Michael Stewart – 1978 Speech on MP Salaries

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Stewart, the then Labour MP for Fulham, in the House of Commons on 28 July 1978.

I, like the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), was a Member of the House in the 1950s. I wish to make some comments not entirely in accord with his description of the situation. It is true that there were some hon. Members then, as there are now, who had other sources of income, private means, and therefore found what I believe was a most unsatisfactory salary to be a salary on which they could manage tolerably well.

As the right hon. Gentleman has somewhat personalised the debate, I shall weary the House for a short while by describing my own position. Compared with many hon. Members, I had a number of advantages. I had a London home and a London constituency. My wife and I did not have any dependent children. We were both able to earn a certain amount by writing and lecturing. We did not earn substantial sums because education work is never tremendously well rewarded. However, we had advantages that many hon. Members did not enjoy. Even with the possession of those advantages, I could only just about manage. I was able to manage because I had been a junior Minister from 1945 to 1950 and in that time I had been able to save. I was able to keep going during the 1950s by gradually reducing those savings. I do not think that I lived extravagantly.

With the advantages that I have mentioned, I could just about manage. That meant that many other younger hon. Members with three or four dependent children and with travelling expenses that I did not have to meet, and who before coming into the House pursued occupations that they could not continue once they were here, even on a part-time basis, were in a grave situation. They had to hope for the best. They had to hope that somehow they would be able to make some provision for their old age.

I accept that many hon. Members in that position at that time did their work diligently. However, it is not right that people should be asked to do the work of Members of Parliament under the financial strain that many of us—I to a limited extent and others to a much greater extent—had to suffer. Members should not be required to do the work under that strain. I reject the idea that in the early 1950s we were all right. That is not borne out by the experience of most hon. Members who served at that time, unless they were fortunate enough to have private incomes.

It is also reasonable to say that the fact that the general standard of life has risen to some extent affects the amount that we should receive. I agree that Members of Parliament should not be desperately eager to see that they are always ahead of the pack. However, it is not desirable that over the years they should drop down and down in the general scale of incomes. That is what the right hon. Member for Down, South is suggesting. When it was pointed out to him that incomes in general had risen, his reply was one of the expressions of contempt which, if I may say so, he frequently uses as a substitute for argument. I do not think that we can accept his proposition.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke frequently of honour and of how we are discredited by raising our own salaries. I am entitled to point out that what is proposed will not make all that difference to me or to any hon. Members who are to retire at the next General Election. It will make some difference and I shall not be sorry to receive it, but I am not concerned about these matters very greatly on my own behalf. However, I should be failing in my duty if I did not have some regard to those who are to come to the House.

It is true that there are some who will say “I care nothing for my income so long as I can be a Member of Parliament.” My own feeling is that anyone who is a family man has to pay some attention to his income. Anyone who is so devoted to being a Member as to be not greatly concerned about what happens to his family is not entirely likely to make the best sort of Member. The right hon. ​ Member for Down, South should take a more generous view of what a Member of Parliament is entitled to and should be entitled to in future.