Parliament (Joint Departments) Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:41 pm on 7th June 2007.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 1:41 pm, 7th June 2007

It is a privilege and a pleasure to be serving under you for the first time, Mr. Weir, particularly given the special significance of the Second Reading Committee pointed out by the Deputy Leader of the House.

We are having a Second Reading of this Bill in Committee because it is not Government-led, but House business and therefore non-contentious. We are all privileged to be partaking in such a Committee, not only because it does not often take place, but also because the Bill seeks fundamentally to change the way in which the House of Commons and the other place are run.

For years, both Houses have had separate administrations. We are now seeing an evolutionary process in the Palace of Westminster in that for the first time there will be a joint department. As the Deputy Leader of the House said, in the past there has been close co-operation between both Houses, but they have nevertheless maintained distinct units.

It is good that we will be blessed with the opinions of the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North and for North Devon. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all staff in both Houses who serve us so well, and who often do not get the praise that they deserve. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

The Bill seeks to formalise something that initially started as nine separate information technology units. Those were later merged into a temporary working department. I understand that the Administration Committee looked very carefully into the working of the temporary department, and on the whole gave it its approval, while expressing some reservations about remote services to constituencies. I understand that that issue will be looked at further. The Bill makes provision for future joint departments to be set up without the need for another hearing. As the Deputy Leader of the House said, such joint departments are not currently envisaged, but that is clearly something that might happen; the proposed parliamentary visitor  centre, for example, or the refreshment departments, the Libraries or the Official Report.

I will take a moment to express the concerns of trade unions with regard to the Bill. I am heartened that before the joint department was set up, trade unions were fully consulted—as were the staff—and that any concerns they had were allayed. That being said, it is important to have on record that trade unions still have concerns regarding future joint departments. If those are set up, I very much hope that the trade unions and all staff concerned will be consulted properly and that everything is done in a proper manner to ensure that if redundancies and the like are envisaged, they are dealt with sensitively and carefully. I understand that the other place has stated specifically that it is not interested in a joint refreshment department. As the Deputy Leader of the House said, the Bill requires that both Houses must be in agreement and that such decisions must be debated on the Floor of the House in the other place.

Much that I would have said has already been covered and in the interests of brevity I am happy to conclude my comments by saying that we agree with the Bill and are happy to support it.