The Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:15 pm on 4th June 2019.

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Question proposed, That the schedule be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I will not delay the Committee long, Mr Hanson, I promise you, but I want to raise a couple of issues that are important to clarify.

As Members will know, schedule 3 lays out how the Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission will operate. It has only four members and its quorum is two, as long as one Member of the House of Commons and one Member of the House of Lords are present. It makes no provision for who the Chair of that Committee should be, but the Commission is able, if it so chooses, to reject entirely an estimate at any stage through to actual delivery of the project.

I want to know what happens if there are only two people there who have different views and there is no Chair. How will it be decided whether they have agreed or rejected an estimate? Also, does the Commission operate according to House of Commons rules or according to House of Lords rules, because those rules are different in respect of what happens on a tied vote? For that matter, they are also different as to whether the record is kept in Latin or in English.

These may sound like light-hearted comments, but they are important, because it may come to a point where the Sponsor Body is happy with an estimate, but only two members of the Commission turn up, with one of them against and one in favour of the estimate, and we have stalemate, with no means of deciding whether the estimate is to proceed.

I think that setting up a new Commission is unnecessary. What we have done with the Members Estimate Committee is that that is now the House of Commons Commission. It has the same membership; that is laid down in statute. I am ruminating on this subject, and I may table amendments to that effect on Report, but I just wonder whether it would be better for the body that makes this decision to be a Joint Committee of the Finance Committees of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Then, there would at least be a broad range of views from both Houses and an established process, whereby there is a Chair and decisions are reached, even when there is an equality of voices.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I have listened, with interest, to the hon. Gentleman’s points. I will certainly be happy to hear more on this point and perhaps I will reflect on the issue, and have some conversations about it, before we get to Report, to see whether there is an appropriate way that we can consider the matter. As always, that is subject to my usual caveat, which is that we want to make sure that this is a practical Bill that provides a framework for the Delivery Authority and the Sponsor Body to get on with delivering the work, which I know the hon. Gentleman is also passionate about achieving.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 3 accordingly agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clauses 10 to 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Does the hon. Member for City of Chester wish to press new clause 1 to a Division?

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

We had a discussion and a Division on a similar amendment earlier, so I do not intend to press new clause 1 to a Division at this time.