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House of Commons Commission

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Family-Friendly Parliament

The Commission is committed to making the House family-friendly to the extent to which that rests within its remit. It is for the House itself to decide on, for instance, sitting hours and the annual parliamentary calendar, which I understand the Procedure Committee is to address shortly. The Commission’s diversity and inclusion strategy builds on earlier initiatives such as the opening of the House of Commons nursery in 2010. The recently introduced formalisation of flexitime for staff offers one example of family-friendly policies in action.

The staff of this place are often asked to work very long hours at extremely short notice; moreover, the Government have taken to, on occasion, releasing recess dates at extremely short notice. Has the Commission received any representations on how that might affect the family lives of the staff of the House?

Those are important matters that, as I have said, are for both the Commission and the House. The Leader of the House is present, and has heard what the hon. Lady has said about the short notice that is given of recess dates.

Given that a number of Members are parents of young children and are often called on to work unpredictable and long hours, a crèche facility might be more suitable than a nursery. Will the Commission consider following the example of the Scottish Parliament in that regard? Will it also consider providing assistance for Members with school-age children whose school holidays fall almost entirely within parliamentary Sessions?

As I said earlier, the nursery was opened in 2010 following consultation with Members and other stakeholders. It was decided to set up a nursery rather than a crèche because of the difficulties that arise as a result of the short notice that is given when children need to use the crèche. However, I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are passed on, and I am sure that the nursery governance committee will want to consider them.

Many workplaces are taking steps to ensure that employees on maternity or paternity leave are able to keep up to date with their work. Is the Commission taking any steps to ensure that Members on maternity or paternity leave can continue to serve their constituents, such as allowing remote electronic voting?

That, I think, is another matter that is as much for the House as for the Commission. Clearly the House can ensure that this place is as accessible to Members who are away as to those who are present by means of, for instance, the IT provision, but I think that issues such as e-voting need to be considered by a much wider range of organisations than just the Commission.

House Employees: Training

4. What steps the Commission is taking to ensure that there are sufficient opportunities for training and retraining of House employees. (904590)

The Commission takes the learning and development needs of staff seriously. The House of Commons Service is an investor in people, and it invests significantly in training to ensure that all staff have the skills that they need to do their jobs and develop their careers. House staff should agree a development plan with their managers each year, and they are able to select from a wide range of learning opportunities including online and face-to-face training, coaching and mentoring.

As my right hon. Friend knows, we benefit from fantastic and dedicated staff. Over the years, I have observed our capacity for enabling people to start on quite a lowly grade and then progress to senior management, but I am afraid that I now look around and see very talented people who are unable to follow that track. Can we ensure that if there is talent, we give it a chance to grow?

I echo what the hon. Gentleman has said about the dedication of House of Commons staff. I am sure that he will be aware of the training opportunities that are regularly publicised through the “Learning News and Activities” brochure. Staff have plenty of opportunities for promotion and, for instance, retraining, if that is something that they wish to undertake.

I want to put on record my support and gratitude for the amazing work that the House employees do for us all. We are grateful to them, and we should do all we can to support them in any ventures in which they want to take part. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it should be a priority to provide further training opportunities for employees who want to progress, both in the House and outside it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. If he is aware of any staff who have put in a request for a particular type of training that is not currently available, I would certainly like to know about that, and I would be happy to pursue the matter.