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House of Lords' Offices: Select Committee Report

– in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 23rd July 2001.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords 3:30 pm, 23rd July 2001

rose to move, That the Second Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 16) be agreed to.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I dare say there will be a number of questions. I shall try to answer some of them in advance. On accommodation, noble Lords will be pleased to know that 169 desks for Members will become available over the Summer Recess. We now have the preliminary results of the survey that was conducted. I am pleased to say that we have had more than 400 replies. Some 80 or 90 Members said that they did not want any accommodation. That leaves some elbow room.

The request of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the return of some rooms that were given up some time ago by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was considered by the Administration and Works Committee and the Offices Committee. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave an address to the Offices Committee to explain why his private office needed the extra rooms. His reasons were accepted. The 13 Conservative Members who are currently occupying the rooms have been offered alternative accommodation, which I believe is on the first floor, West Front, which may be an improvement on what they currently have. Overall, we have gained a considerable number of rooms.

I am sure that noble Lords will be pleased to hear that the proposals on free post for Members, based on the suggestions of the Senior Salaries Review Body, have been agreed. Restrictions similar to those in place in the Commons have been set out in the report. If the report is accepted today, as I hope it will be, Members will be entitled to free postage as of tomorrow morning, but the full system that will provide pre-paid envelopes will not be in place until the end of the Summer Recess. As an interim measure, Members may bring their addressed letters to the Attendants' Office in the Peers' Lobby, where they will be franked with a first class hand stamp.

I do not know whether there are any other matters that I need to go into at this moment, but doubtless noble Lords will want to ask some questions. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 16) be agreed to.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

The Committee have met and been attended by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

1. Membership of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee

The Committee appointed Viscount Goschen to the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee in place of the Earl of Courtown.

2. Accommodation

The Committee agreed that rooms S/02 and S/03 on the Principal Mezzanine Floor of the Palace should be handed over to the Lord Chancellor's Department. In presenting his case the Lord Chancellor explained that his duties as Speaker required him to be based in the House of Lords, and that he therefore needed a small private office within the Palace. The Department's existing accommodation in the Palace was severely overcrowded, and the new responsibilities which had recently been transferred to the Department would require the addition of a small number of new staff.

The Committee noted that in October over 150 new desks for Members will become available in the Palace, Millbank House (next to 7 Little College Street), and 7 Old Palace Yard (opposite the peers' car park).

At its meeting on 20th March 2001 the Committee agreed that the Leaders of the parties and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers should request that the Commons hand over to the Lords the offices on the Upper Committee Corridor South. The Committee learnt that the Commons had refused this request, and agreed that the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip should discuss the matter further with the Leader of the House of Commons.

3. Free postage for Members' correspondence on House of Lords' Business

The Senior Salaries Review Body recommended in its review of parliamentary pay and allowances that Members should have access to free postage for correspondence on House of Lords' business.

The Committee agreed the following arrangements to implement this proposal:

(a) Free postage should be made available by means of the provision of post-paid envelopes and postcards, available for collection at the House of Lords and for use by Members from any location in the UK.

(b) Post-paid envelopes and cards may not be used:

(i) for correspondence of a business, commercial or personal nature;

(ii) for the correspondence of a parliamentary group which includes persons other than parliamentarians;

(iii) in connection with party political fund raising or campaigning;

(iv) for issuing circulars of any description (ie an unsolicited letter sent in identical or near identical form to a number of addresses);

(v) for internal mail (mail within the Parliamentary estate); and

(vi) for overseas mail.

These restrictions are similar to those which apply in the House of Commons.

(c) Members should be issued with guidance on the above restrictions and should be reminded of the need to avoid wastage of post-paid envelopes, which the House will have paid for in advance. There should, however, be no formal limit on the number of pre-paid envelopes available to Members,

(d) Demand for free postage should be monitored (and its use subject to audit). Any apparent irregularity in the use of free postage would be a matter for Black Rod, the appropriate Chief Whip or the Convenor.

(e) For an interim period until the House returns in October, when the post-paid envelopes and cards will be available, Members should be able to hand mail on House of Lords business to the Attendants' Office to be franked and posted from the House.

4. Lords reimbursement allowances

The Committee took note of the annual uprating, in line with the retail price index, of the motor mileage allowance and the bicycle allowance, with effect from 1st April 2001.

The motor mileage allowance has been uprated from 52.5 pence per mile to 53.7 pence per mile for the first 20,000 miles, and from 24.2 pence per mile to 24.8 pence per mile for any further mileage.

The bicycle allowance has been uprated from 6.7 pence per mile to 6.9 pence per mile.

5. Presentation of a casket of sand from the Normandy beaches

The Committee agreed to a proposal by the Normandy Veterans' Association to present to the Palace of Westminster a casket containing sand taken from the five Normandy beaches. The casket will be placed in the Royal Gallery, near the piece of the Dunkirk jetty presented to the House in 1972.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, did the House of Commons give any reason for not wishing to give up the offices on the Upper Committee Corridor South? I ask because the House of Commons has recently benefited from the additional space provided by Portcullis House. Members of the House of Commons and their staff now rightly have adequate accommodation. I do not say that they are palatially housed, but they are very well housed. It seems odd that in this House, where Members sometimes have to share desks--although perhaps not for much longer--and are certainly in cramped conditions, three or four offices that are within the House of Lords estate cannot be handed back to us.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, I warmly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Without too much exaggeration, the House of Commons can now be said to enjoy some extraordinarily luxurious surroundings in Portcullis House. The Commons acquired the two rooms upstairs not long ago and are hanging on to them as though they were glued to them.

The report says:

"The Committee learnt that the Commons had refused this request"-- for the office space to be handed back--

"and agreed that the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip should discuss the matter further with the Leader of the House of Commons".

That would be a good idea. We suffer from the great disadvantage that the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip are accustomed to dealing with very nice people in your Lordships' House. That obviously blunts the sharpness that they ought to have when faced with the greedy habits of the House of Commons. When they go on that expedition, I hope that they will summon up their courage, and, if possible, a little ruthlessness, and win the battle against those rather rougher people.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. He knows how much I always agree with him, particularly when he is being as uncynical as he was today.

The Chairman of Committees knows how fond I am of him, but I found his comments and the report somewhat complacent, if I may put it so mildly. Given the shortage of rooms for noble Lords in your Lordships' House, I find the reasons given for the Lord Chancellor needing more rooms incredible. Perhaps members of the committee were overawed, or perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor came in his robes. Whatever the truth, I found the reasons given remarkable.

First, there is talk of the Lord Chancellor's duties as Speaker. I did not know that we had a Speaker in your Lordships' House. I should be delighted if we did. Perhaps we could elect someone in the same way as the other place does. That could make for an interesting election. I have not heard of any specific changes in the role of the Lord Chancellor in your Lordships' House, so I cannot understand why that is one of the reasons for needing more rooms.

We are also told that the Lord Chancellor's Department is severely overcrowded because it has been given new responsibilities. I am well aware that other jobs have been given to the department, but why do the staff need to be in your Lordships' House? Why cannot they be elsewhere, like the staff of any other department of government? There is no need to use rooms here, when your Lordships are so short of space. I found that an extraordinary reason for giving the Lord Chancellor those extra rooms.

Then we are told that a "request" has been made to another place for the rooms being used above this Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said, the Commons refused. I find it astonishing that we are prepared to give in to that. The Commons have just spent £250 million on Portcullis House--approximately £500,000 per Member using it, together with their staff--while we are being told how marvellous it is that we are going to be given a desk. I find the committee's attitude astonishing. Now we are told that the House of Commons is still refusing our perfectly reasonable request. I hope and trust that the Chairman of Committees will consider withdrawing his part of the resolution. We should not simply make a request to the other place; we should tell it that we shall have those offices. We should make the scandal publicly known that, having spent £250 million on the building opposite, Members of the other place still insist on taking offices in our part of the House. I hope that the committee will consider that matter.

I am also very concerned about the general attitude towards the offices and rooms that are available to your Lordships. We are told that every Member who wants a desk will be able to have one. How wonderful! I believe that other Parliaments around the world will find astonishing the situation facing a major second Chamber in this Parliament. Whether or not we are paid, we are still a major second House of this Parliament, and we can and do change legislation. I hope that the Chairman of Committees, who knows that I have a great regard for him, will reconsider the committee's proposals.

I hate to refer to officials but I fear that I must. The Clerk of the Parliaments and possibly even the new Black Rod--a very charming man, who, I hope, is doing a great job--both worry about the Treasury and costs. By comparison with the other place, the cost of your Lordships' House is minuscule. It is time that we stopped worrying about that aspect of the problem. Not only do we need desks; we need offices for Members who want them.

I know that offices are not available now. However, I hope that the committee will, in the not too distant future, consider the building of a new office block. Such a building need not take a long time to erect, and we need not spend £250 million or anything remotely like that. But we should make that decision. We, not the Treasury, are responsible for our affairs. I say that having had a little experience in the Treasury. I should not have liked it if your Lordships had made such a suggestion to me when I was there, but I am not there now. However, I believe that we should tell the Treasury that we need a new office building located as near as possible to your Lordships' House.

I suggested to the previous Black Rod that such a building should be situated in his garden. He did not seem too pleased about that idea but I do not believe that it is a bad idea. All kinds of odd structures are located in Black Rod's Garden. We should demolish them and put up a decent office building for your Lordships.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said, but I ask noble Lords to be very careful that they do not encourage the usual channels to be diverted into an amazing construction project at some undefined date in the future. We must concentrate on what we need and can get now.

So far as concerns the Lord Chancellor's situation, I believe that, as so often happens, that particular fox has been shot by the usual channels. At some stage--this relates to a wider issue--noble Lords may feel that they would like to examine how they run their affairs in relation to matters, such as accommodation, that affect Members of the House so directly.

I have one simple question. When I first entered this building, for example, approximately three Ministers were entitled to accommodation at the taxpayers' expense. That has now become a sign of having arrived and many more Ministers now have accommodation at public expense. These things can become a matter of status and I am anxious to ensure that a precedent is not set in this case. It should be quite simple to say that this is a one-off situation and that it constitutes no precedent.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Blackburn Lord Taylor of Blackburn Labour 3:45 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I have, for some time, been one of the people who has tried to establish the right of Members to have accommodation in this building. For years, it has been accepted by the House that we should take over from the staff as many offices as possible. We have been achieving that. I know that the Lord Chancellor has additional duties to perform and that he has taken over many responsibilities and will require more staff. But why should those staff be situated in this building?

The committee invited the Lord Chancellor to give evidence. Were the 16 Members who were decapitated and removed from their offices given the opportunity to state why they should remain in those offices, or were they told simply that they would be evicted? I am told that they were given notice long before the committee passed this resolution. I should like to know the answer to that.

I turn to the argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Barnett concerning the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker. If my noble friend were to read the Standing Orders, he would find that the Lord Chancellor's title is "Lord Chancellor and Speaker".

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, I declare a direct and personal interest as the occupant of one of the desks which is being repossessed by the Lord Chancellor. In following the new theme and philosophy of registration of interests, if I were to say presumptuously that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is a friend of mine, I believe that I should also declare his interest as the tenant--I am not sure for how long--of a major part of valuable Westminster property. I do not know the exact quantity, and I am not sure whether that would be required under the declaration of friends' interests. But I do not believe that replacing Peers with departmental officials gives the right message.

However, I am more concerned about another matter. I wonder whether your Lordships realise that a number of servants of this House--in particular, staff in the Committee and Computer Offices--are being moved out of the Palace of Westminster, where they will be less effective at helping us and, as a result, the service that we receive will be less good? Although it is nice to hear from the Chairman of Committees that extra desks are to be provided, I return to the fact that I do not consider such a move to be appropriate.

I am not aware that a proper case has been made for the accommodation arrangements for the Lord Chancellor's Department. That department has apparently doubled in size, or, rather, it appears that 13 more spaces are required for it. I understand that that is slightly larger than the present size of the Lord Chancellor's departmental office. However, I do not believe that the case for that has been made.

I am not complaining about the moves because, as the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees said, we are being given alternative accommodation and it is possible that the cookie may crumble quite well from my point of view. I know that the moves will not take place until the beginning of the next Session and, obviously, after seven years, one would not be given the type of time-scale which at one time was being suggested by the Lord Chancellor's Department.

However, I seriously wonder whether it would not be more appropriate to wait before making a decision on this part of the report until we receive the results of the fresh approach to be made by the Leader of the House and, I believe, the Government Chief Whip to another place in respect of the handing over of accommodation. I understand from some members of the committee that they believed that that decision was made at the meeting. On the other hand, the report reads as though the surrender of the rooms to the Lord Chancellor's Department is totally separate from, and not consequent upon, the fresh approach.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household)

My Lords, perhaps at this point I may intervene to explain how the usual channels have operated since the meeting of the Offices Committee took place. On the assumption, and the hope, that the report will be accepted, we have allocated the rooms between the parties with the agreement of all parties and the Cross Benches. It is hoped that a number of Peers, including the noble Lord, already know the rooms to which they will go in the autumn. We are supposed to inform Black Rod by tomorrow evening of the allocation of rooms and, it is hoped, of the allocation of the majority of desks. If that were to be held over, it would create chaos in the autumn.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

My Lords, I have been referred to as one of those who have been, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, decapitated. I have a desk in room S/O2, and I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that so far I have received no intimation whatever of where I shall be moved to; I do not know whether I shall remain within the Palace or not. I have said that I should rather stay within the Palace but, although tomorrow is the end of term, I have received no intimation of where I am supposed to go.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and others, raised a most important point in the debate--it is far more important than finding out where my desk will be next year. It involves the growth of a department within the House of Lords and it is about whether it is right in principle for Peers to be thrown out so that civil servants may take over. That is what this is all about. The Select Committee report refers to, "a small private office", and to,

"a small number of new staff".

Dare one say, "What weasel words!"? What numbers are involved? There are 13 of us in the two rooms that are being taken over; there are six in my room, and we have a desk each. Four of us are Privy Counsellors--and fairly senior Privy Counsellors, at that. We are, to put it crudely, being thrown out. I told my Chief Whip that I did not want to go but, with respect, that made no difference whatever.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, touched on a root problem. To what extent should civil servants, whether they work for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or not, be permitted to take over space in the Palace of Westminster rather than in departments outside in Whitehall? That goes to the heart of the matter. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that the idea that we could say, "This is not a precedent", is, with respect, bunkum. We all know that in years to come today's decision will be referred to as a precedent. Other Ministers who want to be in Westminster will do so.

I turn to another important point. I do not know whether the Government's reform of the upper House is intended to make us--how should one put this?--a more serious upper Chamber. If we are to become slightly more weighty and if more attention is paid to our decisions, it is wrong that we should have to fight for a desk and for somewhere to put our umbrella and briefcase. It is lovely at last to be given post-paid and pre-paid envelopes but there are other things in life, which go with being an important, serious upper Chamber. That should also be weighed in the balance when trying to reach a decision.

Finally, I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Marlesford, who told me last week--no one else told me this--that the entire Computer Office is being moved out of the House. I have found that department to be an extreme help.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I am a neophyte in my attempts to master Windows 98, the Citrix system and so on. It has been very useful indeed to be able to go with one's laptop and printer to the rooms on the second floor and be told what one is doing wrong or why one's laptop has broken down. In the four years that I have been in this House I found that office to be one of the most helpful in the House of Lords. The idea that that office will be booted out and that I shall have to traipse up and down Whitehall with my laptop trying to find someone who can tell me why I have, once again, mucked up my system because I pressed the wrong button, is unattractive. I hope that that matter will also be reviewed.

Photo of Lord Gilbert Lord Gilbert Labour

My Lords, there are just three matters to which I should like to draw the attention of noble Lords. They are all matters that I raised with the House of Lords' Offices Committee last week.

My first point relates to the questionnaire to which the Chairman of Committees referred. I am very happy that that questionnaire was sent out and that the authorities found it useful. It was sent out against a great deal of resistance. I draw to the attention of noble Lords the fact that it does not coincide with the terms of the Motion that appeared before your Lordships' House on 29th March of this year. The Motion that led to the sending out of the questionnaire had two parts: one part dealt with the division of the premises of the Palace of Westminster, which was not, for reasons that I understand, accepted; the other part dealt with accommodation, and it was accepted.

That second part of the Motion itself had three parts: one involved establishing whether Members wanted accommodation on their own; the second was about whether they wanted shared accommodation; and the third was about whether or not they wanted accommodation for secretaries or researchers. Strangely enough, the final requirement, which is about whether Members wanted space for secretaries or researchers, disappeared from the questionnaire--it does not appear there. That is not a frivolous matter. I have a pretty good idea why it disappeared, but I shall not go into that today. I also have a pretty good idea about the arguments that were involved, and I do not intend to go into them, either.

I shall explain to noble Lords why this is not a frivolous matter. Many Members who come here also have to make a living, and they need a secretary or researcher to do so. If the secretary or researcher were miles away, that would reduce their enthusiasm for attendance at this place. That is one of the reasons why there is not a full take-up of offices here--Members find that they cannot come here because they cannot do their outside work properly. That question will become even more acute when we have 100 or 120 elected Members in this place. They are all going to have constituencies to serve. We have simply got to think ahead about this House's requirements; if we do not, we shall be in the most appalling mess when 100 or 120 elected Members arrive here. In this regard I very much hope that in the immediate future I shall have the support of the Opposition Front Benches of both parties--Front-Benchers, of all people, need secretaries and researchers to do their work and to ensure that the House operates efficiently. I give notice that I propose to return after the Summer Recess to the provision of space for secretaries or researchers.

I turn to my second point. A report, which is not in the Offices Committee report, was prepared for this House by a small group--I believe that that is the right word. My noble friend Lord Grenfell played a distinguished part and the noble Lords, Lord Newton, Lord Levene and Lord Oakeshott, were also part of the group. They produced a report that, if I am correctly informed, was completed before Christmas and which was given to the Clerk of the Parliaments. If I am again correctly informed, he gave the report to the newly elected late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who was then the Chairman of Committees. That report has yet to see the light of day. Frankly, that is a scandal. There is no earthly reason why it should not be published or why noble Lords should not know what is in it. Whether noble Lords agree with what is in it or not is beside the point. That report should be the property of the House. Before this debate ends I hope that we can have an assurance from the Chairman of Committees that the report will be published before the Recess. I happen to know that in saying that I have the support of the leaders of all the political groups here and of the Convenor.

I have not seen a copy of the report but I have some idea about one or two items that appear in it. One of those items relates to the structure of the Offices Committee. The structure of that committee is a complete nonsense. I raise that point because it is relevant to the next matter that I want to discuss.

According to a list that I obtained today from the Library, the Offices Committee has 28 members. Seven of those members sit on the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee and eight sit on the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. A great deal of the authority of the Offices Committee was delegated many years ago to those sub-committees. Altogether, 11 members of the Offices Committee sit on those two sub-committees--there is a certain amount of overlap between the two sub-committees. It does not take a great deal of arithmetical knowledge to figure out that no fewer than 17 of the 28 members of the Offices Committee sit on neither sub-committee.

Why is that important? A report from the Chairman of Committees on behalf of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee was sent to the Offices Committee on Tuesday of last week. This is the report. It can be obtained from the Library. The sub-committee met on 3rd July. There is reference in the report to accommodation and to the many letters and documents which came before the Offices Committee. The report goes on:

"Proposal to present a casket of sand from the Normandy beaches".

That required four paragraphs and was, no doubt, a wholly appropriate decision for the Administration and Works Sub-Committee to take.

I thought that was very strange so I did a little digging. I went back to the previous meeting of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. Lo and behold, I found that there is a great deal in there which is not included in this report to the Offices Committee.

No doubt the rest of your Lordships know what I am now about to say. However, I did not know that we have in this House a 10-year rolling programme of capital works, involving tens of millions of pounds; we have a three-year rolling programme of maintenance works, also involving a great deal of money. Neither of those reports has ever been in front of the Offices Committee, never since the rolling programme was set up 10 years ago. So already every item on the original 10-year programme will be history and all the items now will be new, as against when the programme was started.

The only people that see that are the administration committee, of whom eight, of a total of 28, are members of the Offices Committee. That is an extremely unsatisfactory state of affairs. Those matters are not secret. Your Lordships can find them out but one has to do quite a lot of digging to know that that is going on.

What is more, every item on the 10-year major works rolling programme, which, as I said, involves tens of millions of pounds, has a priority assigned to it--4, 3, 2 or 1 in descending order of importance. I inquired as to who had allocated those numbers. It is a wholly admirable combination of the Clerk of Works and the Black Rod of the day. Those matters are rubber-stamped. I should not say that because "rubber-stamped" is a pejorative term which I should not use in this House. The matters are agreed by the Administration and Works Sub-Committee.

I mention all that to your Lordships because, as I understand it, the report of the group of which my noble friend Lord Grenfell was a member, as were the other three distinguished Members of this House, includes proposals for the committee arrangements of the Offices Committee and its sub-committees. I believe that your Lordships' House should be seized of that matter. Noble Lords should know about that major works programme and, indeed, the minor works programme. It should be the subject of a debate in this House in the fullness of time.

Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench 4:00 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I make a few comments both as a member of the committee which produced this report but perhaps more importantly, as someone who has now been in the House for nearly 40 years and as someone who has a great deal of concern, as I think most of your Lordships have, for the authority and prestige of the House.

My comments concern a point which has been mentioned already by the noble Lords, Lord Barnet and Lord Peyton; namely, the resolution of disputes between this House and the other place.

The background to the question of accommodation in the Upper Committee Corridor bears a few minutes, attention. It starts in March of this year when the three Leaders of the main parties in this House, plus the Convenor of the Cross-Benches, wrote to the Leader of the House of Commons asking for those offices to be handed over, and giving reasons for doing so. As we already know, the result was a refusal. It was not just a refusal but a fairly blank refusal. It came first from the Leader of the House of Commons and then from one of the committees of the House of Commons which said that there can be no question of the House of Commons handing over any accommodation from the House of Commons to the House of Lords.

It seems to me--and I have asked questions about this in the Offices Committee--that that is an end of the matter. If the House of Commons says "No", "No" is the answer. There is no one who can arbitrate or adjudicate on this decision as between the two Houses.

That is totally unacceptable. We need to have some machinery for resolving such disputes. Noble Lords will see from the report of the Offices Committee that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip have been asked to go to see the Leader of the House of Commons to discuss that matter.

It seems to me that they should go with some very, very strong guidance indeed from your Lordships' House. The request is that a Joint Committee of both Houses should be established to adjudicate or arbitrate on such matters. This House should make it quite clear to the two noble Lords who will be representing us at that meeting with the Leader of the House of Commons that there is extremely strong feeling in the House about a number of matters, including accommodation.

But this is not just a matter of accommodation. As has already been said, it is a matter of the prestige and authority of this House. We need the House of Commons to be clear that the very least we can accept is some kind of Joint Committee of both Houses to arbitrate and adjudicate. That is the very least we can accept. I find myself in full agreement with the noble Lords, Lord Peyton and Lord Barnet, that we must be rather tougher about those issues and not go cap in hand to the House of Commons. We are, or should be, equal partners in the occupation of the Palace of Westminster and the House of Commons must realise that.

The setting up of a Joint Committee of some kind has a precedent of a sort. In 1864, a committee was set up to deal with the question of the ventilation of the House because there was a dispute which could not be settled. As a result of that committee then, it was decided that the ventilation of the House of Commons should be dealt with by Mr Reid, who was the adviser to Barry, and that the ventilation of the House of Lords should be left in the hands of Barry.

The result of that can be judged later in 1865 when the Hansard of the day reported the fact that by four or six o'clock in the afternoon, most of the Members of the House of Commons were suffering from near asphyxia. Therefore, that was not a particularly good outcome. However, I make the point because I believe that although Members of the House of Commons can no longer be threatened by asphyxia, they will be sending to this House a large amount of legislation from the House of Commons over the coming months. We should make it clear that that legislation has a much better chance of passing smoothly through this House if the House is regarded as an equal partner and not as some kind of underprivileged neighbour. In spite of everything, this House still has some weight and we should start throwing it about a little.

Photo of Baroness Knight of Collingtree Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative

My Lords, much of what I wanted to ask has already been asked so I can be extremely brief. However, I am anxious to have clarification on the question of the postal arrangements for Peers.

The House finishes for the Summer Recess tomorrow. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees said--it is in the report--that it will not be possible to avail ourselves of the envelopes until October if we live outside London and cannot reach the House to ask for them. As the case for such free envelopes has been well made and as many noble Lords will have official mail to deal with during the Recess, would it be possible for Peers to pick up some envelopes by special arrangement or could they be sent to Peers through the post?

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on the Select Committee's judgment to accept the request of the Lord Chancellor to expand his private office as part of the discharge of the new responsibilities given to him, I welcome the fact that he has been given those responsibilities as they will make his department a more comprehensive ministry of justice, and about time too. However, the price of expansion is the obvious reduction in accommodation for the rest of us, which leads me to wonder whether the Chairman of Committees could have a word with the Lord Chancellor and other colleagues: the senior Law Lords and other noble and learned Lords, one of whom I see sitting opposite, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I am intimidated merely to see him, in the light of what I am about to say.

The facilities that the Law Lords have in their corridor and the facilities offered to the public in the committee rooms, are, as the senior Law Lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, wrote the other day, "seriously inadequate". We have a split supreme court, half of which sits in Downing Street and the other half here. The public have extremely poor facilities. It has taken me three years to achieve agreement to hearing amplification so that the public can hear what is going on and I am told that that will happen shortly. No photocopying facilities are readily available and litigants and their lawyers cannot get a cup of coffee quickly. Sometimes, as an advocate, one can be asked by the Lords of Appeal whether a document can be photocopied. I can achieve that because I am a Peer by going go to the Library, but if I were an ordinary barrister or solicitor I would be in great trouble. The Law Lords are unable to have a sufficient number of judicial assistants working with them, as they would in any other Commonwealth or European country, simply because of the cramped conditions here.

I say all that because our accommodation problems would be helped and a more modern and more efficient system would be created, if, at last, the Law Lords were able to have a separate, elegant, well-designed building. In my view it would preferably be an old building that has been done up, but a building worthy of that function. We could then relieve ourselves of some of these problems and enhance the administration of justice. I hope that those kind of remarks will be borne in mind.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, having regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I do not have any friends and therefore I have no interests of that kind to declare. As I do not propose to make any new friends I hope that this declaration will count for as long as I am a Member of your Lordships' House! I always drift into the corridor because I need the space, which is the topic before us.

I want to ensure that we understand the procedural position. Before us we have a Motion that this report be agreed to. Some time ago, in a rather acrimonious debate of this kind, I raised this matter and I was able to establish that your Lordships do not have to agree to the report. In considering the matter I hope that your Lordships are aware that, first, you do not have to consider the report and, secondly, you are allowed to amend it. That is my understanding.

One of the difficulties is that ordinary Back-Benchers lack leadership. I am assuming that sides are not involved in an issue of this sort. This debate has not involved sides but we have established, as always whenever we discuss the subject, that the one group of people who count for nothing in this House--which I discovered when I first came to the House many years ago--are your Lordships. The noble Lords who sit on the Back Benches are at the bottom of any priority list when it comes to anything at all. That has been made clear from listening to the remarks that have been made.

My judgment is that the Chairman of Committees would be well advised to take the whole matter away. Not one noble Lord has said, "The Lord Chancellor needs more room so we must give space up so that he can have it". We have refrained from other possible discussions about what happens to various bits of space, but if the House were willing to waste several more hours we could go into that as well.

Beside the matter of franked envelopes, which we can live without for a short time, I simply ask the Chairman of Committees to take this matter away for further consideration. I cannot see any cost involved in that. If he took the matter away he would save us the embarrassment of perhaps having to force him to take it away.

Photo of Lord Wigoder Lord Wigoder Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, can the Chairman of Committees remind the House how long the dispute with the other place in relation to the Pugin Room has been going on and what is the present position?

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I have a locker with which I am very happy, so I have no interest in any rooms anywhere. However, I strongly suggest that noble Lords, who are required to be present for Divisions among other things, should have first priority in relation to who stays in this House. If anyone is to be moved anywhere, it should be the incoming civil servants. If anyone who is not a noble Lord is to be moved anywhere, I hope that it will not be the computer section or those who support our invaluable committees. I hope that that simple principle can be observed; that we come first when it comes to staying in this House.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, I ask the Chairman of Committees to read carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said. A long time ago I was on the Works Committee and most of the matters that he made were observed by me. I made one or two suggestions and soon found that I was no longer on the Works Committee--I have no aspirations to return to it. The noble Lord made some important points about the way in which the House decides on matters of works. It is extremely important that we all know what is happening and that some of us take a proper part in making those decisions.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words on behalf of this side of the House. As the House knows, there is a variety of different views on this subject. I have been a member of the Offices Committee for a number of years and, yet again, I am happy to support the recommendations laid out in this report.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, made an excellent intervention and I agree with everything that he said, except when he pointed the finger of suspicion towards the Clerk of the Parliaments and Black Rod. My view is that they play no part in this matter at all. They are no more in thrall to the Treasury than he is. Of course, both of them carry out the instructions as laid out by the House and by the committees of the House, which is as it should be.

For a number of months the Lord Chancellor, with me and others, has discussed increasing the amount of space available to him. He made a powerful case to me, and to the committee, which was accepted. It was accepted because two things were to happen. First, the displaced Peers--the fact that they were Conservatives was incidental--would be given at least as good accommodation as they had before, and I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Marlesford believes that that is the case. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a net increase would be made to available space throughout the House of Lords' part of the Palace of Westminster and more desks would be available than currently. On that basis I agreed to the plans of the Lord Chancellor and I urged the committee to do likewise. It should be remembered that not only will the Lord Chancellor have more space, but the Law Lords, the political parties and the Cross-Benchers will have a small increase in available space.

This discussion on accommodation hides a greater truth: space in the parliamentary estate is at a premium. There is not enough space and, for a number of years, we have had to put up with Members of another place having offices literally above our heads. That was why, at the end of the last Session, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, the then Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lords Rodgers, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and I wrote to Margaret Beckett, the then Leader of the House of Commons, asking whether we could have that space returned to us. That request was rejected. To add insult to injury, not only was it rejected but the House of Commons said that they proposed to reduce the number of spaces from approximately 40 to 20 by doubling the space available to MPs on that Upper Committee Corridor South which resides in the House of Lords' part of the Palace.

I recognise the considerable anger from all sides of the House on this matter. The committee has resolved that I, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House and the Liberal Democrats should urge the House of Commons to rethink their rejection of our initial request. I believe that that is the right way forward; and if the request is again rejected, we should consider other means of ensuring that we ultimately get our way. In view of the amount of money that has been spent by the House of Commons authorities on Portcullis House--an excellent project--I believe that a space at the House of Lords end of the Palace should now be made available to Peers.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we on these Benches agree with the proposals tabled by the Select Committee on House of Lords' Offices. Though not perfect, they represent an improvement and should therefore be supported.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful for the two previous interventions. I think I spoke for one minute, and 51 minutes are now shown on the clock. I understand the feelings of the House but I am glad that, for once, the Chairman of Committees has not been totally hung out to dry, as used to happen when other members of the Offices Committee did not come to his aid.

I shall deal with some of the points that have been made. The major one, of course, concerns the Lord Chancellor's occupation of extra room. The whole of the Lord Chancellor's argument was based on the fact that he is the Speaker of this House. I note from the Companion that it is the duty of the Lord Chancellor ordinarily to attend the Lords House of Parliament as Speaker. Because he has to be here every day, he needs to have his private office nearby. I hasten to say that not the whole of the Lord Chancellor's Department will be moving here. At least that is what he told the Offices Committee and what the committee accepted. At present his private office is extremely cramped, in conditions that probably fall outside the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, which, although they do not technically apply here, we try to enforce. That was the basis on which the Offices Committee accepted the argument, combined with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that people being dispossessed would be found accommodation that was at least as good; and I believe it is better.

If the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, has not yet been told where he is to go, I suggest that he has a word with his Chief Whip. It was left to the Chief Whips to sort out the disposition of these offices, and I understand that they have done so.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, accused us of complacency. I hope we have not been complacent. This matter was taken very seriously by the Offices Committee and was the subject of lengthy argument. The accommodation group, consisting mainly of Chief Whips and a couple of other people, also considered it in some detail. The truth is that we are dealing with an antiquated building which is not fit for the uses to which it needs to be put in the 21st century. I have some sympathy with those who say that we should have new buildings outside. Indeed, we are in the process of trying to bid for a block within the area of the Palace of Westminster, which, if obtained, would ease the problem even further. However, the results of the survey suggest that not many people want to move even across the road, let alone round the corner. Although I understand that, the fact is that we cannot in this building do all the things that we would like to do.

The question of the Computer Office and the Committee Office, which I, as Chairman of the European Union Select Committee, resisted, but which nevertheless was agreed by the Offices Committee at that time, was part of an earlier decision put to the House last year. That was done on the basis that the usual channels felt that such space as could be made available here should be made available to Peers and that the committee structure should be moved across the road.

The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said that accommodation should not be made available at public expense for more and more Ministers. It is quite clear that the Offices Committee very much regarded this as a one off. I know that no Offices Committee can bind its successors, but it was made very plain that this provision could not possibly extend to other departments of state, because they are not in the position of the Lord Chancellor as Speaker of this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, suggested that we should wait for the results of the meeting of the Leaders and Chief Whips. That has probably been answered. Decisions having been made and rooms having been allocated, to stop the process now would leave us in chaos when we return in the autumn. Let us proceed with people in their new offices and accommodation and consider on our return how we have progressed.

I turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. It is quite right that the questionnaire did not have a question about secretarial staff. That was because we felt that it would better to organise the office accommodation for Peers before we moved on to the question of secretarial staff. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will argue that if you do not know what people want, you cannot begin to work at it. However, I understood him also to say that people working in various parts of London need secretarial staff not only to carry out their parliamentary duties but also their business activities. The authorities in this place could not possibly allow taxpayers' money to be used for the provision of secretarial space for people operating in anything other than a parliamentary sense.

The noble Lord referred to the report of the four wise men. The noble Lord's chronology is not quite right. The report was produced at the start of the New Year, not before Christmas. It was shown to the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish shortly before he died. In the interregnum between his death and my taking over as Chairman of Committees, it was passed through the usual channels. I had hoped to get together with them to see how it could be progressed. I have not yet been successful. We hoped to have a meeting this week, but it has been necessary to postpone it until the first week after the Recess. I want to take that process forward, because that report still contains some unanswered questions.

I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said about the awful state of the Offices Committee. It simply does not work and the mechanics cannot possibly work. That is one of the matters we need to consider. I hope to be able to continue this work, but there is no reason as far as I am concerned--I do not hold the report, it is not my property--why it should not be made available to Members of the House. I understand from the Leader of the House that he has absolutely no objection to it being made public. We will therefore circulate it.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I should like to ask a simple question. After all that has been said this afternoon, is the noble Lord moving in the direction of suggesting that we should accept the report as it stands? I would be very much against that.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I have no other alternative than to do that, because many proposals are in train that need to be put into effect, such as the provision of offices, the provision of stamped envelopes and perhaps the sand going to the Royal Gallery. I do not believe that by rejecting the report we shall take ourselves further forward between now and the autumn. Members who are expecting to move into new offices will find themselves in considerable difficulties and I hope that the House will accept the report.

We in this House have a problem in that we delegate issues to a variety of committees, imperfect as they are. Our first task should be to improve those committees in order to ensure that they are more responsive and managerially efficient. Until we reach that stage, we must allow for the fact that a number of Members from all sides of the House will have taken part in discussions on these issues and for the House constantly to refer them back is no way to make efficient progress. However, I understand why people become cross about such matters.

The noble Baroness, Lady Knight, suggested that we should find another mechanism in the interregnum. Frankly, I do not believe that that is possible. It is only two months and we have to start at some time. We have been working for many years without the facility of franked envelopes but I am sure that when it is in place it will be well used. It is easy for people who live in London to pop into the House in order to post letters here and it may be more difficult for those who live outside. But nothing has changed. The daily allowance has been improved so there ought to be a little money available for buying stamps during the Recess. At the end of the Recess, the facility will be up and running.

We have received a request from the Law Lords for rooms 23, 24 and 25. The Offices Committee agreed that only room 24, which is at present occupied by staff, should be handed over to them. The question of whether we should have a supreme court and whether it should be in a separate building is not a matter for me--I believe that it would call for an Act of Parliament--but it is interesting that the noble and learned Lords in the Appellate Court are beginning to consider such issues. I welcome that but believe that a decision is some way down the track.

I have not seen the 1864 report on ventilation. I am sure that it is filed away somewhere and I have no doubt that if Members want me to circulate it, ways can be found of doing so.

The Pugin Room was handed over to the House of Commons in 1906 and we have been struggling to get it back ever since. The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, is taking steps to find additional refreshment accommodation. Many of us have always believed that the Pugin Room should be a joint room so that we can allow Members of another place to buy drinks for us!

I hope that I have covered most of the points but if I have not no doubt someone will tell me.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour 4:30 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him a factual question. During the past hour, has he heard a single speech in favour of the report? I heard many noble Lords speak against it and I heard their arguments undermined by the two Opposition Front Benches. I find it strange, to put it mildly, that in these circumstances, and following the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, he would still want to proceed.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I am slightly surprised that the other 18 or 20 members of the Offices Committee have not come to my aid. That is what we have come to expect.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, the Chief Whip did, yes, to his great credit. I have tried to explain why it is necessary to press on with the proposed changes. Without them, come the autumn Members will not know where they are living.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, as a member of the Offices Committee I had intended to remain silent but the noble Lord has tempted me. As he knows, my view on the matter did not carry the day in the committee, nor was it minuted.

The committee was up against a brick wall because of the administrative impossibility of settling your Lordships into new accommodation after the Recess if we did not pass the report. Your Lordships will have great satisfaction in throwing it out and we will have flexed our muscles and may believe that we are doing as well as the people at the other end of the corridor. I see some Members nodding. But ultimately we Back-Benchers will suffer. I am crammed into a room in a distant tower with five others and I can only just manage to get down to the Chamber for Divisions.

I shall vote for the report with a heavy heart. My view was that if we took another step we would have achieved a better objective, but that was rejected by the committee. As a loyal member of the committee, I shall support its decision because I believe that your Lordships will be better off when we return after the Recess.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, I found the answer given by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, totally unsatisfactory. If we throw out the report, or paragraph 2 of it, the offices which are available will remain available.

The argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Lord Chancellor has always been a Speaker of your Lordships' House has always been true, but previous Speakers-cum-Lord Chancellors have not required the additional space. That is the difference.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me if I correct him. They have used these rooms and more in the past. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, handed over not only these rooms but also a large number of others. Therefore, it is wrong to suggest that Lord Chancellors did not use them in the past.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord has confirmed my view; I always thought that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was a very decent fellow. I asked the former Black Rod how and why the rooms upstairs had been given over to the other place some 50 or 60 years ago. It was not that there was legislation or even a resolution of your Lordships' House but some deal was done between the Leader of your Lordships' House and the Leader of other place. Anthony Eden, or whoever, did a deal. I find that as unsatisfactory as everything else.

We in your Lordships' House must understand that this is a matter for us and not for the usual channels. We are Members of your Lordships' House and we can decide. And we should decide that what is being proposed is totally unsatisfactory. It is not a matter of a one-off situation; that we can let them have the space and it will later be returned to us. It is more serious than that.

I have noted the frequency--or rather lack of frequency--with which the Offices Committee meets. My noble friend Lord Grenfell was a distinguished member of the steering group and is a wise man. It reported many months ago--possibly nine--and the former Chairman of Committees promised noble Lords that they would have a report speedily. Here we are almost 12 months later and we still do not have it. We are now being told that it has to be published. I am grateful for that as I am sure is my noble friend Lord Gilbert.

I believe that we need to show the other place the strength of our feelings on a matter of this kind. If the Chairman of Committees is not prepared to accept the argument, I propose a manuscript amendment: that the report be accepted with the exception of paragraph 2. That will allow your Lordships to benefit from the free post, which I am sure is important, but I hope that your Lordships will agree that paragraph 2 relating to accommodation is not acceptable. In my view, it should not be and I hope that it will not be. I beg to move.

Moved, That the amendment be agreed to.--(Lord Barnett.)

Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Liberal Democrat

My Lords, for the time being I am happy to support the report. I did not speak earlier because I believed that for Members of this House to hold a 50-minute debate on their own facilities--noble Lords have now been considering this matter for one hour and eight minutes--was a little self-indulgent. There are perhaps more weighty items on the Order Paper today. Nevertheless, since noble Lords appear to be rather self-indulgent perhaps I should join them.

I am a member of the Offices Committee, although I do not serve on any of its sub-committees. There is a great deal of mystique about this matter, and when we hear the report of the wise men and all the information is produced noble Lords will know a good deal more. Many changes can be made. However, I believe that as far as concerns paragraph 2, a reasonable case has been made out, particularly as several more offices are available within walking distance of this House. Many noble Lords are fit enough to cross a road to reach commodious offices and decent facilities. I believe that, in the round, that is worth achieving. But the important part of the second paragraph is the final sentence which refers to the refusal of the request and agreement,

"that the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip should discuss the matter further with the Leader of the House of Commons".

For me, the revelation at the Offices Committee is the absence of procedure of any description to resolve a dispute between the two Houses. If, as a result of the report and this debate, a way is found to have proper, reasonable discussions for the resolution of disputes something will have been achieved. I hope that we stick to the second paragraph, in particular the final sentence which indicates that at last there is some hope of finding a way to resolve disputes between the two Houses.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. I believe that the time has come for us to reach a conclusion after one hour and 11 minutes. For some of the reasons put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, I hope that noble Lords will resist the amendment. We need to pass the resolution to get the offices sorted out by the end of this year. The Lord Chancellor made his position quite clear to the Offices Committee. The committee accepted, perhaps with some reluctance, the argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord. I hope that noble Lords will accept the report of the Offices Committee which, after all, is a delegated body of this House.

On Question, Whether the amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 86; Not-Contents, 143.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — House of Lords' Offices: Select Committee Report

Aye: 84 Members of the House of Lords

No: 141 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.