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

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is supporting my argument. In many ways, one could argue that it is wrong in principle for the Treasury to decide how much money should be spent on this matter—it is for the House of Commons to decide how much of the estimates should be spent in this direction. But I would also comment that in this particular aspect the Treasury has, perhaps, been more generous to the House of Commons than in many other ways. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in principle, at any rate, and that is why I raised the matter.

The third matter, which is quite different, really relates to facilities in the House of Commons, because I observe from paragraph 3.1(a) of the report that it states: It must above all ensure the maintenance and…the improvement of the services…provided for Members in carrying out their Parliamentary duties". I totally agree with that. One of the greatest obstacles to a more satisfactory execution of Members' duties in my opinion is the building and the facilities within this building which exist—or do not exist—from the point of view of Members. I just wonder whether it is envisaged that the Commission shall involve itself in that side of our work. It is obviously not a House Department—in that sense it is not involved in it—but I want to raise the question whether we ought not to think about that, whether it ought not to take under its wing responsibility for future building, for major alterations and for accommodation generally.

I think the only category of Members of this House for whom the arrangements could be described as remotely adequate are Ministers, who have quite satisfactory offices in this building and all the facilities that go with those offices, and, of course, they use them as an annexe to their office over in the Ministries. They come over here when their parliamentary business and responsibilities are being discussed in the House of Commons, and can use their rooms here. But for nobody else, as far as I can see, are the arrangements really adequate.

I think the arrangements for the Leader of the Opposition have been greatly improved lately since the Serjeant at Arms was kind enough to make some of his accommodation—or the accommodation he used to enjoy—available to the Leader of the Opposition.

I think also that to some extent some Members now have adequate facilities, but by no means all of them. The worst placed of all—I think I can say this with a certain amount of sympathy from this Committee—are the people who speak for the Opposition Front Bench. I can only describe the conditions that are provided for the Shadow Cabinet and the people who speak officially for the Opposition as absolutely intolerable. The only reason why I and my right hon. and hon. Friends actually tolerate these conditions is that there is nothing we can do about them.

I have one tiny room where, by arranging the furniture in a particular way, I can have a meeting of six people at the most, with a great squash. But there is no room nearby for my secretary—not within minutes of walking distance is there a room for her. So if I go out, I press the button down and get messages on the board when I come back. But there is no proper office arrangement in the sense that exists for Ministers and practically anybody who carries this tremendously weighty responsibility.

It is no purpose, obviously, of this Committee to go into all the inconveniences and problems facing people who speak from the Front Bench for the Opposition or for anybody else. But I raise it now because it is a matter of importance to the satisfactory working of the House of Commons, and improvement does appear to me to be necessary. Anybody who speaks for the Opposition Front Bench should certainly have an adequate office and, next door, an adequate office for his secretary, so that they can work together in a team, just as every Minister, however junior, has adequate facilities here. Such facilities need to be provided. In the context of what we are talking about in this Bill, it seems to me that, in some way or another, we ought to make much more progress than we have been able to hitherto. It seems to me to be relevant to the debate to bring the situation to the attention of this Committee, and thereby to the House.