HL Deb 13 June 1985 vol 464 cc1351-3

3.6 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what remuneration will be paid to the appointed chairmen of the residuary bodies to the GLC and the six metropolitan county councils.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)

My Lords, this has yet to be determined.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful for that non-answer. Bearing in mind that these people will be in post in the not-too-distant future after the passage of the Bill, what criteria are the Government using in looking at this position? In the most recent set of quangos created by Government legislation—I am talking about the chairmen of the water authorities—the lowest paid at present draws £20,000 a year and the highest paid draws £33,000. The salaries can be £34,000 and reach a maximum of up to £42,000 a year. I think the Minister will agree that those are very high salaries indeed. Are not noble Lords in this House entitled to a full explanation when we are talking about that amount of public money being spent?

Lord Elton

My Lords, we are thinking of figures similar to those given to the chairmen of such bodies as new town development corporations; and in the local government field, appointments such as members of the local government Boundary Commission.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister say to whom, when the decisions are made, the chairmen will be answerable? Will they be also answerable to the general public? Will that be made transparently clear? What will be the procedures if people wish to make representations to them, as this will now be almost an authoritarian society with very little democracy in it?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Question which I was asked to answer related to the remuneration of these people. If the noble Lord wishes to pursue the matters he has raised, I should think that the Bill which creates the posts would be an appropriate vehicle for him to consider.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I appreciate the Minister's indication that nothing final has been determined. Bearing in mind that we are thinking of a possible five-year stint when these bodies might be in existence, and realising the enormity of the guidance that can be given by the residuary bodies in the period, can we have an assurance from the Minister that he will be flexible when looking both at the remuneration and at the number of days in the week on which the individuals may be called upon?

Lord Elton

Yes, my Lords. The bodies to which I referred give remuneration to their chairmen on the basis of notional full-time salaries which of course reduce to the extent that the chairman does not work full-time.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Bill upon which these questions are based is not yet a statute and that it is still within the realms of this Parliament to discuss these matters in debate? Is it not wrong for questions to be asked on such detail which cannot possibly be answered when the Bill is in the process of going through the House?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I never mind questions being asked so long as I am not required to answer them in inappropriate circumstances, which these would be.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, I wish to ask a question relating to that put by my noble friend. Would a condition of employment be that the appointed person should have local government experience?

Lord Elton

My Lords, if the noble Lord will look at the record of the Answer that I gave his noble friend yesterday, he will find that that is already on the record.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a final question? The main thrust of the Bill that has created these positions is to cut expenditure. Does the Minister not consider it odd that publicly-elected people in receipt of considerably less sums of money are to be dismissed from office in favour of very highly paid appointees to quangos? Does the Minister consider that such action is in accord with our reputation as the cradle of democracy?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not think that it entirely relates to our reputation as a democratic country; but as an efficient country, I think it does. The noble Lord will find that when the work of these people is done, local government will be a good deal cheaper than it now is, and there will be a net and continuing saving.

Lord Parry

My Lords, did not a former Prime Minister of this country from the party opposite once say that democracy was the least efficient of all forms of government, until one tried some other?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not answerable for what was said by the leader of another government of a different persuasion from my own.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

It was Sir Winston Churchill, my Lords.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have misattributed the quotation. I am nonetheless not answerable for general political philosophy in a Question concerning the salary of an individual appointee.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister not aware that the only independent examination of the finances involved in this matter directly contradicts the reply that he has just made? It suggests that, on the contrary, what he is proposing to do is not only undemocratic but will also be extremely expensive.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not agree with that analysis but this is not the occasion to debate it.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, does the noble Lord anticipate any difficulty in ascertaining and discovering what similar salaries are paid for similar responsibilities, to people working similar hours, and which will create a normal and acceptable precedent?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not expect the arrangements to be beyond precedent.