HL Deb 03 June 1997 vol 580 cc570-3

3.3 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked the Chairman of Committees:

What are the rules governing the use of pagers and mobile telephones in the Chamber and within the precincts of the House; and whether he will refer this matter to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee of the Offices Committee.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, at present the rules governing the use of mobile telephones forbid their use only in the Refreshment Department; they advise noble Lords who use them in other areas to do so discreetly. There are no corresponding rules governing the use of pagers. I believe that the rules should be strengthened. I shall bring this matter to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee for consideration at its next meeting. I think the only rules likely to find favour in your Lordships' House would be ones which were quite strict.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for that objective Answer. However, he must be aware of an incident that took place in another place just before the election when the Speaker had to intervene as regards the use of a pager which gave one person an advantage over other people with whom he was dealing. Is the noble Lord aware that I am glad he is considering introducing strict rules in this matter? Will he ensure that, whatever takes place, standards in your Lordships' House are maintained and that we should make personal interventions and not become dominated by those who bring pagers into the House and use them to the disadvantage of other people? When he has considered the matter will the noble Lord explain his decision to the House to enable us to accept it as I believe that his decision would carry much more authority if it had the acceptance of the House?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, for raising this matter. He will forgive me if I do not comment on what has happened in another place because it would he rash for Members of your Lordships' House to do so from either of these two Dispatch Boxes. As regards your Lordships' House, I am not aware of any of the difficulties which have arisen in another place having arisen here. However, I do not believe your Lordships would look kindly on the use of pagers to prompt noble Lords, if I may put it that way—who are well equipped and need no prompting from outside—on the part of any supporters who may be outside the Chamber.

Lord Winston

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for his reply. Does he accept that for a number of your Lordships to have a pager or a radio telephone of some kind is a vital link when one may be on call or for other emergency purposes? Can we have the noble Lord's assurance that these may be used in designated places with discretion by Members of this House?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, makes a valid point. Those are the sort of considerations that I hope will be considered by the Administration and Works Sub-Committee of your Lordships' House. There probably is a place for mobile telephones and pagers. In a sense pagers are a little more difficult in that the bleeping ones I suspect would not be acceptable to your Lordships, at any rate in the Chamber, whereas the vibrating ones might be acceptable in order possibly to remind noble Lords that they have not returned home to dinner during some of our more exciting debates. I do not wish to give the impression that I am wholly in favour of the vibrating types. One would have to be a little careful which pocket one put them into. I do not wish to trouble your Lordships with personal details of my habits, but I carry keys in two of my trouser pockets and coins in one of those two. I suspect that a vibrating pager might cause an unwarranted jangling sound if it went off as one rose to the Dispatch Box.

Earl Russell

My Lords, in the light of the noble Lord's previous remarks I shall not ask him to comment on the remark of Madam Speaker when a pager went off in the Chamber of another place. She said that it should not have been brought into the Chamber in that condition. But, purely coincidentally, might this House agree with that view?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, as always the noble Earl, Lord Russell, tempts in the skilful way in which he puts his questions. Being skilful he will therefore appreciate why I shall not be drawn down that particular path. Without making any comment at all, I must say that I have some sympathy with what he has said.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, when the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees refers the matter to the sub-committee will he urge it not to take the easy way out and employ expensive consultants to produce a report which will tell it what it already knows?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am sure that, as always, any committee of your Lordships' House will take into account what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, says. I certainly undertake to do so. Consultants have already been used as part of the exercise, which is outside the scope of this Question, but fortunately they were not too expensive.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the Chairman of Committees referred to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. I presume that its consideration would involve the precincts of the House rather than simply the Chamber. Am I right in thinking that the Procedure Committee of this House determines the rules which apply within the Chamber?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, it is possible—possible, although not necessary—that the Procedure Committee will have a role. However, the Administration and Works Sub-Committee has the prime role. If that committee decides to make recommendations, they will be considered by your Lordships' Offices Committee. If the Offices Committee decided to make recommendations, it would report them to your Lordships, who make the ultimate decision.

However, I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, to this extent. Noble Lords are not only concerned as regards the Chamber but, I suspect, also about the Prince's Chamber, the Peers' Lobby and the Library. The noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, is concerned about that matter, and is in consultation with the librarian. I am grateful to the noble Lord for chairing a working group considering some of these matters. I believe that those are points to be considered in due course.