Members' Secretarial Allowance

Oral Answers to Questions — House of Commons – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Battersea 12:00 am, 3rd June 1985

asked the Lord Privy Seal what recent representations he has received advocating an increase in the Members' secretarial allowance.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The Members' secretarial allowance has been the subject of parliamentary questions and, more recently, of an early-day motion.

Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Battersea

Is the Leader of the House aware that nearly 200 hon. Members of all parties have signed that early-day motion? Is that not a remarkable sign of the strength of feeling in the House, given that the signals from the Government are that they are not sympathetic to the idea? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, whose job it is to protect the interest of ordinary hon. Members and not those of the Cabinet, to show sympathy to a reasonable request to enable us to do a better job for our constituents.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are committed to periodic reviews of these allowances. That remains the position. If we are to play the numbers game, I remind the hon. Gentleman that he could get only a little more than a score of his supporters to vote when he tried to persuade the House to move to a secretarial allowance of £17,000.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

If more hon. Members made good use of the superb facilities of the House of Commons Library, would there not be less need for research assistants and the money to pay them?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I am anxious not to be drawn into the controversy about the adequacy of the secretarial allowance, other than to say that it is only 12 months since the figure was voted by the House of Commons and that the Government made it clear that it was subject to periodic review. I do not think that it would be wise to depart from the present arrangements so shortly after they have been concluded.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

When considering this matter, was the Leader of the House influenced by the Prime Minister's remarks just before the recess, which implied that there had been a disproportionate increase in the costs of the House of Commons? If so, or if he believes what the Prime Minister said, does he believe that he has in some way neglected his duties to contain that expenditure or that he has properly stood up for the needs of the House to challenge the Government and what they are doing?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

Before getting into that type of debating exchange, the hon. Gentleman should remember that a great deal of the House's expenditures are not cash limited and that there have been substantial increases in the costs of running the House, which might well be merited but which still have to be justified.