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Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Angela Eagle, Vera Baird, Mr. Roger Berry, Mr. John Grogan, Helen Jackson, Ann McKechin, Mrs. Barbara Roche, Joan Ruddock, Mr. Shaun Woodward and Mr. Parmjit Dhanda.

Sex Equality (Duties Of Public Authorities) Bill

Angela Eagle accordingly presented a Bill to make provision in relation to public authorities for the further prevention of sex discrimination and for the promotion of equality of opportunity for men and women: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 November, and to be printed [Bill 172].

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Members' Allowances

Mr. Speaker: We now have three hours for the motion on Members' allowances and the two motions on parliamentary pensions. At the conclusion of the three-hour debate, I shall call the amendments to the Members' allowances motion that I have selected to be moved formally; the House will vote on each in turn and then on the main motion on Members' allowances, amended or not, as the case may be. We shall then vote on the two motions on pensions.

My selection of amendments has been posted in the No Lobby in the usual way.

12.51 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): I beg to move,


We have three motions before us this afternoon, the first of which is on Members' allowances, the second and third on parliamentary pensions. Explanatory memorandums on each have been placed in the Vote Office. All three are tabled in response to the report of the Review Body on Senior Salaries—the SSRB's triennial review of pay and allowances, a copy of which was laid before the House on 21 October. The Government are grateful to the SSRB for undertaking the review with its customary thoroughness and
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expertise. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House join me in thanking John Baker and his team for their hard work.

Let me say a word or two about the status of the SSRB. It is an independent organisation. That the Government, as a matter of principle, put its recommendations to the House is established practice. We ask the SSRB to study specific matters and it makes a recommendation, and it is to our advantage that we take outside and independent advice. I know that the whole House shares that view.

I emphasise that we are not debating Members' pay this afternoon. The SSRB recommended no increase in Members' or Ministers' salaries beyond the normal annual uprating in line with inflation. Personally, I think that that is right. Members' allowances have been the subject of some attention recently. It is understandable that some of the media and our constituents question whether the considerable sum spent on Members' allowances is well spent, but contrary to the lurid headlines, the allowances do not go to line our own pockets: they are essential if we are to function as effective Members of Parliament both at Westminster and in our constituencies, and all claims are within agreed rules.

The position today is very different from the one 20 or 30 years ago, when many Members lived in London, went to their constituency perhaps once a month for the odd surgery, and did not have a constituency office. Our constituents demand a different level of service and it is proper that the House has put in place the resources necessary to support that.

There are five effective parts to the motion. I shall deal with the amendments that you have selected, Mr. Speaker—(g), (h), (c) and (i)—during my opening remarks, if that is convenient. Paragraph (2) is applicable to the staffing allowance. It would implement recommendation 5 of the SSRB's report so that, with effect from 1 April 2005, the staffing allowance will be increased to a base of £72,000, rising to a maximum of £80,460 according to the number of full-time equivalent employees funded from the staffing allowance and based in London. Those sums will be adjusted annually in line with the average earnings index. The purpose is to enable Members to employ three full-time equivalent staff at proper rates of pay and to take account of the increased cost of employing staff in London.

I hope that the House will support the change. The SSRB based its recommendations on extensive analysis of pay rates in comparable jobs in London and outside. Although we must be careful with public money, we must pay our staff a decent rate for the job.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): In reference to paragraphs (2) and (6), what does the right hon. Gentleman think is the reasonable minimum number of secretaries that a Member of Parliament should be able to employ in the Palace of Westminster without penalties?

Mr. Hain: That is a very complicated question and difficult to answer with a simple yes or no. The reason I hesitate to respond is that each Member allocates staff and determines the precise arrangements according to his or her own needs and choices, and I think that that is an important right shared by all of us.
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Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way again so quickly. He did not answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer), but will he answer mine? Does he agree that whether we base our staff in our constituency or at Westminster is a matter for each Member to determine and that the system should be neutral between the two decisions?

Mr. Hain: I am not sure that I accept the right hon. Lady's point about neutrality, because Members who base all their staff at Westminster do not pay rents and get free heat, lighting, use of the telephone and photocopying, and so on, whereas those of us who have constituency offices—the vast majority, including the right hon. Lady—incur costs there. However, one of the reasons why the motion refers the SSRB recommendation to the Members Estimate Committee, as the SSRB anticipated it might be, is that we would get into a difficult position if there were, in effect, a massive disincentive to having staff employed within the Palace or on the parliamentary estate. We are parliamentarians as well as constituency MPs, and that is an important principle to maintain.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, however, that in the light of the fact that the expenses and allowances paid to Members are now published, they should be equally and easily understood and able to be judged? Giving different allowances—taking £7,000 off a Member and making extra provision if a Member employs all his or her staff in London—adds to the complexity of already complex rules. Should we not be creating a simpler, more straightforward system that is easy to understand and easily accounted for?

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