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 Hilary Miller Mr Hilary Miller , Bromsgrove and Redditch 12:00 am, 12th April 1978

As the most junior member of the Committee, although the youthful ebullience of some of the other Members might give the lie to that, I should like to say how comforted I am to hear that my elders and betters have the interests of all Members at heart, be they the facilities provided for the Opposition Front Bench, or the pay and conditions of ordinary Members. However, we are this morning supposed to be considering the interests of the staff.

I, as a very junior Member, should like to pay my tribute to the staff of the House. It would be impossible for me to perform my duties without the help of all the staff—not just Hansard, or the Clerks, or the Library or, indeed, the gentleman who tries to keep my expenses straight and the wise advice I was given not to run into debt when I first met that forbidding figure, the Accountant, but all of them. We owe them a real debt of gratitude.

Perhaps I should declare an interest at this stage, in that I am an honorary adviser to the Association of First Division Civil Servants. Beyond drawing attention to its memorandum to the Bottomley Committee—if I may so describe it—I need not speak in any more partial sense today. It is a House of Commons matter, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) told us.

It is our staff that we are considering, and we have a real responsibility to ensure that their pay and conditions are adequate, that their opportunities are adequate, that their training is adequate, and that their entry and promotion conditions are fair. We shall be falling down on our responsibility to our staff if we do not do that. The Bill gives us a chance to do just that, which is why we should give it warm support.

I particularly echo the words of the right hon. Member for Middlesborough (Mr. Bottomley) about the active role that the Commission will play in staff matters. He mentioned the importance of dealing with staff representatives on a full and realistic Whitley Council basis, so there is no need for me to emphasise the point.

It has been said that it is about 160 years since legislation was passed to deal with these matters. I have no wish to look backwards, but the point that my contemporaries would wish me to make is that we expect Parliament to be more effective. We wish it to be more effective, and we are determined to make it more effective. This will place more demands on our staff, and therefore we welcome this opportunity to see that the correct basis is laid for that expansion and improvement.

It is high time that we were masters in our own house and that we made our own decisions about printing and, indeed, as has been said, about various other matters, including Hansard. I take very much to heart the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey. If he looks at the evidence submitted by Hansard to the Bottomley Commission—I refer to pages 84 and 85—he will see that the Editor is reported as saying that he would like to remain under the Speaker's Department. The Speaker's Department is still provided for in the Bill, so I am not entirely clear why it is necessary to proceed as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested to us this morning.

We need to be masters in our own house. This puts responsibilities on us, and particularly on those who are appointed to the Commission. I do not know what weight we should attach to the Liberal representations, or whether it should be counted on a per capita basis, but I note wryly, in passing, that their standard of accommodation is rather more generous than is available to some of the other parties.

I include in the need to be masters in our own house the need to be able to deal with the question of our refreshments, to which reference has already been made.

I believe that the Commission's report has laid the framework, but we have a responsibility to build on it, and in building on it we must ensure that we retain the good will and confidence of those who serve us, who have chosen to serve us, and who wish to be in the service not of the Crown but of the Mother of Parliaments.