HL Deb 19 October 1992 vol 539 cc605-15

3.15 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Second Report from the Select Committee on House of Lords Offices be agreed to.

I do not believe that the House would wish me to comment on items 1 to 15 in the report but I will of course try to answer any questions which your Lordships may raise in connection with them.

I draw the particular attention of the House to item 16 which reads as follows: ACCOMMODATION The Committee has endorsed a decision of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee that there should be negotiations with the Commons to exchange the third floor of No.7 Millbank for Nos.6–7 Old Palace Yard and certain other accommodation. The Committee has agreed that its previous decisions about No.7 Millbank be set aside should the negotiations be successful". The House will be pleased to learn that agreement has been reached with the Commons on the proposed exchange. In addition, five rooms in the Palace of Westminster will be made available to this House by the Commons in the near future. No.6–7 Old Palace Yard is a listed building and will be carefully restored and redecorated in consultation with English Heritage and other relevant authorities.

I know that the House will wish to express its gratitude to the Leader of the House and to the Government Chief Whip for their help in the negotiations with the Commons and to the various Commons authorities for their co-operation.

The House will also be pleased to learn that four rooms in the south return have now been vacated by the police, who have moved to No.1 Canon Row. Those rooms have been renovated to provide office accommodation for peers and will shortly be ready for occupation. It has been generally acknowledged that the lack of suitable office accommodation for peers has become intolerable. I believe that the measures which I have described will help to improve substantially in the future the accommodation and working conditions of Members of this House.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to bring the House up to date on works carried out during the Recess. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that the new under-gallery lighting which has been installed here in the Chamber is a great improvement and that the new remotely-controlled TV cameras are not too obtrusive. The cameras are controlled from a new control room in the basement of No.7 Millbank and so we have been able to remove the unsightly Portakabins from Black Rod's garden. Also in the Chamber many minor repairs have been carried out to the frets, and the frescos above the Throne and the Strangers' Gallery have been cleaned. Finally, your Lordships will be pleased to hear that a complete overhaul of the heating and ventilation system is all but completed. All that remains is to fit some carbon filters which have still to be delivered. The remaining work will be done soon, over a weekend.

The replacement of the microphones and the sound system in the Chamber remains to be done. We made a deliberate decision to await the outcome of trials being carried out in another place before embarking on any change. If all goes well with those trials we would expect to do the work next Summer Recess and deal with the dreadful acoustics of the Moses Room at the same time.

Outside the Chamber phase III of the kitchen enhancement has been completed, work progresses to time on the Victoria Tower and the pilot scheme for roof repairs has started. A particular effort has been made this year to increase routine maintenance and repairs throughout the House of Lords. Finally, the very outdated and inefficient clock control circuit has been replaced and I sincerely hope that in future all the clocks will be working and will be telling the same time.

I believe that the House will wish to congratulate most sincerely Black Rod and the Director of Parliamentary Works and their staff on all that has been achieved, especially bearing in mind the interruption they suffered because of the recall of Parliament last month. We must also thank Mr. Bibbiani and the Refreshment Department for the services the staff in that department provided during the recall while building work was going on round about them. I commend the report to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to. (HL Paper 20).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:


The Committee has appointed Lord Hollick to fill the vacancy on the Library and Computers Sub-Committee.

2. ADVISORY PANEL ON WORKS OF ART The Committee has appointed the following Lords as members of the Advisory Panel on Works of Art—

3. EXPENDITURE ON SECURITY The Committee has agreed that the Commons should be invited to agree that the shared cost of security. in the Parliamentary Estate should be apportioned on the same 40: 60 basis as works expenditure from the start of the next financial year 1993–94; and that a review of security expenditure should be undertaken, if possible in co-operation with the House of Commons, to assess the mechanisms for control over expenditure and to examine the opportunities for more economic and efficient use of manpower without jeopardising security.

4. SECONDMENT OF STAFF The Committee has agreed that the Clerk of the Parliaments should be authorised to arrange secondments of staff to outside organisations and exchanges of staff with such organisations.

5. CURATOR AND ASSISTANT CURATOR OF WORKS OF ART The Committee has agreed that allied service arrangements for works of art should be ended. The posts of Curator and Assistant Curator of Works of Art are at present held by staff of English Heritage. Subject to the agreement of the House of Commons Commission, responsibility for these posts will be assumed by the two Houses from a date to be agreed. The posts will be funded under the Works Votes in the same proportions as other joint works expenditure, namely 40 per cent. House of Lords and 60 per cent. House of Commons. It is proposed that the posts should be tilled by the existing post holders on secondment from English Heritage.

6. PARLIAMENTARY OFFICE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY The Committee has agreed that the House of Lords should meet 22 per cent. of the cost of funding the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) for three years and should provide accommodation for POST staff on the third floor of 7 Millbank. The remaining 78 per cent. of the cost will be met by the House of Commons. The proposed funding will meet the salary costs of the Director, a Secretary and three scientists. In return, POST will undertake work such as "Technology Assessments" where an exhaustive analysis of an issue is carried out and possible policy options identified. The funding will cover work for select committees, except that committees should pay directly for any work commissioned by them which could not be undertaken by POST's core staff. POST will provide costings of its services, to facilitate the necessary value-for-money which ought to precede a decision on its long-term future.

7. SMOKING POLICY FOR HOUSE OF LORDS STAFF The Committee has taken note with approval of a smoking policy for House of Lords staff which has been adopted by the House of Lords Whitley Committee. The policy is primarily directed at the rooms in which staff work, which in future will generally be "no smoking" areas unless the staff concerned request otherwise. The policy will have no immediate implications for members of the House, except when visiting staff in their offices. But the Committee has agreed that the Administration and Works Sub-Committee should be invited to look at the general question of smoking in the House of Lords. The Library and Computers Sub-Committee and the Refreshment Sub-Committee will also be considering the matter.

8. JOINT COMPUTER OFFICE The Committee has endorsed the recommendation of the Library and Computers Sub-Committee for the withdrawal of the House of Lords from the joint Computer Office which has hitherto served both Houses, and of which the House has paid a 22 per cent. share of the cost.

9. STAFF OF THE HOUSE The Committee has approved the creation of additional posts. as follows—

  1. (a) Temporary computer post of Higher Executive Officer
  2. (b) Committee Specialist Assistant (formerly a temporary post)
  3. (c) Attendants for 7 Millbank
The Committee instructed Black Rod to convey its appreciation for his contribution to increasing efficiency of security in the Palace of Westminster to Chief Superintendent GK Dark on his retirement as Head of Security.

10. NEW TELECOMMUNICATIONS STAFFING ARRANGEMENTS The Committee has approved the introduction of new arrangements to replace the present contract with British Telecom (BT) whereby BT provides a Communications Manager and Deputy Manager and some 25 telephone operators to serve the Palace of Westminster. In future the Manager, Deputy Manager and Supervisor will be employed by the House of Commons (though serving both Houses and other occupants of the Palace), while the provision of telephone operators will be undertaken by a contractor.

11. REVISED SCALES OF PAY AND ALLOWANCES The Committee has approved the application of the following Civil Service memoranda to the staff of the House of Lords—

  1. DEO letter of 24 March 1992—Remuneration of college based sandwich students
  2. DEO letter of 16 June 1992—Pay of Legal Officers
  3. CM/982—Pay of Clerical and Typing grades, and proficiency payments and skill supplements

12. INSURANCE FOR LORDS The Committee has been notified of increases in the upper limits of personal accident insurance cover for Lords whilst engaged on parliamentary duty.

13. REFRESHMENT FACILITIES FOR MEPS The Committee recommends that subject to review at the beginning of each session the arrangement whereby British members of the European Parliament are entitled to make use of the Peers Guest Room should be renewed for the duration of the present Parliament.

14. BBC TV DOCUMENTARY The Committee has been informed of proposals by the BBC for a series of six documentary programmes on Parliament. Final approval for the series will be subject to further discussions with the producers and to agreement by the House of Commons.

15. CAR PARKING The Committee has authorised Black Rod to investigate what permanent arrangements could be made to acquire additional car parking in the vicinity of the House.

16. ACCOMMODATION The Committee has endorsed a decision of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee that there should be negotiations with the Commons to exchange the third floor of 7 Millbank for 6–7 Old Palace Yard and certain other accommodation. The Committee has agreed that its previous decision about 7 Millbank be set aside should the negotiations be successful.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I hesitate to speak on a subject such as this where I appreciate the work that is put in on these committees by Members of your Lordships' House. However, there are one or two points I wish to raise. As regards the paragraph in the report on the secondment of staff, I wonder whether the chairman could give us some examples of what the committee has in mind as regards people being seconded to and from this building.

As regards the paragraph on the curator and assistant curator of works of art, I shall leave to another time my growing concern at the way in which this Palace of Westminster is torn apart every time we have a Summer Recess, particularly when it always seems to look exactly the same when it is put together again. However, I notice that the two people who have been seconded from English Heritage are now to be taken on the staff as part of the complement. English Heritage is an estimable organisation but I wonder what two full-time people will do in the Palace of Westminster. I cannot help feeling they will be looking for work. I wonder whether perhaps the tail is not wagging the dog and whether it is not time that someone said the emperor has no clothes.

Your Lordships will know that in the Peers' Lobby there is a small box which is labelled "stamped outgoing mail only". It has been there ever since I have been in your Lordships' House and it has always worked perfectly satisfactorily. Everything I have put into that box has been delivered and it never occurred to me there was anything wrong with it. However, last week I came into the Peers' Lobby to find an elaborate wooden box there. I was told it was there for demonstration purposes and that we shall have some eight or 10 of those new boxes put round the Palace at a cost of £4,000 for each box. Things seem to be getting out of proportion.

As regards the Barry Room, for example, if noble Lords instead of turning right when leaving turn left and go through the arch, they will see a newly constructed ramp up which deliveries are made of alcoholic refreshments. I do not complain about that but the ramp seems to me to be ridiculously constructed. It is constructed at a right angle and I am told that the ramp cost some £8,000. At a time when we are faced with economic stringency it seems to me that another look is needed here as to whether we are getting things out of proportion.

As regards smoking policy for the House of Lords' staff, the report states: The policy will have no immediate implications for members of the House". That seems to me redolent of the kind of remark that Judge Jeffreys might have made before adjourning the court for the day. I wonder again whether we are not getting things out of proportion. I asked the Library for a list of alcohol related diseases. The staff there told me the most comprehensive list they could produce was a list running to nearly two pages which covered all kinds of conditions. The Royal College of Physicians had drawn up the document in 1987. An admirable summary of the medical consequences of alcohol abuse and misuse is contained in the Lord President's report which was produced in 1991. I believe things have got out of proportion and the zealots have got completely out of hand. If we are talking about drug related diseases, alcohol should also be mentioned. I shall pass over the question of refreshment facilities for MEPs to show the objectivity for which I have such a good reputation.

As regards the proposed BBC TV documentary surely it would be sensible before the series of six documentaries has begun to wait until we have seen the programme which is being prepared by the BBC for the series "Cutting Edge". We know from experience that such a process causes substantial disruption while the crews are working. It particularly causes impediments to disabled Members of the House. While it would be quite unseemly for the Palace of Westminster to receive any payment for providing facilities to the crews, I should have thought some kind of payment into the staff social fund would not be out of place, particularly in view of the astronomical payments that are made to some people who conduct BBC programmes.

As regards the accommodation at No.7 Millbank, the difficulty of persuading your Lordships to take up accommodation there could well have been foreseen. I recall that when this matter was first announced I asked whether the time allowed for your Lordships to reach the Division Lobbies would be extended. I think a little foresight here would have been most helpful.

My final point concerns the words "certain other accommodation" mentioned under paragraph 16. I must bring to the attention of your Lordships the fact that there is grave concern that the Houses of Parliament Sports and Social Club may have to be moved from its admirable premises. That club was founded in June 1922 and the club president is the Lord Great Chamberlain. It has been in its present position since 1938–39 and it has a substantial membership. It provides facilities for the staff of this building when other facilities are not available. I have always thought that the acid test of a body such as the House of Lords or the House of Commons is the way in which we treat the staff who serve us so faithfully. I hope it will be possible for the chairman to lay to rest the fears they have.

I cannot help contrasting the worries which the staff have over their social club with the concern which is constantly being expressed about providing a dining-room for counsel, particularly when petitioners come to Parliament to make representations. People appear in person in connection with contentious Private Bills. They often travel long distances and yet I know of no provision for them to obtain refreshments while they are on the premises. I may be in ignorance as regards this matter as it is quite possible that some arrangement has been made whereby the counsels' dining-room will be paid for by a proportion of the fees which counsel receive. In that case I apologise for raising the point.

I hope that the Chairman will bear these points in mind. I thank the committee for its work. When a report such as this comes before us it should not go through on the nod. We should examine carefully what is being done in our name.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I have the impression that the noble Lord is not exactly happy with the report. I calculate that he disapproves of 10 out of the 16 paragraphs. I shall try to deal with the points he made.

As regards secondment, that is a perfectly normal state of affairs whereby certain clerks and others are seconded to other parliaments. Other parliaments do the same thing in reverse. It is thought to be an advantageous practice and a public spirited act. Parliaments in other parts of the world certainly welcome that practice. Therefore it would be a great pity if the Clerk of the Parliaments were not to be allowed to continue with that practice as it gives so much pleasure to many people.

The noble Lord also mentioned work being carried out in the Summer Recess. That of course is the only opportunity for major works to be carried out as we are working during the other eight months of the year. It would not please your Lordships if the builders were apparently to tear the place apart when the House is sitting. Therefore all major work has to be carried out during the Summer Recess. This is a 140 year-old building which is not as well built as might be supposed. When one tears a part of the walls down unpleasant things tend to emerge. The builders have enormous difficulties with this structure. I am afraid that it is inevitable that over the years there will continue to be an enormous amount of maintenance work.

The noble Lord is not pleased that we are taking onto our payroll the curator and his assistant. I can assure him that they are extremely hardworking individuals. That merely reflects a change of employer from the days when they worked for English Heritage. It seems to us that it is correct that this House should be accountable for those who work for us, in exactly the same way as we are taking responsibility for the work which we previously received on an allied service basis, for example, through the PSA and the Stationery Office.

I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's question in relation to the post-boxes. However, I shall certainly find out and I shall write to the noble Lord. I shall leave a copy of the letter in the Library if the matter is of interest to other noble Lords.

The question of smoking is a matter entirely for the staff of the House. It was agreed by the Whitley Committee that the wishes of people who prefer that there should be no smoking in their offices should be met. That in no way affects your Lordships.

I turn now to the question of the television documentaries. I agree that it is most irritating if one bumps into a camera which is photographing somebody else rather than oneself. One may not even wish to be photographed. It was agreed by the Offices Committee that the documentaries are worthy, and in both cases they have been agreed by another place. I believe that it would be very wrong for this House not to go along with the proposal.

The noble Lord is probably right to say that there was little enthusiasm among noble Lords to install themselves in 7 Millbank. It is 300 yards away. The exchange which has now been successfully concluded is greatly more agreeable inasmuch as we shall merely have to cross the road. There will, of course, be a delay before we are able to enjoy the facilities of 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard. The noble Lord is probably right to say that the offices in Millbank were some distance away, but a number of people were willing to travel that distance.

I can give an absolute assurance that there has never been and is not likely to be a decision to move the Houses of Parliament Sports and Social Club, unless it is with the consent of the club. Mr. Peeters, the manager of the club, is anxious to move to an alternative location. That alternative location is not presently available and the cost of the move would be considerable. I think that the noble Lord would disapprove if we were to spend large sums of money on that particular step in the present stringent times. He and I are in touch and there is no question that there need be any anxiety on his part that the club is due to be shifted.

A dining room for counsel is a matter that we should love to resolve, and we shall do so when accommodation is available. Such a facility is necessary for counsel and would also provide an additional facility for Members of the House. It would be wrong for us not to try to achieve that but it will await the availability of what is known as the south-east return, which is the part of the building which looks over Black Rod's garden.

I hope that I have answered most of the noble Lord's questions.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I shall delay the House for only a very short time. Did I understand the noble Lord to say that the improvements would include improvements to the ventilation in your Lordships' Chamber? I think that I am not the only person who finds the present standard of ventilation intolerable at times. If I am right in assuming that such changes are to be made, in making those changes is the noble Lord considering consulting the Warren Spring Laboratory? I understand from a notice in the press that the Warren Spring Laboratory has been carrying out tests on the quality of air in a highly scientific way. It might be advantageous to have that done at the same time as the proposed improvements are being undertaken.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Perhaps I may repeat what I said, because I may have spoken rather fast. I said that your Lordships would be pleased to hear that a complete overhaul of the heating and ventilation system in the Chamber is all but finished. That work was done during the course of the Recess. All that remains is to fit some carbon filters, which are not presently in the House. That will be done in the very near future, over a weekend.

I am not aware of the technical information which the noble Baroness mentioned, but I shall see that it is studied by the Department of Works. Even now we should notice an improvement and when the carbon filters are installed there should be a complete solution to the problem. I sincerely hope so.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees a brief question concerning paragraph 2 relating to the Advisory Panel on Works of Art. Ten noble Lords have agreed to serve on that important advisory panel. Of course it is not a political committee, but nevertheless it seems to me that the balance between the parties is not equitable. There are five Conservatives, three Cross-Benchers, two Labour Peers and no Liberal Democrats, although I have often noticed in our arts debates that noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches have made notable contributions. In my time in the House I have never known a committee have such an extraordinary imbalance between the parties and so much weight be given to one particular party.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, answered his own question in his first sentence when he said that it is in no way a party political matter. It is expertise which one wants on such a committee. I cannot believe that an individual's politics could possibly affect the work that he was able to do in such a committee. However, if the noble Lord feels that there has been any insensitivity on the point, I shall certainly confer with the Chief Whip of his party, who may feel aggrieved, and with the Chief Whip of the Liberal Democrat Party. These things are done in the normal way in the Offices Committee, but I believe that the noble Lord answered his own question in his first sentence.

Lord Renton

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees give us some idea as to how we shall know when we are on the air? The remote control cameras are rather difficult to understand. If we knew that we were on the air, that might sometimes enable us to shorten our speeches still further.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I fully appreciate the fear of my noble friend Lord Renton that Big Brother is very definitely watching. It must be assumed that Big Brother is watching all the time and therefore caution must be observed on every possible occasion.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, perhaps I may refer the Chairman of Committees to the question of accommodation. As a member of one of the sub-committees dealing with that problem, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on his efforts so far. However, is it not the case that even if the most optimistic outcome is achieved in negotiations with another place, new Members of this House will have no chance of a room in the foreseeable future? While that is the situation in this House the Chairman of Committees must be aware that at the other end of the Palace Members are bombarding themselves with pots of money to increase facilities and accommodation, even, I understand, for new research assistants who will be employed with the extra money which Members voted themselves in July.

Is it not time that, as a corporate body, we stopped operating on the assumption that we are a poor relation? Should not Peers coming to your Lordships House to do a job receive some consideration? Accommodation is not the same as in another place; provision should be on a more equitable basis than the present arrangements, which by any standards are appalling. The situation should be put right as soon as possible.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's first remark. Of course I share his feelings. We are making progress. We now have four more rooms. There will be an additional five rooms from another place in a short while. The accommodation which will be available in 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard is very agreeable. Depending on exactly how one handles the building, it amounts to 22 rooms. It will be a considerable addition to the accommodation available to the House. I agree that we will have to be patient and wait for the various permissions which have to be obtained and for the work to be carried out—we estimate that will take about 14 months—but it will be a very handsome building. It will be close to us and will make a considerable difference.

The noble Lord raises the delicate matter of the financing of these operations. I feel that we should expect the Treasury to take a favourable view of what we intend to do, which will be the minimum necessary in order to make conditions more tolerable for your Lordships to do the work that you all do.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, has the Lord Chairman anything more up-to-date to say about item 15 in regard to the provision of car parking? This is important to a number of Members of this House. The problem seems to be getting worse.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I fully appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, has to say on that subject. We are all conscious that there is a hideously difficult problem about parking, but I should be grateful if he did not press me at this stage. We are engaged in negotiations which, if successful, will alleviate, if not solve, the problem.

Lord Elton

My Lords, when we have finished cleaning the walls of this building can we start cleaning the windows a little more regularly?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I will bring that point to the attention of Black Rod to ascertain whether we can afford to have the windows cleaned more frequently. As noble Lords will appreciate, this is an extremely awkward building when it comes to cleaning the windows.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, following on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick, it is true that Members of the House of Lords are extremely badly served in the matter of accommodation. Can the Chairman of Committees say whether the new accommodation will enable former Prime Ministers to be housed in a single room in a secure part of the Palace? At present they have to share a room. Frankly, I think that is deplorable.

My second point relates to heating and ventilation. Can I be assured that from now on Members sitting on the Benches here will not be subject to a cold blast of air, particularly in the middle of winter?

Thirdly, in relation to item 13—refreshments for MEPs—can I be assured that there will be reciprocal arrangements for Members of this House, and perhaps another place, in the accommodation occupied by Members of the European Parliament, wherever that may be at any particular time?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, if correctly understand the last point made by the noble Lord to relate to the hospitality that we are proposing to make available to Members of the European Parliament, I can only say that I have recently enjoyed their hospitality in Strasbourg. They certainly reciprocated in the most lavish fashion.

Referring to accommodation, I can only repeat what I have already said. In regard to those who have previously occupied the highest office in the land—that of Prime Minister—I wrote to the Speaker of another place pointing out that I did not know how much longer I could hold out in a situation where ex-Prime Ministers had to continue to share a room with three others. I think that letter may well have assisted in achieving the agreement we have now reached.

On the second point, we shall have an adjustment made forthwith.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, after consultation through the usual channels it has been agreed that we should take a short break until 3.55 p.m. when we shall take the coal Statement. On that basis, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3.55 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 3.45 to 3.55 p.m.]