§ 42. Mr. Kennedy
asked the Lord Privy Seal if he has any plans to increase the current range and level of support facilities for hon. Members; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
No, Sir. The present arrangements do, however, review those facilities from time to time.
§ Mr. Kennedy
I thank the Leader of the House for that helpful reply. Does he agree with the impression of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that our constituents are frequently surprised by our lack of facilities and accommodation here and in our constituencies, and the bad effect that that has on us trying to provide a good standard of services for them? In view of that, will he, in the short term, consider more ways in which the range of facilities and office accommodation for hon. Members can be improved, because such space would be put to good use?
§ Mr. Biffen
I do not think that I can helpfully comment on the reasons which cause our constituents to judge the quality of our performance. A review of the secretarial, research and office equipment allowance should be under way this summer. Accommodation is the subject of a later question.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who have come, as I have, from the City, where we are used to a professional level of services, now find ourselves having to work four to a room, 20 ft by 10 ft? Does he accept that it is about time the House became more professional, knocked down that hideous collection of old buildings above the tube station and built proper accommodation for Members of Parliament?
§ Mr. Biffen
I have always felt that Westminster provided a generous refuge for those from the City. There has never been a shortage of those wishing to make the pilgrimage. Phase one of the Bridge street site should be completed by 1990, and I believe that it will have some impact.
§ Mr. Soley
Does the Leader of the House know of any other country in the developed world which has a system as backward as ours? Does he realise the situation that I am in today—my secretary is off sick so no one can reach me on the telephone; I have an office by Westminster abbey; when my secretary is not sick she is down by the Embankment and there is a 15-minute walk between the three; and 1 am having money transferred 14 regularly every month from my salary to my expense allowance to pay for the new technology which he and the House say is a good idea?
§ Mr. Stokes
Will my right hon. Friend be extremely careful when he considers further facilities for right hon. and hon. Members, because we seem to have had a host of new people called research assistants since the summer? They have led to an enormous number of written questions. If we are not careful, we will all drown in a sea of paper.
§ Mr. Biffen
As I have already explained to the House, there is every likelihood that a review of the secretarial, research and office equipment allowance will be undertaken in June. I look forward to reading the evidence which my hon. Friend will doubtless contribute to it.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us were better serviced by research and secretarial officers in local government before we came here? Does he agree that the problem is that those who do not need extra servicing are so dominant that they prevent better servicing for those who need it?
§ Mr. Biffen
I must confess that I have a genuine and high regard for the quality of the Opposition in the House. I am not sure that it would be enhanced by further provision of research assistants. The hon. Gentleman will be able to make his case when he gives evidence to the review that will be undertaken later this year.