HC Deb 02 March 1987 vol 111 cc584-6
28. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he is satisfied with present arrangements for hon. Members to receive telephone messages.

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

Yes, Sir.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the advent of new technology, in this as in so many other matters, has led not to an improvement but to a deterioration in the message system for Members of Parliament? In particular, would it not be possible for the brilliant new telephones to have their red lights go out when hon. Members receive their messages and to display on their dials whether a telephone is branched through to hon. Member's secretaries?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that my hon. Friend has had this unhappy experience as about 600 to 700 messages are taken daily. I will refer the point to the communications manager who, no doubt, will be in touch with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Boyes

While the right hon. Gentleman is looking at the system of receiving messages, will he also consider a particular aspect of sending messages, especially those to the European Commission in Brussels? Notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to the EEC, will he allow hon. Members to make calls on parliamentary business at Parliament's expense—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is wide of the question. The question is about receiving messages.

Mr. Boyes

I am answering the messages that I have received, Mr. Speaker. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow hon. Members to make calls to the European Commission on parliamentary business at Parliament's expense? Will he particularly consider allowing members of the Select Committee on European Legislation to have that privilege, along with members of other Committees?

Mr. Biffen

Although the question may have been somewhat wide of the original, the import was quite clear. The hon. Gentleman would like to have zero charge for something which is at present subject to a charge. I would have thought that, with the recent increase in secretarial and office allowances, he might feel that he could reasonably meet that kind of cost. I think that the matter has been considered recently, but I will look into it.

Mr. Rathbone

Will my right hon. Friend consider another form of message which can be received via telephones — the transmission of the business of the House into our offices? How is his consideration of that matter coming along?

Mr. Biffen

That matter has been considered. A highly controversial judgment will have to be made, and it will certainly require the authority of the House.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Lord Privy Seal consider the other form of message that we get occasionally—the green card telling us that someone is here to see us—to see whether we can find a way of communicating news of their arrival much more quickly than at present, when often we hear much later that people were here, by which time they have gone?

Mr. Biffen

That is a somewhat controversial request. As I understand it, a report on radiopaging is being considered and will soon be available to the House.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Leader of the House aware that on one occasion it took two and a half hours for a telephone message to reach me informing me that my wife had been in a car accident? Such a delay is ludicrous. In those circumstances, will he consider two alternatives: first, a full paging system for Members of Parliament; and secondly, the idea that each Member's telephone should have an individual answering service which would allow us to put it on and to receive messages?

Mr. Biffen

I shall make those points to the communications manager, who will no doubt be in touch with the hon. Gentleman. As I have just announced, the report of the Services Committee on radiopaging will he available later this week.