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Research And Secretarial Staff

Volume 78: debated on Monday 29 April 1985

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asked the Lord Privy Seal what is the average number of secretaries per hon. Member; and if he will make a statement.

The average number of secretaries per hon. Member is 0.9. This figure includes only those secretaries who have passes for the Palace of Westminster.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving that fascinating figure. Does he agree that some hon. Members receive much more constituency mail than others? Does he think that that is due rather to popularity than to notoriety? Is he aware that secretaries of hon. Members with heavy mail need extra help? Will he consider initiating a typing pool to which the odd tape could be sent for typing up, say once or twice a week?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that the work load varies as between hon. Members and as between various times of the year in respect of all hon. Members. I hope that the present allowances cover the secretarial requirements of hon. Members. 1 would not wish to encourage any into thinking that further provision could be made along the lines that have been suggested.

Is the Leader of the House aware that what he has just said is completely wrong and that an increasing number of hon. Members on both sides of the House no longer treat this place as a gentleman's club but as a place of work? Is he further aware that, to provide an efficient service to constituents, there should be adequate secretarial and research facilities? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that this matter will be considered again during this Parliament?

I do not think that the facilities of the Palace have ever—at least in the recent past—suggested that it was a gentleman's club. I have already said that the decisions arrived at last year for the secretarial allowance should be given a reasonable run before reconsideration.

Has my right hon. Friend noted during his years in the House that the work output of hon. Members can vary greatly? Does he think it right that, if an hon. Member has a high profile in his constituency and therefore attracts a great deal of work, he sometimes has to pay for extra secretarial work out of his own funds? Does he think that that is proper? If not, does he have any proposals to do anything about it?

No, I have no proposals. I think that the salary and the secretarial allowance are based on a standard figure. The House has had plenty of experience of working within the secretarial and research allowances and, last year, voted on the level of those allowances.

Is the Leader of the House aware that when I was a Euro-MP I received about £30,000 for secretarial and research allowances and was able to keep a researcher and a secretary fully occupied? [Interruption.] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my research shows that I now do seven times as much correspondence as when I was a Euro-MP? I do not doubt that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have bigger postbags than me, but is it not ridiculous that the allowances for hon. Members do not enable us to employ two good members of staff to cope with all the work that we have to do?

The House took a view last year on the appropriate level of pay. What the hon. Gentleman has just said reflects as much upon what happens at Strasbourg as on what happens here.