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Mr. McWalter: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I agree with her in principle, but as she heard my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles say, there is now no scope for giving proper increments to experienced staff year on year. As I read it, amendment (g) would allow us to do that very thing.
Mrs. Campbell: We are always going to get to a point at which the maximum is reached. It is inherent in the capping procedure that once staff salaries total the maximum, it is not possible to pay increments in addition to inflationary allowances. That is one of the difficulties that we have to accept. Staff turnover is rapid, so one can start new staff at the bottom of the scale and pay increments to other staff, but we all face that difficulty.
Mr. Tyler: Will the hon. Lady accept that if the motion is passed hon. Members will be encouraged to employ interns, partially qualified staff, untrained staff or part-time staff, which she apparently wants to do, rather than maintaining professional staff in the House?
Mrs. Campbell: We must all make a judgment on that, but we all understand the importance of employing permanent staff. I would find it difficult to staff my office entirely, or even mainly, with interns and voluntary staff.
Mr. Dobson: A substantial number of hon. Members supplement the existing money for salaries by taking money from the incidental expenses provision. They do so because they like to give increments to staff, some of whom have worked for them for more than 20 years, and because they like to reward their staff, if their staff undergo training. If they continue that practice and exercise their judgment that their staff should be in their parliamentary estate office, they will not be able to do the other things for which IEP provides, because they will have only £5,000.
Mrs. Campbell: I understand my right hon. Friend's point and do not pretend that the SSRB's recommendations are entirely satisfactory. I use the example to speak against amendment (g), which erodes the important principle that staff salaries should be ring-fenced. Together with the changes to staff pension arrangements, we have put staff employment on a proper and fair footing, and I do not want to see the erosion of that principle.
It is, of course, possible to transfer money into salaries from IEP, but not the reverse, which amendment (g) would allow, and we should hold fast to that principle. I realise that amendment (g) was tabled for good reasons
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and that it is simpler than the proposal advanced by the SSRB. However, it is better to increase IEP and allow hon. Members to transfer some of it to staff salaries, which they may do now, than to transfer money from staff salaries to IEP, so I cannot support the amendment afternoon.
On the main proposal, I welcome the modest increase in the staff budget. Paragraph 4.9, table 4.3 in the SSRB report makes it clear that most hon. Members spend all of their staff salaries allowance. I personally welcome the extra, which will enable me to reward my staff a little more generously for what they do. I need to employ my full complement of three staff, all of whom work on constituency casework. I do not employ staff to conduct research here because the casework load is so heavy that I need three staff to do itI can also find plenty of work for the various interns and volunteers who pass through my office. My staff serve me wellthey perform an essential service and are much appreciated by my constituents. However, a new rule to increase IEP for those hon. Members with constituency offices and to reduce it for members of staff based at Westminster would present many of us with a conundrum.
Earlier, I referred to the important question of how workstations would count under amendment (g) towards reducing the allowance. I would certainly base my workstation here in the House, which is where I do most of my work, but I do not use it when I sit in this Chamber, for example, and therefore consider it to be available to a member of staff. That addresses the point raised by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) about two members of staff being the norm. One could have a staff workstation and a Member's workstation, in which case two members of staff could be employed for about the same IEP as they are currently.
Miss Widdecombe: This is Monty Python stuff. The hon. Lady's answer is that we should get round the problem not by decreasing the burden on the parliamentary estate but by fiddling how we define "workstation"forget it.
Amendment (c) concerns mileage allowances, which I have always considered absurdly generous, possibly because I do not own a car and therefore have rarely had the opportunity to claim them. We should encourage hon. Members to use environmentally friendly means of travel, and the private car does not fall into that category. I appreciate that my constituency is small, that I can get around it by bicycle, on foot and by bus, and that many hon. Members cannot do that, but the current mileage allowance is far too high.
I use a taxi when it is raining, blowing or snowing, which makes a bicycle impractical. Ironically, the current mileage allowance pays about one third of the cost of a taxi. We have recently introduced the possibility of claiming the full amount from IEP, provided that receipts are produced, but because I always spend my IEPin most years, I exceed it by a quite a large amountI cannot use that solution. If IEP were to increase, it would allow me to use some of my allowance to pay for taxis, when they are necessary.
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I appreciate that many hon. Members will be caused difficulty by a rapid reduction in the mileage allowance from 57.7p a mile to 40p a mile, and we must examine how to introduce that reduction gradually rather than very quickly. I do not support amendment (c), because the Inland Revenue rate has not been increased for many years, and I presume that it would take a long time for its rate40p per mileto catch up with the 57.7p that we pay Members now.
Sir John Butterfill: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is clear that it will not be possible for my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) to speak to his amendment. Will he be able to move it formally, when time is up?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is now apparent that not all those whom I identified as wanting to speak are likely to be able to contribute. However, that has no negative effect on the ability to put Questions at the end of the debate.
Mr. Salmond: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not in order for the Leader of the House to move that the debate be deferred or extended, so that these matters can be decided after having been debated?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a matter that I can determine. The House determined the timing of the debates yesterday on a motion tabled by the Leader of the House, and I do not think that we shall see any change now.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am grateful to be called to speak briefly to my amendment (c). I am not frightened of putting my head above the parapet when I believe that it is necessary to gain justice and fairness for Members of Parliament.
I remind the House that Members of Parliament have entered into leasing or hire purchase agreements on cars, or have found other ways to have the use of a car, and they cannot change such arrangements, which might last for up to five years. I believe that it is unreasonable to reduce dramatically the rate of mileage allowance available to Members from the present rate of 57.7p per mile, which is low compared with what we used to have. The purpose of my amendment is to freeze the allowance at the present rate until the Inland Revenue rate40p per mile at presenthas caught up.
We have already heard that the Inland Revenue rate is based on no understood criteria and has not been increased for a number of years, despite the fact that motoring costs, particularly fuel costs, have increased dramatically in the past four or five years. The Leader of the House knows that in the last two or three months
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alone the cost of petrol and diesel has increased by 7p or 8p per litre. It would be an injustice not to reflect that in the mileage allowance that Members are able to claim.
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