Orders of the Day — House of Commons (Administration) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th April 1978.

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Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire 12:00 am, 12th April 1978

At the very outset I should like to endorse the words that the Minister used just now in expressing appreciation of the work done by the staff in this House, in this palace, in Parliament. One need not be a Member of the House for very long to realise that without them the whole place would break down very quickly. There is no question but that every Member is extremely appreciative of what the staff do. What we are discussing in the Bill are new and, as we hope and believe, improved arrangements for the staff and the arrangements relating to the staff in this palace.

The Bill has been widely welcomed, including by the Opposition. There are a number of questions to raise on it and a number of details to debate, but I am not aware myself of any very serious opposition to it, and, as I say, we ourselves support it.

It is not only a Government Bill, because on the back of it is added the name of the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley), and therefore, in a sense, it is a House of Commons Bill as well as a Government Bill. It has a long history, as the Minister said. It is four and a half years since Sir Edmund Compton was appointed and three years since the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee were appointed. I certainly wish to add my thanks and the thanks of the Opposition to what the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did in considering the issues that were brought to their attention.

At the end of the story, this Bill emerges. It is short and it is simple. It seeks to provide only the framework within which the Commission is to operate: all the details are left to be decided in due course by the Commission. I feel certain myself that that is absolutely right: we do not want to confuse them or saddle them with a lot of unnecessary detail. Let us leave it to the Commission, if that is thought in due course to be correct, to take its own decisions.

I have no doubt that the Commission will want advice from Members, quite apart from sources available to the Commission itself. I have no doubt that there is a role still for the Services Committee and its Sub-Committees, still an important function for it to fulfil. One thinks, particularly, of the Library Sub-Committee and of all the work that it does to help and improve the Library facilities for Members, and of the new Computer Sub-Committee.

But I suspect that a tendency could arise for the Services Committee to become, or to be thought to become, less significant All I can say is that, if that should be so, if the Bill allows any flexibility of arrangements for the Services Committee, there is no reason why its structure could not be changed or adjusted in due course if, after the establishment and operation of the Commission, it was found that other advice to the Commission could be better provided by the Services Committee created in some other form. I see no difficulty about that whatsoever.

As I have said, the Bill is simple. There, is no reference in it, for example, to the proposed Board of Management which was outlined in the right hon. Gentleman's report. Presumably that Board will be set up and will become the most important source of advice to the Commission. I think that it is visualised that the Board will be responsible for working out staff policy and for working towards that degree of unification of the staff structure that is thought desirable, But I hope very much that it will have regard to paragraph 3.1 of the right hon. Gentleman's report and, in particular, to subparagraphs (d), (e) and (h). These refer respectively to the desirability of a very broad measure of goodwill amongst the staff affected"— that is clearly desirable; to The distinct qualities, special expertise…within the present Departments"— That is something we want to preserve; and, thirdly, to the fact that Progress towards unification must be gradual". I think that that would be only wise and common sense and I have no doubt that the Commission will follow that advice.

What seems to me to be required is this. We want the advantage and the benefit of organising the House and the staffing of the House as one complete entity, with better promotion prospects and a better career structure. But, at the same time, we want to retain, do we not, the individuality and the separate characteristics of the different Departments, because they have a special contribution to make simply by virtue of the fact that they have their own specialist expertise. We want to combine both things, and I see no reason why we should not achieve that aim.