HC Deb 18 February 1985 vol 73 cc723-5
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

asked the Lord Privy Seal what steps he is taking to ensure that hon. Members receive their Votes within the walk area on time and not by post the following day.

Mr. Biffen

A small number of hon. Members have had their Votes delivered by post since Christmas due to an unprecedented degree of sickness among the delivery staff in the Vote Office.

Two extra staff have been employed since January in an attempt to ensure that the Votes are delivered on time.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful response. Does he agree that, in the outside world to which my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) referred, temporary staff would have been engaged on a day-to-day basis to do this work, as I understand they used to be? Will my right hon. Friend consider whether that can be done rather than increase the permanent establishment?

Mr. Biffen

I shall have my hon. Friend's point examined.

Mr. Mikardo

Will the Leader of the House ask his Committee to look into the problem of communications with hon. Members in the House? Is it not nonsense that, when nearly every other establishment of this size has radio paging or a similar system, hon. Members still sometimes receive notices of meetings hours after the meetings have finished and green cards from constituents hours after the constituents have gone home?

Mr. Biffen

Radio paging has been considered recently by the relevant Sub-Committee of the Services Committee. But I take note of the hon. Gentleman's question, which goes very much wider than the original question, and I shall refer it to the Services Committee.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Why in this modern day and age does there need to be such a service in any event? If hon. Members who live within walking distance of the House, as I do, cannot be here on time, what precious benefit is there in keeping this archaic system going?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is politically long enough in the tooth to know that the withdrawal of any service, however meritorious, and can be sustained, gives rise to such an outcry that no one will lightly undertake it.

Mr. Rogers

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be far better if hon. Members came into the House to collect their Votes rather than have them delivered to their banks and private law offices? When will Conservative Members recognise that being a Member of Parliament should be a full-time job?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is making the same point, only less elegantly, as that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark). This service is widely appreciated in the House, and I have some sympathy for my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), who wants matters improved.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

I do not wish to strike a discordant note, but surely the best way is to deliver the Votes direct to hon. Members' offices in the House or, if they work outside the House, to their addresses outside.

More importantly, will my right hon. Friend check on the speed of deliveries? I was informed that I had been selected to serve on the Committee which was to consider the Local Government (Access to Information) Bill eight days after my appointment. There is something wrong with communications in the House.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend's second point goes very much wider than the original question, but I shall consider his first one.

Mr. Skinner

If the delivering of the Votes had to abide by the same kind of philosophy as that espoused by the Prime Minister and her colleagues, especially the Secretary of State for Energy, about whether a service was making a profit, would not this one come under the category of an uneconomic unit of production and have to close down? If that philosophy can apply to coal mines, why should it not apply to this service as well?

Mr. Biffen

Delivering the Votes is a non-economic activity. Therefore, it is a call upon the resources which have to be created by the productive sector of the economy, which ought to include the coal industry.

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