HL Deb 05 April 1995 vol 563 cc181-6

3.4 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

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 43).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:










Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I believe that it is in order to speak on this report. Very briefly, I have one or two points to make. I notice that in Paragraph 3, headed "Accommodation", there is a very substantial juggling of accommodation. Eventually, accommodation will be freed on the second floor and allocated as Peers' Desk Rooms. At some time before these jugglings are completed, the accommodation released on lower floors should be allocated to your Lordships for their Desk Rooms.

As regards Paragraph 4, entitled "Effect of the works programme on peers", I welcome the decision to make available an explanation to your Lordships as to what is going to happen in the coming 12 months. But why has that only just been suggested? The appalling chaos which intrudes itself in this place during Recesses ought to be explained so that we know what is going on. It is conceivable that at some time your Lordships may be able to suggest improvements to minimise the disturbance.

It is not only disturbance to your Lordships that should be reduced, but also disturbance to my blood pressure. Those of us who use Chancellor's Gate will have seen that transparent glass blocks have been laid on several parts of the pavement in order to let light into the cellars. Having laid these blocks, a few weeks later they were taken up and the glass changed from transparent to opaque. The cost of that must run into several thousands of pounds. I shall be grateful if the Chairman of Committees can explain to the House what happened on that occasion.

Finally, on Paragraph 9, "Painting of the House in session", for one moment I had a terrible feeling that all this redecoration is going to intrude on us while in Session. But having read the item more closely I see that it is to be a portrait of the House in Session. It is stated that there is "a proposal for a painting". Can the Chairman of Committees tell us where the proposal comes from?

I then read that Members of your Lordships' House to be included in the painting are to be selected by, Chief Whips and the Convenor of the Cross Benches, the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of the Advisory Panel on Works of Art". On what criteria is that selection to be made? Bearing in mind the precedent in the other place when a painting was made of the House in Session—those who were left out were so jealous and created such an enormous fuss that a second painting had to be done—can the Chairman of Committees tell us whether there are any contingency plans for that?

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, perhaps I may raise a small point about the soundings which are taken among noble Lords when works are carried out in the building. Some time ago the telephone booths were removed. It is necessary for Peers to make private calls from time to time near the Chamber, but it is almost impossible to do so. We lost that whole batch of telephone booths. All the directories were removed to a small corridor near the main telephone booths to the left of the Peers' Lobby. I do not know whether any noble Lords have tried to look up a telephone number there. There is nowhere on which to put the book. One has to stand with the telephone directory held up and turn the pages over. It is quite impossible to find a number if one cannot get into one of the booths to put the book down.

When these minor works are carried out there should be some sounding out among Peers on how they feel about them. As far as I know, nobody has been asked about the removal of the booths or about the difficulties which have been created because of where the telephone directories have been placed. I hope that the Chairman of Committees will look into this and ensure that in future when this kind of work is carried out some people are consulted beforehand.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, perhaps I may raise a question on Paragraph 5, "Refreshment Department Pay". It refers to, a progressive annual reduction in working hours from 39 hours to 36 hours a week by 1st April 1997". Does that mean that there will be a reduction in take home pay for the staff involved? Were they or their representatives consulted regarding the change? If they were, were their proposals considered and accepted?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, both the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, and the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, asked questions relating to disruption being caused in the course of the works. These matters of major works go back to recommendations which were made by the appropriate committee as long ago as the end of 1993 and the very beginning of 1994. It was envisaged and explained then that there would be certain disruption. I am very conscious, as are the committees themselves, of the need to keep that disruption to a very minimum.

I can certainly inform your Lordships that it was envisaged at that time that there would be a certain amount of disruption and it was decided that rather than take a fast course for the works, which would have been particularly disruptive, or a slow course, which would have delayed considerably the improvements sought by your Lordships, a middle course should be taken. The intention and the hope is that any disruption will be confined, as far as heavy work is concerned, to the two Recesses and lighter work to term time. I emphasise that it was envisaged that there would be disruption because in order to seek the improvements which your Lordships require it is necessary that the work be carried out as speedily as possible. However, I assure your Lordships that the disruption will be kept to an absolute minimum.

To answer the first question of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, I believe that the report of the Offices Committee explains what is to happen on the Principal Floor. The Lower Floor has been considered previously by your Lordships. If I can help the noble Lord on any particularly detailed points, I shall either speak to him outside the Chamber or write to him with further details about the arrangements for the Lower Floor. The Lower Floor does not feature in the report of the Offices Committee which is now before the House.

I am afraid that I cannot immediately help the noble Lord with his second question. However, I shall make inquiries and I shall hope, and seek, to satisfy him once I have made those inquiries.

The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, also asked about the painting. It has been suggested that, if the Motion is passed, the system outlined in the report of the Offices Committee should be followed—that is to say, the day-to-day arrangements for the painting will be in the hands of your Lordships' Advisory Panel on Works of Art, under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. Other details, such as financial matters and the question of which Members shall appear in the painting, will be left to the group, as was suggested in the report. It is true that there will have to be further consideration about the details of the allocation. I envisage that that will be a matter for the usual channels. It will, no doubt, be an awkward decision to make because it is envisaged that the number of your Lordships who will be able to appear in such a painting will be limited to around 250, so some selection will be needed.

If the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, will forgive me, I shall not venture into a comparison with another place, but it might be of some assistance to your Lordships to know that, informally, a group of your Lordships' Deputy Speakers considered the matter before the weekly meeting last Thursday. I say "informally" because, as Deputy Speakers, they have no locus in such decisions. We were conscious of the limitation on the number of Members who would be likely to appear in such a painting. We also ventured to consider the question of the artist. It was thought—I should not dream of revealing by whom—that if we were to have a Lowry-type artist, it might be possible to include all of your Lordships. Another noble Lord immediately volunteered the suggestion—again, I should not think of revealing his identity—that if we were to have a Lowry-type artist, some of your Lordships—I cannot think why he said this! —might be flattered to be portrayed in such a way. As one who used to be as thin as a rake, I am moving rapidly, with age, in that direction. I commend the Motion to the House—

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, before the Chairman of Committees sits down, will he deal with the point that I raised?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. I have a note of his intervention. It is indeed the case that the staff concerned with those proposals were consulted beforehand, and I understand that the proposals were acceptable. Perhaps I can write to the noble Lord on his detailed point about the amounts involved. I apologise to the noble Lord for not including him in my earlier remarks. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.