HL Deb 20 March 1997 vol 579 cc1053-5
The Chairman of Committees

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 66).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to.


The Committee approved the first two phases of a message handling project for both Houses. The first phase, lasting until September 1997, will involve a consultation process to determine the implementation and content of the project. The second phase, lasting from October 1997 to August 1998, will consist of the initial implementation of new message services and will be followed by a fundamental review of the project.


The Committee agreed new arrangements for computer training and support for Lords to permit more effective use of resources. Peers may go without notice to the Computer Room for training and advice between 11.30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Mondays to Thursdays, and between 11.30 a.m. and the rising of the House on sitting Fridays. Outside those times and in recesses, Peers are invited to give notice before seeking training and advice from the Computer Room. Emergency calls for support will continue to be met without notice.


The Committee agreed to a proposal from the Chesterfield Canal Society to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the occupation of the House of Lords Chamber in 1847. It is proposed that a cubic foot of stone from the quarry where stone for the Houses of Parliament was extracted will be transported by canal from Derbyshire to Black Rod's steps, and will be used in the restoration programme of the Palace.


The Committee agreed to share the cost of a reception to be held in the Palace of Westminster by the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the independence of the countries of the Indian sub-continent.


The Committee agreed to the extension for a further two years from May 1997 of the appointment of Sir Edward Jones as Black Rod.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships if I am a little more incoherent than usual, but I have only just arrived on the premises to see to my surprise this report on the Order Paper. Perhaps the Chairman of Committees will in due course, after the election, furnish the House with a list of the dates when the committee reported to the House and the dates when Parliament rose. I suggest that this is not the first time that such reports have been put through at the very last minute. Although I am not suggesting any ulterior motive, the practice is unfortunate for those of us who take an interest in these matters.

Paragraph 1 on the "enhanced message" service was the subject of some discussion last time when the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, inquired about the cost of the service. At that time the Chairman of Committees was unable to enlighten the noble Lord, but I can tell the House that the consultancy charge was £144,000. It was done on a daily basis and included the charges of two partners for two days. I believe that the House is being taken for a ride, as is the other place, which shares the expense with us. Therefore, I should like some more information on this because when we discussed it previously it was suggested that there should be wider consultation. Will the Chairman of Committees tell us what opportunity there has been for ordinary Members of your Lordships' House to contribute; and how much notice was given, and how, of the demonstration that was available to members of the committee?

I do not think that the other items in the report are of a sufficiently contentious nature to mention, but the question of the message service is terribly important because we have recently seen an example in another place of how the use of automatic message services can be grossly abused to devalue the entire traditions and honour of both Houses.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, perhaps I may point out—your Lordships may know this already—that the Select Committee on House of Lords Offices met on Wednesday of this week. It was thought—I strongly supported, and do support, this view—that it would be right to present the report of that committee to your Lordships at the earliest possible moment so that there would be no delay into the next Parliament. That is the first point. As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, knows, I am always anxious to assist your Lordships as much as possible on such matters, not least the noble Lord himself, because I know that these domestic matters are of interest and are regarded by your Lordships as of importance to the House.

If I may say so, ample notice was given of the demonstration carried out last month for members of the committee. There is to be an extensive consultation process between now and September of this year in which noble Lords will be consulted about their requirements. There will be ample opportunity for noble Lords' views to be put forward before the matter comes back to your Lordships' House.

As the noble Lord has said, mention has already been made of the costs. As far as concerns the consultancies, your Lordships' committee has been assured that the costs are certainly in accordance with normal practice in these matters. They are regarded as being market value, if I may put it in that short way. As the noble Lord has indicated, the costs have been shared with another place, which has also scrutinised them.

I hope that that provides some assistance to the noble Lord. If I am able to provide any further information I shall do so by means of writing to the noble Lord. Any queries on further matters arising out of this report to your Lordships' House can always be dealt with in the new Parliament by means of Questions for Written Answer.

On Question, Motion agreed to.