Parliament (Joint Departments) Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:46 pm on 7th June 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Frank Doran Frank Doran Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee 1:46 pm, 7th June 2007

I welcome this important Bill and the comments made by both Front-Bench spokesmen about the Administration Committee’s report. As we all know, this is a general enabling Bill, but the focus is bound to be on PICT because it is that department that has led to the need for this legislation.

I will say a brief word about the Administration Committee because it is important in the context of the Bill, because its remit is quite wide. Since the 2005 general election, five domestic Committees have been merged into one, so the Administration Committee now covers virtually the whole territory. Any potential mergers or creation of joint working departments would therefore come within its area of interest.

I think that I can speak for my colleagues on the Administration Committee, many of whom are here, when I say that we welcome the legislation and the opportunities that it gives us. We have already had inquiries regarding the refreshments department—the issue under consideration being whether joint working could lead to better services and more economies of scale. Those are the sort of things that we will be able to discuss when the Bill has received Royal Assent.

It is fair to say that when the Administration Committee took over responsibility for PICT, there was a significant degree of dissatisfaction with the service provided to Members. Many on the Committee will be aware of those problems. The Administration Committee has worked closely with the new department, which was formed after that Committee was created, and I think that we now understand how PICT will operate in the future and we have dealt with most of the major problems. That is a credit to the PICT staff because they have had a difficult time adjusting to the new circumstances in which they found themselves. We have merged two substantial  departments, which provide services to the 646 small businesses in the Commons and however many use it in the Lords. In the main, we are prickly customers—we are very demanding—and PICT staff have worked very hard to deal with the issues raised and with the staff and management difficulties that such a merger creates.

PICT staff have also had to cope with the influx of a new kind of Member of Parliament since the 2005 election. I have been here long enough not to know very much about technology, but the people who came in at the last two elections have much higher expectations than we ever had—the grizzled hon. Members around me. Again, PICT staff have managed to cope with that. Another of our reports looked at the services provided for new Members of Parliament, and the next wave of new Members who come to this place, whenever the next general election is, will receive a much higher level of service, owing to work that is being undertaken at the moment.

I hope that anyone who takes the trouble to read the Administration Committee report on PICT will see that, although we pinpoint problems, we also look ahead while acknowledging the huge improvements that have been made, even in the short time since the new organisation was created. That is testament to the work that has been done by the management and the service.

Finally, I welcome the legislation, as it is part of the process of modernising the Houses of Parliament, which some of us feel is long overdue.