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Mrs. Browning: I was referring to the appendix that the Leader of the House mentioned. I assumed that it was appendix E, which shows the Hay scalesix different job descriptions with separate London and regional rates. The SSRB recommends that a Member should be able to employ three full-time equivalent stafftwo at a senior level and one at a more junior level.
Let me use the inner London scales to make my point. The appendix suggests that it would cost £28,500 and £27,000 respectively to employ two people, one at the executive secretary/PA rate and a one at the research
If we are working to the pay scales outlined in appendix E, it is very difficult, taking into account employer's NICs, to meet the SSRB's requirement that we should employ two full-time equivalent staff at a senior level and one at a more junior level. Even using the regional, outside London, rates, it is difficult to fulfil those criteria.
If we are working to appendix E, the arithmetic is very simple. If we are working to a different scale, it is a different matter. There is reference to the fact that the SSRB also considered the rates recommended by the Transport and General Workers Union. When we talk about the gross sums and employing three full-time equivalent staff, we need to know which scales and which recommendations we are considering, especially as that is not made clear on the Order Paper. I hope that the Leader of the House will confirm that I have understood him correctly and that we are considering the pay scales as recommended in appendix E of the report. Does the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) still want to intervene?
Moving on to the transitional arrangements, I have already mentioned the fact that some hon. Members are concerned about existing contracts and the recommended rates, but I wonder whether the Leader of the House will clarify what the position will be for existing shared staff. Sometimes a senior secretary will work part time for two Members, but the pro rata part-time rate is not exactly 50 per cent. of that for a full-time equivalent post. In most workplaces with jobs that command lower salaries, the pro rata rates for part-time staff are often exactly 50 per cent. if the job is done for exactly half the time. In more demanding jobs, often to attract part-time staff, more than 50 per cent. of the full-time equivalent rate has to be paid. That is already the case in some contracts where two Members share a secretary. For those people, the gross salary that the secretary receives from two Members is higher than the rates outlined in appendix E. Again, apart from the problem of hon. Members employing someone on much higher rates, hon. Members seek clarification of those shared arrangements, as well as the shared arrangements for equipment that also exist in some cases.
I shall now deal with the incidental expenses provision. It is extremely good that the right hon. Gentleman has aggregated the £9,000 and the £5,000 sums and put more flexibility into the provision. I thoroughly support that proposal, and I am very much aware of the amendment under which that sum would be increased to £18,000. Every hon. Member's arrangements will be different,
Taking out a lease and all that goes with it can be quite challenging for anyone in business, but from our point of view, taking on a lease on premises out of that budget could cause some problems. For example, full-repairing leases are often used. In other words, at some time during the tenancy, one must carry out repairs to the roof or overall decoration inside and outside the premises. The normal running costs may be deemed to be £14,000or perhaps the House will agree to £18,000 today. Bearing in mind the fact that I believe that we still cannot carry forward surpluses year on year to budget for a bill that we know comes up every four or five yearsfor example, to fulfil the requirements of a full-repairing leaseI wonder how hon. Members might meet those obligations under normal commercial leasing conditions.
Mr. Gale: The Leader of the House said in his opening remarks that he had effectively been subsidising his constituency operation out of his own income. That is probably true for very many hon. Members. The provisions before the House distinguish between those Members with staff in London and those outside London, but no provision is made for those Members who chooseit is a choiceto have their offices outside the House of Commons and who do not therefore benefit from the space, heating, lighting, telephones or any of the other equipment provided in the House. I have chosen to subsidise my constituency office to the tune of about £10,000 a year for the past 15 years. I wonder whether there should be some flexibility in the arrangements to make provision for those who choose to have their entire operation outside the House rather than in it.
Mrs. Browning: I am sure the Leader of the House will respond to that point. I understand that the flexibility built into the general services budget would allow for that. It is based on the fact that people need a constituency base, whether it is physically in the constituency or not. That sum has been identified by the SSRB as meeting some of the costs that my hon. Friend mentioned.
I have raised the matter of insurance privately with the Leader of the House, and I would like his reassurance on the record. He mentioned insurance in relation to indemnity for MPs, and I totally agree with the proposal on the Order Paper, particularly in respect of the Foreign Secretary. However, if one sets up an office in a constituency, one requires employers' insurance to cover employees and public liability insurance for people coming into the premises.
Are all those costs to be met centrally on behalf of all Members, regardless of the location of their offices, or would such insurance have to be purchased separately out of the incidental expenses provision? If it were provided centrally, it would clearly not be such a liability and the House could presumably negotiate a good deal because the contract would be large. If MPs had to purchase insurance policies individually, they would represent a charge on the incidental expenses provision.
Mrs. Browning: I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that the Leader of the House has taken his concerns on board. We are all concerned about that. After nine years in Parliament, I do not think the problem of how and where staff are accommodated is getting any easier, despite the fact that we now have Portcullis House.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the amendments tabled by many hon. Members relating to the information technology package. I am concerned about the public tendering procedure that has been used. I am even more concerned that the equipment has been procured with, as I understand it, no reference to the needs of Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament, the usersthe customers, as it werehave not been consulted on the package.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): For the hon. Lady's information, there was very close co-operation on these proposals throughout the previous Parliament between the Officers of the House and the members of the Information Committee. The Committeeworking on a cross-party basis and including the former Member for South Dorset, Ian Brucewas fully behind the proposals. The Officers were very careful to ask Members, as representatives of that Committee, what they wanted.
Mrs. Browning: The package of kit might have been the subject of consultation, but the procurement of specific brands was certainly not. As I understand it, the report that the Information Committee produced, which was considered by the SSRB, says quite clearly that Members sought a choice. Members have not had a choice, particularly in relation to branding. We had hoped for a menu of brands from which Members could choose. In fact, that did not happen. I raise that matter with the Leader of the House because that is not the way to procure such equipment in future. We are all, as end users, entitled to a say in what our preferences and needs are.
The right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the work done by the Parliamentary Data and Video Network in trying to procure the information technology package. However, in response to many Conservative Back Benchers' comments, I must say to him that if PDVN is to have such an executive role in the procurement and management of IT in the House, it will have to raise its game in terms of consumer service and consumer awareness. It must provide a flexible, high-quality service to Members. The Leader of the House might wish to consider this matter separately and take soundings from Members across the House about the level of service that we get. All too often we are greeted by answerphones, and it often takes a long time for phone calls to be returned when there is a problem. If this were a commercial environment, customers would be leaving in their droves. I hope that