HL Deb 11 December 1995 vol 567 cc1146-62

6.11 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding rose to ask the Chairman of Committees whether, in the light of the Annual Report and Accounts of the House, 1994–95 (HL Paper (1994–95) 93), he is satisfied that the new arrangements for the administration of the House are working satisfactorily.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may say at the outset how grateful I am to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees who is to reply to the debate. I must apologise for keeping him here this evening.

Although we are discussing the fourth annual report that has been produced on the affairs of the House of Lords (bringing such matters together in a single volume) and only the third in which not only do we have accounts but also a substantial amount of additional information in the form of a narrative, this is the first occasion on which the House has had a chance to debate such a report.

Last year, we actually spent some £37 million of public money on the services and accommodation which we require. The House employs over 250 staff and is responsible for 40 per cent. of the works staff and 40 per cent. of the security staff in the Palace of Westminster. The report discloses that we sat on 142 days of the year, spread over 36 weeks, for a total of 967 hours and 55 minutes. The average daily attendance—and I believe that noble Lords may find this slightly surprising—was 380 Peers. We took part in 135 Divisions.

The report now before us, like it predecessors, is a mine of information about the House. In my view, it is well written and produced. It records a huge amount of work done by the Clerk of the Parliaments, by Black Rod and by their staffs. Apart from anything else, tonight's debate gives the House the chance to say, "Thank you", to all those who serve us and make it possible for us to do our work. However, I hope that the debate is a little more than that. I always remember the moment in that amazing film "12 Angry Men"—the jurors—where Henry Fonda just held out for a moment and then said,"Well, I just think that we oughta talk about it". I believe that the House should talk about its own work for a moment.

Five years ago a review team headed by Sir Robin Ibbs reported on the management of another place. The Ibbs Report disclosed major shortcomings in the way that the affairs of another place were managed under a system which had evolved over many years. Lest any noble Lords might be tempted to be smug, perhaps I may say that exactly the same strictures could have been addressed to this House. The Ibbs team found a lack of clarity about how policy for services was decided and about where responsibility rested for policy and for its execution.

Honourable Members of another place seemed unaware of who to turn to solve problems or to get things changed. Good financial management systems, and control arrangements based on these, simply did not exist. Therefore, there was no confidence that the money being spent—indeed, it is much more in another place than it is here—was appropriate to needs or was being well spent. The fact that the management of the works expenditure actually lay outside the control of the House altogether was singled out for special criticism. The report concluded that there was no effective corporate management role.

Perhaps I may just quote one sentence from paragraph 17 of the Ibbs Report. I do so because it sums up the situation rather well: At a time when the need to demonstrate cost-consciousness is widely accepted, not least by Parliamentary Committees, arrangements in the House, far from setting a standard for others to follow, are a complex anachronism. A complete overhaul of financial systems is an inescapable necessity". That was written in 1990.

The other place moved quickly to begin to put matters right and the authorities in this House were swift to follow suit. The annual reports for 1992–93, 1993–94 and the latest one that we are debating this evening for 1994–95 have set out in considerable detail the new structures, procedures and arrangements under which our affairs are now managed. It is not now the time or the place to go into detail. But perhaps it is sufficient if I say that, guided by successive Offices Committees and successive Finance and Staffing Sub-committees, the Clerk of the Parliaments has now put into place a thoroughly reformed and coherent system of financial management, including proper costing and budgeting, with responsibility devolved to individual budget holders, themselves accountable upwards through a clear and logical management structure.

I turn now to the first question that I should like to put to my noble friend the Chairman of Committees. I call him my noble friend because he is sitting on this side of the House. Is he, and is the Offices Committee, now satisfied that this reformed structure is working well and effectively? Part of the purpose of the Ibbs reforms was to give control to the House of its own management. How far is it true to say that the House now has full control over its own affairs? In particular, does the new system really give us the chance to address the concerns of noble Lords?

Finally, perhaps I may single out the question of accommodation. If one turns to paragraphs 38 to 41 of the annual report, it will be seen that they describe the new accommodation which is situated across the road at Nos. 6 to 7 Old Palace Yard—and it is indeed very splendid. They outline the plans for converting and renovating the south-east corner of the Palace. The purpose is also: to provide refreshment facilities, a new Committee room and Robing rooms for Counsel".

If there is to be a substantial refurbishment of part of the House that has been vacated by other departments, why can we not have more rooms for desks for Peers? I believe that that point is now well recognised.

Paragraph 41 continues: The Administration and Works Sub-Committee remain very concerned that there is still not sufficient accommodation available for Lords and they have asked Black Rod and the Director of Works to explore ways in which new accommodation might be provided, including the relocation of the flats occupied by Black Rod and the Yeoman Usher to buildings outside".

It then goes on to mention other departments which might usefully be relocated.

I believe that I am reflecting a very widely held view among noble Lords that the lack of a desk and a telephone in the Palace is the most keenly felt want among many Members of your Lordships' House. When can we look forward to that want being met?

Noble Lords will be aware that at the other end of the Palace over recent years there has been a great deal of imaginative in-filling of space in the upper floors which has provided large numbers of offices and new rooms for its Members. Therefore, it is now possible, as it never was in my day, for a new Member to enter another place and be allocated an office more or less straightaway. When will the same happen at this end of the Palace?

However, it would be unfair not to draw attention to the number of improvements that have been made. I particularly commend the new entrance via what was formerly Black Rod's Garden. There will be a little garden left but I doubt that Black Rod will be much able to enjoy it. The work has been extremely well done and without doubt it enhances that end of the Palace and of course improves security and the movement of vehicles. However, I am forcibly struck by the slow and cumbersome security arrangements at the new entrance which contrast markedly with the easy informality of the arrangements outside the Peers' Entrance. Perhaps at a time of relatively low security alert one must ask whether we have to wait for two slow moving barriers to be moved before we are allowed access at that entrance?

I have three further questions for the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. Paragraph 32 of the report describes the procedure for selecting the person who now serves in the Office of Black Rod. I think the selection procedure set out in that paragraph—though Black Rod himself may not have appreciated it—was a welcome innovation. It gave Members of the House a chance to have a say in who should be appointed to that important post. Paragraph 32 states, It was agreed by the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee, in order to clarify lines of responsibility, that, in future, Black Rod should report to the Clerk of the Parliaments as the Accounting Officer and Corporate Officer of the House of Lords".

Why was that thought necessary? In the past Black Rod has reported directly to the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee, to the accommodation sub-committee or to the Offices Committee itself. His is an ancient and honourable office. Why should he now report through the Clerk of the Parliaments?

Paragraph 57 deals with the administrative vote. Noble Lords will note that there was a welcome underspending in the year under question. However, the report states that the estimate for the year 1995–96—the year we are now in—is 6.2 per cent. higher than the preceding year. That is to say it is around twice the rate of inflation. I suggest that that sounds a little excessive. Can the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees give some more details as to why that is necessary? Spending departments have just come through an extremely tough spending round under the public expenditure system and they have been under great pressure. It smacks of self-indulgence if the House treats itself to a significantly less stringent regime.

Paragraph 59 gives the information that pay and grading of staff will no longer be subject to national agreements but is to be delegated, to all public bodies, including Parliament, from 1 April 1996".> Can the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees give the House a little more information as to how this is to work? In principle I welcome the move. There is not much sense in delegating financial responsibility to the House, as has been done under the new dispensation, if its single biggest cost remains effectively outwith the House's control. I believe we are entitled to ask how it is intended that the House should exercise its new delegated authority.

I said earlier that the House is well served by its officers and staff and I wish them to know that we appreciate their efforts. I believe that particular thanks are due to those among our own number who chair the important committees through which all this work is done. I refer to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees who chairs three of the committees; the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who chairs the Refreshment Sub-Committee, my noble friend Lord Gowrie who chairs the Advisory Panel on Works of Art and my noble friend Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn who chairs the Library and Computers Sub-Committee. They are involved in a great deal of work on behalf of the House. That work is often unsung and it goes on behind the scenes quietly, unobtrusively and efficiently. The House should be able to express its thanks to them. It is because I did not think we should take this all for granted and just let it go through that I have tabled this Question. I look forward to hearing the other speeches.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Bancroft

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for this debate. It is extremely timely given the attention currently being paid to the role, the powers and the composition of this House. Despite the inordinate length of the speakers' list tonight I should like to see reasonably regular short debates on the report and accounts. It is important, of course, that the debates should not become a catalogue of housekeeping whinges on the one hand or a succession of self-congratulatory puffs on the other. If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, steered his usual neat course between the two.

If there were to be regular debates I venture to hope that they would be reflective and perhaps mildly self-critical in character. I shall try to follow the noble Lord in that mode. As the noble Lord has said, the annual report and accounts are an admirable innovation and this is only the third year that they have been combined. The Clerk of the Parliaments and his staff deserve our thanks, together, of course, with the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, the Offices Committee and the sub-committees to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred.

I suggest that we need to look at the report in the context of the role of this House and the staff who support it. I would not even dare to pluck at the trouser of Bagehot, nor would it be appropriate in this debate to try to do so. However, Bagehot's description of the Queen's private rights, in relation to her Ministers, to be consulted, to encourage and to warn, has also come to be an apt description of the second Chamber's ability publicly to influence and, if need be, embarrass, Her Majesty's Ministers. We can debate, revise, initiate and, under strict limits, delay legislation on the Floor of the House. Through our debates we can encourage and warn Ministers more generally. Through our Select Committees we can scrutinise both government and European Union legislation and inform Ministers of our views. Now that we have regular ad hoc Select Committees to buttress the two permanent Select Committees, we can advise Ministers, the European Union, and indeed a much bigger audience, if it wishes to listen—on the whole it does not get a chance to do so because our proceedings are not reported to it—on a wide variety of issues.

I now mention a small but, I think, not unimportant point. I suggest it might be preferable to refer to special Select Committees rather than to ad hoc Select Committees. The latter have an uncomfortable hand-to-mouth ring about them. Some of your Lordships know that I have a vision of this House, through the unique experience of its Select Committee membership and the talented clerks and specialist advisers who serve them, becoming, over time, the think-tank to the nation. This vision owes nothing at all to complacency or to self-congratulation. It derives from a profound belief that there is a deficiency in our national machinery of government, the notorious hole at the centre. By that I mean the lack of an intellectual counterpoise to the random sucking in of powers, but not responsibilities, to Nos. 10, 11 and 12 Downing Street and No. 70 Whitehall.

I suggest that some of the in-filling of that hole might be provided by a development of our Select Committee system. It would give value for money, as the report before us demonstrates. Peers, as unpaid Members, come cheap. The report tells us on page 19 that the Committee Office spent, on all forms of support, under £1 million last year and came under budget by £0.25 million. Its total permanent staff was 21, of whom only eight were clerks. It would be difficult to conceive of better value for money. Is not that an area in which we might judiciously add to the resources available?

That brings me to costs, which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, rightly mentioned. As I said, Peers come cheap, certainly compared with our colleagues in another place or Members of the European Parliament. We also come cheap compared with our colleagues in other Commonwealth upper chambers. Figures published in 1993 show that the annual cost per Member of the Australian Senate was £480,000; of the Canadian Senate, £195,000; and of our own Chamber, £89,000, assuming in our case a working House of only 404 Members. The figures also show that unelected Members, for example, British Peers and Canadian Senators, come cheaper than their elected opposite numbers in other second chambers, and even then we are only half the price of a Canadian Senator. That causes a twitch both to my value for money nostril and my constitutional nostril.

I shall say a word about security costs. I am aware that to raise the subject here is akin to bearing stale buns and sucked eggs into the Chamber. Nevertheless, the sums that both Houses spend on security raises us to an unaccustomed top position in the international league tables of parliamentary costs. We usually come bottom. I find that this House spends more proportionately on security than any other chamber in the world, including Israel. Even so, the percentages of the total of each assembly which are devoted to security are mildly surprising. The latest figures that I have show that many countries come in at between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent; Israel at 14 per cent; the House of Commons at nearly 15 per cent; and the House of Lords at 20 per cent. I ask, with a polite Jeeves-like cough, whether that is perhaps an area where modest savings might be made to offset any increases to strengthen the Select Committee system. That complies with my Treasury background where one does not suggest increases in expenditure without suggesting also offsetting savings. I acknowledge that to some extent we are House of Commons driven here, so our 40 per cent. share of security costs turned out to be just under £5 million in 1994–95. The relevant paragraphs in the report are 10 to 16 and 22 to 25. That cost of £5 million compares with just under £1 million in the same year for the Committee Office.

I venture a word about sitting hours, while recognising that that matter is already at the forefront of many minds. It has been said that the other place sits for more hours a year than any other parliamentary assembly in the world and, perhaps until recently, the dubious honour of the second place is taken by your Lordships' House. The hours which this House sat increased from 465 in 1959–60 to 1,213 in 1985–86, and fell to 1,077 in 1988–89. Since then, interestingly, they have fallen back further and now seem to average about 950 hours a year. In 1993–94, for example, we sat for 971 hours and last year for 904 hours—or 967, depending on the figures one obtains, as the noble Lord observed. Whether that is due to the remedial measures that we ourselves have taken or the gentle decrease in the amount of government legislation is a moot point, but probably the latter. It would be interesting, purely academically, to see whether a change in the political colour of the Government and a greater legislative load would increase our sitting hours again. That is perhaps an academic exercise which some Members of the House would not wish to take further than academia.

We have to recognise that the greater part of sitting time is taken up by debating legislation—mainly government legislation—on the Floor of the House. Paragraph 10 of the report deals with that matter. Therefore, a large part of the responsibility for the workload facing the two Houses falls not on Parliament but on the Executive. Even so, the evidence seems to point to the need for yet more legislative work being taken in Committee and off the Floor of the House if there is to be any realistic possibility of further reducing sitting hours.

We are all agreed that it is neither wise nor therapeutic for a House whose average age is in the mid sixties to be revising important legislation very late at night or in the small hours. The initiatives which have been taken in recent years, particularly following the admirable report of the group under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, in 1994, are indeed welcome. They have substantially reduced late night sittings, but are they enough? Paragraphs 10 to 16 of the report are relevant here.

Finally, I turn to the staff. We all acknowledge, as did the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, with deep gratitude the selfless efficiency, the kindness and dedication shown by staff at every level. Without them and their cheerful virtues this would be an inefficient and melancholy place. We all agree on the great improvements which have been made in the financial control systems in recent years. My concern is about the modish preoccupation with running the public service like a private sector business. I have some knowledge of both. That preoccupation is acceptable up to a point, but it can be all too easily pushed beyond the limits both of acceptability and credibility. I find some of the language unsympathetic—customers, contractors, market testing, transparency—a vocabulary which my noble friend Lord Croham once memorably described as mid-Atlantic Cherokee. Are we to be referred to as "my noble customer"?

Then there are the obeisances towards gods which are suitable to the private sector and some parts of the public service. I have to remonstrate gently with those who believe that, for example, performance related pay is applicable to our tiny and devoted band of clerks. Here, co-operation, collegiality and transferability rather than financial competition are the essence. My own experience is that in very small public service organisations it creates extra work, worry and strained working relationships—and to what end? The same question might be asked, for example, of pay negotiations. Paragraphs 50 to 52 of the report are very relevant here.

I must confess, too, to acute concern about the Government's apparent intention to privatise the Civil Service recruitment and assessment service. I still regard the suggestion with incredulity. That body recruits both the graduate entry and fast stream. It also recruits on an agency basis the clerks for both Houses of Parliaments, and, incidentally the staff for the security services. Many organisations, including perhaps this House, may sooner rather than later feel compelled to do their own recruitment in order to preserve public service attitudes and standards—more work, more costs. Some of us will wish to return to the general subject of public service recruitment on another occasion.

I have detained the House too long. However, having exercised but not exercised some antique and some mint-fresh King Charles' heads, I end where I began. I thank most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for initiating the debate. I hope that it will be the first of many on this most important annual publication. I assure the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees that I do not expect him to comment on, let alone answer, all the questions that I have raised.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, from these Benches perhaps I may echo the remarks that have been made. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for providing the House with an opportunity to debate the annual report and accounts. He may be disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken by more people. As we say in many other instances, if the customers are satisfied with the stewardship by the officers and members of the committees, they leave the matter to the practitioners.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has provided the opportunity for people who are deeply affected by the changes and by the work to listen to what is being said. The Motion also provides those like the Chairman of Committees who have a responsibility with the opportunity to debate the issue. I am delighted to see the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees in his place. I am also delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, in his place. He was a most distinguished Chairman of Committees before the present chairman. In a sense his responsibilities cover the period in the report, although, as the House will acknowledge, the noble Lord, Lord Boston, will reply. We on this side of the House certainly feel that the Chairman of Committees has had a good year. Those of us who have served on committees have served under a benevolent chairmanship. He has guided us through one or two sticky periods, and we are very grateful indeed.

It is not my job tonight, nor is it my intention, to deal with any of the points raised. However, having served on most of the committees over the year, I am well aware of the issues in the report and points raised.

I appreciated the tone of the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. He seemed to major on the deficiency in accommodation. I sensed that that might have a personal aspect. I do not know whether the noble Lord has a problem as regards a desk or a place. I am conscious that many others must be in the same position. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord that over my period in the House—it is only 12 years, with five years as Chief Whip—there has been a remarkable change as regards the space found. The situation is not perfect. It will not be perfect until everyone who wants a desk, or even a room, of their own, as do colleagues at the other end of the building, is satisfied. However, space is found often through the ingenuity of officers. They see an opportunity and move people in or out. At the end of the quadrille, the committee is faced with the prospect of having two rooms with nine desks or four rooms with 12 desks. The usual channels have the difficult task of solving the situation.

I am always amazed at what appears to me to be a dead end, and the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, will recall the number of times that he has reported and I have said, "In about two years' time we might see some result". Yet during the past two or three years, refreshingly, bits of accommodation have been found. Not all Members want facilities. Some Members do not use this House as much as others. But those who do so need a place from which to work.

Until that perfect situation is arrived at, there will always be deficiencies. Although not every Member on my Benches who wants a place has one, I would not major at this time on the deficiencies in accommodation which the report might expose.

The report is a mine of information. I wish to refer to the changes brought about by the sad retirement as Black Rod of Admiral Sir Richard Thomas. He was a brave man. He persisted perhaps longer than some of us thought it wise as regards his health. However, he left good order. He left with the highest compliments of this House. The report provides us with the opportunity of putting on record yet again that which I know the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has already stated. In doing so, I also have the opportunity from these Benches to thank the new Black Rod, General Sir Edward Jones, for the swift way in which he has mastered the intricacies not only of the precise function that he performs but, almost as importantly, how to get on with people and how to weld together what could be a disparate crew—the usual channels, the leaders, officers, and so on. I congratulate General Sir Edward Jones and his senior colleagues, Brigadier Clark and Major Charlesworth. Perhaps I may mention, too, Major Horsfall. The House has been remarkably well served by the calibre of the staff in general and those who serve us at the highest levels. I honestly cannot recall complaints against members of the staff. If there may have been dereliction on the part of committees which failed to ensure that they carried out their remit, the officers have done a first class job.

I do not wish to intervene in any way on the points made. That will fall to the Chairman of Committees. It is an admirable suggestion that we consider the net product of the work of the officers, not least financially. The Clerk of the Parliaments and his colleagues are always reminding the committees of the budgets that have been prepared and the responsibilities that they have as accounting officers. That is absolutely right. However, I simply say this to the House. Members down the other end of the corridor seem to find with ease reasons for spending large sums of money which they always maintain is in the best interests of Parliament. When we compare the enormous amounts of money which, properly, are voted for the comfort and facility of Members in the House of Commons, I do not believe that we should be too upset at the amount of money that we carefully, not grudgingly, provide for ourselves. It has been well provided and well spent. We should, not be pleased with the year, but be satisfied that those who have the responsibilities have discharged them not just to the best of their ability but to the satisfaction of Members.

6.50 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is very grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for drawing attention to the 1994–95 annual report of this House. I am very grateful to him for letting me know the main points which he proposed to raise in advance of this discussion.

As the noble Lord said, this is the first time since the annual reports were instituted three years ago that we have debated them. I very much welcome this chance to have heard what your Lordships have had to say and to give the House something of an account of how the administrative arrangements put in place some four years ago are now working out.

I hope your Lordships will consider me neither frivolous nor complacent if I say that the short answer to the Question on the Order Paper is really, "Yes, in the main". I must confess that I was tempted to say, "Yes", and leave it at that, but I knew that noble Lords, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would not allow me to get away with that. Such an example of idleness certainly would not be tolerated by this House. So perhaps in giving something of an account, and in attempting to answer the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and other noble Lords have raised, I could begin by referring to one matter which the noble Lord mentioned, namely the history of the Ibbs reforms.

It is of course the case that in 1990 the then Leader of the House of Commons, Sir Geoffrey Howe, as he then was, asked Sir Robin Ibbs to conduct a review of the way in which another place could improve its administrative structures so as to have more direct control over its own affairs. His report was concerned primarily with another place, although he and his team interviewed a number of officers of this House as well.

It might be worth reminding ourselves that the Ibbs Report made three important recommendations. The first was that Parliament should become responsible for its own buildings and accommodation services rather than having to ask the Department of the Environment and the Property Services Agency for moneys to spend on maintenance and future improvements. These moneys were never easy to get because expenditure on Parliament had to compete with spending on other public buildings. Next, the report recommended that Parliament should no longer receive its printing and publications free of charge from Her Majesty's Stationery Office on an allied service basis; and, finally, that Parliament should reform its financial management.

The implication of those recommendations is very far-reaching indeed. Neither House was properly equipped to assume responsibility for expenditure on such a massive scale. New administrative and control systems had to be created. Those were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and also in passing by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. I should like to join with those noble Lords—and particularly on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton—in paying tribute to the contributions which my predecessors made to these matters, the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Ampthill. I am the fortunate beneficiary, simply that, of the matters that were decided upon and put into place and which were so greatly promoted by those two noble Lords serving as Chairman of Committees; and also with the support of successive Leaders of the House, the noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Wakeham, and carried through now by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, our present Leader of the House.

Your Lordships' House began these reforms with the creation, on the initiative of the Clerk of the Parliaments, of the post of Principal Finance Officer, to be held by a Table Clerk, supported by a qualified management accountant from outside. The House was fortunate to obtain, in October 1991, the services of a secondee from Price Waterhouse. These two posts were instrumental in developing, with the support of the domestic committees of the House, the systems that are now in place.

Then, in May 1992, the domestic committee structure of the House was altered to streamline decision-making and to make the structure similar to the one that another place was adopting, so that the two Houses could, to an extent at least, proceed together. So the Administration Sub-Committee of the Offices Committee was renamed the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, with particular responsibility for the works programme. The Staff of the House Sub-Committee was combined with the Finance Sub-Committee and became the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee. These two, with others which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned, the Library and Computer Sub-Committee and the Refreshment Sub-Committee, mirrored arrangements in another place. Day-to-day responsibility was devolved on these sub-committees by the Offices Committee, and indeed most decisions on expenditure and resources are in fact now taken in the sub-committees. The particular importance of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee—our equivalent of the House of Commons Commission—was recognised by the appointment to it of the leaders of the parties.

One of the most fundamental developments of 1992 was the gradual delegation to heads of offices of their own budgets, a matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. Each head now has to set his or her own budget for the coming year, including salary and other staff costs, printing, computers and, in certain offices, the costs of committees as well, and to monitor expenditure during the year. That has been operational for the past two financial years. I can tell the House that this has proved a great success. It has resulted in real-terms reductions of expenditure, particularly on printing and publications, where care has produced worthwhile savings.

I should now like to mention the costs that the House assumed from HMSO in 1992. I understand that HMSO estimated the cost of the allied service of providing papers and office supplies to this House to be of the order of £6 million a year. But I have to tell your Lordships it was not clear how that figure was arrived at. So all has not in fact been well from the beginning. Indeed, to start with, under the new arrangements HMSO invoices for printing and papers were far from satisfactory. I note that my immediate predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, nods his head, having been familiar with that at the time. These have, however, improved. Now that each office knows what it spends on printing and publications, budget holders have been able to reduce their costs, making the overall charge to the House less by some £2 million. This saving will be taken a step further when a new supply and service agreement is signed with HMSO tomorrow. It shows how timely is the tabling by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, of this Unstarred Question.

I turn now to the responsibilities that the House has taken on for its own accommodation. That was also mentioned tonight. The Palace of Westminster is of course a building shared with another place. So a joint organisation was needed for its maintenance and improvement. The skeleton was there already in that the Property Services Agency had many staff working in this building. The agency transferred those staff to the two Houses and the Parliamentary Works Directorate was created from 1st April 1992 under Mr. Henry Webber, who became budget holder for the largest budget in Parliament. While each House has its own budget for works services, much of the work within the Palace is regarded as necessary for the Palace as a whole. So it was agreed that for maintenance projects and indeed for any other projects for the Palace as a whole, such as the Parliamentary Data and Video Network, the cost would be shared between the two Houses on a 40:60 percentage basis—that was referred to by the noble Lord—recognising the 40:60 split in the amount of the Palace occupied by the two Houses. Projects for one House only are budgeted for separately and paid for by that House.

The Administration and Works Sub-committee decides the works programme each year. Two years ago it also approved a 10-year rolling programme of works, so setting out for the first time a properly structured approach to maintenance and improvements. I can assure your Lordships that control of such a significant new area of expenditure has been satisfactory. That is due in no small part to the systems created by the director of works himself and, so far as this House is concerned, to a new post in Black Rod's Department—the administration officer who has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Graham. The administration officer has provided a link between the Parliamentary Works Directorate and the House itself, both Members and staff. At this point I should like to thank all those noble Lords who have thanked the staff. I can assure them that their very kind words will be passed on to the staff. I should like to join those noble Lords who made those observations and congratulate all concerned on the massive works programme which was carried out during the Summer Recess.

Rather more specific questions have been asked about accommodation and I shall try to deal with one or two of those as well. I need to remind your Lordships that the balance of accommodation was decided in the first place by the Administration and Works Sub-committee. It decided that new refreshment facilities were required and that a new committee room was badly needed also.

Both the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin and Lord Graham, referred to the question of accommodation. With regard to accommodation and facilities generally for Peers, much has been achieved since 1992. We have gained rooms from the Lord Chancellor's Department on the South Front which provided some 36 desks; we have refurbished 6–7 Old Palace Yard, which gave us an additional 22 desks—when I say "we", I mean all noble Lords collectively and the staff as well—and recently we have provided rooms to Peers on the second floor with 17 more desks to be allocated by the Chief Whips and the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers. With other room conversions, we reckon that there are now some 90 more desks available to Peers than there were in 1992. Including the Law Lords, there are some 286 Peers' desks, many of which are shared.

In addition to the extra rooms and desks, the project in the South East Return which is due for completion by Easter will add two new dining rooms and a new grill room as well as the committee room. The improved Terrace awning is an example of our ability to enhance accommodation as well. I might mention that a computer training room has been provided for Peers. Black Rod is discussing with the Chief Whips and the Convenor possible future needs and a study on in-filling has just been carried out.

While we are discussing accommodation and in view of the fact that Black Rod's Garden and the works undertaken there have been mentioned, I should like to mention the security arrangements through that entrance and the matter of security generally, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, among other noble Lords. The security arrangements for car parking in Black Rod's Garden regrettably, at least for the time being, have to be more intrusive than is the case in the Peers' car park. That is because of the mix of private and commercial vehicles for both Houses which use Black Rod's Garden entrance. Arrangements are reviewed constantly to ensure that they are in line with the security threat.

Turning to security expenditure more generally, your Lordships would quite rightly accuse me of presenting nothing but good news if I did not refer to that matter, which does not contain quite such good news as indicated elsewhere in this debate. So far, we have had less success in controlling expenditure on security. It is a matter of the utmost concern that both Houses of Parliament should be properly protected. That is why large sums of money have been spent on physical protection and the development of the new entrance. However, the Finance and Staff Sub-committee has from time to time queried the level of charge made by the Metropolitan Police for providing police and security officers for the Palace of Westminster. That cost has stabilised but, in my view, is still too high. I should like to see an independent inspection into police manpower and rostering. Of course, in the end it is a political decision as to how high a level of security should be provided for your Lordships and Members of another place. In saying that, I must repeat that we are splendidly served by those police and security officers who look after us in this place despite problems of considerable difficulty when we have to achieve our democratic purpose of keeping this House as open as possible to people outside.

With regard to administration, it was recognised at the time of the Ibbs Report that Parliament and the two Houses had no legal identity. They could not own property nor enter into contracts. Clearly that position was not sustainable if Parliament were to assume responsibility for its own building and be able to sign agreements with bodies such as HMSO. The result was the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992, under which the Clerk of the Parliaments became the corporate officer of this House. He now has the legal status to act on our behalf in matters of contract and so on with the Clerk of the House of Commons acting similarly there.

The Ibbs arrangements also required a much closer link between the Clerk of the Parliaments and Black Rod because, while Black Rod retains his position as agent of the Administration and Works Sub-committee and is responsible for the provision of accommodation and other facilities within your Lordships' House, the Clerk of the Parliaments assumed new responsibilities as accounting officer for the Works Services Vote which had not existed before. I quite understand the considerations lying behind the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, about the relationship between the Clerk of the Parliaments and Black Rod. But those new arrangements stemmed from the reforms which had to be instituted. So now we can say that a clear line of command, which was required, was agreed with the appointment of the new Black Rod. That also recognises the position of the Clerk of the Parliaments as both accounting officer and corporate officer of the House.

I hope that that, at least to some extent, even if it does not completely satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, will meet the point raised by him. Indeed, in another context I shall be able to refer to him (and he refer to me, I hope) as my noble and learned friend.

Let me mention just one other matter concerned with financing. In the Accountant's Office, every effort is being made to improve the professionalism of the staff. I am pleased to report that there are now two qualified management accountants there. As recommended by the Staff Adviser and Internal Auditor, there has been a reallocation of responsibilities between the Accountant's Office and the Establishment Office. The Establishment Office now authorises the payment of staff, while the Accountant's Office makes the payment.

I am conscious of the time, and from this Dispatch Box one must try to set something of an example. My prime duty is to set an example to myself. However, as I am not actually trespassing on your Lordships' speech time, it may be helpful for me to put one or two other matters on the record for your Lordships, both here and elsewhere.

The changes I described show that your Lordships' House has been willing, in a short time, to adopt financial management techniques which the private sector has used for a long time. I would have gone on to spell out in detail the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in relation to the 6.2 per cent. increase in the 1995–96 estimate. However, I shall let him have the final details of that elsewhere and indicate in a headline form what contributed to it. It was partly Peers' expenses; partly staff costs (an increase of £264,000; 4 per cent., while the previous increase was 15 per cent.); general administrative expenses (an increase of £81,000; 2 per cent.); and retired allowances (an increase of £180,000; 20 per cent.) to take account of retirements, particularly two notable senior early retirements.

I wish to touch briefly on two matters which the administration of the House must face in the near future. The first relates to delegated pay. As from 1st April next year, the Treasury will delegate to all public bodies responsibility for setting their own rates of pay within a given budget. That is something to which passing reference was made by my noble friend Lord Bancroft. It is something with which we shall have to come to grips, and it is already being approached.

The second matter relates to the introduction of resource accounting two years later, in the financial year 1998–99. That is being planned carefully and in good time to ensure as smooth a transition as possible from the present cash-based accounts to accounts based upon assets and accruals. It will be particularly relevant in relation to the Works Services Vote where such tricky questions as the value to be placed on heritage assets have still to be settled.

The basic purpose of the annual report and accounts is to provide as much information as possible to your Lordships and therefore more than was produced in years gone by. That will enable your Lordships to see what is being done and to contribute suggestions more readily to what is needed. It will also give us ever greater openness. I share with my noble friend Lord Bancroft a dislike for jargon words, which is why I used the word "openness" and shied away from "transparency".

I conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and others who have said kind words about myself. As I said, I am the mere beneficiary, and lucky to be so. I hope that, in placing on record some of the work that has been done, your Lordships will agree that it reflects great credit both on the committees of your Lordships' House and on the staff concerned.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past seven o'clock.