HL Deb 14 January 1997 vol 577 cc105-10
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, I beg to move that the First Report from the Select Committee on House of Lords Offices be agreed to. In doing so I must apologise to your Lordships for a mistake in the report. In paragraph 3 reference is made to paragraph 7. There is no paragraph 7. The reference should be to paragraph 6. With that correction, I beg to move.

Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 24).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ("but refers the matter of the Enhanced Message Service (paragraph 3) back to the Select Committee").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I promise not to detain the House for very long. Over the years I have from time to time raised points on Offices reports only to be told that the matter has already been decided in another report. On examining Hansard, I usually find that such reports have gone through on the nod. In the present case, paragraph 3, which deals with the message service, is sufficiently important to use this expedient to draw the matter to your Lordships' attention.

Over the years I have very much appreciated the service provided by the Doorkeepers and Attendants in delivering messages. I have nothing but admiration for them. Paragraph 3 of the report deals with an enhanced message service. That is not how ordinary people talk to one another. When I saw the phrase "enhanced message service" I thought it had the smell of consultants about it.

Yesterday I had a meeting with Black Rod. He was, as usual, extremely helpful. He confirmed that the proposal is based upon a consultant's report. Not only did he confirm it; he was kind enough to furnish me with a copy of the report. It weighs 3 lbs. or, I am told, in the new parlance, 1.3 kg. I tried to go through it last night. It is extremely complicated and far reaching, and driven, I believe, by the House of Commons, the Members of which are increasingly becoming professional politicians. The requirements of this House will not always coincide with those of the Commons.

All I am asking the Lord Chairman to do is to confirm to the House that we will have further opportunities to consider, as a House, the development of this service before things go too far down the line and we find that it is beyond recall and that the whole atmosphere of the House is being damaged. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ("but refers the matter of the Enhanced Message Service (paragraph 3) back to the Select Committee").—(Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe.)

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the Lord Chairman tell us the cost of the report as well as its weight?

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I was saddened by the decision to exclude the Princess of Wales from Prayers in this Chamber. The decision reflects a lack of generosity of spirit which is not usual in your Lordships' House. It involves practically no time and certainly no money. The House should have an opportunity to air its view on that important matter. I should like to see it adjusted now.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, we all owe my noble friend Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe a debt of gratitude for introducing this topic. Can the Lord Chairman say that a copy of the report referred to will be placed in the Library so that other Members of your Lordships' House are able to have sight of it?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, and for the convenience of the House, I can perhaps deal with the various points that have been raised at one time, although, strictly speaking, as your Lordships will be aware, I should be out of order in doing so because strictly we are dealing only with matters arising on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. I turn to that first.

The purpose of the proposal is to improve—I prefer, as does the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, a word such as that to the word "enhance"—the service which should be provided to your Lordships and through your Lordships to the country as a whole. I endorse completely what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, said about the great helpfulness of our Doorkeepers, Attendants and other staff.

In answer to the principal point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, I can confirm that there will be a further opportunity for your Lordships to consider these matters. They are in their early stages. There are further detailed plans to be considered. They will be considered, as were the initial proposals, in turn by the Administration and Works Sub-Committee and the Offices Committee of your Lordships' House. Once they have had an opportunity to deal with these matters, they will come again before your Lordships, so there will be ample opportunity further to consider the detailed proposals and to consider whether we want any of them, none of them, or all of them.

I draw attention to paragraph 3 of the report which refers to consultation with your Lordships. Perhaps I may add to that by saying that there will be a presentation to members of the sub-committee and the Offices Committee on the 28th of this month as part of the preparation for considering the detailed matters further.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, I am afraid that I do not have the cost with me. If I can obtain it, I shall let the noble Lord know outside the Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, asked for a copy of the consultant's report to be placed in the Library of the House. That is a matter which, as already indicated, stems from consideration by another place as well as your Lordships' House. So I am not sure whether I can give a categorical answer at the moment. I shall look into it and let the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, know. If it is possible to provide a copy in the Library I shall do so.

With your Lordships' leave, as it does not arise out of this report, let alone the amendment, perhaps I may refer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne. The Administration and Works Sub-Committee and the Offices Committee of your Lordships' House gave thorough consideration to the matter that the noble Lord has raised. We had the benefit of submissions from the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, which we greatly appreciated. However, we decided to make no recommendation for any change to your Lordships; hence there is no reference to it in the report.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, perhaps I may express some concern that the noble Lord was unable to reply to my noble friend Lord Mackie. We should bear in mind that when any Bill appears before your Lordships there is a financial and explanatory memorandum, and we know what the cost is estimated to be by the Government. Now, apparently, the noble Lord cannot tell us how much we have already spent on the consultant's report. From the fact that he did not mention it, I presume that he is unable to give the figure for the cost of the appointment of the project manager, to which we are being asked to agree, let alone the proportion of that cost that is to be borne by your Lordships' House. We should be told that before we agree to the report. After all, the bulk of the messages are received by Members of another place and only a few, relatively speaking, by Members of this House where I find the service perfectly satisfactory.

No complaint can be made about the excellent service that your Lordships receive from the Attendants and the Doorkeepers. There is no apparent need for any enhancement, let alone improvement, of the service with which we are already provided. So we are being asked to agree to pay part of the salary of a project manager— the amount of which is not specified—for reasons which do not seem to be very strong.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, before the Lord Chairman of Committees replies, may I ask him whether ordinary, common Back-Bench Peers will be able to make representations to the project manager?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, on the last point, there is no doubt that it will be possible for representations to be made or to be forwarded, and I undertake to do so on behalf of any of your Lordships who wish that to be done. With your Lordships' leave, on the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—I am grateful for the assistance and the details with which I have been provided to enable me to give this answer—no cost arises this year. That is the reason why no cost is mentioned. However, there will be cost implications in due course and an indication of those will be given in Answer to a Written Question which has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. I hope that that explanation is in some way helpful. The only other point that I would make in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is that, however inadequate, I made an endeavour to give an answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I am grateful to the Chairman of Committees for his assurances that the House will be able to oversee the progress of the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

  1. 1. Appointment of Sub-Committees 8 words
    1. c106
    2. Finance and Staff Sub-Committee 40 words
    3. c106
    4. Administration and Works Sub-Committee 51 words
    5. c106
    6. Library and Computers Sub-Committee 36 words
    7. c106
    8. Refreshment Sub-Committee 35 words
    9. c106
    10. Advisory Panel on Works of Art 31 words
  2. 2. Smoking in the Writing Room 50 words
  3. c107
  4. 3. Enhanced Message Service 67 words
  5. c107
  6. 4. Yeoman Usher's apartment 33 words
  7. c107
  8. 5. Salaries of the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees 19 words
  9. c107
  10. 6. Staff of the House 52 words