House of Commons Commission (Annual Report)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 3rd November 2005.

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Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Liberal Democrat, North Devon 3:04 pm, 3rd November 2005

I am not familiar with the programmes that the Parliamentary Education Unit has worked up, but I will certainly obtain more detail about it for the hon. Gentleman. What I want to emphasise is that with more resources at their disposal, the unit's staff have the potential and capacity to do a great deal more than they have been able to in the past. I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

The House's media effort, referred to at paragraph 122, is growing. The Select Committees have media officers, who are already creating a significant impact in obtaining more coverage of the work of the Committees. Lord Puttnam's report made several additional suggestions—in particular, for more pro-active briefing of the press on forthcoming and/or recently completed Commons business. It might be interesting to know what hon. Members think of the prospect of House Officials briefing the press on what interesting business is coming up. I do not know whether we shall invite them to brief on what business will not be so interesting, but I wonder whether hon. Members will feel comfortable with the idea of Officers performing that role. Hon. Members should be aware that today the Lords have been debating the Puttnam report.

Hansard has for several weeks now been available on line when it is sent to the printers, which means it is available only a matter of hours behind real time, rather than the following day. Good progress is also being made with a new voters' guide, to send to new voters as they become eligible to vote. We hope that that will begin to be sent out in the course of 2006.

Estate management entails many different issues, which come to the Commission. Those have recently included smoking, and earlier in the year the Commission took a significant further step to make the estate more smoke-free, not least out of awareness of the secondary smoking threat to its employees, the staff who work here. That is referred to at paragraph 210. The Health Bill that has been presented does not directly apply to the estate, but of course we shall rethink what, if anything, we should do to remain broadly in line with what will be the new English statutory regime.

I cannot add anything to what I said in the House on 18 October about the dispute of the contract cleaners employed in the House by Mitie. It is a matter of concern to Members, but there is no more money available to put into the contract. We hope that a settlement can be reached soon and that both sides will be able to sit down and negotiate.

The question of the number of Members' staff on the estate still causes some concern, in particular because of the view held by some Members who used to have a limited allowance to provide office accommodation for staff in their constituencies that colleagues whose equivalent staff occupy space in the estate are getting some sort of a free ride. The more we can do to make life easier for staff in constituencies, including a swift postal service between the two sites, the better it is for us all.

I am often questioned about the environmental impact of the estate by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who recently produced a 75-page report entitled "How Green is Your Parliament?" The Commission has asked me to reply in writing to the report in due course, but I want to say now that I welcome the work that went into it and am grateful to the Parliamentary Estates Directorate, which laboured to answer 100 or so parliamentary questions on which, I think, my hon. Friend based some of his recommendations. The report contains some useful ideas, which can be taken further.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend's statement about rising energy costs paid no attention to the growing size of the estate. The energy usage per square metre is actually going down, despite the endlessly growing demand for, for example, electrical office equipment.