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As has already been said, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) is a distinguished and experienced member of the Members Estimate Committee and we are all grateful to him for his work. He asked about the involvement of
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the Members Estimate Committee and stressed its importance, which we accept. The Leader of the House would welcome the Members Estimate Committee producing and publishing a memorandum for the Baker review. Of course, after Sir John’s review has reported, the MEC can make its further views clear to the House, and individual members of that Committee, like all other hon. Members, will be free to table any amendments to Sir John’s proposals that they believe appropriate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) spoke about the important work of our staff and the importance of paying them properly. Let me remind her that all hon. Members are already required to review the pay of their staff every year. However, I am sure that all hon. Members agreed with her point.

Linda Gilroy: I sought clarification of whether, by accepting today’s proposals for the staff allowance, we could also refer automatic increases for staff to the MEC for consideration.

Helen Goodman: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, and she is, of course, free to make representations to the MEC about that, if she wishes.

The hon. Member for North Devon spoke to his amendment (f) to the motion before us, which proposes that we stay with the existing system until a new system is put in place. I hope that I have explained to him why we do not believe that to be necessary. We are proposing to remove the current system as an earnest of our intent to achieve the timetable that we have promised this afternoon. Furthermore, we do not believe it right to vote on the numbers for years two and three beyond the current financial year, which is what his amendment would do.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) suggested that it would be possible to align hon. Members’ pay with public sector workers and that that would necessarily be in line with the Government’s policies on public sector pay and inflation. He is perfectly free to put that perspective to the Baker review, and I am sure that it will be taken into account.

Mr. Mullin: My hon. Friend has missed me out. I wanted her to make it clear to Sir John Baker that we need a formula that is simple and readily understandable by our constituents outside this place, rather than the arcane formulae that we were saddled with in the past. Does she remember that?

Helen Goodman: I am very sorry; I did not intend any rudeness towards my hon. Friend, who is a pioneer in the field. I am sure that Sir John Baker will be made fully aware of his remarks this afternoon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) spoke about the issues facing London Members. I would point out that implementing the SSRB’s proposals for London Members would mean that they would receive an increase in their salaries of 2.9 per cent.— way beyond what is acceptable in the public sector.

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Stephen Hammond: Will the Deputy Leader of the House give way?

Helen Goodman: No, I will not, because there is no time.

The London supplement is part of taxable pay, and so is completely different from all the other allowances, which are reimbursements for costs.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) spoke as chair of the trustees of the parliamentary contributory pension fund. He displayed his excellent grasp and fantastic understanding of the PCPF. He does not receive many thanks for all the work that he does on that, but we are all most grateful to him. I note that he supports the principles outlined in the Government’s motions.

We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson).

A major theme of this afternoon’s debate has been the importance of trust in our democratic institutions, and in this House in particular. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House began by saying that MPs should be properly remunerated for the valuable work that they do. As Lloyd George said when introducing MPs’ salaries in 1911:

that voters have

It is also important that we provide, through the allowance system, adequate resources for hon. Members to do their jobs properly—and that that is seen to be separate from remuneration.

Finally, it is vital that the public should have confidence in the decisions that we take. The motions before the House in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend are designed to achieve that, by setting a pay increase for this year in line with what key public sector workers are receiving, and by establishing for the future a system for deciding pay that is fully transparent and independent. This issue is not one of narrow party interest or the authority of the Government; rather, it is a matter of the integrity of the House, and the trust and respect that our fellow citizens can place in it. It is for that reason that I urge all hon. Members to support the motion in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Speaker: Amendments (f) and (g) to the motion before the House are not being moved. Amendment (d) thereto therefore falls, as does amendment (a) to the second motion, on Members’ Salaries. Does any hon. Member wish formally to move amendment (c) to the first motion, on Members’ Salaries (Expression of Opinion)?

David Maclean: In view of the firm commitment by the Leader of the House that she and the Government would welcome the Members Estimate Committee producing its own memorandum or report, which could be published for consideration in due course, I do not wish to move amendment (c), Mr. Speaker, and I hope that other colleagues will follow my line.


It being after Five o’clock, Mr. Speaker put the remaining Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings, pursuant to Order [22 January].

members’ salaries

Queen’s recommendation having been signified—


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parliamentary pensions


members’ allowances


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Defence Aviation Repair Agency

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Watson .]

5.2 pm

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I always have this effect on people, Mr. Speaker. I can empty a room at 100 paces. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to debate this issue, which is so important to my constituency and—dare I say it?—to the Ministry of Defence. I am also glad that the Minister for the Armed Forces is in his place for this important debate.

It might be helpful to the House if I provide a little background to this issue, and explain why I feel that it is necessary for us to debate the ins and outs of the Government’s position and of the proposal that has been placed on the table by the trade unions. The Defence Aviation Repair Agency—more commonly known by the acronym DARA—has a base in Almondbank that provides maintenance and repair facilities for the UK’s military helicopter fleet. The House will forgive me if I focus my remarks on Almondbank—although the issue also affects Fleetlands. Some of my hon. Friends have also expressed their wish to contribute to the debate. I thank them for giving me prior notice of that.

I cannot speak highly enough of the 300 or so dedicated and skilled members of the work force at Almondbank. They have met or exceeded every target set by the Ministry of Defence, streamlined output and reduced downtime. We should not lose sight of those important facts. Almondbank is also important in terms of its ability to train and to skill apprentices. DARA Almondbank has forged some very strong links with nearby Perth college to encourage our young people to learn a trade. Those young people have learned, and are learning today, the skills necessary to compete in this industry. The Government have a duty of responsibility to those young people who see their futures within DARA.

I attended a reception at No. 10 Downing street before Christmas, which brought together some of the finest young people involved in apprenticeships from around the UK. Many of those individuals were employed in the private sector, which made me think that surely the Government should be fighting to create and retain those skills in the public sector. We have the skills at Almondbank and we are faced with a choice of whether to keep them in the public sector or risk losing them to the private sector—or to even lower skilled employment if those people are not content in the private sector.

I know that the Government are committed to protecting the current skills base and to developing new skills in the form of modern apprenticeships, and although devolved issues come into play in this case, I would hope that the MOD will take the UK’s long-term objectives into account when deciding on the future of DARA. DARA’s work is world renowned and remains a credit to Perthshire, to Scotland and, indeed, to the UK.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): As my hon. Friend mentioned earlier, this issue is also relevant to DARA in Fleetlands, where many of my
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constituents work. When it was announced that the work was going out to tender with a view to outsourcing, people were concerned that the jobs would not remain in the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is one of the main worries of the people who work there and that they should addressed?

Gordon Banks: My hon. Friend is right that people are concerned about whether the jobs remain not just on the individual sites that we are discussing tonight, but in the UK. I hope that the Minister will deal with my hon. Friend’s point when he replies to the debate.

I have had the opportunity to visit the Almondbank site on several occasions and I will be there again tomorrow when Baroness Taylor, who has accepted my invitation, visits the site before reaching a decision on it. Almondbank is always busy and during my visits I am always impressed with the enthusiasm and professionalism of the work force and the way in which they go about their business, pulling together to meet tight deadlines. I believe that the House owes a great deal of gratitude to the work force, as they ensure that our brave soldiers are supported with a well maintained helicopter fleet. I have no doubt that I will witness more of the same hard work and commitment tomorrow, and I am glad that Baroness Taylor will be there to see it too.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): It is not just hard work and the skilled quality of work that are on display at Almondbank, but a dramatic improvement in productivity. That has been achieved through the co-operation of the work force, setting an example not only to the rest of government, but to the rest of British industry.

Gordon Banks: My right hon. Friend makes a telling point. As I said earlier, the work force at DARA have met and exceeded every expectation placed on them by the MOD. That should be a positive factor to bear in mind when the decision about its future is taken. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Baroness Taylor for giving up her time to visit Almondbank and I trust that my right hon. Friend the Minister will make her aware of that. I have always felt that it is vital for Ministers to meet local management and workers on site before taking any such important decisions.

No one is pretending that this is an easy situation and we all realise that tough decisions are necessary, which is what being in government is all about. The introduction of market forces to the public sector has forced Government agencies to reconsider the way they operate and it has been no different for DARA. Obviously, the Government have a duty to ensure that defence budgets are spent wisely and the fact that the MOD decided to “test the market” to determine whether DARA and its work force would be better suited outside the Ministry of Defence is indeed the reason why we are here tonight.

It is only right at this point to pay tribute to the trade union officials of Unite, PCS and Prospect who have come together under a single banner, led by Ian Waddell, and have put forward very detailed and well informed proposals. The unions have worked with the Government in defence matters in other areas,
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especially on the Defence Support Group. There is confusion as to why DARA cannot fit into that concept.

Union officials have argued well on behalf of their work force and continue the fine tradition of trade unionism in Scotland. The workers can feel rightly proud of how their union officials have fought their corner. The unions will agree that their proposals came late in the day, but they were encouraged to play that role by the previous Minister, Lord Drayson. The important point, however, is that the proposals have now been made and are on the table. I am grateful that Baroness Taylor has delayed the decision on DARA’s future, and I hope that the time is being well used to explore all the options fully. But will my right hon. Friend the Minister tell the House what the Government’s time scales are in relation to the decision-making process?

When the Vector Aerospace proposals were made, sale was the only game in town. It represented the best, and at that time, only option for securing the future of the work force. Ministry of Defence officials saw it as the only alternative to long-term decline and inevitable job losses.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: At Fleetlands, the workers saw the engine maintenance business disappear, which left only helicopter repair. I take on board my hon. Friend’s point. Should we not ask the Minister to delay as long as possible to ensure that the workers are fully consulted and feel fully a part of the decision? Does he agree that the workers support and enable our armed forces to do the job that they do so well around the world?

Gordon Banks: I could not agree more strongly with my hon. Friend’s point. That issue has been raised in discussions with unions and the work force. Were the Government in a position, at some point in the not-too-distant future, to establish a working group to consider the future of the plants outwith a private sector sale, I am sure that Members, unions and the work force would embrace the MOD’s proposals.

I met Vector Aerospace’s chief executive officer, Donald Jackson, twice last year, once in Canada and once in London. Our talks were civil and Mr. Jackson recognised the skills of the work force. He outlined to me that were his company successful, the Almondbank work force would have a major part to play in the future of Vector Aerospace. Those assurances were welcome and remain so. Concerns about the company have been flagged up, however, particularly relating to its size and the permanence and stability of its future plans. I assume that as Vector Aerospace has been selected as the preferred bidder, the Government are satisfied with its ability to take DARA and its work force forward. But will the Minister outline how and why Vector has the capability to move DARA forward whereas the public sector does not?

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