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Parliamentary Services for MPs

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023

[Relevant document: First Report of the Administration Committee, Smoothing the cliff edge: supporting MPs at their point of departure from elected office, HC 209.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of Parliamentary services for Members.

Before I get to the substance of my speech, it is worth referring to the Administration Committee’s meeting earlier this week with officers of the parliamentary contributory pension fund—we regularly meet the House’s excellent Officers. The fund’s documentation is almost impenetrable to normal human beings. It is 284 pages long, and those who started reading it 10 years ago are about halfway through. The officers tried their best, but the upshot of our informative meeting was a joint letter from the chairmen of the 1922 committee and the parliamentary Labour party asking the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for greater clarity on the technicalities of the McCloud judgment. That is how the Administration Committee makes progress on a weekly basis.

We are debating House services, and I will focus most of my remarks on the Administration Committee’s report, published yesterday, “Smoothing the cliff edge: supporting MPs at their point of departure from elected office.” Before I move into the substance of the report, it is important that I thank the Clerks who wrote the report and gathered the evidence. I have been a Select Committee Chair for 10 years, and it is remarkable that, wherever I go, I am always given the best Clerks. I said to my wife, “What is it about me that means I always get the best Clerks in the House of Commons?” And she said, “It’s because you require close management.” I am not sure that is entirely what I wanted to hear, but I have wonderful Clerks. All Clerks in this House serve us brilliantly, day in and day out.

I am alive to the public and media cry that we need better MPs. We have heard the cry in its various guises: “We need better MPs,” “All MPs are rubbish” and so on. When I was in business before coming to the House, I always welcomed conversations with colleagues who said, “We need to make this company more profitable.” That was not the end of the conversation but the beginning: “Okay, so we need to make the business more profitable. How will we do it?” If people genuinely want better MPs, that is the start of the conversation and we need to ask ourselves how we will do it. That is what the Administration Committee—we have members of the Committee in the Chamber today—set its mind to doing when we embarked on this report. The Committee started taking evidence about four months ago.

Most members of the Administration Committee have a business background, which is a hugely valuable resource. We learned and appreciated that Parliament is in a war for talent, and it is an employer like any other. If we want to attract some of the best and brightest 30 and 40-year-olds from their successful careers, we need to compete with business, academia, science, the arts, healthcare and education. All these wonderful careers are now not just nationally focused but internationally focused. These talented young people are working on not only a national stage but an international stage. We need to convince them that a vocation in Parliament is worth undertaking. That is now very difficult because, increasingly, a vocation in Parliament is linked to career jeopardy.

I speak to young people on both sides of the political divide—Labour and Conservative, and Scottish National party when I am up in Scotland—and they say, “That’s all very well, Charles, but we love what we do. We love to discuss politics and think about politics, but you would be mad to think that we will step out of our career to take part in politics.” I hear that too often.

As we move towards the 100-hours-a-week MP, where we expect Members of Parliament to focus every waking hour solely on their constituency, the gap between the career they have left, their vocation in Parliament and their future career—the difficulty of accessing and reintegrating with a career—becomes wider and wider. That is what we start to address in our report.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I spoke to you earlier while you were in the Chair. Every single Member is prepared to make sacrifices to serve their constituents. Some of those sacrifices are very large, and some of them are far too large. I look across at the shields on the Opposition side of the Chamber, which I know will soon be joined by another shield on the Government side of the Chamber.

We address that career cliff edge in this report. Wherever people come to Parliament from—Scotland, Wales or England; Labour or Conservative—they serve their constituents with diligence and with every ounce of energy, but there is a career cliff edge when they leave this place. Employers say, “It is all very well that you’ve been a Member of Parliament, but what skills do you have? What can you bring to our company? You are all very remote, aren’t you? That’s what we read in the newspapers.” We need to address that, because we want people who serve here to be able to take their amazing skills—I will address the skills that people secure in this place—to future employers.

It has been a great pleasure to serve on my hon. Friend’s Committee. Does he agree that, for Members of Parliament, there is a difference between working here and working in a company? Generally, one leaves a company either because one has not performed well and is sacked or because one chooses to make a different career choice. Many people leave this place not because they have behaved improperly or because they did not do the work well, but because the general tide of national politics sees them go. We saw that in 2019, when many good Labour MPs lost their seats. That was not a reflection on them, just a reflection of the national tide. Is that not why we have a duty of care to these people?

My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point that gets to the crux of the report. I was going to say that he encapsulates the report in a short sentence, but it was a brief intervention of more like three sentences. I will address his points more directly in a moment.

We did not just sit down and write this report. I did not grab a pen, drag my colleagues into a room and say, “Let’s just write a report. Let’s put down on paper the first thing that pops into our heads.” No, we went out and consulted academics, leading headhunters, outplacement specialists, retired senior Army officers and senior officials from Sport England. We went out and talked to people who know how to transition people from one all-encompassing vocation or career to another, and they all said that the way an institution treats people at their point of departure impacts that institution’s ability to recruit bright and talented people. That is because people watch this place closely now—30, 40 and 50-year-olds watch closely—and they know what is going on here. We also took evidence from former colleagues, who, as my hon. Friend said, largely lost their seats through no fault of their own.

Although we have a wonderful parliamentary democracy in so many ways, it does not score highly when it comes to the way it treats departing Members, so the Committee came up with a number of key recommendations, and I will go through them briefly—our report is actually brilliantly short, and while many Select Committee reports are 200 pages, ours is a little more than 50.

First, Members of Parliament should be preparing to leave this place from the day they arrive. That is a really difficult thing to get your head around. When I was elected in Broxbourne and handed the envelope that the winning candidate gets, I went white with fear, but never once did it occur to me that I would ever leave this place. Now I have announced that I am going, and I am preparing for my departure, but I wish I had thought about it a little harder over the past 17 years.

I am lucky, because I am leaving voluntarily, from what is notionally a safe seat, although if we read Electoral Calculus at the moment, that may not be the case. The average tenure of a Member of Parliament is nine years, but this is an uncertain career and vocation. However, even if a Member of Parliament serves for just one Session —for two, three, four or five years—they build up a huge skillset: mediating, negotiating, communicating and dispute resolution, to name just four. The Committee’s report suggests that those skills are not just captured but accredited by top-flight universities—in a sense, they are micro-qualifications. In this busy and complicated world, those are just the types of skills that industry needs. Members of Parliament are brilliant at juggling a whole range of complex issues and seeing a way through quickly. I am talking not just about those at ministerial level, but about what we do day in, day out with competing interests in our constituencies. So there is the issue of micro-accreditation and micro-qualifications.

Secondly, Members of Parliament must have access to ongoing career advice while they are here, and to outplacement services before, during and after their point of departure. That is absolutely critical. When I say “point of departure”, I do not mean the ballot box—I do not mean just those MPs who lose at the ballot box in a general election. I mean that all Members of Parliament need access to good, ongoing career advice and outplacement services. Again, the Committee did not make that up; it is what all the expert witnesses told us. They said, “You need to support people out of one workplace into another.”

Thirdly—there is no way of dodging this for an easy life, and I do not want an easy life—there should be better financial support for those leaving Parliament. Winding up a parliamentary office with tens of thousands of bits of casework does not take a couple of months; it can take many months. The way we financially support leaving Members is, again, an area where we score really badly. We score really badly against the Scottish Parliament. We score really badly against the Senedd in Wales. We score badly against almost every major, mature western democracy.

Let me put this into perspective. Since I announced I was leaving, I have had—possibly this is a slightly made-up number, because I have not kept a close record—511 conversations with people who know that I am leaving. Two of those were extremely positive: “Oh my word, Charles, you’re leaving. You’re going to be a huge success at whatever you do.” The other 509 have been, “Oh my word, what the hell are you going to do when you leave? What can you do?” It will be no surprise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, because you know these two people, that the two positive conversations were with my mother and my wife. The other 509 were with people who are quite worried for my future welfare. It is that difficult. I am smiling, but I am making a serious point.

Although I cannot prove this, I suspect that some, although by no means all, long-serving Members of Parliament would love to leave, but are frightened and put off leaving because of the financial uncertainty—the financial cliff edge—and the career cliff edge they will face if they do go. With perhaps six months’ resettlement grant and some outplacement advice and career advice, we could actually free up seats, which would be to the benefit of those who want to leave and certainly to the benefit of their constituents.

The Committee’s fourth key recommendation—it makes me extremely sad that we had to make it—is to do with the security of Members of Parliament. In most cases, when you leave this place the personal risk to you—I mean you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as well as me and all colleagues in this place—diminishes very quickly. However, for some it does not. In the past, as soon as someone ceased to be a Member of Parliament, responsibility for their security was handed to his or her local police force. That is not ideal. We took some powerful evidence in private from Members of Parliament and ex-Members of Parliament who faced an ongoing and real risk. I was really pleased that we had the head of House security before us, and we are definitely going to do something on this issue—and we need to.

Fifthly and finally—there are more recommendations after five, but this is the final one in my speech—we need to give MPs better advice throughout each Parliament about Dissolution, winding up their offices, the expectations placed on them, the expectations they can place on the House, and the support services they will be able to access. All those things need to be thought about. I know we do not like to think about leaving, but we must have the opportunity to think about it and to understand what is expected of us and what we can expect of the House. Provision for that needs to be updated on a six-month basis and regularly notified to not just Members of Parliament but their office managers.

I want to touch on something briefly. There was a sentence in the report—I think the shadow Leader of the House knows where I am going with this, because I can see her smiling—suggesting that Members of Parliament should receive a medallion from the Speaker in recognition of their service to democracy. This has been positioned as a medal of the type that changes one’s name or means one gets letters after one’s name, but that is not what we are suggesting; this is about workplace recognition. A decade ago, I was awarded the president’s medal by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It gives me no standing anywhere, and it does not mean that I get to the front of the queue anywhere. It gives me huge personal pleasure and satisfaction to know that the royal college recognised my contribution to mental health, and I may just wear it if I am invited to one of its events. That is what I meant, and what the report and my colleagues on the Committee meant, about a medallion of service. It is something that we could be presented with by the Speaker, and that would mean something to us.

I thank my hon. Friend for such a powerful speech. He is reminding me of the medallions that my councillors wear—perhaps former mayors, aldermen or people who have served with distinction—and surely what he is talking about is similar to that. Many hundreds or thousands of people have those sorts of medallions.

That is exactly what I am talking about. It is a nice and kind thing to do, and there is nothing wrong with being nice and kind. Workplace recognition is a good thing. I received a lovely pen when I left my first substantive job. I received a lovely decanter from the 1922 committee to mark my 11 years of service to it. Is it going to change my life? It is not going to change my life at all. Is it something that I will enjoy and that, I hope, my family and children will enjoy? Yes, it is. I just wanted to put that into context.

Treating people well is important, and it will encourage good people to run for office. As I have said, I entirely concur with the idea that we need better Members of Parliament. I suppose I should not be surprised that, when the Committee and my wonderful colleagues on it went away and thought about how we could do that, they got criticised for having done it, but the people criticising them are the very ones saying that we need better Members of Parliament. Excellence in this place should be the norm, not the outlier.

I will conclude by saying this—

Before my hon. Friend concludes, may I just put it on the record that I would like to think on both sides of the House there could be no better Member of Parliament than he has proved to be during his time here?

I absolutely thank my right hon. Friend for that. He and I have been friends since I got here, and that means a huge amount to me. I thank him.

This is what I want to conclude with. We will never in this place struggle to attract the shrill, the loud and the raucous. We will always be inundated with the practitioners of the clear thinking of the totally uninformed. That is what makes this Parliament so wonderful. There are those who believe there are simple solutions to complex problems. If there were, we would have found them, Mr Deputy Speaker. I promise you that we would have found them. There is always space for that, and at times I have been one of the raucous, the loud, the shrill and the emotional—I celebrate that. But we also need the thoughtful, the considered and the intellectually inquiring. Their numbers really are thinning, and we in this place have a duty to reach out to them.

We have a duty—not just to ourselves, but to future generations of Members of Parliament—to make this place the greatest Chamber with the greatest vocation someone can pursue in this country. A President came yesterday, welcomed by literally thousands of people, and he referred to our Parliament as the greatest in the world. I take great comfort from that, and I want to prove him right day in and day out.

Before I call Dame Maria Miller, may I too put something on the record? Many of you will not know this, but when I was a rookie Member of Parliament, I employed a young Charles Walker as my researcher. I knew then that he was a bright lad, and I was thrilled when he became a Member of Parliament. He has been an outstanding Chair of the Administration Committee. I salute your bravery, Charles, in the way you have promoted mental health issues at a time when it was a taboo. You have been remarkable. I am so proud of you.

On my very first day in Parliament, I decided to sit next to this blond-haired man whom I had never met before in my life. He stood up, and I will not repeat what he said to the assembled masses because it would embarrass him, but my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) was entertaining, informed and, above all, principled right from the start. He has been a great colleague for the last 17 years, and we will miss him.

It is therefore a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend, who has clearly set out how parliamentary services must change to help our democracy, and particularly to recruit the brightest and the best to Parliament. I would like to take that one stage further and talk about how we can broaden the debate to consider how parliamentary services must work even harder to ensure that this place functions in a way that can protect our democracy into the future. We have already mentioned that amazing visit yesterday from Volodymyr Zelensky, who is fighting for democratic freedoms for his nation, and the way that he talked so affectionately about our own Parliament. It made me feel, even more than ever, that we cannot take these things for granted, even in western Europe. That is why I am so grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, and to the staff of the Administration Committee for all the work they do in helping us with the running of this House.

I also pay tribute to those who sit in the Chair you sit in, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is easy in this place to come in, be important and talk about important things that happen to our constituents and to the nation, but very few people take the time to think about how this place runs, and how they can play their part in making it better. Too few come forward to sit in that Chair and do the sorts of things that you do, Mr Deputy Speaker, and that your colleagues do in the Speaker’s Office. It is important that we acknowledge that. It is always behind the scenes, but it is what makes one of the most important and central institutions of our democracy work. Probably the people sitting in front of you also have a bit of a role in that, but we won’t go there.

The last two Speakers of this House were appointed at times of crisis, which is an interesting thing to reflect on. Our current Speaker—I will not refer to the previous one—was recruited to the role in the midst of a behavioural and cultural crisis in this place. I think that our Mr Speaker’s focus on security, culture and behaviour change has been exemplary, and led to a rapid change in a way that many people would not have foreseen. We also saw the way that the Speaker and staff rapidly changed the way our Parliament worked during the coronavirus pandemic, and the way that Mr Speaker has changed attitudes towards the security of Members of Parliament. We know that individuals in the Chair you are sitting in, Mr Deputy Speaker, can change the way this place works, but I suggest that we cannot rely on individuals alone, not least because we have had some recent Speakers who have not been entirely unflawed characters. We have to think about the governance of the institution, and the way it creates the right framework for the running of this important place.

The services provided by Parliament are crucial to MPs being effective. We are elected to come here, to scrutinise, and to get things done for the people we represent. We do that with the support of the House of Commons; we cannot do it ourselves. There is an army of literally thousands of people, from cleaners to Clerks, police to chefs, and subject experts in the Library to dedicated constituency staff, who are all there to help us be effective. Being effective MPs requires the right services to be in place—not just the same services that were there 40 years ago, but the right services for today. Even the most time-poor manager of a small business ensures that they have the right services in place for their business, and that is why this debate is important.

It is important that we discuss these things to explore whether parliamentary services are delivering in a way that helps MPs to be effective, and delivering for the way that we need Parliament to run. Effective MPs are not just a good thing in their own right; effective MPs help to build trust in the House of Commons; they help to build trust in Parliament and so they help to build trust in democracy. It could not be more important, particularly for those who believe that we have a responsibility to strengthen democracy in our time here.

Let us also remember that the staff of this place, whether they are extremely specialised, highly intellectual people drafting bits of legislation, the people who keep us safe as we enter this place or the people who service our meals when we are here late into the night, choose to be here. They choose to be in Parliament, not because it is just another place to work but because they want to be part of the democratic function of this country—what makes it so special.

Like much of Parliament, the provision of services is organised through Committees, predominately the Administration Committee, which my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne chairs incredibly well. Unlike other Committees, these are House Committees and, for the most part, they are advisory. When members of the Committee, including a number of Members present, raise issues around how this place is run or that they would like to see done differently, such as the quality of the wi-fi, the availability of mobile phone chargers in the Tea Room, as I was reminded a few minutes ago, or concerns about the perimeter security, these concerns can be voiced and they will be heard. However, we have absolutely no power whatsoever to get any action taken. We only usually get action taken because of the vivacious character of our Chair. That cannot be enough; things need to be more structured than that. Only the Commission has oversight of all these issues and can take action—a Commission, I remind everybody, that has no process to elect its members.

When it comes to planning ahead and the issues that the administration might want to consider because there are problems on the horizon, we have no ability to do that effectively either. The Administration Committee is strictly limited in what it can do. Of course, when it comes to the provision of services, the Procedure Committee and our Finance Committee are also crucial, but there is no structure in place for these Committees to work together. For example, if we have something like the uncertainty of sitting hours, which can go late into the night, there is no way of viewing how that might affect members of staff who are employed to run the services in this place.

The Leader of the House has been clear in her vision, such as in her recent speech to the Institute for Government, that the House of Commons should be the best legislature in the world. I could not agree more with her sentiment, but to achieve that not just noble but essential ambition, our parliamentary services also need to be the best in the world. They need to fit into that vision of a modern workplace, with modern procedures, adequate finance and accountability, and an ability to plan for the future and to respond to events. We have made huge strides under Mr Speaker’s leadership, but I am concerned that our governance and structures have changed very little, that they are not as good as they should be and that we need to look at them more. Indeed, some experts would say that the governance of the House of Commons is opaque, lacks accountability and is complex to understand. Those are not the attributes of an organisation that I would like to work for. To make provision for parliamentary services for MPs to be their most effective, Parliament needs to look at these things in detail. It needs to look at the governance and structures of how we can be a trusted institution into the future that reflects an organisation not of yesterday, but of tomorrow.

There are some notable examples, of which I am sure other Members will be aware, of where the inability to change things and evolve the way we work have received the full glare of publicity. Not least of them is the recent example of where we tried to set up a nursery in this place, which took three debates, two papers and a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Some of the hon. and right hon. Members involved have been in this place even longer than I have, and they still could not work out how we could effect that change. That is a salutary lesson; it shows that we cannot evolve services to meet the needs of Members. The result will be that we cannot attract the right Members to this place. We cannot then expect this place to be the world-class legislature that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would like it to be.

How do we make sure that parliamentary services are effective, and are what our MPs, and our democracy, really need? Some straightforward changes could easily be made that would make a real difference. It would be quite a revolution if we ensured that House Committees could work together and take a common look at how this place is run. We should evolve their role from a “take note” or advisory role, to a strategic one of the sort that Select Committees perhaps already have, so that they do not merely rubber-stamp decisions after the event, which, as colleagues on the Administration Committee will remember, was what happened in the case of the removal of the trees in the atrium of Portcullis House.

We should make the House Committees, which are fundamental to how the place runs, accountable through elections. They are the last area of Parliament in which Members are not elected to posts. We are appointed to our posts, and that simply does not pass the sniff test. We need to change that; the way that people gain positions on those Committees should be similar to the way that Select Committee members gain theirs. That would increase accountability. Our meetings are already transparent, but let us look at ways of opening them up even more, if they are so fundamental to democracy.

Scrutiny of the House of Commons Commission should be firmly in the remit of the House Committees. Just as Select Committees scrutinise Government, House Committees should scrutinise the Commission. That would be a very simple change of our role, but it might increase transparency about how the Commission runs, so that more Members can understand it, and can understand how decisions are taken. For too long it has felt as though the House of Commons is run from behind closed doors. Perhaps it is easier that way; that is what I have been told when I have asked why that is. There are concerns that scrutiny will undermine trust in this organisation. My argument is that a lack of scrutiny has already done that job for us, so let us have that change.

We cannot continue to rely on individuals, rather than governance, structures and systems, to ensure that this place is run well. I am told that it is Members who decide, when it comes to the running of this House, but I am afraid that those are hollow words to me when I think back to the debacle over the establishment of a nursery in this place. “It is for Members to decide!” No, it really was not, because there was no way for us to crystallise the decision and ensure action.

As a result of this debate, I hope that people not just in this Chamber, or listening in Parliament, but from outside start to call loudly for the changes that I have outlined. It has taken a year to get this debate, so I can already feel that this is not necessarily a debate that people in this place want to have. The issue is important because we need to support MPs, so that they can be their most effective. We need this to be a modern workplace, where both MPs and their staff can function at their best. We must attract a diverse cross-section of society to stand for election. We will not do that unless this place works better, and we have to start taking that far more seriously.

Thank you, Maria, for your very generous and kind words. I will make sure that Sir Lindsay hears them. Those thanks are on behalf of Sir Lindsay, his entire team, and the Clerks. Thank you very much for your generosity.

I was fascinated by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) about the transparency of this organisation, because in many ways it is not transparent. I rather suspect that she has been waiting a long time for the opportunity to say all those things. I am not sure that I agree with all of them, but her point that this place must have transparency was very clear. All of us on the Administration Committee feel frustration at times with the fact that when we do not agree with something, we let it be known, and the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker), lets it be known, but then it happens anyway. That sometimes causes members of the Committee, and members of the Finance Committee, to think, “Why are we even serving on the Committee?” But you know what, Mr Deputy Speaker, that does not actually have anything to do with the report. The report, which the Chairman spoke about in so much detail, is entitled: “Smoothing the cliff edge: supporting MPs at their point of departure from elected office”.

A lot of praise has been heaped, quite rightly, on all the people who work here. At the risk of being accused of gross sycophancy, I am going to mention the Whips on both sides of the House. I think people outside this place think that all the Whips do is impose discipline, but that is not the case. What they do is partly HR with attitude, as a former Whip once put it. They are also, talking about my former career, the floor managers of this place. If it were not for the Whips—I am looking at Labour, Conservative and SNP Whips—people would not turn up on time and debates would not finish on time. Mr Speaker and Mr Deputy Speaker might try to arrange that, but they are in the Chair. It is the Whips who go scurrying around, making phone calls and sending messages to ensure that Ministers and shadow Ministers are there on time for the work to be done. I am only singling them out because they were not mentioned in all those marvellous comments that my hon. Friend—he should be right honourable—spoke about.

This is an odd place. We want to get people of the finest ability to work here and there are many different types of people who come here. My hon. Friend talks about the loud and the raucous. Occasionally, it is rather nice to be loud and raucous in this place. When I first became an MP—I joined at the same time as you, Mr Deputy Speaker—I remember standing up in the Chamber and giving one or two earnest speeches and asking one or two earnest questions. A marvellous former Member of Parliament in the Press Gallery, Matthew Parris, then a sketch writer for The Times, said, “Michael, why are you like this in the Chamber? You must never forget that this place is theatre. Be theatrical, make your points. Be yourself.” And since I have done that, I have never been promoted! [Laughter.] No, no, I have. It is important that people should be themselves, but we have to be able to attract them in the first place.

My hon. Friend is raucous and wonderful, but he also does himself a great disservice. He is an expert in technology and has a background in radio. The Committee works so much better for having someone who knows not just how to plug in a PC, but how turn it on.

This is turning into a mutual admiration society, but what is wrong with that occasionally, Mr Deputy Speaker? It is all about friendship, too. That is important in this place.

It is true, and I raised this point with my hon. Friend when he gave his excellent and passionate speech, that we have a duty of care to one another generally in society—there is such a thing as society—and we have a duty of care to Members of Parliament. I was there, I think, for all the evidence sessions—correct me if I am wrong—but reading the report again, drawn up by excellent Clerks, one becomes aware of how distraught and empty people are when they leave here in an involuntary way. Sometimes people leave voluntarily, as my hon. Friend is doing, as in any other organisation. Sometimes they leave because they have performed so badly here that the electorate decide to get rid of them. But more often than not they leave simply because of a national swing which is no fault of the individual Member of Parliament.

There is a rather lovely quote in the report:

“For some Members, coming to terms with their departure, whether through choice or not, could be similar to the grieving process. Dame Jane Roberts told us how ‘That loss…is akin to grief. That is true about all work but…leaving Parliament involves an intensity of emotion that does not often apply to other jobs’. She noted in her research how the majority of those that she had interviewed ‘had grieved the loss of political office in some way, often intensely. In adjusting to a very different life, most had experienced a sense of dislocation. They had initially struggled to find a new narrative about who they were and what they did, and a number had struggled to find employment.’”

It is not that these people are unemployable, as I sometimes say, or that they came here only because they could not get a job anywhere else; it is that if they have dedicated their life to a political ideal or to helping others, they will be emotionally invested in this place. Because of that investment, the movement away—the wrench—is as extreme as a torn muscle or worse, or the bereavement of losing a close relative.

Nick de Bois, a former Member of Parliament, told us:

“Sensitivity is lacking in the whole process.”

We heard evidence of people turning up and being told that they had to clear their office within two weeks. We know why—they have been replaced, and the House authorities have to decide how to deal with the House’s property—but when someone loses their seat after being here for many years, being expected to clear their office is a huge burden when they are grieving over the loss of a lifestyle.

What about staff? We heard evidence from staff who were completely at a loss as to whether they would be able to get a job with another MP. Colleagues already know all this, but it is worth saying. You never know: somebody might read Hansard. Many years ago, a former Chief Whip—a great friend of mine who is now in another place, with whom I had dinner last night, as it happens—said to me, absolutely rightly, “Michael, if you want to keep a secret, say it in a speech in this place and it’ll still be a secret.”

Assuming that somebody will actually read this speech, however, let me say in case people do not realise it that it is Members of Parliament who choose their staff. Members’ staff are imbued with huge trust: trust that they will keep constituents’ secrets and trust in how they help Members. What if there is a big change? In 2019, there were staff who had worked really hard for Labour Members, and it would have been difficult for them to get a job with a Conservative MP. We have a duty of care to them, as well as to Members of Parliament.

One Member said:

“You come out of an election when you are losing the thing that you have given your life to, for however many years. I have taken that as an experience of how I would not want to treat my employees today. It was an experience of what not to do rather than what to do. You immediately had your pass removed. You had to be escorted everywhere, whether it is around that centre or around the building. At moments, it felt like you were a criminal.”

Nick de Bois said that there is

“a huge gap that…the party needs to address”.

I think it is a gap that the House of Commons needs to address. He also said that

“you are cut off overnight. Your phone stops ringing pretty quickly”—

actually, to me that would be a relief. He went on to say:

“Friends are there, but there is not the support that some colleagues need.”

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech about the impact on departing Members. Does he share my concern that that impact, which he is describing so eloquently, may also be a massive disincentive for right-minded people to stand for election? As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) has been saying, we need to attract the brightest and the best to this place, but such people generally do not want to set themselves up to fail, or to be in an environment where they may end up being treated in not the most respectful way.

I agree with my right hon. Friend, up to a point. I would argue that the problem is not one of people coming to this place, because they came to this place knowing that it was a risk. You do not become a Member of Parliament thinking you are here as of right. What concerns me more is that people who come here should think that they will be treated decently and that their staff will be treated decently, and that means being treated with kindness and compassion.

That brings me back to something that impressed me hugely. The duty of care is a great principle in English law: “Neither through action nor through inaction should someone cause someone else to be damaged.” We heard about it from members of the armed forces who gave evidence to the Committee.

My hon. and gallant Friend wishes to intervene, and I will let him do so in a moment.

Those members of the armed forces talked about the continuing treatment that people who join the forces are given right from the very beginning. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne, also talked about that in his excellent speech. It is the sort of treatment that we should be giving MPs, and perhaps their staff as well—again, right from the very beginning. We should be giving them knowledge that they can use when they eventually leave, and we all leave at some point. What was it that Enoch Powell said? I am looking at my friends on the Front Bench now! “All political careers end in failure.” It may not be true, but I think it probably is: “failure” in the sense that one leaves a ministerial career eventually.

I commend my hon. Friend for his outstanding and thought-provoking speech. As Members will know, I served for a long time in Her Majesty’s forces—in the Army—and then left at very short notice to become an MP.

I will be honest: at times I have grappled with comparisons between the two organisations in which I have served. I think that Members do sometimes behave badly here— perhaps there is a lack of team spirit, perhaps people are uncompromising, perhaps people do not behave in the right way—but I am absolutely convinced of the sanctity of what politicians do, and I am also clear in my mind that the vast majority of Members on both sides of the House behave impeccably, are here for the right reasons and always operate in good faith. So my question to my hon. Friend is this: how do we convince people more broadly that politicians are a force for good? How do we convince them that we are here doing a very important job, that we work very hard, and that, actually, our intent, most of the time, is pure and honourable?

I have an answer to that question, deep as it was. Stop watching Prime Minister’s Question Time; instead, watch, and see the work that goes on in Committees and in debates like this, among others. Often there is huge consensus and co-operation between the parties on either side of the House.

The other day, I was present when some legislation was going through Parliament. The Liberal Democrats had tabled an amendment, and it was not a bad amendment, and we accepted it. I was rather amused, I have to say, that the Liberal Democrats looked more shocked than we were. They all started waving their Order Papers as if it were a victory—but the victory was that they had come up with a good idea and the Government had said, “Yes, it is a good idea. We will incorporate it in law.” And they did. That is the sort of thing that people need to see: that Parliament is a thoughtful place, and that on the whole, as my hon. Friend has just said, we strive to work together, and we strive to do what is best for the British people, and indeed for others, too, outside the United Kingdom, whether it be in war-torn Ukraine or in developing countries elsewhere in the world.

Nevertheless, the House has a duty of care to ensure that Members of Parliament can do their job as best they can by restructuring the existing systems, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke so marvellously explained, and by attracting people here by showing care for the time when they will eventually leave this place. The Daily Mail, and one or two other newspapers and one or two broadcasters were saying, “This report says we should be giving hundreds of thousands of pounds to Members of Parliament when they leave.” No, the report does not say that. But redundancy rules do exist for ordinary companies and for those who work in the civil service. For all the reasons I have explained, our job is far more volatile than those careers, because we can lose our job for reasons that have nothing to do with our own ability, or lack thereof.

Our redundancy payments should be the same as those in other sectors. Is that unreasonable? The press might say so; I would say it is just natural justice, and that is all the report asks for. I hope that people will read it and that the House of Commons Commission—we do not know what exactly it gets up to—reads it. I hope that Mr Speaker, who is very imaginative and for whom I have the highest respect, reads it. More importantly, though, I hope that something is done about it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and the rest of the Administration Committee on securing this debate. It really is important that Members have an opportunity to reflect on how we can best ensure that the House’s services and facilities are equipped to help us carry out our roles as representatives of our constituents and as legislators. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), who is a member of the Administration Committee, is very sorry that she is unable to be here today herself.

Some might wonder why an SNP Member is concerned about the running of this Parliament, when one considers the fact that our dearest wish is to be away from it as soon as we possibly can be. However, we have to serve our constituents to the very best of our abilities, and we of course want to see addressed anything that might constrain that or reduce that impact.

The hon. Lady mentioned her colleague who could not be here; the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) is a superb example of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) asked about. She provides huge amounts of information and ideas to the Administration Committee. Regardless of whether she is SNP, Labour, Conservative or whatever, we all love her and wish she could be here today. That shows the degree of constructive co-operation that goes on among the parties in this place.

Well, I will certainly make sure that my hon. Friend hears that comment. I know she will be pleased that her efforts are appreciated. She is a very effective parliamentarian, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and would always be intent on making sure that services run as effectively as possible. I am sure she appreciates the admiration expressed by the hon. Gentleman and, I am sure, by other Committee members as well.

The hon. Member for Broxbourne spoke of the importance of holding this conversation about improving not just House services, but the quality of representation and, indeed, representatives for our constituents. He made the fair point that this place needs to be aware of the competition it faces from so many other sectors in today’s world. He spoke about the uncertainty of this role and the fact that that can prove unattractive, as well as about the skills needed for the role, from spinning lots of plates to diplomatic skills—for most of us, anyway. He also touched on security, which I agree is a vital issue, particularly in the light of the dreadful circumstances of the deaths of two Members of this House in recent years.

The hon. Member for Broxbourne mentioned the provision of better advice for Members. The information available to Members on how this place works has improved vastly, even since I was elected in 2015. I thank all the House staff for their long and hard work on that. I spent some time being interviewed by them and passing on my thoughts, and I know that many other Members have done so as well. I know that the staff are looking to make even further improvements to that information. The workings of this place can be really quite impenetrable at times, so the information is a really big help to anyone coming here for the first time, and I am pleased to see that that work will continue.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) about the need for more transparency around the decisions of the House’s Committees, including the suggestion that Members should be elected to posts. It will be interesting to see how that conversation develops and how that might actually work, especially when it comes to ensuring that we get sufficient numbers of Members interested in taking on those roles. As I know from the work of the Administration Committee, there is quite a lot of work involved. We need only look at the work in the report, and the reports from previous Committees, to see what is involved. She also talked about the need for greater scrutiny of the House of Commons Commission to increase insight into what happens behind closed doors.

I am on the Commission myself and wish to pay tribute to Mr Speaker and his team for the focus that they bring to the work. I know that he is intent on further professionalising the Commission and the work that it does, which is really starting to pay off—certainly from what I have seen in the short time that I have been on the Commission—especially on things such as the recent report from Lord Morse, the recommendations of which were accepted by the Commission.

I thank the hon. Member for referring to the comments that I made. May I draw her a little further on the role that House Committees could have in scrutinising the work of the Commission? Is that something that she feels that she might support?

I have only just heard about that from the right hon. Lady. Certainly I am sure the Commission would be prepared to consider it. We have a meeting coming up fairly shortly, so we might be able to put that into “any other business”.

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) mentioned the duty of care to our teams. That is so important, because when a Member loses their seat for whatever reason, they are left scrambling to find work. I am really pleased that this has been raised. We all know how vital those members of staff are to our work, and how trusted and valued they are, and they deserve nothing less than the best that we can do for them.

I thank colleagues and predecessors on the House of Commons Commission who last year agreed the next House of Commons service strategy for the period 2023 to 2027, which, of course, we will continue to monitor. I have been in this position for only a relatively short period of time. I was a councillor in Edinburgh Council for some years. That is a large public body in itself, but sitting on the House of Commons Commission and seeing the work entailed in keeping this particular parliamentary duck swimming along, even while underneath the waterline we know the feet are pedalling furiously, has still been something of an eye-opener. I have been so impressed by the dedication of those who report to, or work for, the Commission. I must mention in particular Clerks Gosia McBride and Ed Potton, who have been immensely helpful in interpreting some of the more obscure points made in some of the papers put before us.

I wish to commend all the staff of both Houses and the Commission—from Mr Speaker, the Deputy Speakers and their offices to In-House Services—who, across so many different areas, do an absolutely exceptional job of keeping this place running smoothly, very often in trying circumstances. That was especially evident during the pandemic, but also evident in the events around the late Queen’s passing and in the sudden efforts required for President Zelensky’s very successful visit yesterday.

I must also pay tribute to Sir John Benger, who has just announced that he will end his tenure as Clerk of the House in the autumn after four years, although after many years in total in this place. On behalf of the SNP, I wish him all the very best in his new role. However, his departure raises concerns about possible costly delays to the restoration and renewal programme as a result, so I look forward to hearing of a suitable replacement as soon as possible.

I gathered some views from colleagues and staff members before I prepared for this speech. One point raised with me, which I am sure is of paramount importance, is that Members be given assurances that the R and R project will take full account of the potential impact on the health and safety of staff. This is an iconic and historic building, a world heritage site, but we know it is decaying in key areas and often falls short of what is required in a modern workplace.

Wi-fi infrastructure can be unreliable—although I have nothing but high praise for those in the Parliamentary Digital Service, who are always remarkably responsive and incredibly patient with those of us who are not completely IT literate—many of the windows are single-glazed and do not open or close, which we know adds up to a giant carbon footprint, the lifts often break down and there are problems with the heating, to give just a few examples raised with me. We are told and we hope that the issues will be resolved once R and R is complete, but the urgency of addressing them should be emphasised on behalf of the many staff who spent so much of their lives here.

I also need to pass on views received from staff members that less maintenance and procurement work in the building should be contracted out. One member of staff I spoke to felt that, for example, electrical and plumbing services were not carried out quite as well or as cost-effectively as they might have been with more oversight from the House, and others have spoken to me with exasperation of overly complicated procurement systems.

Another issue raised with me, which is certainly dear to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw, is accessibility. Some hon. Members have highlighted the problems of too few adapted offices for disabled folk. Due to the present system of allocating offices after an election, suitable rooms are often not available for those who really need them—and it is worth bearing in mind that anyone can become disabled at any time. I ask what the House can do to ensure adaptable offices can be kept in reserve for Members and staff who have or develop disabilities.

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady again; she is being gracious in giving way. She referred to issues some people with a disability have in getting into this building, a concern I share with her, which highlights the issue we have with a lack of read- across between the House’s Committees. The Procedure Committee considered whether we should have the ability to participate in proceedings in this place remotely. All those opportunities were cut as a result of a recommendation from that Committee, but it strikes me that if one of our number were to become unable to enter this building because of a disability, or had a member of staff or constituent who wished to visit, they would not be able to participate at all, simply because the Procedure Committee, for another set of reasons, had decided to stop all remote participation. It feels to me that we need more read-across between the House Committees, so that we are not making decisions in isolation.

I agree, and I am about to go on to make that very point. I know that proxy voting has been improved recently, and I really welcome that as an important development, but there are other ways we should look to adapt and modernise this place, particularly as a workplace. For example, we know that in summer 2021 the Commons Executive Board agreed that, as an employer, the House and Parliamentary Digital Service would positively promote flexible and remote working. I also note that in the Leader of the House’s speech to the Institute for Government last month, she acknowledged that the systems that were built during covid demonstrate the range of options available and stated that “slow and dull” would no longer do. I think that is a fair point. I look forward to hearing what more she might present to us today and what proposals might be brought forward.

I was interested to see the Administration Committee’s report on supporting MPs—and, indeed, their teams—at the point of departure from elected office. The report’s contribution to improving the accountability and preparedness of the House service and IPSA for future elections is an important one. I look forward to reflecting on it further.

It is a pleasure to follow so many great contributions from across the House, including that of my SNP Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), and, before her, that of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). It shows me that there are points of agreement across all divides in this place when he and I can agree on such an important matter as appreciation for the Whips Offices and how well they organise us all.

The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) took us through her vision for improving many aspects of how we run this place. I particularly appreciated her example of the effort, time and perplexity that people went through to get the crèche set up. We now think, “How was it not a thing before?” It is extraordinary to think that it was once a bar, especially for those of us who have arrived recently—I know that the memories of some are long. I am glad that we have the crèche, but it is astonishing that it took so long. Many of the points she raised are worthy of further exploration.

I am grateful to my friend the Chair of the Administration Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker), for his—as always—thoughtful, witty and entertaining but provocative contributions on how we appreciate Members and why it matters. I look forward to discussing it with him further. I thank him and his Committee for their important report. It was published after this debate was secured, so I will focus on parliamentary services, but we have a lot of work to do in picking up on his comments.

I put on record my gratitude and that of the Labour party for the thousands of members of House staff who support our work across an enormous range of professions and services, from the Clerks to the cleaners. We need their quality services so that we can best serve our constituents in our constituencies and represent them here.

The country, and indeed the world, saw the very best of the House service throughout the pandemic, during the lying in state of Her late Majesty the Queen, and, I would add, just yesterday for the very sudden arrival of one of the most important Heads of State in the world. On all those occasions and more, House staff have done Parliament proud; they carry out their duties with great distinction. The public possibly never realise just how hard the Doorkeepers work to ensure we are going the right way and are in the right place, for instance, but we see all those people do those things every day, and I thank each and every one of them for it. I also challenge us all to show our appreciation and our respect. Yes, they are there to help us to serve our constituents, but they are not our servants; they are our colleagues. We are grateful to them all.

Whether we are scrutinising the Government, making laws or debating the issues of the day, everything we do is for the benefit of the people we represent. That is what this debate boils down to. I cannot speak to every parliamentary service—colleagues who have trains to catch may be glad to hear that I will not—but I will pick out a few of current relevance.

First, I congratulate the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on his appointment. He advises as well as adjudicates on the rules that govern us. I am glad that he has prioritised improving the quality of information in the guidance. I also think it important for the public to know that those rules are there. Given some of the high-profile cases, it is no wonder that the public sometimes think that there are no rules or that nobody is bothering to enforce them. Yes, there are rules; yes, they are being improved; and yes, there is a body of people, led by the commissioner, whose job it is to hold us to them. It is to the merit of the commissioner that he is engaging with so many of us.

I do not think that we have ever had a golden age when everybody thought politicians were completely trustworthy, but people should be able to trust that there is a system around us to hold us to account when we fail. That connects to the work of those in the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, as well as to our Domestic Committees and the House services that support them, which I thank.

I also welcome the commitment of the commissioner and his team to work on improving everyone’s understanding, so let me ask the Leader of the House a quick question. Would she support me in ensuring that at least one physical copy of the rules is sent to every MP’s office, and that copies are made readily available in every Vote Office, clearly labelled to show when the code is coming into force and so on? Let us make it easier for everybody—the public, Members and staff—to know what the rules are.

I understand that the Parliamentary Digital Service is hard at work on a new platform to bring accessibility and transparency to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and to make it easily searchable. Clearly we need that—it is long overdue, and I thank PDS for updating me recently on that, and I urge it to press ahead. I welcome the move to bring Members’ interests together in one searchable digital place. I would like some reassurance from the Leader of the House that there will be the opportunity to include gifts and hospitality that Ministers receive on the same register, or to have some method of linking between the two.

I put on record, slightly stretching the debate from parliamentary services, my appreciation for MPs’ staff. That gives me an opportunity to thank all those unsung heroes, and in a personal way, I thank my long-serving office manager, Arthur Girling, who will shortly be leaving my office, after seeing me through Brexit, covid and many more crises. He has served me and the people of Bristol West well, and I am very sad to see him go, but I wish him all the luck in the world in his new role. Thank you for indulging me on that, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The wide range of skills that MPs’ staff use as part of a busy small team is impressive. While we are working here for our constituents on legislation, they are in our constituency offices providing direct assistance and being our frontline, often dealing with complex and heartbreaking situations. It is not on that they have to deal with the brunt of online and actual abuse. It may be directed actually at us, but they take the brunt of it. On that, I draw attention to another parliamentary service, the wellbeing service. I encourage all colleagues to make use of it and to look at how they use their wellbeing budgets to enhance the wellbeing of their staff.

I also thank the Library service and the Vote Office and Table Office staff, who are invaluable in helping us and our staff to serve our constituents. They are our primary service. They need support, and I thank the Members’ Services Team with their HR service, pastoral support and free training for staff and MPs. Again, I encourage colleagues to show our leadership and be proactive in taking up that help, searching out what is available for our staff and ourselves so that we can, as Speaker’s Conference is looking at, be the very best we can at being leaders of our teams.

We are elected to be leaders—and not just political leaders, but team leaders, community leaders and campaign leaders. In order to do that as well as we can, I encourage all colleagues to make use of what is there, but I would also like the Members’ Services Team and the Speaker’s Conference to consider what else the team might do proactively, such as they do when an MP sadly dies in service, where proactive contact is made with MPs’ staff after that tragic occasion. I would like the Members’ Services Team to be considered for other tasks. I know that the survey of the 2019 intake will be useful for informing that.

Several House services have a role in helping us and our staff to feel safe. The introduction of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme was a mark of great progress, and we are much better than we were when I came into this place, but there is room for improvement. Too many cases take too long, and I know the ICGS knows that, and I have spoken with the current director. I look forward to seeing the recruitment of more investigators helping to speed things up.

I also give a note of appreciation, as well as a challenge, for our magnificent security staff, who put themselves on the line every day to protect us and to allow us to come to work unimpeded by threat. We have lived through many threats over the past few years, including, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) has mentioned, the murder of two of our colleagues, but I will never forget the ultimate sacrifice made by PC Keith Palmer, killed in the line of duty protecting us on that terrible day in 2017. I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to remember him when we pass his memorial in Parliament Square. I support the police and security services on the screening and diligence work that they know they have to do and keep doing.

The shadow Leader of the House is making an important speech, and I agree with everything she is saying about security. We are well looked after here as MPs; we have great security, great police and she rightly commended those who look after us. Does she agree, however, that there is work to do on security governance and how we look after MPs—our colleagues—off the estate?

I do. It is interesting that there is such a degree of concord across the House on this subject. The security is not just for us but for our staff and it is so important, particularly in the light of several recent high-profile cases, whose names I will not mention because I do not want to dignify them. We have a challenge with officers who have served here, though only for a short time. We need to know the greater risk of their serving on the police force, and I think we have had that assurance that our security and police services are working on that. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to do much more to make sure that we are doing that off the estate, too.

There are too many services to name them all, but I will try to rattle through them. I encourage everyone to show their appreciation for the staff who go above and beyond by using the STAR staff recognition scheme on the intranet—if any Members are puzzled, they should have a look. I have certainly used it, but probably I could do so more. We should use it to show our appreciation for the security staff, cleaners, Clerks and Doorkeepers. If someone has gone out of their way, please use that.

We have the Governance Office, the Finance team, Select Committee staff, the People and Culture team, the Research and Information team and the House of Commons Library, who I have already mentioned. I have used Speaker’s Counsel many times for advice on points of law. There is Hansard—I see them up there. There was a rueful grin earlier when the hon. Member for Lichfield asked whether anyone actually reads Hansard. Yes, actually. Even if it is just us, we need them to do that. If I want to hold Members and Ministers to account, I need to know what they said. If I am to learn how to improve my speeches, I need to read what I actually said rather than what I scribble down and cannot read.

Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), the shadow leader is an appointed member of the House of Commons Commission, so she is in charge of running the services that she has just been talking about. Will she join me in calling for House Committees to be given the opportunity to scrutinise the work of the Commission? I am sure that, as a member of that body, she would want to ensure as much transparency as possible and an ability to improve the decisions made there through the scrutiny process?

I agree that commissioners should always strive to improve how we conduct our business. An interesting point of tension could arise because those domestic Committees advise us, so I will look at the right hon. Lady’s proposal in more detail. We might need to work out the lines of accountability. I thank her for that intervention.

I will not be quite as philosophical or learned as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller). I will simply say that given this is a sort of Oscar ceremony where we are praising everyone—I already praised the Whips—we should also mention the Serjeant at Arms department, which looks after the work in the Chamber. People do not realise that it also looks after security within the boundaries of the Palace of Westminster.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that. It might have been the In-House Services team that I had not yet mentioned, and I am happy to concur. As well as having a bit of a love-in today, some of us have offered challenges to one another and to those House services that we love and respect but also need sometimes to improve.

I want to finish by saying that we thank them all. We should all strive for improved services for Members because it is in the interests of the public, of democracy and of the constituents we serve. That may mean looking at how we support Members who are leaving or working out whether we are taking care of our cleaners properly. I ask all Members to think about what we could do better, so that we can serve our constituents and, most of all, democracy to the best of our ability, and I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Let me start by congratulating the Chair of the Administration Committee and member of the Commission, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker). I also thank the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) for securing this debate. I am grateful to all Members who have spoken. I would like to add my thanks to the staff of the House for their support and the services they provide, which allow all Members and our staff to go about the business of representing our constituents. If anyone is from a department that has not been mentioned by name this afternoon, we are thinking of them too.

As Leader of the House of Commons, while I am focused on getting our legislative agenda through Parliament, I also want to focus, in whatever time I have in this job, on how to make our legislature the best in the world. It is really important that we hold debates such as this, to give all Members the opportunity to raise issues and have confidence that their views will be heard. I say that in part because some members of the public will wonder why we are talking about ourselves today, but it is important. Although there is no job description for a Member of Parliament, one thing we can say is that we are all here to empower our constituents. If we ourselves have agency and are empowered to represent them, make good laws for the land and help sort out their issues, our constituents and the citizens of this country will become more empowered.

I thank all contributors to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne may take close management, and may indeed be difficult to manage, but he is also the voice of gumption and kindness and the champion of being effective and excellent. He spoke about a war for talent, as well as the career jeopardy and the opportunity cost that come with serving in this place, and he is right to point to that. We also need to place on record that we are all here because this is a fantastic job; we very much believe that. When I am asked to go to recruitment events to get more women involved in Parliament, I no longer give speeches; I just read out the list of the things we have been able to do and the very rewarding casework we do, sometimes saving lives and dealing with incredibly emotionally powerful situations.

It is a fantastic job, but there are unique stresses to it that affect Members of Parliament, including those who become Ministers. I am very pleased that we have been able to make some progress on setting up a proper HR function for Ministers in Whitehall. That is incredibly important. I shall not go into detail now, but I think it will make a massive difference to supporting Ministers. Sometimes we ask them to juggle chainsaws with little support. That needs to be rectified, and it will be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne spoke about the Administration Committee’s report. He told me about some of the harrowing evidence that he and his Committee heard from ex-Members of Parliament who had been the victims of severe abuse when they were in this place. It is incredibly important for us to ensure that when Members leave this place, they are still supported by virtue of the job they did.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke is right about the need to ensure that this place is the best it can be. I thank her for her encouragement and for the insights she gave into the international dimension to this place. Although some Members may not belong to a particular body or all-party parliamentary group, they may want to network with those in other Parliaments, and we should look at the support we give them to do that. She is right that in all these things we need to get a blinking move on—it takes us a long time, several debates and a lot of pontificating, and sometimes we can learn as we go and stand up and improve these services.

It is incredibly important that there is accountability. I spent the Christmas recess reading the governance reports and restructures of the last 20 years in this place. Important though they are, we sometimes disappear down a rabbit hole of detail and committee structures, whereas we need to be focused on what we are trying to get done and the practical things that need to happen to enable us to do it.

I will chance my arm with yet another member of the House of Commons Commission —there are four members of the Commission in the Chamber today—as the Commission is responsible for the delivery of parliamentary services. Although I agree with my right hon. Friend that we must not disappear into navel gazing, it is important that any changes are part of a governance structure, which means they are bigger than the individual in post at the time. Will she, therefore, undertake at least to consider supporting my urging that a House Committee takes on direct scrutiny of the Commission? Even if we need to invent yet another body to take on the advisory role that the shadow Leader of the House mentioned, scrutinising the Commission would put some grit in the oyster and perhaps make the changes that the Leader of the House wants to see happen even faster?

I have a great deal of sympathy for what my right hon. Friend says. We need to look at the relationship between the three main Committees working on House services and the other things that enable us to do our job. We also need to look at the work of the Commission, and I am sure my colleagues on the Commission would say that we want the Commission to work better. That is what we need to focus on. Scrutiny is obviously key, with the caveat that there are sometimes sensitive issues that have to be kept confidential, but I am all for greater scrutiny.

The Speakers of both Houses, the noble Lord True and I are very keen to ensure that the House of Commons Commission and its equivalent in the other place are much more effective and that we have much more confidence in how this whole place is run, whether by parliamentary services or in the financial accountability running alongside them. I am happy to continue those discussions with my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke.

My right hon. Friend and other colleagues touched on standards, and I have urged the House to invite Sir Cary Cooper to come and look at our standards landscape—again, not disappearing down the rabbit hole but looking at the overall situation of the many standards bodies we now have—which is incredibly important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is a veteran of the Whips Office. He gave a very good speech and spoke kindly about staff. Of course, one of the unique pressures when we run for re-election is that we are not only concerned for our own future. If we lose our job, our staff do, too. Again, that brings unique stresses. During Operation Pitting, I remember that many Members and their staff were on the phone to people who were in the crowds outside Kabul airport and begging for a lifeline. These were incredibly dramatic things to go through. There are stresses on Members of Parliament, but there are stresses on our staff, too.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) also paid tribute to all House staff. I can assure her that one of the core principles of restoration and renewal it that health and safety and wellbeing are part not only of what we are creating but of how we create it. I thank her for putting on record her thanks to the Clerks of the House, which I am sure everyone echoes.

The hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the shadow Leader of the House, paid tribute to many staff, and I echo her comments. I completely agree that the landscape of rules that people have to follow can be complicated, and that it is much easier to pick up a booklet containing everything we need to know. The Commissioner for Standards thinks so, too. Physical copies should be readily available; we should make these things as easy as possible for people to understand.

I gave the hon. Lady an update yesterday on the encouraging news about the database for ministerial gifts and hospitality. As of yesterday, we are on track to meet the deadlines I set when we debated the issue on the Floor of the House. If we meet those deadlines for establishing the database, we will obviously be able to link the House and Government databases, although it will take a little longer if we want a combined system. Certainly by the summer, however, anyone who wants to find out about the hon. Lady’s interests or my interests will find that much easier to do, and that will apply whether they are looking at Ministers or not.

I thank the hon. Lady for again reminding the House of the ultimate sacrifice made by PC Keith Palmer. It was a shocking day for everyone who was on the parliamentary estate, but we cannot begin to imagine what it was like for his colleagues. We should never forget the risks they take to keep us safe in here.

I want to tell the House about a couple of things that we are going to do to make some of this ambition a reality. The House delivers a range of support to Members so that they can carry out their responsibilities effectively, but I feel strongly that many Members will have ideas about additional services that they need. For example, many colleagues run mini-businesses from their offices—social enterprises and so forth—and the role of an MP has changed quite dramatically over recent years, so colleagues will clearly have ideas about how certain services can improve.

I am working with the House, through the House of Commons Commission, to bring forward a survey in the next few months to look at what additional support and services we can develop to enable right hon. and hon. Members to do their jobs better. The survey will build on the work the House has done in seeking Members’ views on how to improve services and in considering whether additional services need to be offered. I hope that that will ensure that the rebalancing of the House’s new strategy towards prioritising Members’ services becomes a reality. I encourage all Members to respond to the survey when it comes out, and I suggest that they fill it in alongside their staff. It will look at the issues raised today, including not only Members who are coming into the House but Members who will be leaving it.

In addition, and to make sure that we really are the best in the world, I am keen to benchmark ourselves against our equivalents—initially in the G7. I have been working with the House to look at the services that those other Parliaments provide to their Members, and I have commissioned a research briefing on the standard of services that MPs in those Parliaments receive.

To conclude, many of the matters we have discussed today are ultimately a matter for the House rather than the Government, but I am working closely with the House of Commons Commission, the Administration Committee and the other Committees of the House to ensure that we make good progress. Finally, I again echo all the thanks and gratitude that many Members on both sides of the House have expressed to staff for the excellent services they provide us with.

We have had an eclectic debate. We started by talking about the McCloud ruling, pensions and the fact that the respective chairs of the 1922 Committee and the parliamentary Labour party had written to IPSA asking for greater clarification, which shows that there is great cross-party support for action. I then talked about the Administration Committee report on how we can treat Members better when they leave this place.

We then had some fantastic speeches. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) demonstrated her amazing intellect in demanding that the House demand greater accountability from House services and the Commission. We had fantastic oratory from my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). It is so sad to think that his glory years in the Government were wasted as a Whip, when he could not speak, and we missed out on his fluid words and all the speeches he would have made if he had been on the Front Bench as a Minister during that time. I would like to thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland), an ex-Army officer who served his country in the Army for 30 years and is now serving it in this place. I would also like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) for his kind words, which were very much appreciated.

I thank the respective Front Benchers. It is really nice that we have had the A team here. It would have been easy for the respective Front Benchers—the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and the SNP spokesperson—to delegate responding to this debate to one of their more junior colleagues. I am sure each of those junior colleagues would have done brilliantly, but it is lovely to have the parties represented by the principles of my right hon. Friend and the hon. Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), and I thank them for the effort they made in attending.

Finally, I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; we have been doing a lot of thanking today. You were responsible for putting me through on to the candidates list about 25 years ago. Your predecessor in the Chair this afternoon gave me my first job here, and a few years later you put me on the candidates list, so if anybody watching the Parliament channel takes great offence at my presence in this place, they know who to blame. Anyway, thank you very much, and I wish all colleagues a happy constituency Friday.

I clearly have a great deal to answer for. I say to the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) that I heard the tribute paid to him by Mr Deputy Speaker Evans, and I endorse his words wholeheartedly.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of Parliamentary services for Members.