HC Deb 29 March 1976 vol 908 cc893-5
37. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will take steps to ensure that any employment vacancies occurring within the Houses of Parliament, whatever their status, shall be properly advertised in employment exchanges and other appropriate places.

Mr. Edward Short

Most employment vacancies in the House of Commons Departments are already notified to employment exchanges and they are usually also advertised in the national or local Press as appropriate. The procedure for filling vacancies in the staff of the House of Lords and of other Departments and organisations within the Houses of Parliament is a matter for the particular authorities concerned.

Mr. Hamilton

If that is the case, can my right hon. Friend tell me how many Serjeants at Arms, for instance, have been pneumoconiotic miners? Does he not recognise that there is a feeling among hon. Members that they have inadequate control over the recruitment methods in the House and that priority is still given to ex-military personnel? Does he not agree that that situation ought to be remedied very quickly?

Mr. Short

The position of Serjeant at at Arms is one of the exceptions. I pointed out in my reply how most employment vacancies in the House of Commons were filled. There are one or two exceptions, the post of Serjeant at Arms being one of them, because he is not an official of the House but an officer of the Royal Household. The appointment is in the gift of the Queen.

Mr. Hamilton

That is the trouble.

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend will recall that in 1962 the then Prime Minister announced procedures under which, in respect of any future appointment, the Queen would, before exercising her prerogative, initiate informal discussions with Mr. Speaker, who would take soundings in whatever manner might be convenient to enable him to inform Her Majesty of any feelings there might be in the House. My hon. Friend will also recall that our right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) recently chaired a Committee which inquired into the organisation of the staff of the House. That Committee expressed the hope that you, Mr. Speaker, would find it convenient to take soundings on these matters from your Commission as well as from hon. Members.

Mr. Ridley

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the vacancies arising in the Houses of Parliament has been rather over-advertised in the national Press, and that all the applicants so far seem to be totally unsuitable?

Mr. Hamilton

At least it was advertised.

Mr. Whitehead

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that some of us are concerned not so much about the next vacancy in the post of Serjeant at Arms as about the recruitment and screening of those who work in the navvying jobs and as casual labour in the House of Commons kitchens? Will he undertake to investigate outside employment agencies' lack of screening and of examination of national insurance cards and so on, a lack which appears to occur before people come to work here?

Mr. Short

When I made a statement last week and answered Questions, I indicated new steps to be taken, including the demand for some kind of identification of applicants for casual jobs. I believe that you, Mr. Speaker, are to make a statement today on security, and I do not wish to anticipate that.

Mr. Heffer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is need for consideration by the Government of the whole question of public appointments, whether in the House of Commons or elsewhere? Is it not time that the great tome, the "book of the great and the good", was got rid of and we reached the stage when committees were established to look at applicants for jobs, as in local authorities, for example, to go into background and finally to decide on merit, rather than who were an applicant's father and mother?

Mr. Short

That may well be so, but as I have said, the Bottomley Committee considered this appointment and decided to recommend no change.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

May I thank my right hon. Friend and whomever else was responsible—mainly you, Mr. Speaker—for the fact that the House now employs a greater proportion of physically disabled people? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that many jobs in this House could and should be done by physically disabled people, although I am pleased with the larger number employed over the past few months?

Mr. Short

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. I think that the House is employing just about its quota of disabled.

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