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100 years ago: MPs and their expenses

18 May 2011

May 19th 1911.

THE tide of politics is in full flood. The Veto Bill has gone to another place, where, for the moment, the hereditary peerage is in process of self-extinction. On the other hand, the House of Commons has before it, as a new item in the Budget, the proposal to devote annually a quarter of a million pounds sterling to the payment of members, at the rate of £400 each.

Such payment is not an unknown thing in this country, but, through long disuse, it appears to be a novelty. Much can be said both for and against it. Mem­bership of the House of Commons is possible only either to persons of sufficient means and leisure, or to men whose expenses are guaran­teed by party agencies or trade associations. Prima facie, in prin­ciple there is no difference between a salaried ordinary M.P. and a salaried Minister. In either case, payment is made for public service. On the other hand, there is the danger of opening the door to politicians of an undesirable type, men whose motives for entering Parliamentary life are purely mer­cenary.

This applies, of course, to the 30 or 40 salaried officials, and, to be logical, either all should be paid or none; but as we are not guided by logic, we may fall back upon the argument that, while a limited number of salaries is un­avoidable, it is a mistake to enlarge it by paying every member of the House of Commons.

We confess that we do not feel very strongly either way in regard to this question, and we certainly think it de­sirable to make it possible for a poor man to enter Parliament.

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