Members' Secretaries and Research Assistants

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 29th January 1986.

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Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire 10:15 pm, 29th January 1986

I beg to move, That the recommendations contained in paragraph 24 of the Second Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in Session 1984–85 (House of Commons Paper No. 195) be approved; and that no Member shall at any one time be entitled to more than one pass for a temporary research assistant from overseas.

We last discussed the role and numbers of research assistants on 12 July. It was on a motion for the Adjournment, and I undertook to come back to the House with a view to taking decisions. Since our previous debate, the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin), has looked again at the way in which its recommendations might be implemented. The motion before us not only reflects its report, but the resolution of the Services Committee of 16 December, which addressed a point raised by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). I speak for the whole House in expressing gratitude to the right hon. Member for Deptford and the Members of his Sub-Committee for their careful and considered work.

Hon. Members may find it helpful if I remind them of what the Sub-Committee recommended. The Committee's view was that no more than 150 passes per calendar year and no more than 50 at any one time should be issued to temporary researchers from overseas who would be here for less than four months. Otherwise, temporary research assistant passes should be issued only if the Member undertook that the individual in question would be employed for more than four months. Those who did not qualify under either of those provisions should be issued with a temporary secretary's pass only, and should no longer be able to use the Branch Library either in person or by telephone. The Sub-Committee further recommended that no Member should at any one time be entitled to more than one pass out of the 50 for a temporary research assistant from overseas.

The right hon. Member for Deptford will be able to set out more fully and more eloquently than I why those recommendations would benefit the House. I believe that they represent a measured and reasonably practical response to the problems arising from the pressure on our facilities caused by the numbers of research assistants.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Does the Leader of the House agree that the pressure does not come because we want more research assistants but because the present accommodation is completely inadequate? Compared with any legislature in any civilised country, this legislature is appalling. When will he address his mind to the real problem of providing proper facilities, not so that we can be comfortable but so that our staff can work in proper accommodation and we can provide reasonable services for our constituents?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

Never has so brief a speech accommodated so weighty an intervention. I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman's premise; the more accommodation we have the more pressure there will be for more and more research assistants.

The concern which prompted the Sub-Committee's investigation, that the number of passes issued to Members' staff had risen by 23 per cent. over the past 10 years or so to more than 1,000, is still there. Restricting the number of passes available to the temporary research assistants from overseas is, of course, a limitation on only one class of staff, but it would have an immediate effect. At present, there are 77 such passes; acceptance of this motion would reduce that to 50 at the most.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

Why is that proposal restricted to overseas research assistants? Surely it would be fairer to have a limitation on temporary research assistants and not to discriminate against overseas research assistants?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The right hon. Member for Deptford will comment more authoritatively than I on that point. I believe that that problem originally arose in the Services Committee in the context of overseas research assistants.

The House will have noted also the more wide-ranging substantive amendment to the motion, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). This suggests a more rigorous line in seeking to curtail access to the Palace, and its terms are self-explanatory. Without distinguishing between the types of passes available to different categories of staff, it would mean that, of the assistants and secretaries that an hon. Member had working for him, only two would be able to use facilities within the Palace of Westminster. I believe there is general merit in that proposal. It does not interfere with an hon. Member's right to employ as many staff as he wishes, but it prevents a large number of research assistants from being a disproportionate burden on the Library and the other services available in the House.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

With all respect, that is not the case. We are talking about temporary passes which already prohibit their holders from entering the Library. Surely it is wrong in principle that hon. Members should be restricted in the number of people they can use or hire?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend asserts a point of view which I understand, but my hon. Friend the Member for Woking will make his speech and defend his proposal.. However, I wish to make it clear that he is talking not about temporary passes but about passes both temporary and permanent.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Chair, Treasury & Civil Service Sub-Committee

Since the best way to reduce the number of temporary passes is to increase the number of full-time passes for full-time research assistants, will the Leader of the House tell us what improvement he proposes in the allocation of money to hon. Members to employ full-time research assistants, in recompense for the reduction in temporary assistants?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

It is not a question of reducing the number of research assistants that an hon. Member may employ, but of reducing the number who have access to the full facilities of the Palace. I do not wish to anticipate my hon. Friend's speech. There will always be endless excuses for raising the emoluments to hon. Members for the conduct of their business, and I understand why the hon. Gentleman wishes to trailer that proposition now. However, we have sufficient within our ambit to take a judgment on the terms before us, leaving aside the question of the secretarial research allowance. So that we can have the matter authoritatively recorded, there are provisions for that allowance to be reconsidered, and that will be undertaken in the terms that I have already announced to the House.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I shall give way, but may I crave the indulgence of the House? This is a 90-minute debate, I have a short speech, and I can guarantee that the interruptions now exceed the length of my speech. I shall give way to my hon. Friends and other hon. Gentlemen, but I hope that after that I may conclude, so that all hon. Members who wish to participate can do so.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great benefits of limiting the number of assistants is that that will limit the dry rot that goes through this place? Every week questions grow; for example 256 questions were tabled on education. The fewer assistants we have, the fewer questions will be tabled, and the more we shall get the real benefit of the House.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I am anxious to play my part in contributing to the calm and measured consideration of these matters. I note that my hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. Many of the most experienced parliamentarians have operated in the House without any particular and obvious assistance.

Photo of Dr Alan Glyn Dr Alan Glyn , Windsor and Maidenhead

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a physical limit to the number of people who can occupy the Palace of Westminster? Therefore, there must be a limit to the number of research assistants who can use the Library and other facilities.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. It is perfectly pertinent to observe that the argument is not merely about the number of research assistants that may be employed, but the number who may have access to the full facilities of the Palace.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

The Leader of the House suggested that, because of the pressure on facilities such as the Library, we should withdraw passes from some people who may haye access to those facilities. If he found that in Shropshire, for example, there was pressure on the public library system, would he be in favour of withdrawing facilities from the users of those libraries?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I would certainly have to consider how one would cope, given the limited facilities available and the considerable pressure upon them. We are in a totally non-market situation and cannot use the price mechanism in any way to regulate the use of facilities. [Interruption.] It is not a matter of being paid up. We have to consider some of the factors that weighed with the right hon. Member for Deptford when he was considering the matter of overseas research assistants and whether that involved access to our facilities which we thought to be most appropriate. In the conduct of our affairs we, like any other institution, should be ruled by some sense of priority.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

The right hon. Gentleman must accept that this is the least resourced Parliament in the western world. Hon. Members do not want to use quill pens, and if the physical facilities limit the work we can do, why is it not possible for the House to rent some of the perfectly good offices that are available opposite this Palace?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

Once again, it comes down to consideration of resources. This House should not be ashamed to face the challenge of resource allocation in respect of its own administration and its own activities. That applies to society elsewhere.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

No, I have given way generously and I have an obligation to the House to bring my remarks to a conclusion. I hope that we shall hear from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) during this debate, because he has unique experience of the matter.

This restriction will not be an intolerable restraint on Members. More than 250 Members presently manage without any research assistants having access to the Palace.

I realise that some hon. Members may find the terms of the amendment draconian. While it may seem that if any limit is imposed it should be imposed on all Members alike, I see some difficulties inherent in this approach. For example, it does not recognise the responsibilities of those who shadow Government Ministers. Their duties could well require greater secretarial and research support than those of Members who do not have that role. Indeed, the special position of Opposition spokesmen is already recognised by the provision of Short money. If the amendment is accepted by the House, we should find some means of tempering its rigour for those in the posts I have described.

Having set out my own views on this matter, I do not propose to detain the House further. Because this is a House matter which relates solely to the way in which we decide to regulate our methods of work, there will be a free vote. I shall vote for the motion and for the amendment, should it be pressed. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I have selected the two amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford 10:28 pm, 29th January 1986

The Leader of the House at least deserves credit, and I propose to give it to him, for bringing this subject back to the House. It was after all, only in March last year that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) and I recommended it to the Services Committee and a delay of 15 months or so before this is likely to come into operation is really fast going for the Leader of the House.

I must apologise to the Leader of the House, because on 12 July when we debated this matter in full I thought he would never bring it back again, but he has brought it back within seven months. Again, he deserves to be congratulated. Before dealing with the matter, I should like to comment on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and by other hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is the lack of accommodation for hon. Members in this House. It is a crying scandal, which apparently the Leader of the House thinks is a perfectly reasonable way of conducting our operations. That is what he said. Of course, the Leader of the House is in contact with the right hon. Member for Oswestry, who charged me with the chairmanship of the committee to expedite new buildings for Members of Parliament so that they might have more accommodation. That is exactly what we are trying to do. I hope hon. Members have read the report on Cannon row, because we hope to make that available to the House, with the consent, I think, of both the right hon. Member for Oswestry and the Leader of the House, and of the Services Committee. We hope to make that available to the House at the earliest possible moment.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

A very fair point. To bring the right hon. Gentleman up to date it is, alas, Shropshire, North.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

At least the right hon. Gentleman is up to date on that, if on nothing else. Is it not the position that hon. Gentlemen throughout the House are cramped for resources and for the help that can be given to them? I am not going into the question of finance or how that should be overcome. That is a different matter, which should form part of another debate which will, no doubt, take place later in the Session. There is a shortage of accommodation for hon. Members, for their secretaries and for their assistants.

Photo of Mr Gerrard Neale Mr Gerrard Neale , North Cornwall

I accept that what the right hon. Gentleman says is generally true. Does he not agree that there is, nevertheless, a considerable differential between the facilities that some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen enjoy and those that others have? For example, some years ago my right hon. Friend occupied a desk in the Cloisters which I later occupied. To think of having research assistants there was intolerable. Now I am fortunate to have a room where a research assistant can work and I have no need to call on other House facilities. I may not be able to get one of the passes, in which case the position would be nonsensical.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The hon. Gentleman is saying two things. The first is that the Leader of the House now has splendid accommodation. Indeed he has, because I have visited him there. The Chairman of the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee also, as is proper, has very good accommodation. So he should have, or he would be a bad Chairman of that Sub-Committee. However, many hon. Gentlemen do not have good accommodation.

There are two priorities. We must get on with providing accommodation. That is what the New Building Sub-Committee is doing reasonably well, I hope. It is also what the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee is trying to do by making Cannon row police station, which has been vacated by the police, available to the House for as much accommodation as possible.

We are faced with a dilemma and the Services Committee asked the hon. Member for Hereford and me, as joint chairmen of an ad hoc committee, to examine the pressure on resources caused by temporary overseas research assistants. I agree with those hon. Gentlemen who say they have a perfect right to be assisted by whatever people they wish. They know how they want to do their job. Why the Leader of the House or anybody else in the House should think he has the right to interfere, 1 cannot see.

Difficulty arises because of pressure. When there is pressure, one must seek a balance between the two opposing rights — the right of hon. Gentlemen to be assisted in the work they do and the right of other hon. Gentlemen to be able to do their task without facilities being unavailable to them because of overcrowding.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

I recognise the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, which is the right of hon. Members to have assistants to help them in the House. Surely, the most important right of all is that Members of Parliament are elected here to do their work here. If they wish to have assistants, let them be outside the House. Why should the House be trammelled with assistants? The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has managed to make a most wonderful contribution to the House without even an office, let alone an assistant.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is the right hon. Member for Down, South. He is someone entirely on his own. I do not possess his intellectual ability or his quickness of mind; and I do not think that most hon. Gentlemen possess that quickness of mind either. We all need some assistance. The fact of the matter is that hon. Members have secretaries in the House. The point that the hon. Gentleman made applies equally to secretaries. On that basis, why have them here? Yet it is accepted and we believe it to be right. The hon. Gentleman is making a false point. Furthermore, if he listened he would see that what we are really talking about is striking the right balance. I do not know whether the hon. Member for—

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

If the hon. Gentleman will just let me finish—I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hereford and I struck the right balance, but I think that we did. If we did not, it is extraordinary that in all these months there have been no objections whatsoever to the report that we made to the House or following the debate of 12 July 1985.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. There is no real difference between many Members on both sides of the House that a balance ought to be struck, bur there is a physical problem in the accommodation. There is also a matter of principle, and that is confused by the element of security. I speak as one who has, at the most, one research assistant a year, so it does not bother me practically if this is passed. However, it bothers me in principle. The whole issue must be about security because, with the present security measures, unless people have a pass they cannot be used here. It is not a matter of whether they have access to the Library or whether there is too much pressure on it, it is a question of access to the buildings of the Palace of Westminster.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

That is absolutely right, but the fact remains that, having got in here, they will be using certain facilities.

When we came to consider those facilities, the hon. Member for Hereford and I, and those members of our Sub-Committee who were present, found a very interesting situation. In a couple of cases there were sponsoring organisations of research students from the United States, in particular, who disciplined their students extremely well — we were very impressed with the measures that they took—and who were prepared to go on doing so, and to teach them what was necessary about the House.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Chair, Treasury & Civil Service Sub-Committee

Does my right hon. Friend accept that even with these organisations the research assistants that they provide are often here for two or, at most, three days a week, not for the full week? In other words, in passing this motion, we shall be depriving ourselves of research assistants for the rest of the week not covered by those part-timers.

When it comes to the definition of overseas, it is clear that overseas students cannot be Common Market students because that would be to discriminate against the Common Market, in a way in which I am sure that both my right hon. Friend and I would want but which would not be legally tenable. So it is, strictly speaking, discrimination against American students. How can that be justified?

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

How many research assistants have you got?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

There are two points to be answered here, although I would have preferred to reach them in my own time. My hon. Friend has rather anticipated the way in which I was going to conduct this.

My hon. Friend is asking about those research assistants whom he employs for perhaps two or three days a week. He says that the rest of the time they are students, and so on. If it is essential for him to have research work done the whole of the week, there is no reason on earth why he should not so organise his time that he employs one research assistant for two or three days. If he wishes, he can have a temporary secretary who cannot use the Library facilities for the rest of the time. It is all a matter of organising one's work.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

Will the hon. Gentleman please adjust his clothes before leaving?

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

I always give up my seat to a lady on a public convenience.

My right hon. Friend's point is at issue. If the problem is one of access to and pressure on the Library, we all understand and accept that an hon. Member can have only one full-time research assistant for five days a week who has access to the Library. That is sensible and understandable. But much of the work that is done is done on the telephone without the need to go outside an hon. Member's office. That is now being restricted and that is what we find most reprehensible. Those who have private means can get the work done by private companies or interests and in that way the independence of Members is impinged upon. That is what we object to.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

What my hon. Friend is objecting to is reading the recommendations because were he to read them he would see that it is possible to get what is called a temporary secretary pass and, as I think my hon. Friend knows, some research workers do have such passes. The only difference is that they will not be able to use the Library. They can work in my hon. Friend's room perfectly well. The problem arises because of the overuse of public facilities. [Interruption.] I would hate to deprive the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont Dark) of the use of the Library. I am sure it would be a very good thing for him to have.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

It cannot conceivably be possible for any hon. Member to have five assistants using the facilities. Some have seven or even eight. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that only last night somebody mentioned to me that he had been approached by an American who did not want any money for his services? All he wanted to be able to do was to go back to America and put on his curriculum vitae that he had worked in the House of Commons. For that privilege, we are to be crowded out.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I do not think that that is a question for me. I plead guilty to not having five research assistants. Furthermore, I do know that there are people who are quite pleased to have the initials "MP" after their name whom I would not vote for in any circumstances.

The House had a good round at the reasons for limitation before. I look forward to the days when we will not have to limit any research assistants or secretaries. But that day will come when we have enough accommodation, not when we are overcrowded as we are at the moment.

Let me on this cold January day remind hon. Members what it is like in midsummer when the Terrace is full or overfull. We all know about that. We have all experienced it. Of course, something must be done. At the moment, we have to strike a balance.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

They do not have the right to go on the Terrace.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I am talking about the use of facilities, which is a matter of great importance to hon. Members.

The one difference between the recommendations put before the House on 12 July and those before it today is the proposal that only one pass at a time shall be available for an overseas student.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

It means a temporary overseas student who will be here for less than four months. My hon. Friend can look up the recommendation for himself. I do not want to waste time going over what went on in July when my hon. Friend was abed and I was awake.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

In that case, why did my hon. Friend not intervene then? Why has it taken him seven months? He is as bad as the Leader of the House.

In July we said that there should be no more than 50 such students at any one time and 150 in any calendar year. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) made a very valid point, reported at columns 1392-93 of Hansard. He said that we might be in danger of leaving the decision-making, as it were, to Back Benchers, and that that would be invidious — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—in the sense that one hon. Member might get five research assistants while another got none. My right hon. Friend did not regard that as a particularly fair way to arrange things. By limiting the availability of temporary overseas student research assistants to one per Member we are being as fair as we possibly can.

In our Sub-Committee the hon. Member for Hereford and I found that 50 at any one time and 150 in any calendar year was about right. Hon. Members can read the evidence and see the justification for themselves. That was the basis that we took and the House did not object to it at that time. Some hon. Members want to go much further and abolish research assistants altogether—we have heard from one or two of them — but no one from that time to this suggested that the steps that we were taking were bad in themselves.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Many of us took part in the debate seven months ago and although we did not like all the recommendations we accepted that they were fair enough, but the Select Committee then changed this recommendation to one pass. That fundamental change in the recommendations was not debated in the House.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

My hon. Friend misjudges us a little. We were asked to consider what had been said in the debate. Because my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West and others had suggested that it might be unfair to allow one Member to have a large number of research assistants out of the 50 while others had none, we decided—it is for the House to judge that decision—that the best thing to do was to ration them to one at a time. That is how we reached our decision. I do not think that it is a particularly vital decision or a particularly bad one. There must be some form of rationing and I think that this is a fairly reasonable one.

What I think is totally unreasonable is the amendment put down by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). Here I find myself declaring an interest. The House will be delighted to hear that I shall preserve my record of being totally biased. As it happens, I have two secretaries and one research assistant, all of them permanent. I have no temporaries. If the hon. Gentleman's amendment were accepted, I should be disqualified from having more than two of them in the House. I therefore have an interest. I am not atypical in that. Many hon. Members have more than two assistants and I think that we should understand that the difference between a secretary and a research assistant is a very narrow one. Most of us use our secretaries to help prepare our speeches. The difference is often one of semantics. I hope that the House will throw that amendment out, despite what the Leader of the House said.

Obviously, the problem needs to be kept under review. It could be that an increase in numbers might make the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) come back to the House and say that it has not worked as well as was hoped. On the other hand, it may be that matters will get better. particularly as new accommodation becomes available. I think that this is a matter that should be kept under review.

The Sub-Committee worked extremely hard to achieve what it believed to be a fair answer to the problem. I think that this is a fair answer. It may not be an answer that pleases every hon. Member; it would be absurd if it did. However, I think it will please and represent the view of the majority of hon. Members and in that spirit I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking 10:51 pm, 29th January 1986

I do not want to repeat much of what I said when we debated the subject on 12 July. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not follow all the attractive lines of argument which are deployed and if I leave them to make their own speeches rather than let them seek to intervene in mine. We will get on better that way.

I thought it right to table my amendment because during the debate on 12 July, and subsequently, I have found that some of my colleagues support the view that my amendment seeks to advance. I think that it is right that they should have an opportunity to carry their opinions into the Lobby if they wish to do so. I am mightily fortified to know that the Leader of the House evidently feels the same way. However, I must say that I immediately accept his comment that the amendment, if passed, would bear harshly upon people who undoubtedly need additional support from secretaries or research assistants because of their shadow responsibilities.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

I said that I was not going to give way. I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to keep my promise to the House. If I may continue with my argument I think that I will deal with some of the admirable points that my hon. Friend is looking forward to making in his own speech.

It is agreed that there is not enough space to go round; whether that is the Government's fault or the fault of past Governments we need not argue about. We know that there is enormous pressure upon the space available to the House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster. It seems to me that the task of the Select Committee should be to see that that space is shared out as fairly as possible amongst all those who have to work here and among those permanent staff who serve Parliament as well as the staff who serve Members of Parliament. We ordinary Members of Parliament have a right to expect that there should be a fair and equitable division and to complain when we find, as we have found, that the catering facilities, the photocopiers, the Library facilities, the Terrace or the demand for questions in the Table Office is exceeding the capacity of the House's establishment to cope.

As I sought to say in my speech on 12 July we must bear in mind the considerations of security, because that is a reflection of pressure on facilities. Those arguments should be addressed by the House, whether or not hon. Members are disposed to be persuaded by them. That is a perfectly respectable point of view. I believe that as long as accommodation is restricted hon. Members should accept the self-discipline of not demanding more than their share. That is the limiting factor upon the assistance that they can fairly claim to have within the Palace of Westminster. That is all we are talking about. We are not talking about restricting their right to employ whomsoever they wish, and how many they wish, in their constituencies—

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

If I give way once, I shall have to give way again. The hon. Gentleman knows that. Therefore, hope that he will allow me to continue.

I know that many of the facilities of the House are inadequate. I know that many hon. Members find it desirable to employ research assistants to get their mail from the Post Office to where they work. The answer to that is to have a sub-post office nearer to where those hon. Members work. The mail can be taken to them by the carriers of the mail so that they do not have to employ gentleman with cleft sticks to do the job for them. We are under pressure, and we should seek to discipline ourselves within its limits. Instead of that, the motion addresses a different and subsidiary problem — how to control the excessive supply of overseas research assistants; not the excessive demand for them, not the excessive parliamentary need for them, but the excessive supply of them. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has five research assistants. I do not want to know what nationality they are. There are four separate bodies currently holding themselves out as able to supply American research assistants to hon. Members. I understand that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) has a connection with one such body—Beaver college. I understand that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) has a connection with another such body, Education Programmes Abroad. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) has a connection with a putative body, the Catholic university of Washington. We have three colleagues in our midst who have undertaken, for whatever reason, to help participants in those different schemes to come here and work as temporary research assistants for Members of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

We have a fourth such body, the Hansard Society. I mention it with diffidence because, Mr. Speaker, you are the president of the Hansard Society. It has distinguished vice-presidents and vice-chairmen. It has put out a leaflet, in association with Birkbeck college, in which it says: The Hansard Scholars Programme … aims are to bring future leaders of American society into sustained and active contact with the political process in Britain and, by means of carefully selected and supervised internship placements, to enable them to work with some of its leading figures …The cost of the programme for one semester is £3,300 (pounds sterling), which covers housing in Central London as well as tuition, credits and evaluations, and other aspects of the formal programme. There are thus four organisations seeking to supply American research assistants, to be taken on by hon. Members. The numbers would be limited if the motion, which I do not oppose, is passed. However, it is reasonable to assess that that might mean between 300 and 500 American students passing through the Palace of Westminster in a year.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

I am sorry.

If I am wrong, I am much encouraged, but on anecdotal evidence I am not prepared to take that risk.

What I believe should happen is that the House should pass the amendments in my name this evening and that the Services Committee should come before us with a properly thought through and organised scheme to deal with this problem. The question of unfair dismissal does not arise with overseas students. [Interruption.] It is self-evident that we have more time to debate all these matters, but I feel we should address the questions before us as briefly as we can, and if my hon. Friend wants to make a speech on this I am sure that he will try and catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. All I am seeking to do is not to dismiss anyone but merely to limit the number of passes to this building that any hon. Member may have in his own name.

I have to ask one final question of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin). If I am right in assessing the supply as being so greatly in excess of the limits which he assesses in his motion, how is this to be allocated? How does he see the scarce number of passes being farmed out among the numerous commanders? Is this to be on a first-come first-served basis? Is it to be rationed very strictly? If hon. Members have had one pass in a year, may they not have another for another 12 months? How does he see this scheme working in practice? I will give way if he will tell us that, because I think there is a gap in the justification he has given us.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I wish the hon. Gentleman would read the third recommendation. He will see exactly what the basis of it is. There are a number of stipulaions that bind the sponsoring organisations. The rules are very clearly set out. Where he gets his 500 from I do not know because the recommendation talks about 150 in a calendar year, and 50 at any one time.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

That figure is not one that I have formed, but one that I obtained from someone who is in a better position than me. I would be interested to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has been in correspondence with the Hansard Society, whether he discussed recommendations with it, and whether its brochure is framed in the light of the recommendations he seeks to bring to the House. There seems to be a need for a body as august as the Hansard Society to address us in more depth, and bring into its own consideration the desirability of doing this sort of thing for European students.

Why does it have to be something aimed only at students from across the Atlantic? It may well be that there are reasons for that, and perhaps in the existing arrangements for research assistants there are serious flaws. Perhaps there are organisations as respectable as the United Nations which have to trade on getting a research assistant with access to this building. That is something that is wrong and that can be put right simply. For the rest, I think the House would do well to protect itself against the approaching tide of supernumerary workers here by supporting my amendment.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill 11:03 pm, 29th January 1986

At best I was disappointed at what the Leader of the House had to say, and at worst I found some of the attitudes which he struck positively antedeluvian, and it demonstrates that the constituency which he represents in Shropshire is so different from the kind of constituencies which many of us on this side of the House represent. His case load, with his role as a Member of Parliament, is distinctly different from the role which many Back Benchers on this side of the House have to deal with.

I invite the Leader of the House to come to one of my regular surgeries. Last Saturday morning I began at a school in Liverpool at 10 am and finished late in the afternoon, having dealt with dozens of cases and meeting more than 70 constituents with problems which all need to be followed up. Frankly, I do not have the time to deal with all of those matters myself and I desperately need some help. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) asked me how many American research assistants I have. I have one who gives me some personal help and two who work with me in the Whips Office for two days each per week. I would happily exchange them for some permanent researchers if the Leader of the House and hon. Members were prepared to make available such facilities.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) attacked those of us who use these methods. Those who do not want to use the service do not necessarily have to use it. It is wrong for some hon. Members to try to circumscribe what other Members do and to dictate how they should employ their staff.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

The hon. Gentleman is making an earnest case on his need for research assistants. How much assistance does he receive from one of his research assistants who, I believe, is the parliamentary candidate opposing me in Hampshire? The hon. Gentleman represents a Liverpool constituency.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

The research assistant who helps me and is a parliamentary candidate in Hampshire is not an American. He does a lot of work, assisting me in trying to change the present Government so that, at the next general election, people elect a party that will deal adequately with Members of Parliament and provide them with the type of facilities that will enable them properly to represent their constituents.

Hon. Members are trying to suggest that this is a mushrooming and unstoppable problem. That is not the case. In May 1984, 1,061 temporary research assistants were employed here. It is true that that is 10 per cent. above the 1983 level and 23 per cent. above the 1974 level, but it is still a relatively small number. Yesterday I checked with the Serjeant at Arms' office to ascertain the present position. There are now only 1,042 research assistants employed here, and 51 of them were spouses of Members. Members are using research assistant passes to enable their spouses and members of their families to gain admission to the House. These figures are deceptive.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

I shall give way in a moment, if the hon. Lady can contain herself.

The real average increase since 1974 in the number of temporary research assistants has been only 15 per cent. It is a downward trend.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

The hon. Gentleman has made a ridiculous point. Spouses can gain admission to the House without getting research assistant passes.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

That shows incredible ignorance of how people get their passes. Passes are obtained through hon. Members. Few Members have research assistants. The average is less than two research assistants per Member.

The Leader of the House said that the Library's facilities were over-exploited. I took the trouble to check the number of inquiries made to the Library. In 1984, there were 17,304 inquiries by temporary research assistants on behalf of their Member. In 1985, the number was down to 15,495. I said to the Leader of the House during an intervention that, if we were talking about a public library in Oswestry which was being oversubscribed, the Leader of the House or any other hon. Member would not be demanding that the service should be restricted. They would be demanding that the service should be expanded so that people could use the facilities. They would not be demanding that the facility should be closed and restricted.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

Did the hon. Gentleman understand at the time of his inquiry that he should bear in mind two factors? First, he should have borne in mind that the number of temporary research assistants in May, June and July was at the lowest ebb it had been for a long time, because of the adverse publicity and the slight uncertainty about this issue? Secondly, he should have borne in mind that, during September and October—the important time for activity in this respect—accommodation changes were being made to the Library which meant that a large number of temporary research assistants were not able to find accommodation in the Library? Overall demand was down at that time for that reason. It does not necessarily imply the trend that the hon. Member suggests.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

The hon. Gentleman admits that it is a downward trend. Now he is trying to suggest that there are reasons for that.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

I am sorry; I must have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. He admitted that there were fewer inquiries and tried to suggest that the reason was the adverse publicity surrounding those temporary research assistants. I do not understand that point.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

The underlying trend in usage of the Library's research and inquiry services is upwards. In 1983, the firgure was 12,699; in 1984, it was 17,304; and, in 1985, for the reasons I surmise, it is less. The overall research load on the Library from Members' inquiries is up 5 per cent. Part of that demand may have come from research assistants. The overall demand for the Library's services continues to increase each year from record level to record level.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

We are not asking whether hon. Members are asking more questions. Perhaps we intend to circumscribe Members as well. It would not surprise me if that were in the motion. The point at issue is whether American research assistants, who are being attacked in the motion and in the amendment, are overusing the facilities. The figures that I have given show that the trend of use is down from 17,304 in 1984 to 15,400 in 1985.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I want to impress on the hon. Gentleman that there is no attack in the motion on overseas students. On the contrary, I thought that I said that we were very impressed with the students and the sponsoring organisations.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I wish that Conservative Members had spoken in similar terms. The motion suggests restricting the number of passes. Many of us regard that as an attack.

Unlike Australian senators, we do not get the benefit of two appointed researchers. We are not as fortunate as Greek deputies, who have a research assistant paid for by public funds. Nor are we like American Representatives who each received a staff allowance of £207,373 in 1981. Tact almost forbids me to say that, in 1981, one United States senator received more than £700,000 for his research staff. I am not suggesting that we need something similar. Far too many resources might be being used in the United States and some hon. Members could be cosseted from their constituents if surrounded by too many staff but, for goodness sake, the idea that we must subsist, after paying for our secretaries, on £4,000 to £5,000 with which to take on research staff is ludicrous.

If the motion is carried, the number of American interns who could work here would be greatly reduced. The effectiveness of hon. Members will be reduced as a result. We will have to spend more time answering telephones, photocopying and sealing envelopes — all the trivial things which the Leader of the House on other occasions says probably prevent us from getting into the Chamber.

The report fails to address itself to the sheer inadequacy of facilities that we have made available for ourselves. We are told that we will get nothing until the 1990s. How that contrasts with our ability to build a Channel tunnel in just five years. Meanwhile, hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) have to share a room measuring 9 ft by 6 ft with a research assistant. That is a ludicrous way in which to run a Parliament.

Only this afternoon we debated a Ten minute Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) on Crown immunity. My secretary was poisoned a few months ago because of the appalling water supply in these buildings. Because they are not covered by shops, offices and factories legislation, we have appalling primeval facilities. But just consider the facilities we provide for barristers in the robing rooms downstairs and compare them with those of hon. Members. The motion will not solve that and nor will it address another issue which the Leader of the House promised to bring to the House—lobbyists. A far more serious problem than Americans are people who are paid for by lobbying firms outside the House. The motion signally fails to deal with that.

If the motion and the amendment are passed, they will leave the House in the 19th century. We talk grandly about this being the mother of Parliaments. As long as we fail to improve facilities in the House, it will continue to be a grandmother of Parliaments. I hope that the House will oppose the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford 11:14 pm, 29th January 1986

I have given much thought to the report since the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and I put it to the Services Committee and we debated it in the summer of last year. I can find no reason for altering my thoughts on any of the points in the report. It is a good and sound report that should be adopted on a proper basis. That is the choice before the House tonight.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for bringing the matter to the attention of the House. The right hon. Member for Deptford said that he was surprised that my right hon. Friend had done so. I was confident that he would address his mind to the matter and I am delighted that he has shown my confidence to be well founded. I express a note of thanks on behalf of the Librarian and his staff, especially those who work in the Branch Library, to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—he can be referred to as Mr. Moneybags—who was as good as his word in July. He provided the resources to carry out the necessary changes, which paragraph 26 of the report requested, at an early date.

There have been significant improvements in working conditions in the Branch Library on the fifth and sixth floors of Norman Shaw north. We shall see the benefit in terms of less strain in the future. Those improvements are important, but they are secondary to the main operation. We must underline the fact that in the Library. we are engaged in a holding operation. I mentioned this matter in July. The new Library is under design and construction on the Parliament street site. The earliest possible date that we can reasonably expect for occupation is 1990.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Deptford for the way that he has driven the Building Sub-Committee towards an early completion. We are dealing with sensitive matters in sensitive areas, such as conservation. The issue is fraught with difficulties about how the construction can be handled and in what order. It is to the right hon. Gentleman's great credit that, under his able chairmanship, the game has advanced as far as it has and is on schedule. Further consideration of additional space for Member's use is similarly being driven forward at a like pace. That is encouraging, but it does not get us away from the fact that we are engaged in a holding operation.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

That is the heart of the matter. There has been much confusion between the main motion and the amendment. Most of us accept that in the short term there is pressure on our facilities. The main motion may be acceptable when it suggests that overseas students should be limited to one, but there is illogicality in that because they are not allowed in to the main Library on a temporary pass. The amendment infringes on the basic principles of Members of Parliament at to how many people they can have on their staff. My hon. Friend must address himself to that point.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

I have been addressing myself to that matter. It forms part of the main motion, because we have been considering the load placed on the Branch Library and its staff as a consequence of the temporary research assistants who are here under the auspices of the various programmes. We cannot consider the one without the other.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is correct to draw attention to the circumstances that arise, but nevertheless we must consider the overall load that we are placing on the Library. As Chairman of the Library Sub-Committee I cannot ignore that fact.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

Will my hon. Friend explain a little more about the amendment? If only two passes are to be granted and an hon. Member employs more than three members of staff, he will have to dismiss one of them. Is that my hon. Friend's interpretation of the amendment?

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

I have not given any agreement to the amendment. I hope that I have not been interpreted as doing so. I am talking about that part of paragraph 24 which relates to the problem created, and I hope solved by the report, by the temporary research assistants from abroad who are offered to Members free and of whom Members make abundant use. We said that there should be a limit of 50 research assistants at any one time operating and using the Branch Library.

Photo of Mr Gerrard Neale Mr Gerrard Neale , North Cornwall

I am worried that some inaccuracies have been promoted, I am sure unwittingly, by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). He referred to the Hansard Society. Hansard Society students are here for a year, and they do not qualify under these provisions. The Hansard Society and one other organisation that promotes students here have outside library facilities available to those students. They do not use the facilities here. He bases his argument and that of the Committees on the fact that they use the facilities here when they do not.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

I am sorry that I gave way to my hon. Friend. He was not on the point that I was trying to make.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

The leaflet that I read out makes it clear that the semester is a 14-week semester. There is no question of those people being here for a year.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because in mentioning the Hansard Society scholarship programme he has drawn attention to some of the circumstances which were drawn to our notice during the taking of evidence. The Library was informed on the last day before we adjourned for the Christmas recess that 21 students would be presented to the House of Commons for use by Members of Parliament. They asked whether they could have a Library briefing on 13 January. The Library briefing was arranged on 13 January for 21 students and 21 turned up, but at that stage only nine knew who their Members of Parliament were. Not one of them had a photo-identity card.

That underlines the significance of our strictures on organised groups bringing parties to the House to offer their services as temporary research assistants and thereby placing a load on the Library. I know that I am not addressing the amendment, but I am putting the Library's position. The numbers are affected—

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

I recognise that, but this is an important matter. The number of 50 was proposed and someone earlier asked why that number. That number was based on the loading that the Branch Library could take, with its present staffing and accommodation. We had 55 during May to July and the loading on the Library was such that it could be contained, but the Library staff are nervous—I think that that is the best way to put it—that they cannot cope with the additional loading when the numbers go, as they are at the moment, into the 70s. The Serjeant at Arms is worried that they will go to 100 by Easter. We must address ourselves to that point.

I hope that the House does not accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). It is a precipitate line. There has been inadequate time for discussion of a point so fundamental. We put down a marker in paragraph 22 of the report that at some stage we should have to impose a limit if we could not arrange accommodation. As I said, this is a holding operation.

In paragraph 27 of the report, we said that it would be desirable for a joint committee of the Sub-Committee on Accommodation and Administration and the Library Sub-Committee to review the position from time to time. That is the way that the House should progress—through the Services Committee and by steady monitoring of the position. It would be precipitate to support my hon. Friend's amendment. We should accept the motion without quibble.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 11:24 pm, 29th January 1986

I start by declaring an interest and explaining how it came about. Before I came to the House in 1979 I was a university teacher who ran an American studies programme. When I found the appalling lack of help, facilities and back-up, I vigorously and strenuously tried to find a British university which would supply a late-undergraduate or post-graduate student to help me do a better job. I could not find any university with a programme which gave British students the unique advantage of working for a British Member of Parliament. The City of London Polytechnic came up with the idea that American students attending it would be happy to work as unpaid interns, and I jumped at that opportunity. Since 1980 I have had working for me an American student from the Beaver college programme, based at the City of London polytechnic. To make those students better equipped to work here, to conform to the rules and atmosphere, to blend in and not to cause problems, I have acted as an adviser to that programme and given lectures to them.

I must deal with the demand-led or supply-led question. I now arrange for 12 to 15 students to join Members of Parliament every year. It is never more than that number, but about that number. I do so not because some American programme asked me to find places for Americans to work for Members of Parliament. It was the other way. Members of Parliament from every side of the House asked me to supply an intern—a free worker who works efficiently—for them. Anyone who is familiar with the programme knows that it works exceedingly well. It exists only because hon. Members asked for it because they wanted that type of help. Let us get it straight from the start; it is demand-led by Members of Parliament.

I do not want to impose research help on the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) or on any Member of Parliament.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I shall not give way for the moment. Members of Parliament should work in the way that suits them best. Many hon. Members have no researchers and no secretarial help. At the other end of the spectrum, some hon. Members have more researchers than the average. It is a fact — the Leader of the House mentioned this number — that there are only 77 temporary research assistants for 650 hon. Members. That is not a scandalous number. Younger hon. Members, in particular, see the need for research help more than those who are a little longer in the tooth.

I shall vote against both the motion and the amendment, because, although I accepted with some demur the original debate, the Select Committee changed its recommendations substantially. For that reason and because this sort of rule will prohibit hon. Members from making their arrangements in their own way, we should stand up for hon. Members. I thought that the Services Committee was appointed not for the interests of the Library staff, the administrative staff or the Serjeant at Arms, but for hon. Members. I also thought that the Leader of the House stood for the interests of hon. Members and their right to do the job effectively and as they want to do it.

I object to the fact that one programme has been singled out for preferential treatment. I can see no reason for that. If programmes are monitored, hon. Members will choose quality programmes—students who stay longer and are better prepared and equipped. That is true of all staff, but hon. Members should make that decision, and the House should not make rules and regulations about it.

We shall oppose both the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire 11:30 pm, 29th January 1986

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) was far too inflammatory. I declare an interest in that I was a member of the Sevices Committee. That Committee went into this matter with enormous care and the report is a balanced one. It it based on evidence, and that is a point which has not been made sufficiently. That evidence was from people such as the Librarian and the Serjeant at Arms—people who have to administer this place and who have a difficult job in so doing.

The Committee made recommendations which are balanced and which bear in mind the interests of Members. I say with great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) that the recommendations are not mischievous. His amendment is mischievous and it cuts across the absolute right of a Member to decide whom he will employ.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

Yes it does, and if my honourable, excitable and intemperate Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) would calm down it would allow me to make two or three points. First of all, the American students who come here and who seem to be at the centre of the controversy are, for the most part, exceptionally well behaved and helpful. There have been few substantial complaints about them and although both Committees sought to investigate, they found it difficult to come up with hard evidence.

These young people—this is not an insubstantial point—help to foster relations between two close and great countries. Many of them are not doing terribly detailed and important research jobs. They are learning about the system and helping Members, very often with menial chores, which in America would be done by paid lackeys in Congress.

There is a simple solution that would meet the objections which hon. Members still have in their minds and to which our Committees have turned their attention from time to time, although they have not yet mde a recommendation to the House. It is this. In Congress, one finds that most or all of the people who work there wear badges or passes on their lapels. It would be simple for us to introduce a colour code system whereby the young assistants were allowed only into essential places, such as the post office, without going anywhere near the Library or the dining rooms or the other refreshment facilities.

It would be simple—I hope that the Committee will look at it again—to have visible colour-coded passes that would ensure that the system could be monitored by the authorities of the House, the police and the custodians, and would not be abused. I suggest that the amendment before the House, moved, I think, slightly mischievously by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, will cut across a fundamental right of Members and will prevent us from giving the matter detailed consideration.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West 11:34 pm, 29th January 1986

I hope the House will excuse my Celtic croak, but at least it will have the effect of keeping me uncharacteristically brief. I feel for the Leader of the House, who must have thought that his major problems were over when he sat down on Monday evening. I had not anticipated the fractiousness of this debate.

We have two completely separate debates running together. We should be debating as one issue what we want to do about students, and not just American or other overseas students, but all students, British as well. We should be deciding whether we are willing to let them have access as an educational facility, and setting the scale at which we are willing to make that facility available to them. We could have had a perfectly sensible, structured and constructive discussion on that.

The trouble is that that discussion has been superimposed on the problem that underlies the emotion in the debate—the sheer paucity of facilities in the House of Commons. So there is an unseemly scramble for scarce resources which has not done credit to the House. Hon. Members are scrabbling for the facility of untrained young academic helpers of limited capability—I do not say that disparagingly—to make up for the facilities that they should have as of right as Members. Therefore, the question of the rights of Members has also been superimposed on the debate.

On the issue of students, we must recognise reality. The most rapid expansion in numbers applies to overseas students. I accept entirely the point that has been made, that many of the researchers are only part-time. That tends to be obscured by the fact that each one has a full pass although they are here on only one or two days a week. They still put pressure on research resources, photocopiers and so on. Whether we like it or not, the pressure is there and is increasing, but the resource of accommodation is not.

Are we to try to ration the numbers we load into the machine so as to ensure that the machine is able to accommodate them? We may all deplore the fact that the machine is not as efficient or as well resourced as it should be, but we have to deal with the position as it is. Unless we take action we shall soon find that the employment of extra researchers will become counter-productive because the machine will be so overloaded that they will not be able to do the limited work for which we are taking them on.

It is my view—a personal view, and it is right that there should be a free vote—that the proposition put forward in the motion should be accepted. In that context perhaps we may consider what else we can do to make sure that British students, who do not have the financial backup of American students, have an equal opportunity of spending time in the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

What is the definition of overseas?

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

I know what it means; my hon. Friend should know what it means; the report knows what it means. I advise my hon. Friend to go back to the report.

I listened to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), moving the amendment. I have come across no more convincing case to demonstrate the need for researchers. I do not wish to be unkind to him but I suspect that much of the report had not been read by him nor by anyone on his behalf.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stortford

I agree that British students should have more than equal access, but it is just the restriction that the Services Committee is trying to impose through the motion that will militate against British students. Often they have only a month in the summer or at Easter to spend with us. If we are restricted to one or two passes, we may not be able to give experience to British students.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

If we were to do that, my suggestion would be to think in terms of a sabbatical year from a course, or a sandwich type of course in which a year here was a module. It could be spent here as part of a student's course. That could be accommodated within the numbers envisaged.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

How many universities do that?

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

It is not my fault if the British universities do not do this. As I pointed out in the last debate—

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

If I may get on with the debate in a rational way, the reality is that the hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment that all Members realise is a breach of the principle that most of us would accept, that as Members we have a right to decide how many supporters we need and who they will be. It is no good his saying that if we want extra numbers we should have them outside. How many people can afford to have offices outside the House? We cannot afford the researchers, let alone the offices to put them in. I have never heard such a nonsensical suggestion.

The reality is that tonight the House has made a bit of a fool of itself. We have not faced up to the real issue: as a Parliament, we lack the accommodation that we need or that should be available, and we lack the resources that we should have to employ full-time members of staff to support us, whose numbers we should be free to decide. Instead, we have had an unseemly debate about how we ration out the 50 passes for each quarter for a limited number of overseas students. The correct thing this evening would be to accept the proposition of the Leader of the House and reject the amendment.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire 11:41 pm, 29th January 1986

I think that we have had a rather jolly debate. These has been quite a lot of vigour, quite a lot of deep, sound prejudice and quite a lot of well-researched nonsense. I have no sense of shame about having this debate some months after we last discussed the matter, because it is a subject that does not go away or get stale; and in some senses the debate is the better for the period of reflection since we discussed it last summer.

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) very kindly rubbished my gentle and moderate remarks. If I did not know that he had lifted the burden of reselection from his shoulders, I might have doubted his motive.

There will, of course, always be argument about accommodation, but let it be quite clear: the Bridge street site is now part of the ambitions for the future accommodation of the House of Commons, and it will in due course have a material impact on the kind of problems that we have been discussing. That is not seriously at issue.

We now have secretarial and research allowances. The House has always been anxious to consolidate the secretarial and research allowance as one and the same—

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The hon. Gentleman has tried to shout down everyone who has spoken in the debate so far: he is not going to shout me down.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

That in itself indicates all the problems of definition that come into these matters. At the heart of it all is the question of what constitutes the kind of full-time commitment to research that necessitates the use of the facilities of the House, and the gradations which fall short of that and which are certainly encompassed within the arrangements considered by the right hon. Member for Deptford, whose recommendations now stand in my name this evening.

The arguments put for them by hon. Friends the Members for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) and for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) are such that I hope that they will convey their good sense and moderation, and that they will be enforced by the House this evening.

That takes us to the much more general issue of freedom of access to the House for staff of Members of Parliament. The great exponent of laissez faire in these matters is the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). He is an entrepreneur in these matters as well, so he is bound to be arguing from such a point.

The amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has been seriously considered. I realise that it sets out the most formidable difficulties, but let us be quite clear: it does not restrict the number of staff a Member might employ. What it does is to restrict the full use of the facilities. I quite understand when I am told that an hon. Member must have research for his constituency surgery. I do not disparage that. But that is not the same as requiring research here in the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Does the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) wish to move his amendment formally?

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

No, Mr. Speaker. So that the House may be spared an extra Division, I shall not press it.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to order [24 January].

The House divided: Ayes, 75, Noes 54.

Division No. 57][11.45 pm
AYES
Ancram, MichaelClay, Robert
Arnold, TomClegg, Sir Walter
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyCohen, Harry
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCope, John
Boscawen, Hon RobertCorbett, Robin
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Corbyn, Jeremy
Bryan, Sir PaulCunliffe, Lawrence
Buck, Sir AntonyDixon, Donald
Butcher, JohnDurant, Tony
Campbell-Savours, DaleForth, Eric
Chope, ChristopherFox, Marcus
Gale, RogerNeubert, Michael
George, BruceNorris, Steven
Glyn, Dr AlanOnslow, Cranley
Grant, Sir AnthonyOsborn, Sir John
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Harris, DavidPollock, Alexander
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Rhodes James, Robert
Home Robertson, JohnRogers, Allan
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasSackville, Hon Thomas
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Leadbitter, TedSayeed, Jonathan
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSilkin, Rt Hon J.
Lightbown, DavidSilvester, Fred
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Skinner, Dennis
Lyell, NicholasSpicer, Jim (Dorset W)
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Steen, Anthony
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maclean, David JohnTownend, John (Bridlington)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)Twinn, Dr Ian
McWilliam, JohnViggers, Peter
Mather, CarolWakeham, Rt Hon John
Maude, Hon FrancisWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWilliams, Rt Hon A.
Mellor, David
Michie, WilliamTellers for the Ayes:
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Mr. Colin Shepherd and
Moate, RogerMr. Patrick Cormack.
NOES
Alton, DavidHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Ashby, DavidHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Ashdown, PaddyJohnston, Sir Russell
Barron, KevinKennedy, Charles
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Kirkwood, Archy
Boyes, RolandLilley, Peter
Bruce, MalcolmLivsey, Richard
Buchan, NormanLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Burt, AlistairMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Caborn, RichardMcNamara, Kevin
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Maxton, John
Clelland, David GordonMeadowcroft, Michael
Clwyd, Mrs AnnNeale, Gerrard
Coombs, SimonNellist, David
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)O'Neill, Martin
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Penhaligon, David
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Pike, Peter
Fisher, MarkRobertson, George
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelSheerman, Barry
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Steel, Rt Hon David
Foster, DerekWallace, James
Foulkes, GeorgeWaller, Gary
Garel-Jones, TristanWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Gregory, ConalWheeler, John
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hampson, Dr KeithTellers for the Noes:
Holt, RichardMr. Austin Mitchell and
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Mr. Geoff Lawler.
Howells, Geraint

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the recommendations contained in paragraph 24 of the Second Report of the Select Commitee on House of Commons (Services) in Session 1984–85 (House of Commons Paper No. 195) be approved; and that no Member shall at any one time be entitled to more than one pass for a temporary research assistant from overseas.