HL Deb 20 July 1998 vol 592 cc573-5

2.50 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked the Chairman of Committees:

What are the main impediments to providing reasonable accommodation for Peers in the Palace by October.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, the House has been increasing steadily the amount of space for Peers' office accommodation and negotiations are under way to acquire further accommodation for the House. However, the large increase in the number of Peers in the past two years has meant that the House has been unable to provide desks for all those who have requested them. However, I am hopeful that we shall be able to occupy new accommodation in 2000.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many Peers now regard the problem of desks and telephones as very serious? It is causing all sorts of difficulties. It is felt that there is a desire for some short-term solution. Does my noble friend accept that problems of this kind tend to require a number of smaller solutions rather than one "big bang" solution? Is he further aware that there is a considerable level of concern that not all the options have so far been fully considered by the House authorities in order to minimise this wretched problem? Will my noble friend raise the matter with the House authorities and the usual channels with a view to examining all options in order to make as big a dent in the problem as possible? In addition, will he prepare a report as soon as possible after the House returns from the Summer Recess and place a copy in the Library?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am well aware, as are your Lordships' committees which deal with these matters, of the serious need for additional accommodation for your Lordships. I have to some extent to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. I cannot offer an immediate, short-term solution by October, but your Lordships' committees and the other authorities of the House have been searching for new accommodation, and, as some of your Lordships will know, accommodation has been found in Millbank, which is relatively close to your Lordships' House.

A point which will, I think, not be known to many of your Lordships is that at the last meeting of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee of your Lordships' House a working group was set up consisting of the usual channels, the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers and one or two others, assisted by Black Rod and the Clerk of the Parliaments, to go into the question of the allocation of the new accommodation which we hope will become available with the conclusion of the negotiations. I hope that we shall have adequate accommodation for your Lordships through the acquisition of the new accommodation in Millbank.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether there will be any extension to the car-parking facilities at your Lordships' House?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, strictly speaking, that is a different question. It is one of the two most thorny questions which exercise the minds of your Lordships, the other one being the Question on the Order Paper. It is a matter which is constantly being considered.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that on these Benches we have introduced the principle of desk-sharing? If other parties were to introduce that, the problem would be substantially alleviated. I do not say that the system is an overwhelming success all the time, but I believe that my colleagues behind me appreciate the effort that is made to ensure that we use the available space as wisely as possible.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Opposition Chief Whip, for that point. That is a way of easing the accommodation problem to an extent, and I believe it is a practice that is followed in other parts of your Lordships' House.

I know there is concern in all parts of your Lordships' House that some of the desks that have been allocated through the various usual channels and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers are not fully used. That is unfair to the usual channels, to the Convenor and to your Lordships generally. I suggest that that is something that needs to be looked at more closely in the hope of tightening up the system and relieving the pressure on desk space.

Lord Milner of Leeds

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many desks are occupied by hereditary Peers?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I shall need notice of that question. I shall write to the noble Lord with the Answer. I venture to observe that noble Lords who happen to be hereditary Peers play a considerable part in the service of this House and, speaking of them as, for example, Deputy Speakers, I do not know what I would do without them.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, invented the system of desk-sharing, which works very well among the Cross-Benchers?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the Convenor, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for instancing yet another way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, has helped us in the service of the House.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, could the noble Lord encourage noble Lords not to leave their papers and books on desks when they are absent for a number of hours?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples. I think she overestimates the powers which I have. I have no doubt that others of your Lordships will have taken note of what the noble Baroness has helpfully suggested.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, would it be possible to ask the usual channels to consider whether this is the obvious, ideal way of dealing with a problem of this kind, in keeping with the dignity of the House?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, no doubt many of your Lordships will feel that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, has made a valid point. I am, as always, at the service of your Lordships. I have to accept what your Lordships say and try to answer it if I can.