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Employment Contracts

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

2. What recent discussions the House of Commons Commission has had with the trade union representing hon. Members’ staff on the development of a basic employment contract for such staff. (270325)

The House of Commons Commission has had no recent discussions with trade unions or staff associations on the basic employment contract for Members’ staff. The Commission and the House are not the employer of Members’ staff; each Member is an employer in his or her own right. However, it is a condition of drawing public funds to employ staff that Members use standard contracts, job descriptions and pay scales.

Pending the announced review of employment arrangements for Members’ staff, the Green Book says that a standard contract must be used, and in practice MPs use that contract as is. The present contract represents the lowest common denominator in employment standards and is poor compared, for example, with those held by civil servants doing an equivalent job. When will the House recognise the staff union Unite so that staff themselves can have a say in improving the standard contract and other terms and conditions?

If hon. Members, their staff or, indeed, trade unions or associations to which the staff belong wish to make representations about the basic contract, they are certainly welcome to make them to the Committee on Members’ Allowances, which has responsibility for the contract. The issue of recognition of the union goes back to my point that the House is not the employer of Members’ staff, and because the House is not the employer, it is not in a position to recognise the union for collective bargaining purposes. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, staffing arrangements will be voted on next week, and perhaps there will be a different situation thereafter.

Given the discussions that we will have next week, will the Commission consider the feasibility of extending to Members’ staff the entitlement to join the House pension scheme? One member of my staff has worked for me for 16 years and is on one of the higher grades for Members’ staff. As a result of paying into the money purchase pension scheme that is available to Members’ staff, that employee would—the last time I checked—receive a pension of just £2,200 a year. I do not think that that is either satisfactory or a decent way to treat our staff, who are just as important to us Members discharging our duties as the staff of the House are. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Commission to look at that very important issue?

As I have already indicated, this is a matter about which the hon. Gentleman, staff or anybody else is welcome to make representations to the Committee on Members’ Allowances. In the event that the arrangements should change after next week’s debate, the issue could be looked at, but as far as I am aware, as long as staff are employed by Members, there is no prospect of their joining the House pension scheme, because it is not available to non-employees of the House.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people feel it is crucial that Members should continue to employ staff directly? It is wholly right and proper that they should be paid via the Department of Resources, as they are, and that they should have proper contracts that are lodged with that Department, but will he do all he can with his fellow Commissioners to ensure that we do not move to this central employment by the House?

This is a matter that I understand the House will have a chance to vote on next week, and the hon. Gentleman and others will have their chance to make their view known then.