A former MP who I know, and who served in the Commons for more than thirty years, has just written to me. He saw my letter in The Times last week and was writing to support what I said. He also used the opportunity for some recollections.
He recalled that when he became an MP almost fifty years ago, conditions for Members were very different to those of today. “Looking back to when I was elected… out of my £1700 (or was it £1750?) salary p.a., I had to pay for both all the postage-stamps, and phone calls, to constituents: only letters and ‘phone calls to Ministers were free!” A visiting US Senator was amazed to find that he had no chief of staff, indeed no staff at all. “The poor man couldn’t believe that I even had to type about 40 letters a day, as I couldn’t afford a secretary!”
In the 1950s and 1960s, any research or secretarial support had to be paid out of a Member’s own pocket. A secretarial allowance was not introduced until 1968. A point I have previously made is that, in those days, MPs also were not guaranteed an office, or even desk space. They had lockers but beyond that many had to rely on finding seats in the library if they wanted somewhere to work.
It rather reminds me of a comment Denis Healey made to me a few years ago: “The Lords”, he said, “reminds me of the Commons forty years ago.”