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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words of welcome for this resolution. No Scotsman ever looks a gift-horse in the mouth, but I have to say that we did think that this might come a little sooner. Although we are very grateful for what has been done, we are interested to see that the Treasury has decided that the up-rating in your Lordships' House should be less than that for the House of Commons. I hope that that is not a reflection of its view of the success, or otherwise, of the quality of the opposition to the Government in both Houses. I am sure that it is not. Indeed, we are grateful for what the noble Baroness has done.
During the days when the Cranborne money was introduced, I felt that it was absolutely right that we should recognise the position of the then opposition, who were having to work very hard on a number of very important Bills with very few resources. It is a sensible, new suggestion for the way that the House of Lords conducts its business. It is equally welcome that the Cross-Benchers are recognised and that some of the Cranborne money goes to the Convenor of the Cross-Benches.
I am happy to say that this is a rare occasion for me, as I am responding to the Leader of the House in the absence of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde--or, as he was wrongly titled yesterday in the Telegraph "the Earl of Strathclyde". He is not in fact out receiving his earldom; he is actually attending a wedding. I am standing in for him on this rare occasion, and I am happy to agree with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I regret that I must delay the further proceedings of the House for some minutes to explain why, from these Benches, we find the resolution thoroughly unsatisfactory and cannot support it. I should like to refer to the course of events which led to this resolution being tabled, to the substance of our objection to it and to the future of the arrangements of financial assistance to parties in the House--as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said, the Cranborne money.
Perhaps I may make it clear that we greatly welcome the help for the Cross-Bench Peers; indeed, we would have been willing to support a proposal for a much larger sum if it had been requested. I should also like to make it clear, as I did to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who explained why he could not be present this afternoon, that we have no objection at all to the quantum, the amount, of the support for the Conservative Peers--namely, £216,842--though it might seem odd to outsiders that this money is to be doubled when the number of Conservative Peers is almost to be halved.
Our quarrel is with comparisons. Doubling the original Cranborne money may be a fair deal for the Conservatives, but I have to say that it is a rotten one for these Benches. In that respect, much as I regret having to say so, I must explain to the House that my quarrel is with the Leader of the House. Perhaps I may refer to the correspondence that I have had with the Leader of the House which led to the resolution before us today.
On 17th March of this year, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, wrote to the Leader of the House asking for an increase in the Cranborne money. There was a request from the noble Lord for a discussion "at an early opportunity"; indeed, the noble Lord kindly copied his letter to me. On 23rd March I wrote to the Leader of the House referring to the "Strathclyde letter", and making it clear that I would be happy to join in discussions on behalf of these Benches.
On 24th March, the Leader of the House wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, sending a copy to me, stating that she would welcome "a discussion". After a gap of one month, during which time I heard no further news, I wrote to the Leader of the House again and made a proposal for a settlement. In my letter to the noble Baroness, I said that I would welcome an early discussion. Two months later, on 28th June, I received from the Leader of the House what she called "a final response", which offered a wholly unacceptable solution. There had not been any discussion at any stage whatever, despite my requests and my expectations. I believe that to be totally contrary to the normal courtesies and practice of this House. It was an arbitrary decision. It was only when I said that I could not undertake to support any resolution put before the House that I had a meeting with the noble Baroness, to which I shall refer later.
I turn now to the substance of the issue. Here I make comparisons with the treatment of the Conservative Peers. Again, I am concerned with the differential and in no way with the amount. In my letter of 24th April to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House I referred to the principle of proportionality spelt out in the Government's own Lords White Paper, on the record, fully understood by the House and mentioned in our debates in this Chamber on the Bill currently under consideration. I suggested that, if we were to follow that principle, there would be just over 50 per cent for these Benches of what the Conservative Peers receive. The Leader of the House replied saying, no: she was not
However, at last we did have a discussion. The Leader of the House repeated that she was not able to agree with the principle which I proposed: it was a principle that would set aside the arbitrary nature of the decision; and, indeed, the arbitrary nature of the original decision, welcomed though it was in November 1996. I hoped that the noble Baroness would provide an alternative formula by which these matters might be determined in future. There was a discussion about a reasonable compromise of, perhaps, £20,000 more for these Benches. That was less than I had hoped for, but more than she had hitherto suggested. I thought that that was a reasonable prospect, because at this point the
However, after an interval of a few days, the answer was, no: not a penny more than she had originally proposed. I break no confidences when I say that the noble Baroness said that the Treasury would not agree. I was once a Treasury Minister. It is inconceivable that, at that time, I would have refused a request for £20,000 from a Cabinet Minister; indeed, £20,000 is peanuts, peanuts, peanuts! In my time, I was also a Minister in a spending department. Had I approached the Treasury at that time, it is inconceivable that I would have been refused such a sum of money. I have to say that either the Leader of the House has no clout with her colleagues--and that is not what I have been led to expect--or she did not really try. With the greatest regret, I have to say that it must be one or the other.
On 8th July, I gladly supported from these Benches the Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1999. The order provides for an increase in the salaries of Ministers in this House. I supported it because they deserve it. The order also increased the salaries of the Leader of the Conservative Opposition and the Chief Opposition Whip to £55,000 and £51,000 respectively. I did not, and do not, begrudge that money in any way. But allowing for the Cranborne money, the Conservative Party in this House is sustained to the value of well over £300,000, nearer £325,000, by resolution of this House. However, these Benches will have only the £65,000 mentioned in this order. It is disgraceful.
The role of the third party in this House is recognised. I call it the "third party" but the original resolution of 27th November 1996 referred to the "second largest opposition party". That was defined in paragraph 6 of that resolution. The role of the third party--the second opposition party--is fully recognised on all sides of this House. We contribute to all debates and to the scrutiny of legislation. Custom and practice give us a status here as a third party--a second opposition party--that is not given in the Commons. The Companion to the Standing Orders, which we always have beside us, fully acknowledges our role and our historic position. We are being offered in total one-fifth of the financial help available to the Conservative Party, although in terms of service to the House it should be in the region of 65 to 70 per cent, and I put that modestly.
These are my final words. We must be one of the few parliaments in the world where the government of the day have a free hand in determining financial help to the opposition parties; in other words, deciding how much to give to those who will oppose them. I believe that it is time for a change. If this were the only outcome of our discussion this afternoon, and of the representations I have made to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, it would be a substantial gain for all of us. Indeed, if the Leader of the House is able to
The principle, the proportionality and also the quantum of support for opposition parties should be decided by an independent outside body. It could be the Neill committee, but if, for whatever reason, the Neill committee is not suitable, an ad hoc body should be established without delay. I believe that that is a reasonable proposition which should recommend itself to all reasonable Members of your Lordships' House in whatever party they sit, or whether they sit in any party at all. The present position, like the resolution, is wholly unsatisfactory, and there is a way of changing it.
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