Moved by Lord Wallace of Tankerness
22: Clause 6, page 5, line 6, at end insert—“( ) The Sponsor Body shall nominate from among its members a member of the House of Commons and a member of the House of Lords who shall be the principal spokesperson for the Sponsor Body in their respective House.”
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is that the sponsor body should nominate from among its members a Member of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords to be its principal spokespersons in their respective Houses. This was considered by the Joint Committee looking at the Bill. It thought it a worthwhile thing to do but said that it should not be in primary legislation. Indeed, I would not necessarily want to press the amendment, but this is a useful opportunity for us to be updated on where we are and on the thinking on how we will report back to this House and the Commons on the sponsor body’s work.
As I understand it, the Leader of the House of Commons and the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, wrote to the shadow sponsor body with the Joint Committee’s findings and asked specifically about the importance of having a political figurehead for the programme. It replied:
“We note that analogous arrangements already exist in both Houses, with the spokespeople for each Commission responding to oral and written questions”,
and it anticipated that the sponsor body would,
“be invited to consider and agree its preferred approach to the appointment of spokespeople in the autumn, ahead of its transition to the substantive stage”.
It occurred to me on more than one occasion this evening that it might have been helpful if we had a spokesperson from the shadow sponsor body to tell us where it had got to on various things. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, who has had to leave, has sought to do that in a personal capacity. I am not criticising the fact that it has not happened—we are still at a shadow sponsor body level—but one can foresee situations where issues will arise. It would be helpful to have someone at Oral Questions, answering Written Questions or debates in your Lordships’ House, or making Statements and reporting back, just as the Senior Deputy Speaker comes to the Dispatch Box to present reports and respond to them.
I understand that the question of how we deal with this issue might have gone, or is going, to the Procedure Committee. The purpose of the amendment is to get on the record how the House anticipates it might deal with it, so that we can have somebody who comes to your Lordships’ House—and for that matter to the House of Commons—to update us and, to some extent, to be the face of the sponsor body and to answer for it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will first say a few words in support of the excellent amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. It makes complete sense to have someone in the Chamber who is able to explain to us the proceedings and progress of the project whom we can ask questions of. To have that in the Bill makes sense. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on how that could be achieved.
My amendments have a different purpose, which is to get the voice of the public on the sponsor body from the outset. There is some flexibility in its current composition, described in Part 1 of Schedule 1: the sponsor body will have between seven and 13 members, between three and five of whom will be external members, including a chair. Between four and eight will be Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament or Peers will be in the majority, which makes sense. But there is not much room in those numbers for somebody who could perhaps represent the public and champion issues such as access and education. One of them will need to be a chair, whose focus will be on driving the project forward and managing the sponsor body itself. I imagine one might be a leading person from the construction industry, and another might have major project experience or heritage experience. That is why I would like to ask the Minister how the voice of the public could be best represented at a very high level from the beginning, when the brief for this project is being decided and the strategy formulated.
In many ways, there are fewer concerns about the delivery authority. It will have nine members, who will be more broadly recruited, with only two executive directors and the rest non-executive directors. It is really the sponsor body where I detect a bottleneck. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister explained how it could be tweaked to give more access to a voice from the public.
My Lords, the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, is sensible because it is not otherwise clear in the Bill how the sponsor body will interact with the two Houses of Parliament. Under Schedule 1, there will be a chair who is specifically required not to be a Member of either House of Parliament; then there will be between four and eight persons among the membership who will be Members of this House or the House of Commons. By virtue of the fact that they are here, people will expect them to give accounts of what is happening, but they will have no formal standing. They will not formally represent the sponsor body and it is not clear, for example, how one would put questions to that body.
If we are not careful—this comes back to the 19th-century experience—in order to interact, people will want to get at the chair and the chief exec, who are not Members of either House. A Select Committee will be set up so that it can call them before it and interact with them. However, it would be more sensible if Members of the two Houses of Parliament are required to be members of the sponsor body. It could be rather like the way we interact with the Church Commissioners; I cannot remember whether it is the Second Church Estates Commissioner who is a Member of one House or who represents the Church Commissioners here. Is it the Bishops? Anyway, it is possible to interact directly with them. Having a similar relationship would be perfectly sensible, given how important this body and its parliamentary work will be over more than a decade.
The noble and learned Lord said that he did not intend to press his amendment; what he is actually doing may come from his experience of the work in Holyrood. He may be anticipating exactly the problems and issues we will have. It is as well to get this right in the Bill, rather than having to make significant adjustments and take what might be avoiding action, such as setting up a special committee to interact with the sponsor body because we have no provision for the body itself to have a direct relationship with the two Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, Amendment 22 brings our attention to the relationship between the sponsor body and both Houses. The sponsor body must remain engaged with the wider Parliament throughout the work. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, made a number of points in this regard.
Amendments 24 and 25 seek to create within the body a new champion for education and a champion for participatory democracy, as touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. The benefits of Parliament for educational and participative democracy purposes are well established and were discussed earlier, so I have no need to go back over them. I hope that the sponsor body will agree to promote both these aspects.
Meanwhile, Amendment 28 in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith would introduce the idea of a report to ensure that the Palace is maintained beyond the works. This is an attempt to look to the future and ensure that the Estate cannot fall into its current level of disrepair. The can has been kicked down the road for far too long and work must begin as soon as it has been agreed, but there would be great benefit in reporting on how these works will preserve the long-term future. Be it in a separate account or as part of the pre-existing reporting arrangements, this issue should be given consideration.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, my noble friend Lord Bethell and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for these amendments, which, as they have explained, are about placing further duties on the sponsor body, namely: appointing spokespersons for that body in each House; appointing champions for particular purposes; and to underpin maintenance planning. The amendments are grouped to reflect the fact that they relate to the relationship between Parliament and the sponsor body. I am sure that we can all identify with the arguments advanced for these amendments and I will address each in turn.
The amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord would require the sponsor body to nominate spokespeople for both Houses. The Government agree that it may well be necessary to have political figureheads on the sponsor body. However, we come back to the question of how prescriptive we should be in the Bill. The Government’s view is that it is for the sponsor body to determine the role of its parliamentary Members, whether acting as political figureheads or spokespersons, or answering Parliamentary Questions, and that we should not prescribe these things in the Bill.
Having said that, I reassure the noble and learned Lord that the chair of the shadow sponsor body will be invited to consider and agree its preferred approach to the appointment of spokespeople in the autumn, ahead of its transition to the substantive stage. I am sure they will be receptive to that idea. Apart from responding to Parliamentary Questions, subject to procedural discussions within both Houses, the possibility could also be explored of the spokespeople making Written Statements and moving resolutions to agree the outline business case required by the Bill.
The amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Bethell would require the sponsor body to appoint from its membership champions for promoting effective education for children and participatory democracy. These things should be thought about seriously. It will not have escaped my noble friend’s notice that it is a part of the sponsor body’s vision for R&R to,
“transform the Houses of Parliament to be fit for the future as the working home for our Parliamentary democracy”.
As part of that the sponsor has committed to:
“Reconnect people from across the UK with their Parliament through improved education and visitor facilities, physical and digital access”,
“Ensure the building enables public engagement with the proceedings and wider activities of the two Houses”.
This strikes a balance between how the sponsor body will contribute to these important issues through the works, while recognising that the two Houses will continue to lead on public engagement in the work of Parliament. The shadow sponsor body will work collaboratively on these areas with Parliament’s participation service.
The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, but spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, would require the sponsor body to prepare a report on the long-term detailed maintenance plan, so that a substantial programme of R&R can be avoided in the future. I agree with him that we should ensure that we do not find ourselves in this situation again, whereby drastic action is required to ensure that the Palace of Westminster is fit to serve as the home of the UK Parliament. The shadow sponsor body is also clear in its vision for the work that it must:
“Deliver a refurbishment programme that minimises but also facilitates future maintenance and improvement”.
All these suggestions, from the noble and learned Lord, my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, are extremely thoughtful, so the question is how best to take them forward. The suggestion I make is that all would be better placed within the parliamentary relationship agreement—PRA. This agreement will be entered into by the sponsor body, the corporate officers of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords, and relate to the relationship between the sponsor body and the two Houses of Parliament.
The PRA will be a fluid agreement and open to change throughout the works. It will provide clarity on who is responsible for the buildings during the works, and other such matters, as appropriate. These will include provisions on matters such as the handover, contractor occupation and hand-back of the Palace of Westminster, including the allocation of risks and liabilities between the corporate officers and the sponsor body, and related matters such as insurance. The PRA could also include provisions for there to be parliamentary spokespeople from the sponsor body, and for champions. There is no reason why the hand-back arrangements, for example, should not contain a set of recommendations for the future maintenance of the Palace over the longer term.
I really do think that provisions of this nature, which are essentially matters of practical implementation, would be better served within the PRA than in the Bill itself. In framing that agreement, it will be for the sponsor body and corporate officers of both Houses to agree what is covered. For these reasons, the Government’s formal advice to the Committee is to express reservations about these amendments.
Again, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and particularly to the Minister for his reply. All the amendments in this group raise important issues. The Minister made a valid argument about how we might use the parliamentary relationship agreement to deal with some of them. As I indicated, provision for how the sponsor body would report to Parliament need not necessarily be in the Bill; the amendment was an opportunity to get an idea of current thinking. I was not reassured by the Minister saying that it would be put back into the court of the chair of the sponsor body, but no doubt that can be worked through and may well be the subject of a Written Parliamentary Question later in the year—it will be interesting to see who answers it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
Clause 6 agreed.
Clauses 7 to 15 agreed.
Schedule 1: The Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body