§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That this House agrees with the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in their recommendations in paragraphs 9, 17, 27, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36 and 38 of the Seventh Report of the said Committee in the last Session of Parliament (H.C. 508), and that the Fees Office be authorised, in respect of secretaries and research assistants employed on Parliamentary business whose names are registered with that Office by Members, to make monthly payments of salary on behalf of such Members, if so requested, together with appropriate deductions from their secretarial allowance.—[Mr. Bates.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
It is a great honour to open this debate. At the outset, I thank my right hon. Friend the Lord President for having given sympathetic consideration throughout to the Committee that I had the honour to chair and for providing time for the matter to be discussed.
We have been more fortunate in this respect than our predecessors who tried to deal with the question of proper facilities for the secretaries and research assistants who work for us, which, in effect, means providing better help to us in doing our job and is, therefore, a great advantage to Members. When I speak of our predecessors, I refer to those who three or four years ago produced the Select Committee's report, HC 375, the Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). That report was never debated by the House. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his Committee for the work they did on that matter.
I also thank the Clerk to our Committee, Mr. Ryle, my colleagues who helped to produce our unanimous report and all those who gave oral and written evidence. I have time to single out only the Serjeant at Arms, the Deputy Serjeant at Arms, the Accountant and representatives of the Secretaries and Research Assistants Council.
1358 We did not publish our evidence, for which hon. Members may be looking in vain in the report, partly because this is a sensitive area, as they will understand. The whole question of facilities and the back-up for Members of Parliament is comparatively new here. Anyone who reads that engaging book "Victorian Masterpieces" by the former Clerk of the House, Sir Barnett Cocks, will see that it was 1932 before the first typewriter appeared in this buildings. It was even later before the first typist was hired and secretaries were employed even by the staff.
Demands for more space, the second item in our report, the matter of office facilities and accommodation—were greeted with blank incredulity by many who were then in charge of the building. The then Serjeant at Arms, challenged on this point and asked to explain why he had in his house 40 rooms which were not used at all, said to an investigating Committee just before the war "Dammit, a fellow has to live somewhere." That approach to the proper use of the space within the Palace of Westminster has faded only slowly with the years. I am very glad that the present Serjeant at Arms and others in his Department have taken a more sympathetic view. I hope the House will agree that helping those who assist Members with their increasingly complex work is helping Members themselves.
Our Committee had a limited role. We cannot anticipate the future deliberations of the Boyle Committee, nor do we wish to intrude into the intensely personal relationship between a Member and those who work for him. We accept that there are 635 employers here, all different, with employees who differ in age, vocation and number from Member to Member. That is why in paragraph 9 we emphasise that we wanted the Member to remain the employer, with the right to hire and fire. In our experience, very few Members or secretaries who listened to the evidence that was given to the Committee want it otherwise.
Those who have stopped me in the corridors of this place and have asked jocularly "Have you managed to create the typing pool yet?" and made other quips of that kind are wide of the mark. The proposals that we have brought forward are entirely of a voluntary kind and 1359 involve opting into the various schemes proposed. In no sense is there an element of compulsion. As is stated in paragraph 12, we accepted thatThere can be no fool-proof system to ensure that all secretaries are treated in the best possible way. And no watertight scheme could be devised by the House for preventing any possibility of abuse of the secretarial allowance system. Essentially, the highest standards in both respects must remain a matter for each Member of the House.We go on to say that each Member of the House has to account to the Inland Revenue for what he does with his own money and with the public moneys with which he is entrusted.
We have, therefore, turned to the question of how Members' secretaries and research assistants can all jointly be helped. Clearly, anyone who opted for the kind of assistance proposed in the scheme set out in the report would need to be known by name to the Fees Office We have said in paragraph 13 thatfor the purposes of implementing the recommendations … it will be necessary for Members to register with the Fees Office the names and addresses of those secretaries and research assistants employed by them in respect of whose pay they draw their secretarial allowance. The other services and bnefits which Your Committee recommend … would also only be available to secretaries and assistants so registered.We found a strong body of opinion wanting such payments to be made directly and centrally. That may be a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has in mind in his amendment. It was much more the line of the previous Select Committee. But the clear view of our Committee and the majority of the evidence given to it favoured the voluntary principle, which could be fitted in with and would not clash with the long-established Member-secretary relationships.
The heart of the report is the proposal in paragraph 15:the the Fees Office should provide for Members an agency system on behalf of the House to assist them in the payment of their secretaries and research assistants.The four proposals here which met with the Government's favour—a fifth did not—are, first, thatAny Member could nominate at the beginnining of each financial year one or two secretaries and not more than one research assistant to whom he wishes monthly payments to be made out of his secretarial allowances".1360 The second is thathe would have to state how much was to be paid each month to each nominated secretary etc.".The third is thatthe Fees Office would make monthly payments to the nominated person having deducted, and paid to the appropriate authority, income tax and the national insurance employee's contribution".The fourth is thatthe Fees Office would also deduct from the Member's secretarial allowance the national insurance employer's contribution".
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett)
There is a point which ought to be cleared up for the records of the House. There was originally a proposal in the report that there should be a 5 per cent. charge by the Fees Office, which if it were enforced would be quite excessive by commercial standards. Will my hon. Friend elucidate that point?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I take the force of that criticism. My hon. Friend leads me on to my next point, which is how I come to be putting forward the Government's motion as well as commending the report to the House.
As will be seen from the second part of the motion which appeared in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, it is proposed by the Government that the recommendation for the agency fee should be set aside and that this should be borne as a charge upon the House. The original proposal, as set out in the report in paragraphs 15 to 19, was, as my hon. Friend says, that the service should be offered for a 5 per cent. fee.
The recommendation in paragraph 17 that guidance on current rates of secretarial pay should be provided by the Fees Office—rather than any attempt at grading what are, and will remain, a multiplicity of different responsibilities and hours worked—is accepted by the Government.
But the change that is proposed in my right hon. Friend's motion goes further than the Committee went. As hon. Members will see, the Committee in paragraph 19 left open the matter as between an agency fee chargeable against the allowance or on the House Vote. The question that was in some minds, including the minds of those who gave evidence to the Committee, was whether such a scheme could be carried on the House 1361 Vote, bearing in mind things like current pay policy guidelines and an element of subsidy with regard to other services which some hon. Members use and others do not. There are a great many such services from the car park upwards.
I understand that the Department of Employment has advised that, under the pay policy guidelines, the cost of any improvement in the terms and conditions of a job must be taken into account in assessing the total level of settlement, save for improvements in occupational pension schemes and improvements which have been allowed additionally under the policy applying before 1st August 1977. That would rate as an improvement in terms and conditions under the policy if it involved significant extra cost, since it will relieve Members of an identifiable amount of work.
It is understood, however, that the Accountant does not propose to recruit any further staff to carry out this scheme until it is clear how many Members will make use of it. It may well be that even when the scheme is fully operational the additional costs will be marginal. They will certainly be far less than 5 per cent., as my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) said.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
At some point, will my hon. Friend explain what the scheme does for the secretaries?
§ Mr. Whitehead
It provides for the first time for those whose employer Members have opted in a guaranteed payment on a guaranteed basis. I have quite deliberately not gone into some of the evidence presented to the Committee with regard to hardship and exploitation.
Often these things come to one as hearsay. It is hard to get concrete evidence about what has happened. But the fact is that secretaries who are covered by the scheme would he guaranteed an income and would, therefore, have a relationship with the Member out of which some of the present embarrassments are drawn. I think that that is a major advantage for them.
We accept that not all Members will join the scheme, for a variety of reasons. As I have said, there is absolutely no element of compulsion about it.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
I think that the hon. Member is coming to paragraph 20. Does he envisage that Members can opt in for part of their allowance and opt out for the rest, or does it have to be all in or all out?
§ Mr. Whitehead
It is made perfectly clear in the report that the amounts paid and to whom they are paid are left at the discretion of the Members. A Member can actually nominate one or more people for a part, the whole or a shared allocation in different ways. These different ways could, of course, in the case of some Members with particular requirements in the employment area, lead to a variable payment at different times of the year. But the position would, of course, be agreed, with the Fees Office, with which the particular secretaries and research assistants would be registered.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
I have some difficulty in believing what the hon. Member appears to be saying. Are we to understand that the effect of the scheme in terms of cost to the Government would actually mean an increase of 5 per cent.? If so, there must be better ways of spending 5 per cent. on secretaries' salaries.
§ Mr. Whitehead
My view—other members of the Committee are here and will be able to speak for themselves—is that what the Government have proposed is an improvement on the Committee's report. That is why I am happy to commend it to the House.
I said that a number of hon. Members probably would feel that they already had efficient ways of paying their secretaries themselves and were dealing with this externally and did not wish to get involved with the House. We hope that that will continue, and we have no proposals which impinge upon that right, which they would retain.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
If I understand my hon. Friend aright, this means that hon. Members can, if they wish, stay out of the scheme completely—I accept that that is a beneficial aspect of it—but that they are still entitled to draw in toto their secretarial allowances, so that under this scheme the elements of abuse which have undoubtedly existed in the past will go on. Is that right?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I cannot be led into any suggestion that an hon. Member who draws his allowance without being a party to the scheme is necessarily more likely to be guilty of abuse. It is not part of our thinking that that would be the case.
All 635 hon. Members, I understand from the Accountant, draw either wholly or in part the secretarial allowance. The fact is that only about half that number have secretaries even registered in the building. Many have secretaries elsewhere in other parts of the country, and it could be that many such hon. Members would feel, at least initially, that they saw no advantage in opting in. I do not think it can be said to follow from that that they could be said to be abusing the scheme. I hope that as many hon. Members as possible opt in and that, as the advantages of the scheme become apparent both to them and to their secretaries, that will increasingly be the pattern.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
Is not it a fact that hon. Members are required to declare to the Inland Revenue the amounts which they pay to their secretaries and then to declare, below the line, the amount they draw from the Fees Office in respect of the sum which they pay to their secretaries? Therefore, I hope that there is no question of there being any possibility of difficulty about being thoroughly straightforward about the way in which hon. Members claim for their secretarial allowance.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I think that that illustrates the disadvantage of giving way when one is trying to develop a case and when so many other hon. Members wish to speak. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) should read paragraph 12 of the report, which makes it clear that there is that check by the Revenue for all hon. Members. If the hon. Member reads Hansard, he will see that I said that earlier in my remarks.
I turn now to the question of severance indemnity, because here I part company with my right hon. Friend the Lord President and his motion. The Committee felt very strongly that there should be some form of severance payment. Cases of real hardship were brought to our attention, and there have been some in the recent past.
1364 The more modest dilemma of secretaries was well stated by one who gave evidence to the Committee. I shall quote from her letter:One point put too often to be ignored is that of the secretary to a particularly hardworking Member whom she considers to be a candidate for a heart attack. She is well aware that the secretarial allowance ends with the death of a Member and is valiantly trying to put something away 'for a rainy day', as she knows she will want to help the Member's family in any way she can and will not want to bother them about her salary. She typifies the best kind of secretary to be found in the House and I know her Member values her greatly, but I wonder where else this kind of situation could arise, and whether it is necessary that it should.The Committee proposed—we should acknowledge the special position of secretaries in this place—that there should be a severance payment. We are talking about a question of sudden death, after all—electorally, at least—and, in the fourth year of a Parliament, one does not need to remind hon. Members of how quickly some of our number are snatched from us by mortality.
Overnight, a secretary ceases to have any claim on public funds. She is not employed by an hon. Member. Yet, ironically, her work here could go on for weeks or months simply settling up that hon. Member's affairs. How can we agree severance pay for ourselves—as we did in Parliament not so long ago, because it is said, quite rightly, that we are at risk—and not extend it to our employees?
The Committee recommended that there could be no question of continuing payment because the precise conditions in which payment is made vary according to each employer for each and every one of us, so we therefore suggested the payment of a lump sum as severance indemnity equivalent to about three months' average secretarial salary.
My right hon. Friend has explained to me why the Government will not go along with this proposal in its present form. He suggests that it is not clear from the report whether our Commmittee was aware that secretaries are already entitled to benefit under the Redundancy Payments Act, under which a secretary can claim on the Member or his estate, and a proportion of that, 41 per cent., can be reclaimable from the Redundancy Fund.
However, in his letter to me, my right hon. Friend acknowledged that there are categories excluded from that legislation 1365 and even from going through the very disagreeable procedure of suing or bringing a claim upon the widow of the Member concerned. These categories include women over the age of 60, men over 65, those married to their employer—there are many women here who are the wives of Members, and very distinguished secretaries some of those are, too—and those with less than the necessary qualifying service of two years at not less than 16 hours a week.
It is said that Members are not employees and that that is why they can have this form of severance pay, and that secretaries are entitled to redundancy pay. I want to hear from my right hon. Friend, when he speaks at the end of the debate, how this squares with the position of many secretaries who, for tax purposes, have been able to establish themselves and successfully to maintain themselves as self-employed, precisely as Members in the past have been self-employed. I hope that my right hon. Friend will address himself to this matter at the outset, because I think that it causes disquiet on both sides of the House that we cannot go ahead tonight with some acceptable form of severance payment, because by doing so we should end a palpable injustice.
If the House tonight eliminates the 5 per cent. charge to Members opting in, and only their secretaries will be eligible, in any event, for what we propose, perhaps it will consider a levy of some kind to cover severance payment in the circumstances envisaged. The only alternative to that is to return to the proposal in the report, which is that this should be chargeable on the House Vote.
I turn very briefly to the question of pensions. Our predecessors recommended that there should be a pension scheme for those who were centrally paid. According to their proposal, that would have been linked automatically to the rather less flexible payment scheme. We found overwhelming support for this idea, and the evidence made clear what a wide variety of employment experience there is here and for how long a person can work here full-time with absolutely no pension entitlement whatsoever.
Therefore, we said in paragraph 27 of the report that the Fees Office should prepare a scheme for the provision of 1366 pensions to Members' secretaries. The Fees Office has been extremely helpful about this. It has made inquiries and received quotations from insurance brokers, and it appears that we can devise a plan under which the Fees Office would make regular additions to a secretary's salary which would then be deducted to make payments into a life assurance scheme which would produce a regular pension plus a tax-free sum at retirement.
The Accountant has very kindly sent me in the last few days details of alternative schemes which have been produced by various companies and which have been looked at by the Government Actuary, all of which produce, for differing initial sums invested, various pensions after five years of service for the secretaries of Members. I am glad to see that the Government support that, and I very much commend it to the House.
Finally, I want to spend a couple of minutes on the question of facilities at Westminster, with particular reference to Norman Shaw North and Norman Shaw South, where the secretaries and research assistants are now being congregated. There has been criticism of the excessive crowding of Norman Shaw North and of the great difficulties of research assistants who work there. As hon. Members will see, we have proposed in the report that everything possible should be done to provide good working facilities for research assistants, who should be assumed to be working full-time or most of the time for Members of Parliament. That is not to say that we want to keep open house for anyone who wants to come in and be a fake research assistant with an MP purely as a facade. Many genuine assistants are working in cramped and difficult conditions.
The Committee also recommend that the principal Library and reference facilities for the use of research assistants and secretaries should be those provided in the Norman Shaw North branch of the House of Commons Library. The Librarian has taken a number of steps to see that the facilities are increased.
There is a point about the stationery allowance. The secretarial allowance that hon. Members are paid has to cover a multitude of purposes, not only the salaries of secretaries and research assistants. It also covers the replenishment of 1367 typewriters and a host of other things that in almost any other legislature in the world would be provided by the central agency for which Members work.
It was not within our remit to offer more than helpful advice and counsel to the Boyle Committee, but when that Committee next examines this it should consider the possibility of a separate means of covering these office expenses. It is nonsense that the secretarial allowance should cover so many office expenses that have nothing whatever to do with the remuneration of the staff. If this is not done quickly, it means that consideration will have to be given to enlarging the scope of office requisites supplied free to Members.
We make certain proposals for other concessions such as easing access for secretaries to the Post Office and the State opening of Parliament. I hope that there will be no objection to that.
The report ends by saying that if we are to provide decent facilities here commensurate with the responsibility involved, the present level of secretarial allowance should be reviewed urgently by the Boyle Committee. All the things that we want to do cannot be done on the present allowance.
We have in Westminster a host of dedicated people working unsocial hours in cramped conditions to keep Members going and Parliament running. For some this service is recognised in salary, status and security, but for others it is not. I hope that the report makes a modest beginning at putting this right. For that reason, I commend the motion to the House.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
I regret that I cannot share the enthusiasm of the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), for the Government's reaction to the report. The Government have given support to all the paragraphs and recommendations which do not mean very much and have virtually ignored all those that would take us forward.
If one studies the paragraphs which have Government support, one sees that they do not really mean much. For example, the Government support paragraph 17, which says that the Fees Office 1368 will give us advice. That is very good of it—I am sure we are all very grateful. Paragraph 27 says that a scheme will be prepared for pensions. We all know what happens to things when they are being "prepared". I should like to see the Government go much further in providing pensions. There is no mention of actually doing something, as opposed to talking about doing something.
I attended every meeting of the Committee, and I challenged the Accountant on the provision of pensions. I said that in my local government experience it was possible for people not employed by a local authority to opt into its pension scheme. I produced evidence from the clerk of my local authority to prove that this was so. If it is possible in local government, why is it not possible in national Government? If a Member of Parliament employs a secretary, he cannot opt for that secretary to enter some Civil Service scheme without becoming a civil servant. I tried to push that matter in Committee. Therefore, I hope that when the time comes to make a recommendation on that topic the matter will not be overlooked.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
In view of the differing situation which applies to Members' secretaries, does not the hon. Gentleman think that it would be more in their interests to take a deferred annuity paid by the Member, or paid partially by the Member and partially by the secretary, the benefits of which would be ensured for them for ever and in relation to which nothing would be lost if they were to move to other employment? Is it not better to have that arrangement rather than that the secretary should be a member of a pension scheme in which full transferability might not apply when she moved to some other job?
§ Mr. Smith
I am grateful for that intervention. That point is worth considering. I am suggesting that something should be done about pensions, and nothing has been done in the report or in the motion that is before the House. Therefore, I hope that somebody will consider taking action. The hon. Gentleman's point, among others, can be considered, but I wish to ensure that none of these matters is overlooked.
§ Mr. English
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will accept that, if my amendment is accepted, the wishes of the House will be clear in this respect.
§ Mr. Smith
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, and I hope that his amendment will be carried.
Let us examine some of the other paragraphs in the report. Paragraph 31, which the Government accept, says thateverything possible should be done to provide good working facilities for … research assistants".Well, that is very useful—but that is all. Paragraph 32 says that certain Library facilities should be available, and one could go on quoting similar features. I must mention also the provision of tickets to allow secretaries to stand on the pavement at certain State functions—that is to say, if nobody else wants to occupy the space at the time. It is all good stuff and useful, but it will not give a great deal of assistance to secretaries.
As a member of the Committee, I also tried to push the case for giving Members' secretaries some direct help. But all that is being done in the motion is to say to Members "If you wish, you may ask the Fees Office to pay your secretary instead of paying her yourself, and whatever we pay her will come out of your allowance of £3,500." That proposal would save me about 10 minutes a month which is now spent in working out the tax and writing out the cheque.
If all Members were required to opt into the scheme, there might be a different argument to be deployed because Members' secretaries would benefit. However, the odds are that the Members who would opt into the scheme would be those against whom secretaries have no complaints at present anyway. I assure the House that some of the stories we heard in Committee gave the impression that there are Members of Parliament whose dealings with their secretaries in financial matters leave much to be desired.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Has not the hon. Gentleman forgotten one point? If what he says is correct, it would give an opportunity to a Member's secretary to say "Yes, I shall be your secretary as long as you opt into the scheme."
§ Mr. Smith
I accept that. That is why I am happy to go along this road. It is better than going along no road at all, but the sections of the report that the Government have accepted do not take us very far.
The one part of the report that would have taken us some way is the section dealing with severance pay, but the Government have not accepted that. I was enthusiastic about the proposed register because, in the event of a secretary becoming unemployed at short notice through the defeat or death of an hon. Member, the Fees Office would know whom to pay and so on. But the reason for the register is destroyed by the fact that the Government are not prepared to accept the proposals on severance pay. I support the plea to the Leader of the House to explain why the Government are not prepared to do something about this part of the report.
We heard some graphic stories about what happens on the death of a Member. The secretary of one Member was telephoned within 24 hours of his death and asked whether he died before or after midnight, secretaries have been turned out of offices within a few hours, the Serjeant at Arms has parcelled up various items and taken them to the hon. Member's relatives, secretaries have been refused access to the building and so on.
A secretary has an extremely difficult task when an hon. Member dies. Added to all her other problems, she is faced with trying to get wages from the Member's widow. As I am a bachelor, I suppose that my secretary would have to find out who were the executors of my estate and try to get the money from them. It is not on.
Acceptance of the recommendation on severance pay—£500 was decided because it represents about three months' salary—is the most vital step we could take, together with the provision of some sort of pension rights.
I welcome the fact that the Government are prepared to allow hon. Members to have their secretaries paid by the Fees Office and that no charge will be made for that service. That is a good thing, though it is only in line with what the Committee pressed for and what the Services Committee proposed in its amendment to the report.
1371 I questioned the Accountant closely and challenged his proposal for a 5 per cent. charge. I was staggered when he said that he would need four extra staff to work out the wages. If half the Members of the House opted into the scheme, that would total 300 wages a month or 75 a week. The Accountant said that he would require four full-time staff to work out 75 wages a week. I told him that he would not last five minutes in my business or in anyone else's. How on earth he arrived at 5 per cent. as the appropriate charge is beyond my understanding. I am delighted that the Government have agreed to pay the charge, but I hope that they are not taken for a ride and will not accept anything like 5 per cent. as being reasonable.
I shall vote for the amendment and for the motion because it is better than nothing. The conditions of employment of our secretaries leave a great deal to be desired, and neither the report nor the recommendations that we are being asked to accept are anything like enough to meet the requirements of giving our secretaries a fair deal and a square deal which, I believe, is the desire of all hon. Members.
All we are doing is nibbling at the problem. The sooner we take a bite at it, the better.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) said, we have co-operated for many years. I am glad that we are co-operating on this issue.
There were two Committees involved. The Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) had a simple proposition to put forward. Again, it was an option. It was the option that a Member could, if he wished, go to Mr. Wilkin, the Accountant in the Fees Office, and say "Will you please put my secretary on Civil Service pay and conditions?" That is a simple suggestion. Incidentally, it does something for both the secretary and the Member. It was only comparatively recently that we were given a secretarial allowance. When it started it was £500—which would not provide much of a secretary—but it has grown. As it has grown, there are occasional Members who misuse it. It would be much 1372 better if we provided a way in which all Members who wished to do so could put their secretaries on to Civil Service pay and conditions.
There is a further difference between the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Wokingham and the Services Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Lord President. My right hon. Friend is almost developing a style which means that if ever a Select Committee was set up by his predecessor to deal with a certain issue, and if ever it produced recommendations—for example, on broadcasting or secretaries—my right hon. Friend sets up another Select Committee to alter the previous recommendations. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that we stick to the Select Committee reports that we have.
It is only because of my amendment that the report of the Committee of the hon. Member for Wokingham comes before the House. The suggestion of my right hon. Friend and the Services Committee is not nearly as good. It adduced only argument, it produced no evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) has said that it did not produce the evidence because there was some evidence that it did not want to publish. Therefore, it did not publish any of the evidence. However, the hon. Member for Rochdale has quoted some of the evidence and it is possible to print it. The first Select Committee to deal with the issue had some difficulty. I gave evidence and gave examples. I asked the Committee to omit them from the published evidence, which was duly done. However, that does not mean that the Services Committee had to suppress all the evidence.
I do not want the Services Committee to give us the evidence of the detailed activities of individual Members with their secretaries, but I should like the Treasury's evidence. What did the Treasury tell the Committee?
What sort of statement do we find in the latest report? Let us take pensions as a case in point. Paragraph 25 states:Your Committee emphasise that such provision"—for pensions—could not be made by the House, nor could the House make any form of employer's contribution to such a scheme as the secretaries are not employed by the House.1373 Why is it that we cannot do what is done throughout the Congress of the United States? Why is it that if a Member can hire or fire his secretary she cannot be incorporated as part of the Civil Service pension scheme? There is no reason why we cannot do it except that the Treasury does not want to do it.
There has been much criticism of the Civil Service pension scheme under the 1971 Act, and it seems that the Treasury does not want to put anyone else into the scheme.
§ Mr. English
That may be quite right. I did not advocate that in the report of another Committee that I chaired, but it may be that there is an argument for changing the scheme. It may be said that it is over-generous, but that is no reason for leaving our secretaries who regularly work for hon. Members. If we are to change the scheme, let us change it for everybody, but let us not preserve it for the 750,000 who work for the Civil Service and say that the secretaries who work for 635 Members should be left out.
What alternative is proposed? It is remarkably generous. It does not save the taxpayer any money. The alternative proposed is that premiums of between 10 and 15 per cent. of the secretary's salary could be paid under this scheme run by a private insurance broker. It is not a scheme that has been set up, as the hon. Member for Rochdale pointed out. It is a suggestion thrown out that, if one wished to pay between 10 and 15 per cent. extra, if the Boyle Committee agreed to give Members 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. extra and if the scheme were created in future, secretaries could be paid a pension.
One or two secretaries will have retired long before that pension scheme comes into existence. It would not apply to anybody who was in the job for less than five years. If they were Civil Service secretaries—for example, secretaries of Officers of the House, the Serjeant at Arms or the Clerk—they would be in the pension scheme. Why not if they work for Members?
§ Mr. English
As the hon. Member for Rochdale said, none of us wishes to oppose my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House or my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. I have carefully worded my amendment so that, whether it is lost or carried, it makes no difference to my hon. Friend's motion. Indeed, his motion is perfectly harmless. It is not worth arguing against. I have no particular reason for arguing against it. But, as the hon. Member for Rochdale said, it goes a little step on the way. If Members or the staff of the House do not wish to do so, it allows secretaries to stand on the pavement outside the House at the time of the State Opening of Parliament. It is a disgrace. But it is a small step that, by a resolution of the House, secretaries of Members should be acknowledged to exist.
Meanwhile, the object of my amendment is to implement the first of the Select Committee reports. It is, no doubt, not perfect. No doubt there will be details that the Services Committee would need to tidy up. I do not dispute that. But the principle is clear in the report of the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Wokingham.
Several hon. Members have asked me what the hon. Member proposed, so I should quote the Committee's words:we propose that Members should be given the option either of continuing to claim for a secretarial allowance or alternatively of electing to ask the House to undertake the direct payment of salaries to secretaries nominated by Members.After saying that theproposal is designed to preserve that flexibility which has characterised the arrangements for employing Members' secretaries at Westminster",the Committee—this is the difference—goes on to relate the salary payable to secretaries' salaries in the Civil Service.
In paragraph 10, the Select Committee pointed out that in 1974–75, at the time of that report,A personal secretary, working for an assistant secretary in the civil service, earns in Inner London something in the region of £2,400 to £3,100 plus proficiency payments which can amount to a further £300 or so.That was in 1974–75. It has, of course, increased since, though not as much as one might expect, because the Civil Service, like others, has been subject to the 1375 pay policy. But that would make it possible, without arguing about the level of secretarial allowances, for Members to say "Please pay my secretary like an ordinary secretary in the Civil Service". We are suggesting not that a secretary should be paid the same as a first-class, high-powered secretary—the Prime Minister's secretary or someone of that ilk—but that she should be paid the same as an ordinary secretary working for an ordinary basic rank civil servant in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Faulds
Would my hon. Friend accept that some of us would much resent that reflection on our secretaries?
§ Mr. English
I sincerely hope that hon. Members who feel that their secretaries are worth more will take the appropriate action and pay them more, as, I have no doubt, some Members do. [AN HON. MEMBER: "With what?"] One of the details that we could argue about is at what level secretaries should be paid. The point is that no one would suggest that secretaries should be paid less. The suppressed evidence of this Select Committee, just as the suppressed evidence of the previous Select Committee, made it clear that some people are being paid ridiculously, miniscule amounts. There are elderly women in their seventies working for pin money—no doubt because for some reason or other they have not got pensions. We do not need to go into these details since many hon. Members know of them.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
Can the hon. Member answer one simple question, because I have some sympathy with his amendment? Let us suppose that we carry the amendment. Would the whole matter be thrown back into the melting pot? The advantage of the motion is that we can then get on with it.
§ Mr. English
My amendment does nothing but add to the motion. It in no way detracts from any part of it. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House must answer for himself. It is not for me to answer for him. I am talking of the words on the Order Paper, and they are perfectly clear. My amendment adds an extra provision, to approve the first Select Committee's report. I suggest that we do that. The motion is good but purely cosmetic. It does nothing for the 1376 secretaries. We should be doing something for them. It should be possible to put them on Civil Service salaries pensions and conditions generally.
I beg formally to move, at the end of the Question to addbut considers that provision for payment of secretaries should also be made, in respect of Members who so decide, in accordance with the proposals of the Select Committee on Assistance to Private Members in their First Report in Session 1974–75 (H.C. 375).
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Mr. William Clark (Croydon, South)
I do not wish to enter the argument about whether secretaries should be on the Civil Service payroll. That is premature until the salaries of hon. Members are linked somehow to Civil Service grades.
I congratulate the Committee on its recommendations. I beg the Leader of the House to heed the argument in paragraph 24 of the report, if for no other reason than that he is the champion of the rights of people who work for other people. If workers lose their jobs and wages, they are entitled to redundancy pay. It is all very well for the Leader of the House to say that secretaries are covered by redundancy pay—that is fair enough—but an employer of a secretary has to pay 45 or 55 per cent. of that redundancy payment and the Government pay the rest out of the Redundancy Fund.
I appeal to the Leader of the House to accept that a Member of Parliament who gets an allowance for a secretary makes his own peace with the Inland Revenue. If he employs a part-time secretary he is entitled to claim only what he pays his secretary. I should not have thought that there is much abuse. If there is, that is a matter for the Inland Revenue. We can rule that out of the argument.
If for any reason someone ceases to be a Member of Parliament—because he does not stand at the next General Election or because he dies—his salary and allowances stop immediately. But his legal liability to his secretary remains under the redundancy legislation.
The Select Committee has suggested 25 per cent., which amounts to about £900. I do not argue with that. In most cases that would defray the legal liability of the Member employer, who could apply to the Redundancy Fund for the rest. I am disappointed that the Leader of the House threw out that suggestion.
1377 I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's rejection of suggestions involving Civil Service grades, but I cannot understand his attitude towards redundancy. All the nonsense about not knowing who the secretary is is immaterial. The liability of a Member of Parliament here is that he serves here and needs a secretary, and that has been accepted by successive Governments. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said, it started with a sum of £500. It was thought by some that a Member should pay for his secretary out of his own salary, but the sum went up to £1,500 and then to £2,000, and it now stands at £3,500.
Successive Governments have accepted the responsibility of Members of Parliament to employ secretaries. The Leader of the House should go one step further and, with his normal championship of workers in all spheres of the economic spectrum, accept paragraph 24 to provide some severance pay so that a Member of Parliament or his widow would have sufficient money to defray his responsibility to his Secretary.
§ 11.21 p.m.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Every hon. Member who has spoken has strongly supported paragraph 24 in one form or another. We are in the second half of this Parliament, and we do not always find it easy to give time to the consideration of the affairs of our secretaries and research assistants. I am sure that no hon. Member wishes this Parliament to come to an end without our having dealt with the question of redundancy payments. I wonder, therefore, whether you will accept a manuscript amendment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to include paragraph 24 in the motion and thus enable the House to deal with it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
I can tell the hon. Member at once that that would not be acceptable.
§ 11.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
Many of us take the 1378 view that the relationship between ourselves and our secretaries should subsist. Let us not forget that redundancy payments and the payment of pensions are costs that we shall pass on to our constituents. It is important that when, on the many occasions that we must, we regard ourselves as electing our own salary, our own method of subsistence and our own services, we remember that we have a public duty. It is to bear in mind that this all represents a cost to our constituents.
I would not accept for a moment that Members of Parliament in this country should have lesser services than are available to Members of Parliaments of other countries, but we must consider, in giving ourselves services, that we shall be passing on the costs to those we represent.
I represent one thousandth of the people of this country, and the costs that I pass on to them matter to me a great deal. It matters to me equally whether my secretary is properly looked after. It matters to me equally whether Members of Parliament are properly rewarded for their services. These are important matters.
We often fear to ask ourselves whether it is right that we should have a salary or an increase in salary and whether our secretaries should have a salary or an increase in salary. Let us not allow our secretaries' reward to be merely a Civil Service reward. Each of us employs his or her secretary. Let us ensure that the contract of employment is in accordance with all the best principles of employment and that the Fees Office does not ensure in some dull and absurd concept that our secretaries and we ourselves are mere civil servants.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I think that the hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) is living in a totally different century from the rest of us. I could not understand what he was talking about.
When I first became a Member we received absolutely no allowances for secretaries. My wife is my secretary; everybody knows that. She gave up her job in the Civil Service to work for me for nothing for two years. She has made quite a contribution to the people of this 1379 country in that way. The whole matter is scandalous. I was not in a position to pay her. We have made some advance since then, when the position of hon. Members was nonsense, but it is still not good enough.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). We certainly should appoint our secretaries and negotiate the hours they work. Some need to be here until 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock at night and so on, so they cannot have strict Civil Service hours, from 9 to 5.
What is wrong is that our secretaries end up with no redundancy payments in the event of the employing Member losing his seat or dying, nor do they receive pensions. It is ridiculous.
What employer, what director or manager of a company, employs his own secretary and provides his own typewriter, typewriter ribbons, pencils and notebooks? The whole business is archaic. We are not living in this century.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and I shall vote for his amendment, which is sensible.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to look at paragraph 24 again. We must find a way round the problem. I admit that there are difficulties—of course there are—but we agreed that we should have redundancy payments in the event of our being made redundant by the people. That is correct, because everybody else receives redundancy payments when sacked. It is right that Members of Parliament should also receive them, but for our secretaries not to have them is absolute nonsense. I ask my right hon. Friend to give further consideration to the matter.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
I want to make three points, and to make them briefly. I believe that there is widespread dissatisfaction in the House about the way in which we handle matters which concern Members' pay and secretaries' salaries. Much of the problem arises because often we can take a decision which involves public expenditure only on the initiative of the Government. We should consider whether it is right that that restriction, which applies to all other 1380 governmental matters, should apply to the House of Commons itself.
Be that as it may, I think that there is an obligation on the Leader of the House, when the House expresses a view as clearly as it has done this evening that a decision ought to be taken on paragraph 24, to table an amendment and we should then be allowed to debate it and vote upon it. The right hon. Gentleman is failing in his duty as Leader of the House if that is not done.
Secondly, I find it extraordinary that the idea that some salaries of secretaries should be paid centrally might incur a cost of, say 5 per cent. to public funds. If it is anywhere near that, we ought to look into the matter. At all events, it seems a misuse of the available resources, and I feel that there are better uses to which those resources could be put in facilitating the work that we do on behalf of our constituents.
My third point is about the provision of pensions, and it arises in paragraph 26 which is related to the recommendation in paragraph 27, which is mentioned in the motion. Paragraph 26 says in relation to pension contributions for secretaries that such contributions, whichwould have to come out of the relevant Member's secretarial allowance would, of course, qualify for tax relief.I view that with some concern, because many of us pay our secretaries the maximum allowable—indeed, many of us pay substantially more—for carrying out our parliamentary duties. It follows, therefore, that if the allowance for the contribution to the pension is to come in the way that is suggested it will inevitably have to come either from a reduction in our secretaries' own salaries, which is absurd, or from a reduction in our salaries. That does not seem to be a satisfactory arrangement.
One might think that one could rely on the Leader of the House to do something about that, but secretaries already have a pension under the national insurance scheme. Recently, the employers' contribution went up. I say recently, but it was way back before last July. Although I have made representations to the Leader of the House, he has refused to accept that that ought to be covered out of the secretary's salary. In my view, he has totally confused the pay restraints on 1381 secretaries' salaries and the pay restraints on Members' salaries.
Because the right hon. Gentleman has not done anything about that, in order to cover the employer's contribution for the secretary's national insurance arrangements Members have had to take a cut in their money incomes—not just real incomes, but money incomes. The right hon. Gentleman replied to me in a letter—I have told him that I would quote from it—dated 31st January, in which he said:I have considerable sympathy with your argument"—which is not of enormous help, I must say. He went on to say that he thoughtit was right in 1976 and 1977 to recommend increases to the House which were clearly related to the standard pay rise limits at that time".That is absolute gibberish. The right hon. Gentleman added that he did not think he could do anything about it at the moment butI have made arrangements accordingly to ensure that it will not be overlookedat some unspecified time in the future.
If that is so in the case of national insurance contributions, I view with even more concern the proposals that are made in paragraph 26. I think that the Leader of the House is failing in his duty in this respect, and if things go on like this we shall have to consider seriously whether our procedures should be modified in the way that I have suggested.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
I support what has been said by the hon. Members who have spoken in favour of paragraph 24. I think that the matters referred to therein need urgent attention.
I am, in general, in favour of what has been said about helping the pay of our secretaries. The only doubt that I have about the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is whether we would find secretaries' salaries being linked into the wrong—and by that I mean too low—level of Civil Service salaries. The figures given by the hon. Gentleman were not the ones relating to a deputy secretary, which I would have thought would be more appropriate bearing in mind the complexity and volume of the work with which we have to deal.
§ Mr. English
I said that there were details that would have to be tidied up by the Services Committee. Tonight we have an opportunity to make the will of the House plain, and that sort of detail, whether it is an assistant secretary's salary or a deputy secretary's salary, can be left until we have discussed and dealt with the principle.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I am still nervous about the pressure that might be exerted from the Treasury, or elsewhere, to keep it too low, because that would be unjustified. In the same way as our job becomes ever more complex, so does that of our secretaries.
One aspect of the reward of our secretaries that has not been referred to is overtime and how that would be dealt with under the arrangements that have been referred to.
I should like, Mr. Deputy Secretary—I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker; there are too many secretaries around this evening. I should like to direct my remarks to paragraph 31, because we have not really referred to the other aspect of the working conditions of our secretaries and research assistants, which is the manner in which they are named. Paragraph 31 says thateverything possible should be done to provide good working facilities.Some facilities are totally inadequate, and one would hope that everything possible was being done. If what is being done and has been done is regarded as satisfactory, I am positively staggered.
I know that hon Members present are aware of the ever-increasing complexity and volume of constituency correspondence, and the complications of constituency cases and the increased amount of work of Select Committees. The Leader of the House may not be as keen on increasing the scope of Select Committees as some of us are, but whether that be so or not we know that there has been a considerable increase—I for one welcome it—in their work. This has thrown additional work on secretaries and research assistants.
The hon. Member for Denby, North (Mr. Whitehead) referred to matters becoming increasingly complex. That is an understatement.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
It is a fantasy to imagine that this House becomes more and more complicated. The issues are the same. We do not need research assistants. It is a fantasy to imagine that we Members are all more important than Members used to be.
§ Mr. Faulds
If this scheme were to be introduced, would it not allow the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) to appoint an additional dresser?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Further to that point; there would be no room for my hon. and learned Friend to be accommodated. He would not be allowed a desk or a chair.
There is one point that the hon. Member for Denby, North has not appreciated—the change in the level of expectation of Members. It has been said that not long ago there were no such things as secretaries in the House, but we are now not long away from the situation in which virtually every hon. Member will need and will have a full-time secretary. I hope that many more Members will have at least part-time research assistants.
Appendix 2 of the Select Committee's report shows that there are 295 secretarial desks in the House. I should have thought that if we cannot provide 500—assuming that about 100 are accommodated elsewhere—we are not meeting the need that will shortly arise. I should have thought that in addition there should be between 200 and 250 research assistants' desks.
We should be ashamed of the manner in which the desks are housed. It was in 1963 that the House passed the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, yet secretaries and research assistants are still being accommodated in premises in the Palace of Westminster in a manner that contravenes that Act, in terms of overcrowding and ventilation. It is not good enough to be told that there is no more room. What is wrong with the Treasury building? The Treasury could move elsewhere, and we could house our staff there.
Apart from the question of salary, we cannot expect to obtain and retain good 1384 staff in appalling conditions. That aspect of the matter also requires urgent and comprehensive study.
§ 11.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
The House would wish to ensure that all those who serve us here, in whatever capacity, were properly rewarded and enjoyed reasonable working conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) has given me the cue for my next remark. He said that there are too many secretaries present, and in his reference to that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he called you "Mr. Deputy Secretary".
I regret that I cannot speak in the capacity of an Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment, or as a Minister of Works—a Minister that we used to have and who could wave a magic wand. The Services Committee does its best against considerable difficulties and constraint in terms of public expenditure and all sorts of other things, and in recent years we have managed to improve the conditions for Members and staff quite a lot, although none is ideal.
We have made a certain amount of progress, and I hope that with other Parliaments and other hon. Members greater progress will be made, and an even greater impetus will be given to this matter.
We have done our best to deal with the petty domestic matters that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) described in his characteristically robust way. I hope that hon. Members like him will not stop giving us their robust views, because they help enormously in getting better facilities for Members and for those who work here.
In this Palace we have done a certain amount of new infilling building and we have acquired outbuildings—Norman Shaw North, and now Norman Shaw South. But only £200,000 is to go with that building, and it is not completely kitted out, because we do not have the money. We have made considerable increases in secretarial accommodation over there, all of quite reasonable quality. But we have virtually reached the end of the road. I hope that the House will support the proposition that, having reached the end of the road with regard to doing things to this Palace and in the acquisition of not very convenient outbuildings, we must at last grasp the nettle and 1385 deal with the Bridge Street site about which we have not been able to make up our minds for a quarter of a century.
Indeed, when the Services Committee quite soon makes a report to the House and suggests what we might do there—for the benefit of all hon. Members and, most particularly, for the staff—I hope that the House will look upon those proposals with favour and come to the end of its indecision. I also hope that whatever party is in power at the time will provide the funds with which to proceed.
I do not want to detain the House from the Lord President, who I hope will have some helpful comments to make, but I should like to say something about the agency scheme which has been talked about this evening.
As we see it, if hon. Members so desire—and only if they so desire—the Fees Office can make payments on their behalf out of their allowances to specified persons by way of salary. No doubt the Fees Office could also manage the tax arrangements and put aside money towards a pension for an employee.
I shall not rehearse again the suggestion which the Chairman of the Select Committee made at the outset, except to say that we have, through Mr. Wilkin at the Fees Office, obtained a quotation from a private outside source that if £15 a month were paid into a scheme for an individual female secretary starting at the age of 30 the basic pension at the age of 60 would be £483. That does not sound very much. But the possible pension at the age of 60, including bonuses, would be £3,970 a year or a tax-free cash sum of £9,015 and a reduced pension of £3,005. There are various other propositions here.
§ Mr. English
The hon. Gentleman has failed to make one point. If that were a Civil servant's salary, the sum of money which he quoted would rise in proportion to inflation which over the next 30 or 35 years might be quite substantial, whichever Government were in power.
§ Mr. Cooke
If the hon. Gentleman's suggestion were taken up by this Government or a future Government, it is possible, with index-linked pensions, that a different result would be arrived at. What I have given the House is one of the 1386 schemes that would be possible under what is suggested in the report. No doubt, if the House wished to go further, it could.
Of course, some people will speculate on whether most hon. Members could get their banks to do what the Fees Office would be prepared to do. On the other hand, we have the Fees Office and we value its services on our doorstep. I am sure that the House is not anxious to create an expensive department within a department. Although we value the suggestions that have been made, some of us on the Select Committee were a bit cynical about the costs that would be involved.
If large numbers of Members did want an agency, no doubt more staff would be required. But I put it to the Lord President—I hope he will respond—that this is something which should be allowed to evolve and that we should not start off with more staff until we see how we get along.
It could be argued that those who work here and do not like it need not stay but should go where their qualifications are better appreciated. This certainly applies to the highly qualified younger secretaries. But it would be quite unfair and inhuman to make such an observation to a number—we do not know quite how many, but there must be a substantial number—who have given the greater part of their lives to the work here for very modest reward and for whom the future is most uncertain.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Why does my hon. Friend always assume that they will be female? Is this not a rather dangerous assumption?
§ Mr. Cooke
My hon. and learned Friend should study what I was saying. I did not assume anything of the kind. I was saying that there are no doubt some young, highly qualified people who could easily get other jobs but that there are some who have worked here most of their active lives, and the future for them is most uncertain. It was particularly with them in mind—and the Chairman of the Select Committee will confirm this—that we recommended the severance indemnity to help them, hopefully into other Westminster jobs or into other forms of livelihood. That at least would do something for the immediate uncertainty between jobs.
1387 It would appear that this matter is somewhat more complicated than we thought, and the Government now tell us that the Redundancy Payments Act should be taken into account. It may apply helpfully to some, but I believe that those in most need will find themselves outside its scope. So we need from the Lord President more than perhaps a few friendly words. Something concrete must be done about this matter lest these people find themselves in real hardship, as some of them have already.
It might be suggested that a secretaries' fund could be of some help. There is a Members' fund. Surely such a scheme could be worked out to help secretaries in difficulties. A very modest levy of £100 a year on a Member's salary would produce £60,000 a year, and an enormous amount could be done with that.
I do not think that we should ever forget that the people who have been working here all their lives spent most of it when hon. Members were paid practically nothing. I remember, when I came here 21 years ago, that Members of Parliament received £1,250 and no secretarial allowance at all. It is people who have worked here in those circumstances, when they got practically nothing for the job and who have been able to put practically nothing by, that we must think about tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) made some helpful, pertinent remarks. As he is a former Treasury Minister, it was to be expected of him. But he complained that the House was not in control of its own affairs and had to go cap in hand to the Government. I am sure that he has read the Bottomley Report. If those recommendations were enacted, the House could tackle these matters and be master of its own affairs—and, if I may express a personal view, about time, too.
My hon. Friend went on to say there would be better uses for the 5 per cent. which appears in the report and which the Fees Office might be charging. I would agree with him that, if it was to be that order of expenditure, it would be much better given to those in real need and not used for the purpose that is suggested.
Then my hon. Friend alluded to the noble lord, Lord Boyle. I think that he 1388 has quite a lot to do with all this, and I do not want to get into that bit of deep water. But no doubt it will have to be taken into consideration by the noble lord.
I want to reinforce the argument that virtually every hon. Member's requirement in this House is different from that of every other hon. Member and that the requirement can change virtually overnight. There is no more uncertain human activity than membership of the House of Commons. It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), with whom I share a small responsibility for House of Commons affairs, who once likened the progress of an hon. Member through this House as that of a man walking along the sand on the sea shore whose footprints were washed away by the tide of public opinion within a moment as though he had never been there. The hon. Member for Walton put it in a much more down-to-earth and robust way—"sacked by the electors". That is exactly what it is. For whatever cause, Members find themselves not Members of this House and unable to look after those for whom they have a real responsibility and for whom the House has a larger responsibility.
Perhaps before we depart from this Parliament we could ensure that a small but none the less significant number of those who serve us here do not end up as abandoned wreckage, because some of them will find themselves high and dry come the end of the Parliament. I hope that the Lord President will be able to suggest that we can take effective steps now to look after the future of those people for whom we have a real responsibility.
§ 11.50 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
Almost every speaker in the debate has urged that we should go further than the Government are suggesting in the motion in dealing with this matter. I should like to say at the outset that no one is more gratified than myself that that mood should be expressed in the House. I shall report to others who have not been present at this debate what has been said in the House this evening. I believe that what has been said this evening represents a wide feeling throughout the House.
1389 In a few minutes' time, I should like to indicate how we should deal with some particular problem about which criticisms have been made, but I think that I am entitled to say that I am gratified about such a response, because soon after I became Leader of the House I examined the Straubenzee Report, the report produced by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that it is a most excellent report. It pointed the way to the kind of discussion that we are having tonight.
On the other hand, that Committee itself indicated that it had not reached final conclusion on matters. It said in its report that the adoption of any scheme such as that which it was outlining would require further consideration of matters of detail. Of course, it was one of those things that was partly the reason why I thought that it was necessary that we should set up a further Committee to look at the matter. Therefore, it was not, as my hon. Friend was suggesting, that I was trying to pour scorn in any sense whatsoever on the report of the hon. Member for Wokingham. I was carrying out what he suggested—that is, that we should set up a Committee and look at the matter in further detail.
Moreover, I was approached on the subject by not only Members of Parliament but also the Secretaries and Research Assistants Council, who put the case very strongly to me and urged that a fresh Committee should be set up to look into these matters.
It was at my invitation that the Services Committee set up the Sub-Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) to examine the matter. I am deeply grateful to him, as I believe the whole House must be, for the detailed and skilful way in which he has brought these proposals before the House.
Now perhaps I may deal with the special matters of criticism that have been raised by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). I think that almost every hon. Member who has spoken has been critical in particular on the subject of the severance pay proposals. Shortly I shall make a suggestion as to how we 1390 should deal with that matter which I hope will meet the way in which the House has expressed itself this evening, though I wish to put on record the facts of the matter—not that I think there has been any great dispute about it.
I am not absolutely sure that when the Committee examined the matter it was aware of the distinction, at any rate, between the Member of Parliament and the secretary—that is, that secretaries are covered by the Redundancy Payments Act whereas Members of Parliament are not, and, therefore, there is a distinction between the two. It is also the fact that some secretaries would be covered by the redundancy Acts and their operations and that, therefore, if a special provision were to be made they would have an improved position as compared with some other categories of people in the country.
On the other hand, a number of secretaries in the House, either because of age or because they are married to Members, are not covered by the redundancy payments legislation. Therefore, I agree that there is an anomaly that we have not yet cured. The Government are not proposing that we should close the matter finally—indeed, we propose the very opposite. I agree with those hon. Members who suggest that the matter cannot be left as it is now, but I do not believe that it can be dealt with properly by a manuscript amendment. There are more details that must be worked out.
As a result of representations in the House and elsewhere, I suggest that the Services Committee should take back the matter immediately and examine it afresh in the light of what has been said tonight, to see how we can work out a scheme that adequately will deal with all the problems. I fully accept that the matter is urgent, and should be dealt with this Session. I believe that this is the best way of doing it.
Had I, in fact, said to those working out the scheme that this must be done before these proposals were brought forward there would have been a further delay and we would not have got the scheme operating before the beginning of the next financial year. I am eager to get ahead as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith
For the record, I want to get the position clear. The right hon. Gentleman said that if we gave 1391 severance pay it would put these people at an advantage over certain other employees. That is not the case. If someone in my company is declared redundant, he works out his notice and I pay him for that period. At the end he draws redundancy pay. With some hon. Members' secretaries, especially after death, there is nothing with which to pay them for the period in which they are working out their notice.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Member is saying that there are no other workers in the country who are not covered by the same consideration. I do not think that is right. But, if it were true, there are still anomalies in the present situation that must be cured. I am not suggesting that this ends the question, I am simply saying that this is the best way to approach the problem and to try to solve it.
§ Mr. William Clark
I am not certain that the matter should be put back to the Services Committee because it will take some time to report. I think that this is a clear-cut issue. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House says that secretaries may come not under the provisions of the redundancy fund but under the fund that is paid partly by the Government and partly by the employer. But what will happen when a Member dies? The next-of-kin will have no salary or allowances. It is surely not beyond the wit of the Government to deal with this matter without the matter going to another Committee. Surely the Treasury can work out a rough scheme to provide for severance pay for secretaries of Members who cease to be Members. Members must make their own peace with their secretaries on the matter of notice of redundancy.
§ Mr. Foot
If there is a swifter way of working out the matter, nobody is more in favour of that course than I. If there is a speedier way of handling the matter, I shall see whether I can bring it forward to the House without its having to go to the Services Committee. I believe that in one way or another we must find a speedy solution to the problem which has been presented to the House, and I believe that the best way of proceeding is to refer the matter to the Services Committee. So far from anybody thinking that that is likely to create ob- 1392 stacles or a blockage, I would point out that the reason that it was possible to bring forward these proposals was that we referred them to the Services Committee. If we had sought to bring forward these proposals for the establishment of an agency and other matters without obtaining general agreement in the House we would have run into difficulties.
§ Mr. Heffer
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend for his view about what happens on the death of a Member. Apparently, the secretary would have to claim from the Member's estate. That may be all right if the Member is wealthy, but if the Member is poor it would mean that his widow, who probably from the moment of her husband's death would be struggling, would have to consider the question of the secretary's redundancy payment. The situation is not good enough and should be examined.
§ Mr. Foot
I agree that these matters will probably have to be examined and solutions found. But solutions do not arise merely by saying that secretaries in this House are a unique case and that there are no analogies elsewhere. I suggest that the best solution lies in the matter being speedily referred to a Sub-Committee of the Services Committee.
I understand the impatience of hon. Members. Their views have been well expressed in this debate and could not be clearer. But it must be realised that in order to proceed we had to obtain as much general agreement as possible. I do not think we had to secure absolute unanimity, but it would have been unfortunate if any new proposals had been the subject of furious controversy in the House, particularly between the parties.
What we have done by proceeding in this way—thanks to the chairmanship of the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North is to produce proposals for general agreement. I believe that something can be done in respect of the redundancy proposals. But if we were to proceed on the basis of semi-diktat I do not think we would get away with it.
§ Dr. Bray
I am sure the House hopes to deal with these matters as expeditiously as possible. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Services Committee should 1393 be able to do so? Can he give an assurance that if the Services Committee is able to reach a speedy conclusion the House will be able to dispose of the matter at an early date and certainly in this Session?
§ Mr. Foot
Of course, the matter would have to come back to the House. This is pre-eminently a matter to be dealt with by the House. I have been seeking to ensure that it should be dealt with by the House on that basis. I agree that it would be scandalous if the matter were not dealt with in this Session. Obviously, it should be dealt with as speedily as possible. I can give that undertaking.
If we accepted the amendment, there would be considerable confusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West offers his suggestion as an addendum to the motion so that the whole motion would still stand, but he is proposing acceptance of the other report in general terms and one could say exactly what this would mean. The phrase in the amendmentin respect of Members who so decide".appears to creat two levels of secretarial allowance—the old one of the previous report and the present one. It would give rise to great confusion.
I ask my hon. Friend not to vote on his amendment. It would be to the great advantage of the House if this whole matter could be settled without division. If we proceed in the way that I think best, namely, by asking the Services Committee to deal immediately and urgently with the question of severance pay, I shall ask the Committee to look at the amendment at the same time and see whether proposals along the lines of those of the hon. Member for Wokingham could be brought forward as a variation. I think that it might lead to complications, but I suggest that we should let the Committee look at it and give its advice. That would be much more sensible than passing an amendment which hon. Members may think represents their feelings but the consequences of which have not been taken fully into account.
I agree that in establishing the agency we do not want to set up a great bureaucracy to deal with the matter. In many respects, the figure of 5 per cent. of the cost in the original proposition was a 1394 vast exaggeration. I do not think that that will be necessary. We can start on a modest basis and see how we proceed. That is the Government's proposal. We thought that it would be absurd to go along with an elaborate proposal for Members having to pay the costs of the service. That is why we brought forward our proposal for payment. I hope that the House will accept what we are proposing. I underline all the undertakings I have given about coming back to the House.
No one could be more gratified than I that the House has shown the feeling and spirit displayed in the debate which could be of great importance in achieving the result that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members want, namely, that secretaries and research workers should have far better and fairer treatment in future than they have had in the past. That is my objective, and I believe that it should be the unanimous objective of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
It may help the right hon. Gentleman to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill) and I, who were members of the special Sub-Committee that looked at this matter, would be happy to sit on Thursday at 12 noon, if that suits other members of the Committee, to look urgently at all these matters when we have had time to read the Official Report of this debate. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is prepared to instruct the Sub-Committee to proceed forthwith along those lines?
§ Mr. English
My right hon. Friend has reasonably asked me a question. I put to him an alternative suggestion. We all accept that the phraseology of the amendment is not perfect. My right hon. Friend will realise that Back Benchers are limited in the motions that they can propose that result in the expenditure of money by the Exchequer. The amendment was phrased as near to the point as possible by an eminent Clerk of the House. I 1395 suggest that if the House passed it, the Services Committee would have a weapon to take to the Treasury. It could say "The House wants House of Commons Members' secretaries included with House of Commons Secretaries and Civil Service secretaries in the Civil Service pension scheme."
§ Mr. Foot
I am saying that the amendment would only create confusion. I am not taking away any of my hon. Friend's rights. I am asking that his proposal, along with the others to which I have referred, should be considered afresh by the Services Sub-Committee. If the Committee and the Government return with a proposition for dealing with these matters that my hon. Friend finds unsatisfactory, he can table his amendment if he so wishes. Surely that is a reasonable proposal. My hon. Friend is not asked to abandon any of his rights.
I want to get the scheme established and in operation. If we ran the risk of confusing the motion by adding the addendum, we could injure the proposal. My hon. Friend will have a perfect opportunity, if he wishes, to return to his amendment if he finds that that with which we come forward is not satisfactory. I believe that that is a reasonable way of dealing with the matter, and I ask my hon. Friend to accept it.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Before my right hon. Friend concludes, I point out that those who served on the original Sub-Committee are all present and I believe that the intervention of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) will be accepted, namely, that the Committee should reconvene as soon as may be authorised by the full Services Committee. I think that our feeling about the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is that if it were accepted we would graft the imprecise upon the specific. We should much prefer to graft the specific on the specific. That can best be done by having one or two further meetings of the Sub-Committee as expeditiously as possible. I hope that the House will agree to that course.
§ 12.13 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
I intervene only briefly. I have not been in the House for more than three years, and three years ago was about the time 1396 that the Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) made its report.
The Lord President has just said—I regret that many of these debates take place late at night when we do not see the right hon. Gentleman at his best—that the amendment of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) should perhaps be given more consideration. If it is based on a report that appeared three years ago, that is probably an indictment of the House and perhaps of the organisation of the House. Is it not such an indictment if we suddenly hear that a proposal put forward three years ago needs more consideration?
The Seventh Report from the Services Committee was published in July 1977. Since then seven months have passed. If the right hon. Gentleman expects the House to accept that some of the proposals put forward—especially those in paragraph 24—need more consideration, why was that consideration not given during the past seven months?
If it is the right hon. Gentlemen's view that the recommendation from the Select Committee is inappropriate, too imprecise, or does not take account of the provisions of the redundancy payments legislation, why was it not possible for the House to have debated the matter six months ago? The Sub-Committee would have had the opportunity to put a proposal forward in a modified form acceptable both to the Lord President and to the House.
The reason for raising this matter now, after the Lord President has spoken, is that the arrangements that the House makes for its own services, its secretaries' conditions and Members' pay need to be sorted out properly. We do not want this kind of debate every four or five months—a debate that peters out with the Lord President saying that this or that cannot be accepted or a certain proposal cannot be put down in definite terms and that the House must consider amendments, such as the one moved by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, to the effect that in principle something should happen. The arrangements need to be sorted out. If this matter is tied up with the Bottomley Report, why have we not had a debate on it?
|Division No. 123]||AYES||[12.16 a.m.|
|Ashton, Joe||Hardy, Peter||Penhaligon, David|
|Atkinson, Norman||Heffer, Eric S.||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Beith, A. J.||Hooson, Emlyn||Skinner, Dennis|
|Bottomley, Peter||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Holye, Doug (Nelson)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Cope, John||Kinnock, Neil||Watkins, David|
|Durant, Tony||Loyden, Eddie||Winterton, Nicholas|
|English, Michael||McCartney, Hugh|
|Evans, John (Newton)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Eyre, Reginald||Newton, Tony||Mr. Russell Kerr and|
|Flannery, Martin||Noble, Mike||Mr. Nigel Spearing.|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Parry, Robert|
|Bagier Gordon A. T.||Fairbairn, Nicholas||Prescott, John|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Faulds, Andrew||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Bates, Alf||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Radice, Giles|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Ford, Ben||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Brotherton, Michael||George, Bruce||Sever, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Glyn, Dr Alan||Sims, Roger|
|Campbell, Ian||Goodhew, Victor||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cant, R. B.||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Snape, Peter|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Hawkins, Paul||Swain, Thomas|
|Cockroft, John||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Tinn, James|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Ward, Michael|
|Cohen, Stanley||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Cryer, Bob||Magee, Bryan||Woof, Robert|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Davidson, Arthur||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||O'Halloran, Michael||Mr. Frank R. White.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House agrees with the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in their recommendations in paragraphs 9, 17, 27, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36 and 38 of the Seventh Report of the said Committee in the last Session of Parliament (H.C. 508), and that the Fees Office be authorised, in respect of secretaries and research assistants employed on Parliamentary business whose names are registered with that Office by Members, to make monthly payments of salary on behalf of such Members, if so requested, together with appropriate deductions from their secretarial allowance.
§ Closure as I am about to put the Question.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes, 37, Noes 53.