asked the Lord Privy Seal what information he has about the number of research and secretarial staff available to elected numbers of national assemblies in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and the United States of America, respectively.
The information I have received suggests that there is a considerable variety in the provision made for the funding of Members' personal staff.
Does the Leader of the House agree that virtually all the Assemblies in the countries listed provide their elected Members with more support than we have? Does he also agree that last year's decision by the House is one which many hon. Members on both sides of the House now regret? Would not the position be different if we had a trade union acting on behalf of our interests?
I do not think that I am immediately convinced of the last point made by the hon. Gentleman. However, he is right to say that many Parliaments provide more secretarial and research facilities for their Members. It was a matter touched upon by the Top Salaries Review Body in its 20th report, but I have to repeat what I said when I was last asked about this a few weeks ago: I rest upon the vote taken by the House last year.
Why do some hon. Members seem to manage quite well on the allowances when others who do no more work do not seem to manage adequately? Why are we concerned about public expenditure in every area except when it affects our own allowances?
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. There is such an extraordinary variety of response because, mercifully, the House of Commons is a very varied institution.
Does the Leader of the House realise the intense danger to the House of being regarded by people as increasingly irrelevant? Is not that sense of irrelevance growing, not least because the power of Back-Bench Members has been declining so dramatically? If hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see the power of Back Benchers increased, is not one way of doing that to make sure that they have sufficient facilities to do their job properly? It is not being said that they must do it. We are asking for that service, and the House deserves it.
If this place is regarded as being so irrelevant, I am surprised that people of such distinction still try to make their way here, not least people in the Brent constituency. If there is one way in which the House of Commons will be cocooned, it will be if it cocoons itself with research assistants.