HL Deb 13 June 1994 vol 555 cc1436-40
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.

Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 56).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to: 1. ACCOMMODATION

The Committee has been informed of progress in implementing the accommodation strategy approved by the House in July 1993 (Sixth report, session 1992–93). Detailed plans have been made to provide in the South East Return a committee room, a grill room and private dining facilities for peers, Counsel's robing and luncheon rooms and Library intake and cataloguing rooms. The work will take place mainly in the financial years 1995–96 and 1996–97. A computer training room for peers and staff will be provided on the First Floor, West Front. Additional office accommodation in the South Front has now been occupied by peers. 2.OLD PALACE YARD

The Committee has endorsed proposals for the development of a new car parking regime for Old Palace Yard to meet the requirements of security and traffic safety. 3.RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION ALLOWANCE

The Committee has approved the application to the House of Lords of a Recruitment and Retention Allowance to replace the Inner London Weighting Allowance which has been abolished. 4.PAY OF INDUSTRIAL GRADES

The Committee has approved arrangements for the pay of industrial staff after centralised pay bargaining arrangements end on 30 June 1994. 5.PAY OF GRADES 1 TO 3

The Committee has agreed to the application of new Civil Service pay arrangements for Grades 1 to 3 (Treasury Circular, Pay(94)7). 6.DOORKEEPERS' PAY

The Committee has been informed of the restoration of Lords Doorkeepers' pay relatively with the Commons Doorkeepers with effect from 1 April 1993, on the basis of the relativities in pay of the respective grades in April 1990. 7.POLICE

A Special Service Agreement has been agreed between the Metropolitan Police and the two Houses of Parliament which sets out the services to be provided by the police and their cost. This should result in greater accountability and efficiency in the policing of the Palace of Westminster. 8.JUDICIAL FEES

The Committee has agreed that the following fees be charged on appeals to the House of Lords with effect from the first sitting day after Easter 1994—

Petition of Appeal 68.00
Notice of Appearance 8.00
Waiver of Security 17.00
Petition not referred to Appeal Committee (including incidental petition to conjoin or consolidate) 34.00
Petition referred to Appeal Committee (including report thereon) 40.00
Joint Petition (from each party thereto) 17.00
Application to set down for hearing 363.00
Final Judgment 40.00

The sum required to be lodged as security for costs is raised to £18,000 with effect from the same date.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees two questions. The first arises from paragraph 1, which states: A computer training room for peers and staff will be provided on the First Floor, West Front". My question is: when? On a more practical aspect, in order to get value for money will the training include access to the European Commission's database? My second question relates to the last paragraph which deals with judicial fees. I would not wish to trespass where angels fear to tread on a matter of this kind, but purely as a lay person I should like to ask why an application to set down for hearing costs £363. That seems rather a lot for a mere application to set down for hearing. Perhaps it is a purely technical question which can be disposed of instantly.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I too should like to ask a question about paragraph 1 on accommodation, which states: Detailed plans have been made to provide in the South East Return"— various facilities including— Counsel's robing and luncheon rooms". Having asked to be shown the prospective Counsel's robing and luncheon rooms, I was taken down and shown the suggested accommodation. I then asked what offer had been made by the Parliamentary Bar to contribute towards the costs of all that work; and the answer was nothing. I then asked what contribution had been asked for from the Parliamentary Bar towards all that work; and the answer again was nothing. I suggest that that is an unsatisfactory situation.

That arrangement has gone on for a very long time and it may be asked why we should disturb it and ask for its revision. But we should look again at that matter in view of the grotesque escalation in the fees charged by counsel over the past few years. I have wearied the House before with the example of Regina v. Reid in which counsel and his junior put in a claim for £107,000 for four days' work in your Lordships' House. That was reduced to £34,000 by the taxing master. They appealed against that decision and when it was refused, they said that their clients wanted legal aid towards the costs of the appeal.

My view is that some of our leading lawyers are abusing the system and are treating their position as a licence to print money. That should be looked at again by the committee. We may even ask why that provision is made for counsel when an ordinary litigant appearing in this House has absolutely no provision made for him in terms of refreshment, rest facilities or anything of that nature.

The other point that I wish to make is as regards paragraph 8 which deals with judicial fees. It is a great tribulation for me, but I must differ from my noble friend Lord Bruce in this regard. If one looks at the fees which are charged for those various services, it looks, so I am told, rather like a wine list in a good quality restaurant. They are absolutely peppercorn in this day and age. The fees were introduced in the last century and have been increased only occasionally and gradually. They now bear absolutely no relation to the cost of the services which this House is providing for people.

I am one of the unfortunate Members of your Lordships' House who has to use lift HOP13 which goes to the Crown Offices suite. That lift must be out of order and defective more often than any other lift in the entire Palace. But that being so, it gives me plenty of time to study the list of cases coming up for hearing before your Lordships. I have noticed that often major multi-national companies are involved in those cases and yet they are being asked to pay those absolutely farcical peppercorn fees. I suggest that the committee should look at that and should perhaps increase the fees on a graduated basis. The committee may perhaps consider charging people according to the nature of the case and the resources available to them. We are trying to make this place more cost-effective and that is one way in which we could recoup a great deal of money.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, perhaps I may ask why it is necessary for counsel to have a separate dining room. The first proposal was that half the Writing Room on the first floor should be used, and I am glad to say that that came to nothing. Since then, counsel have been using your Lordships' Guest's Dining Room and I am sure that they are very welcome there. That seems to be working very well. Why do they have to have a separate dining room at great expense to the taxpayer?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, perhaps I may try to adjudicate between the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. I am sad that there should be a disparity of views between the two noble Lords. I fear that I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that I come down somewhat on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Haitcliffe, in this matter. The fees seem to me to be extraordinarily low and I have made that point at meetings of the Finance Committee. I shall invite the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee to have a further look at those matters.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that the fees for application to set down for hearing seem rather large compared with some of the other, much more modest sums. But if it satisfies both noble Lords, I shall see that that matter is on the agenda for discussion at the next Finance and Staff Sub-Committee meeting.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, asked about the room to be set aside for training both Peers and Officers of the House in the mysterious arts of the computer. As the report says, that room is to be on the first floor West Front. I fear that it will not be available until next summer. The whole process requires decanting those people who presently occupy the territory. Work cannot begin until the major move, which will take place during the course of this summer, is made to re-accommodate the police from the south-east corner of Royal Court to the south-west corner of Royal Court; and until the Sports and Social Club is reinstalled in the room presently used as counsels' Robing Room. Your Lordships will know all too well that there is no vacant space in the House and all those changes take place slowly. One must follow upon the other. However, the plan is that that room will be available by next summer. I hope that it will be of great use to noble Lords who wish to master the art of the computer.

The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, asked also whether we might invite the Bar to contribute to the costs of the works. I cannot go along with him in that regard. The noble Lord expressed the view—and I gather that it was rather shared by noble Lords—that counsel are well rewarded for their efforts here, but so they are in other courts. I am not aware that it has ever been suggested that the Bar should make a contribution towards the cost of facilities at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Crown Courts or any other court. I believe that this House would wish to continue to provide those facilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked whether a separate dining room is necessary for counsel. I believe that it is. They have a very brief period in which to eat, as do noble and learned Lords before whom they are appearing, and, indeed, noble Lords who are good enough to serve on Select Committees on Private Bills. Those people have to be fed and looked after properly and this House would not wish to fail in that regard.

Also, at certain times of the year the dining room becomes very full at luncheon time. I understand from the Chairman of the Refreshment Department that occasionally Peers have had to be turned away because counsel are using the temporary facilities available for them which are in the Peers' Dining Room. There is the additional benefit that the room becomes available for Peers in the evenings.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I raised the question about access to the European Commission database.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, that is an excellent question, to which I do not know the answer. I shall make certain that I find out and write to the noble Lord. I shall place a copy of what I have to say to him in the Library.

On Question, Motion agreed to.