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Mr. Hain: I am not entirely sure that it has disappeared. It concerns the principle mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick): that it is for each Member to determine, within the acceptable custom and practice that the SSRB and the House rules provide, how to pay staff, whether they are based in the constituency or in London.
Most significantly, amendment (g) would go well beyond the increase in staffing allowance recommended by the SSRB; I am advised that it would cost an extra £2 million to £3 million. I must therefore urge the House to reject it.
Mr. McLoughlin : The Leader of the House says that the proposal will cost an extra £2 million to £3 million. From the SSRB's report, how much will the increase in the incidental expenses provision cost?
Does the Leader of the House accept that the figures are not based on any research? If one examines the proposal for more money for IEP, amendment (g), which proposes instead more flexibility in the staff budget, appears neutral. Has the right
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hon. Gentleman gleaned some behavioural effect or research from the House authorities that supports the estimate of £2 million?
I understand the unrest and anxiety, which is why I did not put the straight SSRB recommendation in the form of a motion. Indeed, the SSRB said that its practical phasing and implementation might need further consideration. Had I tabled such a motion, it would have been defeated for all sorts of reasons, some of which have been raised with me. I have therefore given hon. Members an opportunity to reflect, through the Members Estimate Committee, on how we should move forward. I believe that a much better approach would be for that Committee, which you chair, Mr. Speaker, to consider the SSRB's proposal for abating the IEP to encourage the location of staff away from the parliamentary estate.
The Committee will consider the picture in the round, including the interaction between the staffing allowance and the IEP. That is a proper course of action, which will avoid hasty compromises with uncertain effects.
Miss Widdecombe: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way to me a second time. If his recommendation is accepted and the matter is referred back to the Members Estimate Committee, would not it be appropriate for the House to express a view to that Committee about what it considers to be reasonable basic employment provision, which should not attract penalties? I am sad that my amendment (d) was not selected, but will the right hon. Gentleman at least undertake to ensure that the view of the House is taken before the Members Estimate Committee considers the matter?
Mr. Hain: The Members Estimate Committee reflects the wishes of the House and can receive representations through the Speaker's advisory panel and ordinary representations. The fact that everything is being conducted so openly allows hon. Members to make their points. I understand the point that the right hon. Lady made in amendment (d), which was backed by many hon. Members from all parties. It relates to my earlier point that I understand the accommodation pressures and the desire on the part of the House authorities for location away from the parliamentary estate to constituency offices. There is enormous pressure, especially through interns, on the parliamentary estate. However, we are parliamentariansI believe that that lies behind the right hon. Lady's amendmentnot glorified social workers. We are parliamentarians in addition to providing a first-class constituency advice and assistance service. I believe that most of us try to provide such a service. Although the numbers have to be determined and have to be proportionate to the availability of accommodation and resources, it is important to sustain the case for locating staff here.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
I have been a Member of Parliament for 33 years and the SSRB report is the first example of a report that seeks to tell
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Members of Parliament how to organise their offices. That is extremely dangerous. An outside body, with little experience of our work, is advising us on how to do our job. I am grateful that the Leader of the House said that the matter will be referred to the Members Estimate CommitteeI shall support that motion. I hope that the Committee will take into consideration the views of the House as expressed in the debate. Will the right hon. Gentleman express some anxiety about the fact that, for the first time, an outside body has sought to tell hon. Members how to organise their offices and the job that they do in the House and in their constituencies?
Mr. Hain: As I have signalled in the clearest possible terms, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. However, I must disagree emphatically with any suggestion that the SSRB has operated in an improper fashion. The SSRB is not telling him, me or any other Member what to do. It has provided a set of incentiveswhether the House and the Members Estimate Committee accept them or notto fulfil a set of criteria that it was invited to investigate. They include pressure on the parliamentary estate and the anomaly that hon. Members with staff who are based only on the estate get the whole IEP and do not bear the costs of a constituency office, as, for example, I do. It proposed a recommendation in good faith. We should respect that and I do not accept that it was ordering any of us to do anything. In the end, the House will make the decision.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): If the SSRB had not made the recommendations, an entirely different set of people would be in the Chamber, complaining bitterly that it was not advantageous for them to have offices in their constituencies. Many hon. Members do not have staff in the House. The proposal is not as draconian as it appears at first sight. The SSRB also recommended that hon. Members should have computers as well as a laptop for themselves. [Interruption.] If the work station is based here and shared by a member of staff, I presume that it would not count against the £7,500 reduction in the IEP, which would allow hon. Members to have two members of staff here with only one work station. [Interruption.]
Mr. Hain: I stress to hon. Members that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work on our behalf and her point is about the number of work stations that one can have in order to be allocated the specific provisions under the IEP that the SSRB recommends. Hon. Members can vary the number of staff according to the availability of work stations. That sort of detail makes it important for the Members Estimate Committee to consider the matter in greater depth.
For many years, Members of Parliament decided that we needed to improve the office accommodation for our staff and ourselves. Given that there is now more office accommodation than ever, why has someone decided on our behalf that we should discourage people from letting their staff use the accommodation? Three people work in my outer office. If I get rid of two, someone will continue to use the outer office and there will be no gain. My right hon. Friend
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says that we should submit the proposal to the Members Estimate Committee, but it will consider a transition towards something to which we have never agreed.
Mr. Hain: The recommendation has been made precisely because I was aware of the concerns that my right hon. Friend and others have expressed. The Members Estimate Committee will therefore have a chance to examine the proposal in more detail.
The truth is that this place is bursting. There are already far too many people working here, and it is not the case that we could just fill up our offices with existing paid and unpaid members of staff. Even unpaid members of staff have an effect, through the greater use of catering and other facilities here, resulting in a drain on the House's resources. If we expect other people to be careful about public spending, we cannot simply expand our allowances and accommodation willy-nilly.
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