and from all parts of the UK, and ensure that they are all able to attend and participate in the work of this House-a House where those with and without personal wealth can continue to serve with distinction. We have to ensure that the
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The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right to stress the need for geographical diversity. He also suggested that a new system would save money but that this could not be proved because of the lack of an evidence base and financial approval. That is the importance of the fourth bullet point of the House Committee-that the committee should monitor and report on the effects of implementation of the new system after a year of operation. That is absolutely right.
I heard the deep concern expressed that the net effect of an inappropriate or misapplied series of proposals and allowances could be that a number of Members would disengage from the House. We must guard against that, and we will.
Some noble Lords raised concerns about the comparators mentioned in the SSRB report. As I said earlier, we are an extraordinarily good-value House, if I may put it that way. With regard to daily rates for quangos, I point out that a member of a quango may serve in that capacity on only three or four occasions a year, but of course that is not to detract from the value of our work day in and day out in this Chamber.
Disability is a crucial issue and takes us back to the need for flexibility. Of course, there must be maximum flexibility for our disabled colleagues and their needs must be met so that they can continue with the invaluable role that they play in the House today. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Low, will discuss these issues with the ad hoc committee, if it is set up, because I believe that we need some evidence-based policies, certainly in this respect.
Taxation was a further issue for many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Barnett and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Howe and Lord Lloyd of Berwick. This is a complex matter. I confirm that, unless primary legislation is forthcoming, HMRC has told us clearly that the financial support offered to Members by the new scheme will not be subjected to taxation. In relation to travelling expenses, Recommendation 6 of the report clearly states that,
The noble and learned Lord is absolutely correct to say that this puts Peers in a different position from that of members of the public. Again, that is a matter on which an ad hoc committee might need some clarification.
Many concerns were raised about accommodation. The right reverend Prelate and others spoke of the importance of accommodation in enabling us to do our preparatory work each evening. We must ensure that those who wish to rent flats are able to do so. I also note noble Lords' comments about home ownership. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and others cited problems and anomalies relating to the proposed new system of overnight accommodation allowances. There are clear anomalies in the SSRB proposals which do indeed need to be considered. It cannot be acceptable that Peers subsidise Parliament, as my noble friend Lord Sewel and others pointed out, and I am sure that my noble friend's suggestions will be considered. The
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I draw noble Lords' attention to the proposed transitionary arrangements for home owners, whether or not they have mortgages. The timescale for transition appears to be arbitrary, so that may be another issue that the ad hoc committee can address. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, for recognising that the SSRB tried to take account of the work of the Lords in the 21st century, but it was, and is, a difficult task. He is also right to emphasise the strong element of public service in the proposed daily fee.
Many noble Lords spoke about the fact that the SSRB recommended an overnight allowance of £174 in 2007 and that that has now changed. The 2007 report conceded that there were some ambiguities in the system. At that point, a recently published government White Paper on Lords reform recommended a salaried House and the SSRB therefore decided not to make a comprehensive recommendation in 2007. We need a system which is now fit for purpose, but of course I recognise the concerns expressed by noble Lords and the experience of my noble friend Lord Graham.
Many noble Lords clearly feel that what is being proposed is a heavily overbureaucratic system. Instead, they want simplicity for Members of your Lordships' House, for the public beyond and, of course, for the administration. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, rightly drew our attention to the costs of bureaucracy. That is why we have to ensure that we have a simple system, albeit one with receipts for overnight accommodation and one that can be easily administered. Again, that is probably another task for the ad hoc group.
Noble Lords were especially concerned about women Members of this House, and I share that deep concern. I, too, was absolutely staggered and disappointed to learn a few weeks ago that there were no women sitting as members on the SSRB. I of course took the chairman to task and asked him to tackle this issue, and I hope that the situation will be rectified as soon as possible. It is not acceptable for this House that everything has been seen through the prism of a man, and I think that similar problems will arise in every report that the SSRB makes. Many aspects of the report are detrimental to women in particular and to family life. However, when the ad hoc committee, which I hope will be balanced, looks at all the details of this report, I know that it will do so through the prism of women as well as of men, because safety issues for women, especially for those of advancing years when travelling home at night, are extremely important to us all.
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