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Mrs. Campbell: I would like to refer to the hon. Gentleman's implied support for amendment (g). He will recall that, a few years ago, staff salary allowances and incidental expenses were not separate. We had an office cost allowance out of which everything was paid. There were reasons for changing from that system to a separate system of staff salaries. It was thought that many members of staff were not being properly paid and did not have proper terms and conditions. I believe that the changes introducedthe Members advisory panel was instrumental in making the recommendationshave had a major beneficial effect on staff pay and conditions in the House. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that amendment (g) takes us back to where we were before those changes were made?
Mr. Heald: I hope to persuade the hon. Lady. I agree totally that we should have an IEP that provides for the physical costs of an office outside the House and certain other expenses, and that the salaries budget should be separate from it. She will recall that it is possible to use part of the IEP to subsidise staff salaries. That might apply to Members who have an operation in London where staff costs are more expensive.
I believe that amendment (g) provides similar flexibility, applying to Members who might have lower staff costs outside Londonthe salary scales reflect thatbut want to use part of it to subsidise the higher costs of providing an office outside London. It provides an element of equality between the two allowances and means that Members can have the same allowances, which is very important in the context of publishing the allowances. We should not have different rates of allowances if the public are going to see them published: they must be on an even basis. I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that making the change will not weaken the principle at all.
Sir Michael Spicer: Further to what my hon. Friend is saying, is it not also the case that up to 25 per cent. of the staff budget can already be used for consultancy purposes and for buying services? The flexibility already exists.
On amendment (c), which deals with car mileage allowance, it is hard to avoid the logic of the SSRB recommendation that we should receive equality with our constituents. Although I accept the SSRB proposals, I look forward to hearing the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and others and to seeing how they advance their case. Different circumstances may
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apply in different constituencies and in different parts of the UK. I will listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has to say, as I always do, and see how much support his arguments gain in the House today.
A crucial element of greater openness has been the detail provided about how Members' allowances are spent and the new publication of those details, which was handled very efficiently by the staff of the House. The old system lacked the necessary transparency and did not provide full information to the public. The publication of allowances has shown that MPs are generally providing a good service and that they need help to do so. I am sure that both sides of the House will join me in that view. Subject to the qualifying points that I have made, I shall support the motions before us today. We should back the recommendations of the review body.
I would have supported the amendment on pooled research facilities, and I hope that it is possible for that issue to be dealt with in some way in the future. It seems wrong that a shared researcher should be treated differently from a person who works directly to an hon. Member. I hope that some consideration can be given to that.
Of course, I shall monitor the strength of support for the various amendments to see whether a compelling case can be made for changes to the Government's plans. I am sure that we will have an interesting and reasoned debate, and I have kept my remarks reasonably brief as I know that many hon. Members want to contribute.
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): I want to concentrate on the SSRB's recommendation on incidental expenses, and especially on the question of abatement for those who have staff here in the House. I have no personal interest in this matter: I am standing down at the next election, so I will not benefit from or be disadvantaged by the proposals. However, I have a very strong interest in ensuring that my successorwhoever he or she isand those of my colleagues who also represent London seats will not be severely disadvantaged by those proposals.
I shall make five very brief points. First, the proposals in the SSRB report will severely affect those hon. Members with existing staff who have always been based in the parliamentary estate. That is despite, but in some ways because of, the recommendation for a transitional period. The staff to whom I refer have been employed on the basis that this is their place of work. If, even after a period of one Parliament, this place ceases to be their place of work, the SSRB recommendation would amount to a serious change in their terms and conditions of work and could well mean that they have to terminate their employment.
Although having a transitional period is better than imposing such a change immediately, I am not sure that it is sensible for us to create what, in effect, is two tiers of membership of this House. Under the recommendations, some hon. Members would be able to have more staff here, and some would not. That does not strike me as terribly sensible.
Secondly, the provisions in the SSRB report will be very difficult for those hon. Members who represent constituencies in London, but especially so for those
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with inner-London constituencies. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) noted, establishing a constituency office in the City, Islington or Holborn costs much more than it does in many other parts of the country outside London. To assume that the same constituency office allowance will apply both in London and outside it takes no account of the differences in costs, prices, rent and so forth.
Many hon. Members with inner-London constituencies face an especially heavy constituency case load. I have been in this House for twenty-one and a half years. In all that time I have not used any of the allowances available to me to employ any researchers because I have had to devote all my resources to employing people to work on my constituency case load. At present, the number of cases in connection with immigration and asylum is very large for hon. Members with inner-city constituenciesand especially so for those in inner Londonbut the allowance system does not recognise the additional costs that those hon. Members incur.
Nothing in either the present or the proposed systems recognises the particular difficulties that face London Members. That is why I have always had my staff here in the parliamentary estate, and why I want to ensure that my successor has the same option, if he or she decides that that is in the best interests of constituents.
Thirdly, the SSRB proposal hits permanent staff but not people such as interns or volunteers, who share workstations and do not have their own. If my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the review body are worried about pressure on the parliamentary estate because of the number of people using the facilities here, I would gently suggest that the report is aiming at the wrong target. The report hits permanent staff as I have described, but ignores the pressure that arises from non-permanent staff. That seems a rather partial approach to the problem.
Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): My right hon. Friend mentioned the use of interns and volunteers, but does he accept that the use of such people has implications for the resources of the House? They all need to be trained to use the PDVN system, and they have other training needs that take up the House's resources.
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right, but I hasten to make it clear that I am not suggesting that it should not be possible to employ interns or volunteers. However, if we are taking a serious look at the pressure on the House's resources, we must accept that the problem is very complex. To assume that the SSRB recommendation is the only answer would be to ignore that complexity.
My fourth point is simple and blunt. Although it does not apply to me, I suspect that it will apply to some of my colleagues, especially those representing seats in London. If implemented, the proposals will involve redundancies among existing staff. That is not something that should be considered lightly, and I am not sure that the SSRB has taken account of the costs involved.
The right hon. Gentleman is taking us through this minefield in an exemplary
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fashion, but does he agree that the recommendation means that some of the most experienced members of staff would lose their jobs? They are the ones who have permanent workstations, and they have been kept here because of their knowledge.
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