Oral Answers to Questions — House of Commons – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th April 1988.
To ask the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what is the cost in overtime, other payments and overheads of sittings of the House beyond 10 o'clock for each year from 1958 for which records exist.
The responsibility for overtime worked by House of Commons staff lies with Heads of Departments. Authorised submissions to the Fees Office for payment of overtime, while specifying the duration of the extra work, do not indicate the time covered. The information is, therefore, not available in the form requested and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.
Will the hon. Member answering for the House of Commons Commission go away and try to get some accurate information? He will be aware, as will you, Mr. Speaker, that in 1945 only two sittings of the House went beyond 12 o'clock at night, whereas the average is now two a week. That not only entails massive costs but, reflects upon the Government's ability to get their business through—not just this Government, but others. Will the hon. Gentleman make recommendations on behalf of the House of Commons Commission to the Procedure Committee, when it is established, to ensure that proper overtime payments are made, that the costs to the House are reduced and that hon. Members can get on with their job at a seemly hour?
Having served on Procedure Committees that have made recommendations on this matter, I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but the job of the Commission is to ensure that the decisions that the House itself makes to sit late are implemented with satisfactory staff support, for which proper overtime payments are made.
Can the hon. Gentleman get the statistics for the costs of keeping open the many bars in and around the Houses of Parliament, particularly the Press Bar? Does that involve a cost on the House? Is the taxpayer having to subsidise it to keep the journalists here after hours? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could address himself in particular to the Smoking Room, where most of the Tory Members do their boozing, and check on journalists, many of whom used to inhabit such places but for some reason do not any more, who write articles about it.
The hon. Gentleman raises some interesting matters, but his questions about the profitability of the various bars will have to be addressed to the Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether I am right in saying that considerable extra cost is incurred after 11 pm in providing transport for all the staff, who then go home by taxi, no matter how far away they live? If that is, indeed, the case, may we have the figures showing the additional transport costs for sittings that continue after 11 pm?
I wondered whether my hon. Friend was going to offer lifts in his taxi. Provision is, indeed, made for late-night transport for staff who have to work beyond the times at which public transport is available. Whether or not the House sits late, some of that transport has to be used by staff whose work for the Official Report and on other duties continues after the House has risen. Additional costs are, of course, incurred when the House sits late.