HC Deb 28 October 1985 vol 84 cc658-9
28. Mr. Dubs

asked the Lord Privy Seal what has been the increase over the last 10 years in queries put by hon. Members to the Library.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

Over the period 1975–84 the percentage increase in the number of Members' inquiries answered in writing by the research division and by the international affairs section of the House of Commons Library was 77 per cent.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Minister aware that many Members of the House are grateful to the Library staff for the high quality of work and help that they give us, but that that is still no substitute for providing us with decent back-up? The two types of help are complementary. May I press the Leader of the House to think again about the need to provide each Member of the House who requires it with sufficient resources to employ one secretary and one research assistant?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman was shrewd to make the point about our gratitude to the Library staff, because that will unite the whole Chamber. I am not sure that the same is true of his second point. With the growth in the number of research assistants, one might have thought that there would be less demand upon the Library's research facilities, but in fact the reverse is true.

Mr. Hayward

Following the comments of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), when my right lion. Friend the Leader of the House reviews the opportunity for Members to have at least one research assistant, will he also consider limiting the number of research assistants that Members should have?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises two separate issues The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) was hoping that the review of the secretarial research allowance would proceed on the basis that the sum should include an amount equivalent to the financing of one full-time research assistant. The second point was made in the recent debate that we had on this matter. Whatever number of research assistants a Member might have, no more than two employees of a Member can have access to the House.

Mr. Alton

Notwithstanding the excellent help that the Library gives Members, how long will it be before the Leader of the House reviews the number of research assistants that hon. Members can have? Will he give an undertaking that that matter will receive priority over and above investigations into Members' salaries for this financial year?

Mr. Biffen

Members' salaries for this financial year operate under an automatic formula. The subject of hon. Members' research assistants and the degree of access that they have has been remitted to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin), and he will be reporting to the House in due course.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the latest contacts that I have had with the Library have told me about the emergence of an interesting new species—the research assistant's secretary? Is he aware of the conundrum of big fleas, little fleas and lesser fleas? Does he not think that the amount of Ministers' and Library staff time taken up by these research assistants, their secretaries and their secretaries' research assistants, and the amount of paper used, and the photocopying, has got out of control?

Mr. Biffen

I do not want to stray too far into that controversy, because the matter is now before the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford. It is undoubtedly true that the term research assistant is used fairly liberally in our discussions. Many of those people could in no sense undertake serious research.