TOPICS OF THE DAY.
PAYMENT OF MEMBERS. --v%7'E greatly regret the decision of the House of Commons in regard to payment of Members. We do not resist the proposal because we think that an unpaid House is likely to contain more members of the moderate and conservative classes than a paid one, or: because 'we wish to throw any obstacle in the way of the freest choice as to their Members being accorded to the constituencies. Our objections are very different from these. In the first place, we object to the very great waste of public money involved in the proposal to pay ' every Member of Parliament whether he wants to be paid or not. It is all very well to talk as if £230,000 a year were a mere bagatelle, but, as the Prime Minister very pertinently reminded the House, in the present year, at any rate, the provision of an extra £200,000 would be a serious difficulty to a Treasury faced with the immediate problem of how to reduce taxation below its present level and to maintain efficiency in all Depart- ments of State. After all, to add £200,000 a year permanently to the charges on the people is equivalent to a capital expenditure of some seven millions sterling. Frankly, we would far rather pay off seven millions of the National Debt than shower £300 a year on all Members of Parliament, especially when we know that some five hundred of that number are not in the least in want of it, and can keep their places in Parliament without it.
Next, we object to the proposal that Parliament should dip into the Treasury and pay itself, on the ground that to do so must to a certain extent lower the position of Parliament. We are old-fashioned enough and Whiggish enough to feel, and to value the feeling, that the House of Commons is the master in the State. But the mark of the master is to pay, not to be paid. There is nothing derogatory, nay, there is everything that is honourable, in being a servant of the State, whether as Admiral or General, or as Cabinet Minister or other member of the Government, and such servants of the State are rightly paid by the State. The House of Commons, however, as the paymaster of these public servants, considers, and very, properly considers, that it is their master, and that they must bow in the last resort to its decision. When the Members of Parliament, who exercise the con- trolling power in the State, are paid just as are their own servants out of the funds of the nation, it is impossible but that they will lose a certain sense of power and authority. Not only will the salaried servants of the State feel that they are now on the same level as the House of Commons, but those who are more highly paid than Members of Parliament will not unnaturally consider that the State regards them as worth more than its representatives. To put the matter in yet another way, there is no sounder maxim in English law than that a trustee shall not pay himself for the execu- tion of his trust out of trust funds. But a Member of Parliament is essentially a trustee of the public interests and the public funds, and when he pays himself he cannot but lower himself from the highest position of trusteeship. Burke says somewhere : "I own that being a judge in my own cause makes me afraid." But the Member of Parlia- ment who thinks himself worth £300 a year to the nation, and votes himself £300 every year, is necessarily a judge in his own cause. He is not only declaring himself to be worth payment, but actually fixing his own remuneration.
No palliation of the objections we 'have raised is to be found in the' smallness of the sum proposed to be voted. If once Members are to be paid a salary, we cannot believe that such salary will remain at £300 a year. The argument in favour of either adequate salaries or no salaries for men doing important and responsible work is unanswerable. If a man is to get payment for his work, it is unquestionably sounder policy to pay him a sum large enough to free him from the.temptation to neglect that work or to abuse his opportunities of making indirect gain. For the highest work the rule should be, "gratis or a big salary." If, then, payment of Members is adopted, we may expect in a very few years to find an agitation on foot, and an agitation with a great deal to recommend it, in favour of paying Members of Parliament at least as high as County Court Judges, or of giving them, at any rate, £1,000 a year each,—a sum, by the way, which is receited by American Senators and Members of the House of Representatives. America is notoriously the land of low official salaries, and if American Members of Parliament require .21,000 a year, is it not reasonable to urge that we should pay at least that sum to our 'representatives?
Yet another objection is to be found in the fact that if Members of Parliament are to be paid, so ought members of County Councils, Town Councila, and other elective bodies. The work done by members of these representative bodies is• often very arduous and very exacting, and the case for their payment is every bit as strong as that for paying Members of Parliament. But if all elected persons are to be paid, and paid a living wage, the charge on the nation will not be kept at £200,000 a year, but may easily reach two millions. Unless we steadily maintain the principle that the man honoured by the choice of his fellow-countrymen is a trustee for public interests, and must assume the trustee's position, the position of the master and not of the servant—the position, that is, of the man who gives the order, not of him who executes it—it seems to us absolutely impossible to pay one class of popular repre- sentatives and not another. The technical objection may, perhaps, be made that we do pay Members of Parliament when they are Ministers of the Crown. That is per- fectly true, but we pay them because they have become what under one of the useful fictions of the Con- stitution we term "servants of the Crown "—i.e., of the State—and not in respect of their position as popular representatives. We do not suggest that a man may not be a servant of the State 'as well as a popular representa- tive. All we say is that, though he may be paid in the one capacity, he ought not to be paid in the other.
Though it was, no doubt, the sincere desire of many of those who voted for Mr. Lever's Motion to increase the representation of the working classes in Parliament, we are by no means sure that such an aim will be achieved if the principle be put in practice. We think it far more likely that the effect of giving £300 a year to every Member of Parliament will be to encourage the entry of the professional politician and of the smaller professional man into the House of Commons. The ambitious man of this type will argue : "If I can get into the House, the £300 a year will clear my out-of- pocket expenses, and the great advertisement obtained by my entry into Parliament will enable me to increase my earnings as a solicitor," or a barrister, or a commercial man, as the case may be. Now, though we do not wish to condemn this class wholesale, we cannot disguise from ourselves the fact that the presence of a large body of its members will decrease the weight and authority of Parliament.. The American House of Representatives and the French Chamber are full of such men, but yet those bodies cannot be said to exercise anything like the influence on national affairs exercised by the House of Commons ; and, moreover, they do not contain any- thing like the same number of the genuine representa- tives of Labour. In our opinion, indeed, the Labour Party, if they are wise, will realise that they are far more likely to lose than to gain by payment of Members. The genuine Labour Member will run the risk, we believe, of being shouldered out of political life by the glib professional politician who is able to make himself a position in the party caucus. At the last General Election, and in dread of the tremendous evil threatened to the working classes by the prospect of a return to Protection, skilled and unskilled labour for the first time since the lowering of the franchise voted. together. But this is not a permanent amalgama- tion, and we venture to think that the professional politician will, under normal conditions, be able to make an appeal to unskilled labour which will give him an advantage over the Trade-Union representative, whose appeal is, as a rule, to skilled, or at any rate organised, labour. But the unskilled and the unorganised labourers outnumber the skilled, and organised, and therefore it may well be that the adoption of payment of Members, with the opportunities it gives to the professional politician, will militate against the Parliamentary repre- sentation of the Trade-Unionists. A cynical politician anxious to divide and break up the solidarity of Labour would use all his influence in favour of the policy. , Our . opinion on the merits is, then, strongly against payment 'of Members, partly because it will lower the -power and influence of the House of Commons, and ,also because in the end it will not. secure a greater or better representation to Labour. If, however, it should be deemed essential by the working classes that their repre- sentatives should be paid, and the nation as a whole endorses that view, then we hold that the proper way to give effect to their decision is not by voting £300 a year to every Member of Parliament, but by allowing any con- stituency which so desires to levy a local rate to keep its Member of Parliament in London without any pecuniary cost to himself. This plan has the advantage that it reverts to the old Constitutional usage under which Members were paid what was termed their " wages " by the constituencies that sent them to Parliament. As is Well known, Andrew Marvell was the last man to receive his Parliamentary wages, but before his time it was quite common for Members chosen by counties and boroughs to exact payment from those who sent them. Under this plan Members could not be accused of dipping into the national Treasury, in respect of which they are the appointed trustee's, and also no payment need be made to Members who are perfectly able to keep themselves in London out of their own resources. We are aware, of course, that it will be said that this proposal is a mere subterfuge for burking the whole question, and that no candidate would be able to get returned for a locality unless he first promised that he would never ask for his wages. We do not agree. We believe that in manydemocratic constituencies, if the electors were intent on choosing a working man, they would be perfectly prepared to vote him the farthing or half-a-farthing rate necessary to keep him in the House of Commons. If a constituency wanted John Smith rather than Richard Brewn, we do not believe that the fact that it was known that John Smith would add £300 a year to the rates, while Richard Brown would work for nothing, would in any way influence the decision. And remember that under the pro- posed universal payment it will be possible for the rich Member to appeal for votes on the ground that he does not want his salary of £300 a year. The rich man can say : "If I am elected I shall be obliged to receive £300 ti year from the Treasury ; but this sum I do not require, and I do not intend to spend it upon myself. •If elected I shall spend it upon public objects in the constituency.' Possibly so open an announcement might be considered a corrupt practice, but in that event it would be perfectly easy for the candidate, without saying so, to let his in- tention be known. Or again, if actual expenditure within the constituency, such as subscriptions to local charities, were thought to be too dangerous, the Member might quite well expend his salary on national objects which interested a large number of persons in his division. For example, a Member might let it be known that his £300 a year, so long as he was in Parliament, would go to the Liberation Society, or the Church Defence Association, or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or any other such public body. In some way or other the rich man could find means of making it known that he would not touch his £300 a year, but would return it to the people.
Before we leave the question of payment of Members it may be worth while to draw attention to one of the Curiosities of the subject. The custom of paving Members' wages only died out. It was never abolished by Act of Parliament, though in the reign of Charles IL an Act was introduced for that purpose and read a second time. Therefore there may still be a common law obligation on. constituencies to pay their Members' wages—i.e., the expenses to which they are put by representation—if such Members demand it. Lord Campbell, indeed, some forty years ago, expressed his opinion that a writ could still be sued out by a Member of Parliament requiring his constituency to pay him his wages. To test this, why should not some Member of Parliament who is interested in the matter, but who believes with us that local pay- ment is a far better solution than payment out of the national Treasury, bring a friendly action against the borough or county for which he sits asking for his wages ? If the Courts decided, as we believe they might, that his contention was good, and an order was made for his wages, a very interesting point of law would have been settled, and a favourable answer accorded to those who say that if a constituency desires to be represented by a, poor man it should not be debarred from exercising its choice because it is impossible for him to attend at Westminster. The test case to be taken to the Courts of Law should be care- fully chosen. Where boroughs and counties have been divided, it might be a difficult matter to know what body to sue, as a town or a county division is not a corporation. A Member, however, for a con- stituency like Taunton or Bath, or any other borough or city which is undivided, might obviously sue the Corporation. If they did not resist, or could not make good their resistance, they would thereupon be obliged to raise a rate to pay his wages. Presumably the wages would coAsist, in the event of payment being ordered, of (1) the expenses of the Member in jour- neying backwards and forwards from the constituency to London ; (2) his expenses for food and lodging in London; (3) compensation for the loss of income which he might have made had he not been attending to the business' of his constituency in Parliament.