§ 10.30 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office (Mr. William Price)
I beg to move,That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the House of Commons (Administration) Bill ought to be read a Second time.I hope, Mr. Jones, that it will be of help to the Committee if I briefly outline the background to this Bill.
In October 1973, the Speaker announced to the House that, following discussions with party leaders, he had invited Sir Edmund Compton to undertake a review of the arrangements for the organisation and staffing of the House as well as for the co-ordination of the services provided by the present five Departments. Those are the Departments of the Speaker, the Clerk of the House, the Serjeant at Arms, the Library and the Administration Department.
In that announcement, the Speaker referred to the fact that there was some feeling in the House that there was insufficient 1554 co-ordination between the Departments and also some concern about the system of making House appointments and related matters.
In the report which he made to Mr. Speaker in July 1974, Sir Edmund Compton put forward detailed and comprehensive recommendations for the establishment of a unified House of Commons service, bringing together the separate Departments under a new "House Chief Officer." In February 1975, Mr. Speaker appointed a Committee of Members under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) to consider these proposals.
It is important to recall how that Committee saw its terms of reference and proceeded with its work. I quote from page 5 of its report:The main questions that have concerned us have been these: who takes decisions affecting the services of the House; how are they taken; how are they implemented; and how are the staff who serve the House appointed and controlled?1555 It says much for that Committee—and I would like to pay the tribute of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and myself in a few moments—that it was able to report a broad measure of support for its proposals. I quote from page 13:It is our understanding that they would be broadly acceptable to the present Heads of all the five Departments of the House and, moreover, that Sir Edmund Compton is himself content that they would achieve the principal aims which he himself set in his review.The report of what I may perhaps refer to as the Bottomley Committee endorsed Sir Edmund's general aim of unification, but instead of a chief officer proposed unified control of the administrative services of the House under a Board of Management made up of the Heads of House Departments. It also recommended the re-assertion of control by Members over House services through the creation of a strengthened House of Commons Commission under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker.
The Committee's report was debated by the House on a "take note" motion on 4th December 1975 during which the Government indicated their general support for the proposed new framework.
In its report, the Bottomley Committee recognised that some of its proposals would involve legislation—in particular, that for the establishment of the Commission, as well as for the transfer to the Commission of the present functions of Heads of Departments as employers. It recommended, however, that this legislation should be kept to a minimum, and that matters such as the composition and functions of the proposed Board of Management, and the responsibilities of the House Departments, should not be spelt out in the statute but should be left instead to the Commission.
The Government thought that that was right, and the limited scope of the Bill now before the Committee reflects that recommendation. It is our view that it would have defeated the whole purpose of the Bill if the Government, rather than the Commission, had attempted to take decisions on the practical details of how the Commission will work.
Obviously, the Government will be able to assist and advise the Commission where its decisions are likely to affect the work of Government Departments—for example, 1556 the Property Services Agency—but it would be entirely wrong for us to take up attitudes or try to impose decisions on the form of administrative organisation below the level of the Commission.
The Bill is, therefore, essentially an enabling provision whereby a new Commission will be established to supersede the present Commission for regulating the Offices of the House of Commons, which, as hon. Members will know, derives from the House of Commons (Offices) Act 1812.
Clause 1 defines the membership of the proposed Commission, under Mr. Speaker's Chairmanship. It is proposed that, besides the Speaker, the other members of the Commission should be the Leader of the House, a Member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition, and three other Members appointed by the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith
Could the hon. Gentleman explain why, at this particular point, the Bill has left the recommendations of the Bottomley Committee? In paragraph 4.7 on page 15 of its report, the Bottomley Committee specifically recommended that there should be a direct representation by the minority parties in the House on the Commission. There is nothing in the Bill that guarantees a seat to the minority parties collectively. Could the Minister say why the Government have chosen to ignore that section of the Bottomley Committee's report?
§ Mr. Price
We take note of what the hon. Gentleman says, but we take the view that this is a matter for the House of Commons. The House of Commons will, in due course, either approve or reject the names we bring forward, and certainly what the hon. Gentleman has said will be taken into account. I give him that assurance.
Clause 2 sets out the functions of the Comimssion and its responsibilities with regard to staff in the Departments of the House. The Commission is required to ensure the continuance of the present linkage between the pay and other conditions of service of House staff and the Home Civil Service.
With regard to the future exercise of Mr. Speaker's powers in respect of the appointment and tenure of office of his own personal staff. Mr. Speaker has 1557 undertaken that these powers will continue to be exercised in accordance with the same principles which are now applicable to staff employed in the Departments of the House.
The opportunity is being taken in Clause 3 to provide that the new Commission—instead of Treasury Ministers as at present—shall in future be responsible for the presentation of House of Commons estimates in respect of the expenses of House Departments and of certain other expenses incurred for the service of the House.
Although this change was not specifically proposed by the Bottomley Committee, we believe that it is entirely consistent with its general approach, and I understand that it is acceptable to my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough.
The largest element in these future Commission estimates will be staffing costs. The estimates in respect of Members' pay, allowances and pensions will continue to be presented by Treasury Ministers.
§ Mr. Price
Clause 4 defines the range of staff to whom the legislation applies. The Committee will note that the Committee is given power to modify the existing departmental structure of House services, either by creating new departments or abolishing existing ones—or by transferring particular functions from one department to another. Under Clause 4(3) for example, it would be possible—if this was in due course considered necessary—for the Refreshment Department to be made formally a Department of the House.
Clause 5 is concerned with definitions, repeals and implementation dates. It is proposed that the Commission's responsibilities under Clause 2—staffing responsibilities—under paragraphs 3 to 5 of Schedule 2—employment protection legislation—and the repeal provisions in Schedule 3 should come into effect on 1st August 1978.
It is further intended that the new Commission's first annual report should cover 1978–79, and that the Commission's responsibilities with regard to House estimates should begin in respect of the year 1979–80.
1558 Schedule 1 deals with a number of detailed matters including the powers, membership and manner of business of the Commission. Paragraph 5(2) would, in effect, enable the Commission to set up the House Board of Management proposed by the Bottomley Committee.
Schedule 2 is mainly about the application of employment protection legislation to the staff of the House. Although this part of the Bill is rather more complex, the intention is to clarify, rather than extend, the existing rights of the staff.
Schedule 3 has the effect of removing from the statute book a considerable amount of legislative dead wood.
This legislation is, therefore, primarily concerned with the establishment and membership of the new Commission, with its functions and responsibilities for departmental staff, its financial role, the range of staff for which it will be responsible, and the application of employment legislation to the staff of the House.
The criteria against which the Bottomley Committee asked that all its recommendations should be judged were set out in paragraph 3.1 of its report. The Committee emphasised the overriding need to maintain and, if possible, improve the standard of services of the House. It emphasised the need for control over these services to remain with Members themselves, for the House of Commons service to be kept separate from the Civil Service, for the special qualities of each Department to be recognised and for Mr. Speaker to be able to continue to have direct access to senior officials.
The Committee's report also stressed that any changes should foster the co-ordination of Departmental services and the development of a unified staffing policy. Indeed, it regarded one of the most important features of the proposed re-organisation as providing the framework for closer and more systematic discussion and consultation between the management of the House and staff representatives. It regarded good staff relations as critical to the development of a unified service.
The Government fully endorse those aims. In particular, we believe that having the Commission as the statutory employer of all staff in the House Departments will provide, in the longer term, increased scope for common recruitment, 1559 transferability and the growth of central staff consultative procedures, including the relationships which have been established with the recognised trade unions.
It would, of course, be quite wrong if I left the Committee with the impression that these proposals stem from any general sense of dissatisfaction with the performance of the staff in the Departments of the House. On the contrary, we believe that there is widespread admiration and appreciation for the services available to us. But even the best structures need to be reviewed from time to time, and the present Commission is now over 160 years old.
In conclusion, Mr. Jones, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough and to the other member of this Committee who served with him, my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). They worked long and hard to prepare a document which has received—and quite rightly so—much praise.
Not only did they succeed in putting forward proposals which found unanimous approval in the Committee, in addition they found a considerable measure of support among the staff involved. We owe them a considerable debt, as will future generations of Members.
The details of the report are for later consideration by the new Commission. What we are concerned about here is the necessary legislative framework for that consideration and, if agreed, their implementation. I commend the Bill to the Committee.
§ 10.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym
At the very outset I should like to endorse the words that the Minister used just now in expressing appreciation of the work done by the staff in this House, in this palace, in Parliament. One need not be a Member of the House for very long to realise that without them the whole place would break down very quickly. There is no question but that every Member is extremely appreciative of what the staff do. What we are discussing in the Bill are new and, as we hope and believe, improved arrangements for the staff and the arrangements relating to the staff in this palace.
1560 The Bill has been widely welcomed, including by the Opposition. There are a number of questions to raise on it and a number of details to debate, but I am not aware myself of any very serious opposition to it, and, as I say, we ourselves support it.
It is not only a Government Bill, because on the back of it is added the name of the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley), and therefore, in a sense, it is a House of Commons Bill as well as a Government Bill. It has a long history, as the Minister said. It is four and a half years since Sir Edmund Compton was appointed and three years since the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee were appointed. I certainly wish to add my thanks and the thanks of the Opposition to what the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did in considering the issues that were brought to their attention.
At the end of the story, this Bill emerges. It is short and it is simple. It seeks to provide only the framework within which the Commission is to operate: all the details are left to be decided in due course by the Commission. I feel certain myself that that is absolutely right: we do not want to confuse them or saddle them with a lot of unnecessary detail. Let us leave it to the Commission, if that is thought in due course to be correct, to take its own decisions.
I have no doubt that the Commission will want advice from Members, quite apart from sources available to the Commission itself. I have no doubt that there is a role still for the Services Committee and its Sub-Committees, still an important function for it to fulfil. One thinks, particularly, of the Library Sub-Committee and of all the work that it does to help and improve the Library facilities for Members, and of the new Computer Sub-Committee.
But I suspect that a tendency could arise for the Services Committee to become, or to be thought to become, less significant All I can say is that, if that should be so, if the Bill allows any flexibility of arrangements for the Services Committee, there is no reason why its structure could not be changed or adjusted in due course if, after the establishment and operation of the Commission, it was found that other advice 1561 to the Commission could be better provided by the Services Committee created in some other form. I see no difficulty about that whatsoever.
As I have said, the Bill is simple. There, is no reference in it, for example, to the proposed Board of Management which was outlined in the right hon. Gentleman's report. Presumably that Board will be set up and will become the most important source of advice to the Commission. I think that it is visualised that the Board will be responsible for working out staff policy and for working towards that degree of unification of the staff structure that is thought desirable, But I hope very much that it will have regard to paragraph 3.1 of the right hon. Gentleman's report and, in particular, to subparagraphs (d), (e) and (h). These refer respectively to the desirability ofa very broad measure of goodwill amongst the staff affected"—that is clearly desirable; toThe distinct qualities, special expertise…within the present Departments"—That is something we want to preserve; and, thirdly, to the fact thatProgress towards unification must be gradual".I think that that would be only wise and common sense and I have no doubt that the Commission will follow that advice.
What seems to me to be required is this. We want the advantage and the benefit of organising the House and the staffing of the House as one complete entity, with better promotion prospects and a better career structure. But, at the same time, we want to retain, do we not, the individuality and the separate characteristics of the different Departments, because they have a special contribution to make simply by virtue of the fact that they have their own specialist expertise. We want to combine both things, and I see no reason why we should not achieve that aim.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am sure that what the right hon. Gentleman has said about retaining the goodwill and the expertise of the staff is absolutely right. But there is a point of view which I hope to express, if I catch your eye, Mr. Jones. It is the view of some of us, certainly of myself, that the idea that there should be five Departments, full stop, is not right. I shall go on to develop this point when I 1562 make a great speech in a moment That is the one recommendation that I shall quarrel with or argue about later on, because I take the right hon. Gentleman's line that, whatever we do, we must retain the expertise, the quality and the integrity of the existing staff.
§ Mr. Pym
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said and for his support. We obviously think alike about that aspect of what is contained in the Bill.
I want to turn for a moment to the financial provisions and to raise three points. I observe from Clause 3(1) that these provisions include.the expenses of the House Departments and…any other expenses incurred for the service of the House of Commons.My first point concerns the Refreshment Department and, in particular, its losses. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the possibility that the Refreshment Department might be added to the list of Departments of the House. It has not been added in the Bill and I do not think that much attention was given to it in the right hon. Gentleman's report. As I was not involved with House of Commons affairs during the period when all this was being considered, I do not know what consideration has been given to that possibility.
But I believe that it is an important aspect which we should raise in considering the financial provisions. I must add that I wish that matters affecting the Refreshment Department were written about more clearly, and I also wish that it was possible to come to some permanent arrangement with the Treasury so that we would not have to go on with this argument. I wish to put this question: is the loss of the Refreshment Department included within the definition in Clause 3(1), "any other expenses"?
§ Mr. Pym
I am inclined to doubt it as well. But it is at least arguable that it might not be a bad idea if the loss and the Department were included. That is my first point.
The next financial question relates to travelling expenses and particularly to the travelling expenses of Select Committees, because I believe that the present arrangements are not satisfactory except, 1563 perhaps, for members of Select Committees who enjoy what I may describe as an almost free licence to travel whereever they wish.
§ Mr. Pym
Except the Services Committee. I put it to my hon. Friend that if he is a member of the Services Committee he might put in a request to go and see how these matters are arranged in other parts of the world. If his Committee decides that it would like to do that, there is a process that has to be gone through. The Committee must approach the Chairman of the Liaison Committee in order to get approval for the visit. In the context of these discussions, I suggest that it is not really a suitable body to take these decisions because, in recent years, the number of Select Committees has proliferated, the number of visits abroad has greatly increased, and there is a considerable expenditure on this work.
I put to the Government that there should be some sort of a budget or cash limit for these visits abroad.
§ Mr. Arthur Bottomley
I happen to be Chairman of a Select Committee and I take a contrary view to most, in that I believe the Select Committees serve a very useful purpose. But there is a budget that is strictly limited. To say that members of Select Committees can travel as freely as they like is certainly not true.
§ Mr. Pym
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that interruption. Perhaps I gave an exaggerated impression of their freedom to travel, but I have discussed this matter with my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, (Mr. du Cann), who is Chairman of the Liaison Committee, and he is extremely worried about this arrangement and he, as I believe the right hon. Gentleman knows, would prefer that, in addition to or separately from that, it would be advantageous if there were some other way in which the House could decide whether a request from a particular Select 1564 Committee was an acceptable idea. In the context of the Bill, when we are talking about "any other expenses"—and we are talking about tens of thousands of pounds—it seems to me that this is something that we might ask the Commission to take on board as well.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving
Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there is another principle involved which has not been conceded? We are having Select Committees adopting a renewed vigour in challenging the Executive. It is true that there is a budget—I happen to be a member of the Liaison Committee mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman—but it is largely determined by the Government. Therefore, the Government determine the means by which the Select Committees adopt their actions to challenge the Executive. That seems to me to be a crippling form of arrangement if the Select Committees are really to do a full-blooded job of challenging the Executive. It further seems to me that, for the first time, it is conceded that while the House can determine its own estimates it should not be able to determine the estimates in respect of Select Committees.
§ Mr. Pym
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is supporting my argument. In many ways, one could argue that it is wrong in principle for the Treasury to decide how much money should be spent on this matter—it is for the House of Commons to decide how much of the estimates should be spent in this direction. But I would also comment that in this particular aspect the Treasury has, perhaps, been more generous to the House of Commons than in many other ways. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in principle, at any rate, and that is why I raised the matter.
The third matter, which is quite different, really relates to facilities in the House of Commons, because I observe from paragraph 3.1(a) of the report that it states:It must above all ensure the maintenance and…the improvement of the services…provided for Members in carrying out their Parliamentary duties".I totally agree with that. One of the greatest obstacles to a more satisfactory execution of Members' duties in my opinion is the building and the facilities within this building which exist—or do 1565 not exist—from the point of view of Members. I just wonder whether it is envisaged that the Commission shall involve itself in that side of our work. It is obviously not a House Department—in that sense it is not involved in it—but I want to raise the question whether we ought not to think about that, whether it ought not to take under its wing responsibility for future building, for major alterations and for accommodation generally.
I think the only category of Members of this House for whom the arrangements could be described as remotely adequate are Ministers, who have quite satisfactory offices in this building and all the facilities that go with those offices, and, of course, they use them as an annexe to their office over in the Ministries. They come over here when their parliamentary business and responsibilities are being discussed in the House of Commons, and can use their rooms here. But for nobody else, as far as I can see, are the arrangements really adequate.
I think the arrangements for the Leader of the Opposition have been greatly improved lately since the Serjeant at Arms was kind enough to make some of his accommodation—or the accommodation he used to enjoy—available to the Leader of the Opposition.
I think also that to some extent some Members now have adequate facilities, but by no means all of them. The worst placed of all—I think I can say this with a certain amount of sympathy from this Committee—are the people who speak for the Opposition Front Bench. I can only describe the conditions that are provided for the Shadow Cabinet and the people who speak officially for the Opposition as absolutely intolerable. The only reason why I and my right hon. and hon. Friends actually tolerate these conditions is that there is nothing we can do about them.
I have one tiny room where, by arranging the furniture in a particular way, I can have a meeting of six people at the most, with a great squash. But there is no room nearby for my secretary—not within minutes of walking distance is there a room for her. So if I go out, I press the button down and get messages on the board when I come back. But there is no proper office arrangement in the sense that exists for Ministers and 1566 practically anybody who carries this tremendously weighty responsibility.
It is no purpose, obviously, of this Committee to go into all the inconveniences and problems facing people who speak from the Front Bench for the Opposition or for anybody else. But I raise it now because it is a matter of importance to the satisfactory working of the House of Commons, and improvement does appear to me to be necessary. Anybody who speaks for the Opposition Front Bench should certainly have an adequate office and, next door, an adequate office for his secretary, so that they can work together in a team, just as every Minister, however junior, has adequate facilities here. Such facilities need to be provided. In the context of what we are talking about in this Bill, it seems to me that, in some way or another, we ought to make much more progress than we have been able to hitherto. It seems to me to be relevant to the debate to bring the situation to the attention of this Committee, and thereby to the House.
§ Mr. Mellish
I want to get it on the record that of course I accept what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but let it be clearly understood that these slum conditions under which members of the Shadow Cabinet are now working were also suffered by Labour in opposition when the right hon. Gentleman's party was in Government. We had exactly the same slums. So let us get it right. These conditions are not something that suddenly has emerged and we gave the Conservatives a rather rough lot of accommodation. It is exactly what we used to have.
§ Mr. Pym
Of course, that is totally understood. What has happened, in fact, is that when there has been a change of Government, the incoming Government have always done something to help those who have taken their place in Opposition. I think that we move much too slowly in this direction—I will not list the quite minor changes that one party has done for the other when it has taken over in Government. I am making the point, not in any kind of political sense, of course, that the arrangements that I described as intolerable are at any rate a bit better than they were before. What I am saying is that whatever happens at the next election is irrelevant. Far better facilities 1567 will have to be provided for those who carry the responsibility for leading the Opposition in the various Departments. That is the only point that I make on that matter.
I wish to raise a few minor points, because I have been speaking for rather a long time. Clause 2(3) states that pensionsare kept in line with the provisions of the principal Civil Service Pension Scheme…",and obviously that is right. Does that represent any change as regards the staff of the House of Commons, or does it simply continue arrangements that already exist?
Secondly, I think it is absolutely right that the appointment of Mr. Speaker's personal staff should be reserved for Mr. Speaker himself. There is no definition in the Bill of "personal staff", but I do not think that there will be any problem in understanding the meaning of the term. I wish to make the point that I think that that is absolutely right.
Thirdly, I take it that all matters of security are excluded from the responsibility of the Commission. Clause 4(4) says:An office or post falls within this subsection if staff appointed to it are employed in or for the purposes of the House of Commons." Commons.I think that it would be right for security to be kept away from the Commission and to be handled and managed by those who understand it—the police and the security services.
Lastly, Schedule 1, paragraph 2(2) says thata member of the Commission…shall hold office for the duration of the Parliament in which he is nominated…I think that it is absolutely right to make the nomination for a Parliament, so that the Commission lasts for the whole of that Parliament and we do not have the practice whereby, each Session, the Commission has to be reappointed. When it is appointed at the beginning of a Parliament everybody will know that, subject to any changes that are called for, for one reason or another, it will be a permanent body and will sit for the whole of that Parliament. The staff will know that. No doubt many of the members of the Commission will go on for more than one Parliament.
1568 Those are the points that I wish to raise. No doubt some of them are Committee points, but I thought it would be helpful if I made them now. We think that this change will undoubtedly prove of benefit to the staff and, therefore, indirectly of benefit to the House of Commons and of benefit nationally. There is no question, but that the principle behind the Bill, and the direction in which it goes, has the support of the Opposition.
§ 11.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Bottomley
I acknowledge with gratitude the kind remarks made by hon. Members about my Committee and the work that it did. I thank the Minister and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym).
This Bill implements proposals that were made in the report of the deliberations of the Committee, of which I had the honour of being the Chairman, and I wish to start by paying tribute to my colleagues who served with me and to thank them for their co-operation and hard work in producing a unanimous set of recommendations.
I also extend my grateful thanks to Messrs. Michael Ryle and Michael Townley, who served as joint secretaries to the Committee, for their conscientious and loyal service to the Committee as a whole, and particularly to me. I, like the Minister and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, pay tribute to the staff as a whole. They co-operated in their usual highly efficient, loyal way and gave of their best.
It was Mr. Speaker Lloyd who asked me to take on the responsibility of seeing whether improvements could be made to a report by Sir Edmund Compton. That report was not acceptable to the House of Commons because it meant that the services of the House would be run like a Government Department and staffed by civil servants. It would have resulted in right hon. and hon. Members of the House having less control over their affairs. I do not believe that there was anything sinister in Sir Edmund Compton's proposals. The Government certainly felt that there should be freedom for the House of Commons to control its own administration, by granting a limited financial independence from the Treasury following the presentation of my report.
1569 We are grateful to the Government for going a little further than we expected. We shall have only ourselves to blame in the future if the services are insufficient but, equally, we have a full sense of the importance of economy in public expenditure, in the same way as the Treasury has. I am sure that the Commission will work for a gradual improvement of services, whilst being most careful to avoid unnecessary expenditure.
I confess that at one time I had anxieties about whether a Bill to implement the recommendations of my report would be presented to the House. The report was laid before the House in August 1975, and it was followed by a debate during which the Government spokesman said that legislation would be required for its implementation, and added thatit will be possible to make progress fairly rapidly".—[Official Report, 4th December 1975; Vol. 901, c. 1979.]It has actually taken three years. However, the Bill is now before us, and it is to that we have to direct our attention. It sweeps away the 1812 Act and, I believe, provides a modern framework for the staff employed in the House of Commons.
The present Departments and arrangements for the administration of the House and the services to our Members have grown up like a family of topsies over many centuries. Each Department has been largely autonomous, and the co-ordination of services has not always been easy. The system might have been appropriate in more leisurely days when problems were simpler, but services for Members are now growing in complexity as well as in volume.
Let us look, for example, at the increased provision of accommodation for Members and their secretaries in the Norman Shaw buildings. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire will acknowledge that this is only a recent step, but it is in the direction that has been urged by hon. Members. I sympathise with him and support his proposition that more accommodation ought to be provided for responsible people who take an active part in the affairs of the House.
There is also the development of much more sophisticated services. An example of this is the Library, which is now more 1570 sophisticated than it used to be and where computers have been introduced.
I note particularly, as has been mentioned already, and what I think to be right, the increasing importance and changing practices of our Select Committees and the growth of other Committee work. Accordingly, it seems to many Members that the time has come to bring the separate Departments of the House closer together and to bring them and the services provided to all Members under the ultimate control of the House itself.
That was the theme of our report, and the Bill implements our major recommendations so far as they involve legislation. Therefore, I warmly commend the Bill to the Committee. I hope it will pass speedily into law because it is important that the proposed House of Commons Commission is set up as soon as possible so that it can commence work before the end of this Session. For that reason I was delighted to hear the observations of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary about the Bill's progress.
Before turning to general details I should like to commend two aspects of the Bill. First, my Committee recommended that legislation should be kept short and simple. I am glad to see that, apart from the unavoidable legal complexities in Schedule 2, the Bill follows that prescription.
In particular, while the Bill establishes the overall authority of the Commission and sets the framework for a unified House of Commons service, it avoids laying down inflexible legislative detail and administrative organisation below the level of the Commission. For example, the appointment of a board of management, consisting of the Clerk of the House and other heads of Departments, as we recommended, remains a matter for the Commission to decide, as does the way in which the Commission should delegate to heads of Departments its function as employer of all our staff. These are all important matters, and the success of the reorganisation recommended by my Committee will depend largely upon how the proposed Commission fulfils its responsibilities.
The second general point is symbolised, as has already been mentioned, by the 1571 Chairman of the Committee which produced the report being associated with the sponsorship of the Bill. Although this is a Government Bill, and rightly so, it affects all Members of the House, and all parties. It proposes that the ultimate authority in this House, in conjunction with Mr. Speaker, should be not the Government alone, but rather a body comprising Mr. Speaker, representatives of the Government, the official Opposition and other parties, and Back Benchers. Indeed, the Government themselves will not have a majority on the Commission. It should be welcomed that in this as in other ways the Bill will greatly strengthen the control of the House over its own affairs and will protect its legislative independence from the Executive.
Another detail is important, and this is that the responsibilities of the Commission as an employer of all our staff cannot lapse during General Elections. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire spelt that out clearly, so I do not think that there is anything more for me to say, except that the Commission is for one Parliament.
The Bill also provides that the pay, pensions and conditions of service of the House of Commons staff shall be kept in line with those of civil servants. This is the position at present, but the Bill, by making that a statutory requirement, ensures that we shall be able to continue to recruit staff at least as good as those serving the Government.
I am glad to be able to report that these proposals are generally welcomed by the staff of the House and by the unions that represent them. Clearly, different sections of the staff will have different reactions, but the creation of a unified service will permit the development of a better and more co-ordinated staffing policy than we have at present.
Although the Clerk of the House, the Serjeant at Arms and the Librarian, for instance, each acts as a separate employer, recruiting and promoting his own staff, under the Bill it will be possible to develop, gradually, common recruitment, promotion and training for all Departments in the House of Commons. This will facilitate the interchange of staff between Departments, and so help the promotion 1572 of those who merit it. It will also make it possible to develop much fuller and more systematic arrangements for staff consultation through the Whitley machinery than in the past. As I say, all this is welcomed by many members of the staff.
In general, as a result of the Bill, we should have a much improved career service for all our staff. A man or woman entering the service at any level should be able to rise to whatever post for which his or her talents equip him or her. As we have said in our report, so far as possible all the more senior appointments, including, for example, the Serjeant at Arms, should be made from within the service. I am convinced that development on these lines will not only be good for staff morale, but will help to provide the best possible service to Members of the House.
Although Clause 4 gives statutory authority for the continuation of the present Departments of the House, I hope, and I know, that they will, for many purposes, work as one. We suggested certain changes, in particular the disbandment of the present Speaker's Department, so that Hansard came under the ultimate control of the Clerk of the House for administrative purposes, and so that the Vote Officer was similarly linked with the Library. Reorganisation, however, will be carried out by the Commission, and propositions made to the Commission would have to be considered if it was thought that that was not the best way of doing things. I should have thought that at some time the catering services would have to be looked at by the Commission. I welcome this element of flexibility in the Bill. The Commission will be able to judge, in the light of experience, how the work is best distributed among the Departments.
Similarly, flexibility is allowed for in Schedule 1 regarding the Commission's procedures and the exercise of its powers. Here again I hope that it will, as soon as possible, establish the Board of Management that we recommend and give that Board general policy guidance on, for instance, the development of a unified staffing policy. It will be very important for the Board to be fully aware of the decisions and views of the Commission, and also for the Commission to have the 1573 advice of senior staff through the Board of Management.
I hope that the Commission will establish a good working relationship with the Services Committee of the House so that it will be fully aware of the interests and the wishes of Back Bench Members. These two bodies will have to work closely together.
The Bill marks the start of a new chapter in the organisation of the House of Commons. Its proposals sweep away many old and outdated arrangements—for instance, the independence of Departments as separate employers—and provide for the creation of a new framework of authority for the services of the House, centred on the Commission. Above all, it provides for the House itself to control its own administration, services and staff.
Much will depend on how the Commission goes about its work and on how well the Departments learn to work together and to co-operate within this unified service. However, as we said in our report, the Commission should not rush these changes or risk damaging the well-tried devotion of the staff to their present Departments by too rapid change. Approached with care and caution, the Bill should enable the provision of even better services for the House. I am sure, from what I have heard already, that there will be a speedy and unanimous decision on the Bill at the end of this debate.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith
I, too, would like to give a general welcome to the Bill and, first, to compliment the Government on the speed with which they have produced it since the initial debate in 1975. That seems to me to be in accordance with the general speed in this place when dealing with matters concerned with, for instance, the welfare of Members or the welfare of staff.
I want not only my party but all the minor parties to be associated with the tributes that have been paid to the staff of the House this morning, and I wish to associate myself, on behalf of those parties, with the assurance that no criticism of the existing staff is implied in our support of the Bill.
I am delighted that the proposal is not to merge Departments, but rather to persuade 1574 them to work together. In my local government experience, when I was chairman of an establishment committee I was never keen on the merging of departments. I am not sure that it is good for staff morale. I think that there is a great deal to be said for independence of staff, for the staff feeling that they have direct responsibility to the people who take decisions, and so on. To have created a machine where all five Departments were merged into one would have been a retrograde step, and I am delighted that that is not envisaged.
Perhaps I might make one comment on what has been said by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and, indeed, by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley). All Members of Parliament are responsible Members of Parliament, and all Members of Parliament have a job to do, whether they happen to be on a Front Bench or on a Back Bench, and whether they happen to be Members of the Government party or of the official Opposition.
The conditions under which Front Bench Members of the Opposition have to work—I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire—may be quite disgraceful. I have been in only one of the offices to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and therefore I have not seen them all, but they may very well be disgraceful. But the accommodation for the rest of the Members of Parliament is equally disgraceful. Just as it is inconvenient for the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire that he cannot reach his secretary as quickly as he would like, so it is inconvenient for me that my secretary has to cross a major road and traffic before she can reach me.
These criticisms are not applicable to only one section of Members of the House. I am sure that I have the support of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire in that contention. It may be that a certain section ought to have priority when it comes to putting these matters right, but I hope that improvements will not stop there.
The main issue that I want to raise—it was the point of my intervention during the Minister's statement—is the right to representation of minority parties in the House. It has been said that this is a House of Commons Bill, and that is true. 1575 Therefore it is right and proper that minority parties, who have equal rights in this House, or ought to have, and who certainly have a responsibility to represent their constituents in exactly the same way as members of the official Opposition and of the Government represent theirs, should have a guarantee of representation on this Commission.
The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough said that the Government will not have a majority on the Commission. How does he know? All that the Bill says is that three members should be elected to the Commission. How do we know that all three will not come from the Government party? What guarantee is there of that not happening? I accept that the usual channels will make sure that it probably will not, but there could well be a nice carve up, with two and one from the majority parties, and with the minority parties left out.
The right hon. Member for Middlesbrought, on page 15 of his report, in paragraph 4.7, refers tothree senior back-benchers (including one representative of minority parties).",but there is no guarantee at all, within the terms of the Bill, that the minority parties will have any right to representation.
We are asked to be good boys—and girls if one thinks of the Scottish Nationalists—and behave ourselves and we can be in no doubt that those who have all the power in this place will give us a seat. It is said that we can be sure of all that; that all we have to do is to behave ourselves and things will be arranged between the Whips, and so on. But our experience of the past does not lead us to be too happy about verbal promises. I look at the Government's former Chief Whip and I remember the way in which he and his colleagues treated us in relation to our seats in the European Parliament. Quite arbitrarily—we were not consulted—our representation was reduced from two seats to one.
I remember the arguments that have gone on during the last six months, or the last 12 months—perhaps my memory is playing tricks—about a seat for minority parties on the Committee of Selection. Constantly on the Floor of the House we 1576 have had to block nominations to that Committee to replace serving members merely to make the point that we, as minor parties, are entitled to a seat on that Committee.
What guarantee have we—when I say "we" I mean not only the Liberal Party but all the minority parties—of getting a seat on this Commission? It is important that there should be one such seat if numbers are maintained at anything like the present level. It is important that there should be a guarantee of that.
We have to make representations to bodies such as the Service Committee, the Catering Sub-Committee, and so on. They affect us in exactly the same way as they affect every other Member of the House, and whilst we find the Deputy Chief Whips of both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party extremely helpful—I say that sincerely—none the less they themselves have then to argue the matter with their colleagues. I should be much happier—it is certainly not a reason for voting against this Second Reading—if there were some guarantee in the Bill that minority parties will get some form of representation.
I understand the problem. One cannot write in "a representative of the minority parties", and there is the matter of how he is to be elected and how one does it, but I suggest to the Government that they should consider the idea. I am sure that it would be acceptable to the minority parties. It certainly would be acceptable to my party, and I should prefer to have consultations with the others if the idea commended itself to the Government. Perhaps the Government could say that there will be two representatives of the House and a representative to be nominated by Mr. Speaker after consultation with the minority parties. There should be something of that character to guarantee some sort of consultation and the possibility of minority parties having a seat on the Commission.
§ Mr. Arthur Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman has just explained the difficulties of trying to put into legislation who should be appointed to the Commission. He is aware of the immense good will that exists on this issue. A shadow Commission is in being, and the leader of his party happens to be a member of that Commission.
§ Mr. Smith
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that what I am saying this morning has the support of the leader of my party. I do not always say that that is so, but on this occasion we are in complete agreement. Perhaps that in itself is a point that is worthy of note, and the point at which I should sit down.
I commend the Bill to the Committee. I hope the Minister will accept that there is no question of our voting against this Second Reading, or anything of that character. This is not a matter on which we should want to divide the Committee, but I very much hope that between now and the Bill receiving its final approval some thought will be given to how direct representation on the Commission can be given to minority parties.
The issue could be left open in a way that would allow it to be altered in future years if there were a reduction in numbers. I suspect that that will not happen, although there might be a variation in how the numbers are arrived at. Perhaps there should be some way in which Mr. Speaker can nominate a member to the Commission. Perhaps it could be indicated in the Bill that, all things being equal, it would be expected that the member nominated by Mr. Speaker would be a representative of the minority parties.
With those comments I, too, welcome the Bill and commend it to the Committee. I am sure that it will have the full support of the minority parties in the House.
§ 11.27 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Mellish
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) will understand that what he has just said will, of course, be noted by the Government, and that there will be discussions between the leader of his party and, I should have thought, Government representatives and Opposition representatives to see how best his point can be met. This is the sort of procedure that one has to follow in cases where, in putting words into a Bill, one finds it almost impossible to give guarantees.
There must be in this House—I think the hon. Gentleman knows this because he has been here long enough—a feeling of trust and good will between both sides. If that does not exist, nothing exists. I am fairly certain that when those responsible wrote those words about three Members 1578 of the House they had minority parties in mind. I would go further and say that it is imperative that this Bill, as has already been said, is a House of Commons Bill. It has nothing to do with parties. With great respect to what the hon. Gentleman says about minority parties, I should be concerned about the quality of the Members who go on this Committee. It is not relevant to me whether they are Liberals, Tories, or Labour Members.
I start off in that spirit by saying that I feel very old and ancient. Looking around, I suppose I have the longest membership of anyone here of the House of Commons. I have been here for well over 30 years, non-stop, and if anyone wants to challenge that, he can. In all that time I have had nothing but affection and respect for the staff who work in this House. In the Clerk's Department, in the Serjeant at Arms Department and everywhere associated with this House I have found that staff go out of their way to try to help the ordinary Back Bencher, or, if someone is exalted in position and becomes a senior Member they will go out of their way to help him, too. Whatever I say, let it be clearly understood that I am not critical of any Department or of any section of the staff.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) and his colleagues for what I regard as an excellent report. I say at once that this Second Reading of the Bill will receive my overwhelming support, but I hope in Committee, if I am allowed so to do, to find some way to alter the Bill as it now stands for one purpose only, and I declare it straight away. I think that these proposals—the Bottomley proposals as they are called—have done one thing that could cause damage in the future, and that is their reference—or non-reference—to what I call the Official Report department—Hansard.
I happen to be one of those who, down the years, have had the chance to see the Official Report, department of our House in action, again and again, and so have many other Members. It is unique. Hansard—if I may refer to it as that for easy reference—is one of the most brilliant departments in the House. It is very personal to Members what they say and what is taken down by the Official Reporter upstairs.
1579 We all know—let us get it clear—that we have the right to go upstairs and check our speeches. Sometimes, if the Editor allows it, we can make our English a little better than it was put down, but it is edtiorial control. It is an editorial decision whether a speech is altered in any fundamental way. It has nothing to do with the Clerk. It has nothing to do with the Serjeant at Arms. It has nothing to do with anybody in this House except the Editor of Hansard, who will listen to what the Member says and then decide whether there should be any change. My experience is that in the vast majority of cases he will not allow any change at all.
Any Member who goes up to the Official Report to try to get that speech altered so that it will suit his political content, or who wishes that he had not made certain remarks, will find that that is not on with the Editor. The Editor may use his discrtion in allowing the grammr to be improved, but the content—no.
If a Member has any complaint about Hansard, or if he questions whether it has done the right thing, to whom does he go? He does not go to the Clerk of the House or to the Serjeant at Arms. He raises the matter with Mr. Speaker on the Floor of the House, and challenges Hansard. If I may give an instance, I remember that on one occasion it was reported in Hansard that I had made an interjection. I was quite staggered when I saw it the next day, because I had not been in the House at the time. I raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker, who immediately said "I take note of the right hon. Member's complaint and I shall see that this is taken up with those responsible." Mr. Speaker did not go to the Clerk of the House or to the Serjeant at Arms. He saw the Editor who, the next day, published an apology and a correction in Hansard, and that settled the matter. It may be stating the obvious to my colleagues who are as experienced as I am when I say that Hansard is personal to us as Members and that the only access for change in Hansard is through Mr. Speaker, and no one here can challenge that.
The Bottomley Committee, when it considered the whole question of the future of the administration of the House of 1580 Commons, quite rightly recommended that a Commission be set up—a move which I strongly support. That is absolutely right, and the Commission will have a great deal of power and authority. But—and here it is in the Bill—it was decided that there would be five Departments.
When it came to considering the Official Report—if I may be permitted my own parlance—the Committee said "What the heck do we do with this lot? I know, we will shove them in with the Clerk". So, for reasons best known to itself, which I have been unable to discover from the report, the Committee decided to put the Hansard Reporters in with the Clerk.
This is an ambiguous situation. What has Hansard to do with the Clerk? The Clerk can have nothing whatever to do with Hansard as such. Therefore, I give notice that in Committee, if I am allowed to do so, I shall table amendments to ensure that Hansard is regarded as a department in its own right so that it will have access to the Commission as a department and not through the auspices of the Clerk.
§ Mr. Mellish
The report decided that Hansard should be linked with the Clerk, and in the Bill there is reference to the Department of the Clerk of the House. There is no reference in the Bill to Hansard being a separate department per se. It follows from that—it must be so; it is the only interpretation that can be placed upon it—that because Hansard is not mentioned in the Bill as a separate department it will be tagged off, if that is the correct term, into the Clerk's Department. There is no other interpretation.
Indeed, that is part of the case of Hansard. I have discussed this matter with some of the staff—excluding the Editor and Deputy Editor, who of course would be somewhat embarrassed if I included them as being part of the argument. I am talking of the staff of Hansard. There can be no interpretation for them other than that because the report said that Hansard would be associated with the Clerk, it follows from what is in the Bill that the Clerk's Department 1581 will be responsible for Hansard. The only way in which that can be remedied is for Clause 4 to mention not five Departments, but six, and I shall table an amendment to say that there should be a department of Hansard, which will clear up this anomaly.
§ Mr. William Price
It is not my understanding that the Bill specifies five Departments although it certainly does refer to the five about which we are talking. However, it goes on to say quite clearly that if there was any possible doubt about the matter the Commission could, under Clause 4(2)(a) increase or reduce the number of House Departments, and of course, that could apply to Hansard if the Commission took that view.
§ Mr. Mellish
That is why my point is more valid than ever. I want to clear up this anomaly before it goes too far. I want to get it on record today and that is why I am using the democratic process of this Second Reading debate to state my case about Hansard. I ask that it be regarded as a separate Department and that it has the same access to the Commission that will be appointed as is available to any other Department. That will save the Commission, if I may say so, having to do the job later on. We should do it for the Commission.
I do not believe that there is anyone in the Clerk's Department who wants anything whatever to do with the Hansard Department. I do not think there is anyone in the Serjeant at Arms' Department who wants anything to do with the Hansard Department. They know nothing about it anyway, and they have enough problems of their own. The weakness of the Bottomley Committee, if it had a weakness—it is hardly a weakness, I suppose—was that there was not a single journalist present as a member of that Committee. It so happens that Hansard really does accord with all the great principles to which we have always adhered, with regard to freedom of the Press, and the right of editorial function, and the rest. Hansard is personal to the House. Had I been a Member of the Bottomley Committee, I would have stressed strongly the special peculiarities of the Hansard Department. That is the only reason why I intervene.
The Bottomley Committee said that it did not think it 1582appropriate, at this stage, for the Official Report to be made a fully independent Department of the House.But it went on:On the other hand, we recognise both the importance of maintaining the independent authority of the Editor and the need to bring him into much closer contact with the general problems of House administration.The report went on to recommend that Hansard shouldcome under the general administrative control of the Clerk…but then added that it should not bean integral part of the Clerk's Department.What rubbish is that? What does "come under the control of the Clerk" mean, when I have already said that it has got nothing to do with the Clerk anyway? We are not talking about a handful of people just doing a tiny little job upstairs. I have figures here of the position up there. There are 30 on the editorial staff—Editor, Deputy Editor, Assistant Editors, Deputy Assistant Editors, Senior Reporters and Reporters—26 transcribers, who are responsible for transcribing in type form tape-recorded debates, and six office clerks and assistants, in that Department. The Annunciator staff are also under Hansard. Surely there is a case here for Hansard being a quite separate Department in its own right.
Do not let us have any ritual about this—either it is a Department, or it is not. The staff are personal to us and personal to Mr. Speaker, or they are not. One of the anomalies that has occurred over the years is that, although the Hansard staff have been allied under Mr. Speaker—of course, he has always treated the staff with great courtesy, fairness and firmness—they have not really had personal access in staff matters as other Departments have had. They have always felt rather the Cinderella of the House—ignored, tucked away upstairs, nobody caring anything about them at all as long as they did their job right and reported everything we said and made our English a little better than it might otherwise have been, and so on.
Suddenly it comes home at a time like this, and from speaking to the staff as I have done I know not only how important the members of Hansard are, but how hurt they are.
§ Mr. Arthur Bottomley
Because we thought Hansard was cut off it was considered that it might be convenient for 1583 the services as a whole, which were to be unified, for Hansard Department to come under the Clerk's Department for administration purposes but certainly not under the control of the Clerk of the House. It was considered that it would work entirely—because it will be an expert Department with identical knowledge to that which it has at the moment—as it does now. Only for administrative purposes would it be associated with the Clerk of the House. But if my right hon. Friend feels strongly I can assure him that the members of the Committee would not be adverse if the Committee as a whole put pressure on for reconsideration of this matter. It would not be necessary to put it in the Bill, but it could be done by the Commission itself if it thought fit.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend and it is in the spirit of that good will that I will not go on with this argument. I think that I have made my point. He will forgive me, but I do not understand what he means when he uses phrases such as "for administrative purposes". Some day someone will explain that general phrase to me. What in heaven's name does it mean?
The Clerk's Department is not going to pay Hansard's salaries. It will have nothing to do with the running of that Department. It will have nothing to do with what is put in Hansard or taken out. I am not quite sure what is meant by the phrase.
Surely my case is now established. As a good lawyer says, I will rest on my case and leave it at that. At the end of the day, I will, with great respect, challenge the position purely on my right as a Back Bencher—no more—and put down an amendment and re-phrase some of these arguments in Committee. With this good will, these very decent people will see that this House not only recognises what they do but appreciates it and makes them a Department of the House, which they have every right to be.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Emery
I shall be very brief in my remarks, but this is a Second Reading debate and we are meant to debate a little in this Committee as we would on the Floor of the House. I take up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I sympathise 1584 very much with the right hon. Gentleman in wishing to ensure protection for the members of the Official Report—Hansard, as we always lovingly refer to it.
I do not accept entirely the idea that it is the Cinderella department. Indeed, its fame often spreads very much further—in its reputation—than that of many other Departments of the House. One has only to go to the Council of Europe to know how the whole of Europe looks to Hansard to cope with the whole of the recording of the debates of the Council of Europe. Internationally, in parliamentary circles, the Official Report of the House of Commons—our friends Hansard—has a reputation which is to be envied by any other Department in the House of Commons.
I can well understand the right hon. Gentleman's argument. He would not want Hansard to disappear under the Clerk's Department. But I have read the Bill and I have read the Bottomley Report. I shall quote from paragraph 4.50 on page 22 of the report.The Editor of the Official Report…said that, if the Speaker's Department were split up he hoped the Official Report would be constituted a separate Department…As I understand it, Mr. Speaker's Department is to be retained. My own interpretation, therefore, is that there is not to be any alteration as far as Hansard is concerned but that it will still fall under Mr. Speaker's Department. Perhaps the Minister will clear up that point, because if that is not to be the case, I may find myself in absolute agreement with what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey said, rather than just in agreement in principle with his wish to defend Hansard, my interpretation being that it will probably be looked after as it would want.
I wish to ask a question of the Minister. It may go somewhat further than any matter raised in the debate at the moment. I refer to—and rest my case on—the first of the criteria of the Bottomley Committee, stated on page 11 of the Report, that:It must above all ensure the maintenance and, where necessary, the improvement of the services—advisory and practical—provided for Members in carrying out their…duties.I understand why, perhaps, the Committee did not deal specifically with the question which I want to raise when I look at the terms of reference, which held 1585 the Committee particularly to the work of the five existing Departments.
I speak as a very junior Member of only about 19 years service in this House—
§ Mr. Emery
That is right. I have a long way to go, but I have the years in which to do it. But the one service that I require from the House is the printing of my papers on a daily basis. There are the complications of working in bad offices without our secretaries next door to us; but when we do not have properly printed papers our task in operating as efficient Members of Parliament is made three times more difficult by that than by any other single aspect that I can think of. I see Members nodding assent to the point I am making.
But I want to ask this question. Would it be possible under the Bill for the new Commission to decide to ask one of the Departments to set up a printing structure under that Department for the provision of papers in the House for Members of Parliament? I sub-divide that question and ask that better emergency arrangements be made for printing so that when the present arrangements break down we have better stand by facilities than at present.
I am not immediately attempting to be massively critical of the present standby facilities. I think that the staff are remarkable in the way that they obtain and collate papers at a moment's notice on their reproduction machinery on one of the lower floors in order to keep going the rather inadequate flow of papers that we have at the moment. Therefore, my direct question is whether there is the possibility under the Bill that the Commission could consider this matter and, because it is so important in the administration of the whole House, decide to take new and positive action to enable us, the Commission and the House of Commons, to control and deal with our own printing. I should like a direct answer to that question because it seems to go further than any of the other questions raised.
Other than that, in principle it seems to me that the Bill is sound, and goes a long way towards doing what we want. It provides the types of control that Members 1586 want. We hope that those who will give their time to serving on the Commission will do so over a number of Parliaments, so that their experience can go from one Parliament to the other. I welcome the Bill in general, but for the specific question which I ask the Minister to deal with when he replies.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving
I, like other right hon. and hon. Members, would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) and the members of his Committee for the work that they have done. We are very grateful to them. I should also like to pay tribute to the staff, because the excellence of the work done here owes a great debt to the quality and devotion of the staff of the House. I speak as a member of many Select Committees and as chairman of some, but I think that it applies to all the services. I have had every reason to be grateful over many years for the help that I have received, and I should like to put that on record. I am also pleased to recognise that we are seeking here to enact means of improving and co-ordinating the conditions for the staff.
So far as I am aware, we are the only Parliament where the Members are entirely dependent on the Government and on the Government's willingness to vote money for parliamentary purposes. There is an entire departure of principle here. For the first time, we are enabled to vote money directly for these purposes. I welcome this development and hope that it will be extended to a number of other areas.
I think that there are two omissions in the Bill, both of which have been referred to. The first concerns the Select Committees. I am a member of the Liaison Committee and we meet regularly to consider how we can squeeze the requests of the Select Committees into the limited budget being provided. Select Committees are adopting a much more vigorous and challenging approach to their duties. It is bad in principle that they should be beholden to the Executive for the money to carry out this function. As the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said, it is true that things have improved, but there is a principle at stake and I think that the Committee and the House should be independent of the Executive in carrying out these duties.
1587 The other matter to which I should like to refer was also mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, and that is the pay and conditions of Members. I am disturbed about a state of affairs which reflects no credit on anyone in the House. We have allowed our pay and conditions to deteriorate to a point where people in industry and the professions look with incredulity—
§ Mr. Irving
—and contempt on the state of affairs that exists here and wonder how we ever allowed ourselves to get into this position.
I am not asking for or urging an immediate increment for Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Irving
What we are talking about is the principle by which our pay and conditions should be determined. We are not talking about whether we have a Boyle Committee or any other arrangement. We are talking about how the House faces up to the decisions that have to be taken and the recommendations that have to be made when such matters are determined. The Bill establishes a new principle upon which, I hope, the House faces up to the decisions that have Select Committees and the pay and conditions of its Members and staff.
Leaving aside these two omissions, I welcome the Bill and hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Hal Miller
As the most junior member of the Committee, although the youthful ebullience of some of the other Members might give the lie to that, I should like to say how comforted I am to hear that my elders and betters have the interests of all Members at heart, be they the facilities provided for the Opposition Front Bench, or the pay and conditions of ordinary Members. However, we are this morning supposed to be considering the interests of the staff.
I, as a very junior Member, should like to pay my tribute to the staff of the House. It would be impossible for me to perform my duties without the help of all the staff—not just Hansard, or the 1588 Clerks, or the Library or, indeed, the gentleman who tries to keep my expenses straight and the wise advice I was given not to run into debt when I first met that forbidding figure, the Accountant, but all of them. We owe them a real debt of gratitude.
Perhaps I should declare an interest at this stage, in that I am an honorary adviser to the Association of First Division Civil Servants. Beyond drawing attention to its memorandum to the Bottomley Committee—if I may so describe it—I need not speak in any more partial sense today. It is a House of Commons matter, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) told us.
It is our staff that we are considering, and we have a real responsibility to ensure that their pay and conditions are adequate, that their opportunities are adequate, that their training is adequate, and that their entry and promotion conditions are fair. We shall be falling down on our responsibility to our staff if we do not do that. The Bill gives us a chance to do just that, which is why we should give it warm support.
I particularly echo the words of the right hon. Member for Middlesborough (Mr. Bottomley) about the active role that the Commission will play in staff matters. He mentioned the importance of dealing with staff representatives on a full and realistic Whitley Council basis, so there is no need for me to emphasise the point.
It has been said that it is about 160 years since legislation was passed to deal with these matters. I have no wish to look backwards, but the point that my contemporaries would wish me to make is that we expect Parliament to be more effective. We wish it to be more effective, and we are determined to make it more effective. This will place more demands on our staff, and therefore we welcome this opportunity to see that the correct basis is laid for that expansion and improvement.
It is high time that we were masters in our own house and that we made our own decisions about printing and, indeed, as has been said, about various other matters, including Hansard. I take very much to heart the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey. If he looks at the evidence submitted by Hansard to the Bottomley Commission—I refer to pages 84 and 85—he will 1589 see that the Editor is reported as saying that he would like to remain under the Speaker's Department. The Speaker's Department is still provided for in the Bill, so I am not entirely clear why it is necessary to proceed as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested to us this morning.
We need to be masters in our own house. This puts responsibilities on us, and particularly on those who are appointed to the Commission. I do not know what weight we should attach to the Liberal representations, or whether it should be counted on a per capita basis, but I note wryly, in passing, that their standard of accommodation is rather more generous than is available to some of the other parties.
I include in the need to be masters in our own house the need to be able to deal with the question of our refreshments, to which reference has already been made.
I believe that the Commission's report has laid the framework, but we have a responsibility to build on it, and in building on it we must ensure that we retain the good will and confidence of those who serve us, who have chosen to serve us, and who wish to be in the service not of the Crown but of the Mother of Parliaments.
§ 11.57 a.m.
§ Mr. William Price
With the leave of the Committee, I shall endeavour to deal with the questions that were specifically asked of me.
I begin by saying that I very much agree with the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) when he says that we should leave it to the Commission to take its own decisions. That has been the whole basis upon which the Government have approached the matter, and the evidence this morning is that that is the general wish of members of the Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Services Committee. It is true that my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) sees an important role for that Committee, and I think that that would be the wish of this Committee and, indeed, of all hon. Members.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the Refreshment Department. It is not, as we know, a Department of 1590 the House. The employer of catering staff is the Catering Sub-Committee of the Services Committee, and we all know that the Refreshment Department is heavily in debt. If the House decided that a restructuring of authority for House catering was desirable, it would be possible under Clause 4(2) for the Refreshment Department to be made a Department of the House and thus to be brought within the authority of the Commission. But this is a matter for subsequent consideration if it is thought to be necessary, and what is being created is the framework within which that might be done.
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman's plea for fair Press coverage of that matter. The latest example came earlier this week as part of the Express group of newspapers' continuing attack upon Members of Parliament. It is only a week ago that the group did a front page lead on the staggering revelation that Members of Parliament cost more than members of the Royal Family. I should not have thought that that was surprising in view of the fact that there are 635 of us, but this is the sort of level at which the Daily Express is conducting its vendetta against Members of this House. I suppose that if anything can be said for the newspaper it is that the attack appears to be directed at both sides.
I find the paper's latest story quite staggering. The headline reads:You foot bill for Members of Parliament's meals",and the first paragraph says that a bill for £1 million to meet losses on House of Commons catering is to be picked up by the taxpayer. Towards the end of the story there is one paragraph from the hon. Member for Fareham (Dr. Bennett):Dr. Bennett added that 3,500 meals a day are served at the Commons but only 100 are in the Members' Dining Room. The rest are for civil servants, typists, police and other staff of the House.
§ Mr. Price
And the Press. If we could persuade Fleet Street to look at the matter more objectively than it does, we should do the House a service.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about travel expenses for Select Committees. I understand that they will come under the heading of "any other expenses" and 1591 within the scope of the Commission's estimates.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the important matter of pensions of House staff. The provisions of Clause 2(3), apart from the point dealt with in note 4, provide that the House can carry on with its present pension arrangements unaltered. In other words, they continue to apply the provisions of the principal Civil Service pension scheme, as it is from time to time amended, to House of Commons staff. The Bill, nevertheless, embodies the concept of a separate pension scheme for House employees. Whilst the House scheme is, in effect, a principal Civil Service pension scheme, the two are formally separate. This removes any suggestion that House employees are civil servants for this purpose. I find that slightly complicated myself, but if there is any doubt about what is meant I should be only too happy to offer written clarification to anybody who seeks it.
The right hon. Gentleman finally referred to the maintenance and development of parliamentary buildings. Again, at this stage it is intended that the present position of the Secretary of State for the Environment with regard to his responsibility for the maintenance of the fabric and upkeep of parliamentary buildings should not be altered. But I accept the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was developing a wider argument about services and facilities generally. I have no doubt that the Commission will consider this issue in due course.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) raised, for the second time, the question of minority representation. I can get into enough trouble without giving him that assurance. I cannot offer a total commitment, but I have no doubt that full account will be taken of the case that he has made out and of the proposal of the Bottomley Committee, and we shall look at his specific recommendation.
I now deal with the matter raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish).
§ Mr. Price
Southwark or Bermondsey—whichever it is, I would not mind the 1592 seat myself, and I am younger than he is, so I may be in with a chance.
Perhaps I ought to declare an interest. I suspect that I am the only shorthand writer on the Committee. My right hon. Friend said that he had represented his constituency for 30 years. I am not expecting to represent mine for 30 years and I keep my shorthand going. I may well be one of the few Members in the House who sits there recording the speeches of hon. and right hon. Members as they take place. I have my own personal "Hansard", and it is just possible that one day I shall be seeking a job upstairs. Therefore, in that sense I had better be careful that any commitment that I offer is a personal one rather than on behalf of the Government.
But I am sure that there would be widespread sympathy for the case put by my right hon. Friend. Certainly the Government would not object in any way if it were decided by the Commission, by the House or whoever it may be that Hansard should be a separate Department. We all have the greatest admiration for Hansard. I say quite seriously, as one who is a shorthand writer, that I am astonished at the job Hansard does. It is the most remarkable service that I have come across. If that is decided, the Government would not object. But we are saying that there is all the scope that could possibly be required within the Bill for that to happen if required.
The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) asked about the basic structure. The Bottomley Report said that there should be four Departments—the Clerk's, the Serjeant at Arms', the Library and Administration. As things stand, it envisages that Hansard would go to the Clerk's Department and that the Vote Office would go to the Library. Also, as things stand at present, Mr. Speaker will have a department of his own, but it is expected that the Commission will reduce it to his own small staff of 12 or so people. But, again, that is a matter for further consideration. I can only tell the Committee what we think might be the possibilities.
The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) referred to the printing of papers. The Commission could consider taking over its own printing in due course. That 1593 matter is covered in paragraph 4.12 of the Bottomley Report, which states:The Commission's overall responsibility for the Estimates of the House would provide a valuable annual framework for reviewing the future needs and consequential development of the services of the HouseI believe that that covers the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.
It has been an extremely agreeable morning, which does not always happen when dealing with matters concerning the office of the Leader of the House. I am 1594 grateful for the support that there has been for the Bill, and perhaps I ought to leave it there.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the House of Commons (Administration) Bill ought to be read a Second time.
§ Committee rose at twenty-nine minutes Twelve o'clock.
|THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:|
|Jones, Mr. Arthur (Chairman)||Irving, Mr. Sydney|
|Berry, Mr.||Mellish, Mr.|
|Bottomley, Mr Arthur||Miller, Mr. Hal|
|Coleman, Mr.||More, Mr. Jasper|
|Cooke, Mr. Robert||Price, Mr. William|
|Emery, Mr.||Pym, Mr.|
|Forrester, Mr.||Smith, Mr. Cyril|
|Hawkins, Mr.||Whitlock, Mr.|