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Honourable Members (Work Load)

Volume 76: debated on Monday 1 April 1985

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asked the Lord Privy Seal how he assesses the present work load of hon. Members; and how this compares with his assessment in 1981.

There is no statistical basis upon which such a comparison could be made.

Despite the lack of such a statistical basis, does the Leader of the House agree that the work load of the average Member of the House has increased enormously in recent years and is now such that the resources that we have — one secretary and 0·2 of a research assistant — are woefully inadequate? We are thus the laughing stock of members of every other Parliament and democratically elected assembly the world over. Will he consider sympathetically the plea that we should be given the resources to do our jobs properly?

I do not believe that we are the laughing stock of every other elected assembly in western Europe and North America. I would sooner be that than be held in ridicule by those who voted us here and who think that we have perfectly reasonable facilities for undertaking our present work. The present position, which was voted by the House last year, was in respect of a secretarial, research assistant and office level of allowance, which is increased each year by an agreed formula. That is subject to fundamental review once every four years. I believe that that is a reasonable basis on which to proceed.

I agree with what my right hon. Friend has said. Is he aware that hon. Members' work loads were far less in the old days at the time of England's greatness? For instance, in those days there was no autumn Session, because of the bad state of the roads and partly because of the necessity for hon. Members to get in some shooting and hunting.

It may have related to the necessity for Members to do some shooting, but if my hon. Friend undertakes even closer researches he will find that Parliament rarely rose in time for the Twelfth.

Does the Leader of the House realise that the facilities available to Members of the House are completely inadequate to begin to control the Executive? It is not at all surprising to Opposition Members that members of the Government do not want those facilities increased, because they do not want the Executive to be probed.

The level of the secretarial, research assistant and office allowance was a level voted by the House, and the formula which governs its annual adjustment was also voted by the House last year. It is subject to a review every four years, and I believe that to be a reasonable balance in these matters.

If we are to have the opportunity for more hunting and shooting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) suggests, may I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we set up as our quarry some of the public relations men who orchestrate completely phoney lobbies and campaigns which unnecessarily add to hon. Members' work loads? Will he study this matter as a serious issue, as well as an amusing one this afternoon?

No words of mine should ever be interpreted as suggesting that more time should be made available for those hon. Members who enjoy hunting and shooting. I was only anxious to point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) that he has a somewhat mistaken view of the position in the past. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) raises a serious point about the factors that make for our work here. Of course, it is something that we all keep under review.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the work load of hon. Members has increased by reason of the stupid and idiotic decisions made by the Prime Minister, particularly in transferring the international football match from Wembley to Hampden Park? Will the Leader of the House use his good influence in telling the Prime Minister to work harder on getting the unemployed back to work, and to keep her silly nose out of things that she has nothing to do with?

I will not say that it was an own goal, but I do not think it was a straight score.

Will the Leader of the House undertake to have installed, for the benefit of hon. Members, a telex on which we can both receive and send messages, as it is extremely unsatisfactory for them to have to receive their private messages from local authorities through the Cabinet Office before briefings with Ministers?

I think that the hon. Gentleman was trying to give me a message in the rather oblique way in which he concluded his question. The installing of a telex would have to be considered in the first instance by the Services Committee. If the hon. Gentleman is serious on the matter, doubtless he will be in touch with me.

It is common knowledge that no one works harder in this place for his constituents than yours truly, but, notwithstanding that, is it not a fact that there is no shortage of people wishing to be Members of Parliament and no shortage of people canvassing for votes at election time? How can the question be taken seriously? We ask people in industry to roll up their sleeves and work hard for the country, but Members of Parliament are rather workshy.

I have no desire to put the argument in the somewhat crude and bruising terms of my hon. Friend. We have allowances which we ourselves have voted, they are subject to annual adjustments by a formula which we ourselves have voted, and the Government have said that there may be a fundamental review once every four years. Again I say that I think that that is a very reasonable and balanced judgment.

The Lord Privy Seal is extraordinarily complacent in his remarks about the facilities and research assistance available to hon. Members. It is not worries about the work load that concern hon. Members on either side of the House but the desire to be able to perform their duties properly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) rightly said, hon. Members wish to exercise full control, as far as they can, over the Executive. That is what makes us wish to be able to perform our duties more effectively than we can at present. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will bear that in mind. If the Lord Privy Seal cannot measure the work load as such, perhaps he can at least give us some answers as to how far that part of our work load which is taken up by Government legislation and by the sittings of the House has increased in the past few years.

On the right hon. Gentleman's last question, I refer him to the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) on 11 March. It is clearly a matter for judgment within the House as to the extent to which we require facilities to enable us to do our job, but ultimately it is resolutions of the House that have determined what now appertains. On the last occasion on which there was a vote, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) suggested a figure 40 per cent. higher than was then proposed, and he was defeated by a vote of this House.