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Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I very much support the hon. Gentleman who has talked about serious matters. However, I have often thought about one small matter. United States Congressmen who are defeated or have retired can go to any part of the building, apart from the floor of the debating chamber. Here, we are very restricted; former Members can go to the canteen, but not other parts of the building. I do not know why retired Members, especially those of pensionable age, are not allowed to go wherever they want in the building. It is cruel for somebody who has been sitting around all those rooms for 20 or 25 years to be told that they have to carry a pass, and can go here, but not there. Can we not be more open-minded?
Mr. Ashton: That is exactly one of the problems that the working party should consider. Everybody could ask, "What about this or that? How will it work? What are the questions? What are the answers?" We do not know. We must meet and probe. The media say that Vauxhall make mass redundancies, as do the pit villages, and the workers who lose their jobs must put up with it. However, those people can go down the road and meet in the pub, but defeated Members of Parliament cannot. They are scattered all over the country. They do not have the telephone numbers of other former Members, and may not want to spend the money coming down to London. They may meet up at the party conference. People in other trades and jobs--for example, a skilled fitter made redundant by Vauxhall--can go down the road and get a job somewhere else. A Member of Parliament cannot do that. It is four years before he gets another chance, and then he may have to move house again.
None of us are whingeing about our circumstances. We know how they come about, but a serious analysis of what happens and why has never been undertaken by a Committee of authority. After the election, everybody forgets about the matter until the next election, when a motion such as this is proposed. The single factor that has brought it about is the data protection legislation, which prevents us achieving our aims on a voluntary basis.
I shall make one last point. The same problems are faced by staff. What a horrendous situation when staff must sit watching the count at 1 am, not knowing whether they have a job to go to the following day. When The Sunday Times and the unions arranged a meeting in the House for secretaries not long ago, 350 of them packed Room 14. I know, and people find out only when they leave, that it is impossible to get any information from the Fees Office. It cannot give such information until a decision is announced that Parliament is to be prorogued. Once that decision is made, the Fees Office can provide information about pensions, possible redundancy pay for staff and so on. The matter needs looking into, and the Committee could undertake that.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) has done the House a good turn by raising the matter. I warmly welcome his remarks, which make eminent good sense. I know that my late father greatly enjoyed the informal contact that he had with his colleagues after leaving the House. He had the advantage of being able to come back to a number of dining clubs.
On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I was horrified by the number of requests that I received after the last election from former members of staff to come and work for me, in secretarial capacity or otherwise. They clearly had serious difficulties, and the situation must have been traumatic for them.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of important issues, and the sensible way of taking them forward is as he suggests. I appreciate that he wants to formalise matters for sensible reasons such as the requirements of the data protection legislation, and I hope that the informal group will come up with creative ideas which will make service in the House appear more attractive and, above all, ensure that we look after those who have gone on and left the House. All of us would say that the House is an enormously friendly place on a cross-party basis. A great deal of support is provided by other hon. Members to their colleagues. That must make it all the more difficult when people are turned out and cast adrift, so I am happy to welcome the motion.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): I should like to know, if possible, whether the House wishes to conclude the debate by 7 o'clock. [Hon. Members: "Yes."] In that case, I shall not speak long. I entirely support the motion and the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). He has done a great service to the House and for former Members.
I speak as one who was defeated in 1970, when there was no resettlement grant and the salary ended when the election was called. There is one matter that I want to emphasise, and which I raised at Business questions: the pension. I asked the Fees Office for the average pension paid to former Member and their widows in 1987. The sum was just over £4,000. Although I appreciate that the sum would have been plussed up since 1987 because of inflation, and that that is an average, we should bear in mind that there are many former Members whose pension is a pittance. When we compare that to the pension that
If it were possible, would it be desirable for the Committee to consider whether the pension could be plussed up by more than inflation? Obviously, if that were done for former Members, it would also have to be done outside the House. There are many former Members who left as they were approaching retirement age or who were already of retirement age. Even if they had 20 years' service, bearing in mind the level of the salary in 1987 and before, the sum involved would not amount to much. I hope that the matter can be looked into.
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): To help the House complete the debate by 7 o'clock, I shall be brief. I have been assisting the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) with his proposal, and it should be made clear that Conservative Back-Benchers strongly support it.
There is something that we can do to help the House. I understand from speaking to the Chairman of the Catering Committee that he would be delighted if former Members would dine in the Dining Room on a Thursday night or a Friday lunchtime. That would greatly assist hon. Members.
I have one question to put to the Leader of the House. Can we be certain that there will be some former Members on the Committee, which will appointed under the aegis of the Speaker? It is important that their views should be heard.
Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order, of which I gave you notice, concerns the application of the Human Rights Act 1998. I appreciate that we have trawled over this ground before, but matters have moved on since our previous debate. You will recall that, during the previous debate, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Ms Hughes), quoted a written answer from the President of the Council, which stated: