HL Deb 22 July 1998 vol 592 cc881-8

3.20 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Assuming that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, moves his amendment it may be for the convenience of your Lordship's House if any noble Lord who wishes to raise a matter on any other part of this report should do so during the debate on the amendment. While that is strictly a departure from our normal procedure we have done it before. It saves time and will avoid the need for two debates. It also avoids the need for me to inflict more than one speech on your Lordships. I am very conscious of the very weighty business that is to come before your Lordships this afternoon.

Moved, That the 6th Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 130) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

The Committee has met and been attended by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Gentlemen Usher of the Black Rod.

1. Sub-Committee membership

Lord Acton was appointed to the Refreshment Sub-Committee.

2. House of Lords Annual Report and Accounts

The Committee approved the Annual Report and Accounts for 1997–98.

3. Old Palace Yard

The Committee approved a scheme to refurbish Old Palace Yard. The scheme will be undertaken in three stages during the summer recesses of 1999, 2000 and 2001. No Peers' car parking spaces will be lost as a result of the scheme, and access to the House will be maintained during the works.

4. Seating in the Chamber

The Committee agreed to make permanent the arrangement whereby the space in the Chamber behind the Table is reserved for disabled Peers.

5. Staff pay

The Committee took note of the pay awards to House of Lords staff for 1998; the cost to the pay bill will be 3.9 per cent.

6. Lords' Reimbursement Allowances

The Committee took note of an increase in the bicycle allowance to 6.4 pence per mile, with effect from 1 April 1998.

3.21 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end insert ("except paragraph 3 which shall be referred back to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee for further consideration").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall try to be brief in moving the amendment in my name on the Order Paper. Paragraph 3 of the report of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee deals with Old Palace Yard. The report merely says that the sub-committee approves the scheme to refurbish Old Palace Yard. Old Palace Yard is basically known as the Members' car park. If we go to the report of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee of 30th June when this matter was discussed the proposal was that a sum of £2⅓ million be spent on refurbishing this car park and adjacent places. No doubt that decision was regarded as unexceptional at the time but matters move on. I believe that the reputation of this House may be damaged. On Monday the long-awaited White Paper on transport was introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister. In that he makes very great play of the need to remove cars from city centres. If two days later your Lordships say that they are to spend more than £2½ million refurbishing the car park at the front of the building, it will be a mistake in perception and public relations. As the work proceeds every taxi driver who goes past will point out this folly to his passengers. The passengers of every bus that passes will grumble to each other. A constant stream of foreign visitors will believe that this is yet another example of the aberration of the British. There is a serious risk that it will not do the reputation of this House any good during this period.

I have said before in debates that I believe that at times we are fobbed off by the Chairman of Committees with the comment that the matter in question has been considered by the relevant committees and brought before this House. Consequently, let us look at what was said at the meeting of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee when this matter was proposed: In conclusion, it was proposed that the Sub-Committee should examine the proposals in detail before confirming they should go ahead. The Chairman of Committees said that this would be impractical: the proposals had been thoroughly examined and revised by the Sub-Committee and the Advisory Panel on Works of Art and any deferral would greatly delay the project". It is like a Russian doll. One opens it up to find another one inside. One must probe further and further back to discover the original decision. It is rather like radio astronomy. I hope that in this case noble Lords will make an exception to the good work that goes on and agree to take another look at it for the sake of the reputation of the House. Matters have changed since the original decision was taken. I beg to move.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I gave notice to the Chairman of Committees that I intended to speak to this matter. I also raised the matter with members of the sub-committee before the meeting. I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, although perhaps for slightly different reasons. He said that it was just a car park. I understand that it also includes the roads outside and opposite. All of that is regarded as Old Palace Yard. I believe that the consultation in this House was far too limited. I obtained all my information from the four pages that were before Westminster City Council. That related to expenditure of £400,000, to which that council was asked and agreed to contribute £100,000. Therefore, I am shocked to hear reference today to the figure of over £2 million. Therefore, the works must include more than those matters which were considered by Westminster City Council.

My objection is based on the consultation. There was an exhibition in the Royal Gallery of the very attractive Norman Foster world heritage squares. We were asked to say whether or not we liked them. This proposal represented a tiny part of that scheme. As I understand it, the Government have deferred the works to Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square, yet we propose to go ahead with our part of it. I do not think it is either desirable or necessary.

I am also very concerned about the proposal to surface the area with granite setts. Any woman who walks into New Palace Yard is aware of the need to avoid walking over those granite setts. Anyone who is disabled or in a wheelchair or who uses a walking stick finds it very difficult. If we are to have these granite setts, a sample piece should be provided somewhere so that we can assess whether or not it is a practical and desirable surface for this House. For those reasons, not simply the cost—everything costs the earth, although the works in this Palace are always durable and are carried out to a very high standard—I am greatly concerned about the acceptability or desirability of this change at all. I support the amendment.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I rise to make two brief points. One is concerned with the procedure associated with the report that is before the House today to which noble Lords are asked to give their agreement. The document that is before noble Lords is almost incomprehensible. I ask that some brief notes associated with the report be provided.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as a former Whip, I understand that it is not in order to speak from the middle of the Gangway.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I apologise for being three inches out of line.

To ensure that the business of your Lordships' House proceeds smoothly, I ask that some notes be included with reports of this kind. Further, item no. 2 makes reference to the House of Lords annual report and accounts. I was surprised to learn yesterday that that information is not available for Peers. Since the Treasury is involved in this and it is not a matter for Parliament alone but also involves government, I believe that the lack of transparency and openness is contrary to the Government's stance. I ask that this information be made more readily available to Peers. I ask also that notes associated with it should be made available so as to make the matter comprehensible. I do not believe that to nod matters through is good for the reputation of this House.

My second brief point relates to paragraph 3 of the report of the meeting of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee of 30th June. I should like to draw attention to the new committee referred to in this part of the document. The new committee has responsibility for accommodation and other matters. Because of the accommodation crisis in this House, I ask the Chairman of Committees to request Black Rod to join the Serjeant at Arms in encouraging Peers to use the five rooms in your Lordships' House which are now occupied by Members of Parliament. It is only fair to do that. I ask that this happens before the House goes into Recess so that we can get a decision before October.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for giving me notice that she intended to raise certain matters. I shall deal with them in a moment or two. First, let me deal with some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe.

I am relieved about two matters. First, neither I nor your Lordships' committees have any responsibility whatever for any aspect of government policy. Secondly, I am comforted by the fact that on these committees are members of Her Majesty's Government who are fully able to say whatever they choose. I am grateful for their contributions, as I am for those of the Opposition Front Bench, the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and the Cross-Benches.

The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, is right about the amount; it is £2.34 million. In the light of what has been said, I should remind your Lordships that these matters have been under consideration for two and one-third years. The first mention was made by the Administration and Works Sub-Committee on 5th March 1996 and was included in the works programme considerations in 1997 and 1998. As many of your Lordships will know, the minutes of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee are available in the Library. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, takes advantage of the availability of that material.

These matters have been before the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee from 12th March 1996, and were included in the public expenditure surveys for last year and for this year on 17th March. They have been under consideration since February 1997 by your Lordships' Advisory Panel on Works of Art and there was the exhibition to which the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, referred in the Royal Gallery on 24th and 25th November last year.

A great deal of consideration has been given to these matters by your Lordships' committees. It will be appreciated, from the dates I have given, that the opportunity has been available for all noble Lords to make known any points about these matters over a considerable period of time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardener of Parkes, referred also to the granite setts. I must confess that when I first heard about them I thought they were the familiar cobbles which are, in laymen's terms, domed or rounded at the top. They are very uncomfortable to walk upon. I know that the noble Baroness, with all her experience of medical matters, has been concerned about whether the new ones will be slippery, whether wheelchairs will be able to negotiate them, and whether they might cause difficulties for ladies in high heeled shoes or for people with had backs.

I am able to bring the noble Baroness some comfort and reassurance. I have gone into the matter rather thoroughly. They are not cobbles of that sort. They are flat granite sets—not slippery—which are perfectly comfortable to walk upon and probably an improvement on the existing tarmac. They last for a long time, will not cause us greater disruption, and, given a long time-scale, will cost less.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, referred to the forms of committee reports. I am always conscious of the need to keep down the amount of paper and material in reports. There is also a saving of cost, which is an underlying principle.

As to the question of notes, that is not our practice. I shall look to see whether there is anything in that particular point but I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind the fundamental points I have just made.

As to the annual report and accounts, those are available to your Lordships. They have been published since 1992 following the Ibbs Report. The 1997–1998 accounts will be published on the day your Lordships' return on 5th October. They will be available there and then. All previously produced annual report and accounts are available immediately. There is no avoidance, as has been suggested.

As to the five rooms to which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, also referred, these have been under consideration by your Lordships' committees over a considerable period of time. They will be kept under surveillance. Once those in another place occupy their new accommodation in Portcullis House I have no doubt that your Lordships' committees will wish to return to this matter to see what additional accommodation might be returned.

I have tried to give as full an explanation as possible. In those circumstances—and bearing in mind the membership of these various committees—I hope that your Lordships will all feel that ample consideration has been given to these matters and that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I have always tried in these debates to pay tribute to the assiduity and the conscientiousness of the people who man these committees. I thank them for the contribution they make to the House. I hope that nothing I have said today in any way casts aspersions on them. I have tried to bring to the attention of the House that we have a new situation in terms of the White Paper on transport policy and in terms of this House itself. There are all sorts of people who wish this House ill and who are looking for every possible excuse to denigrate it and its works. We are handing them here a big stick with which to beat us. I commend the amendment to your Lordships.

3.27 p.m.

On Question, Whether the amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 148; Not-Contents, 142.

Division No. 1
Ailesbury, M. HolmPatrick, L.
Ailsa, M. Home, E.
Aldington, L. Hooson, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Hunt of Wirral, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Inchyra, L.
Berkeley, L. [Teller.] Ironside, L.
Berners, B. Jopling, L.
Bethell, L. Judd, L.
Biffen, L. Kenyon, L.
Blaker, L. Kilbracken, L.
Blease, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Bledisloe, V. Layton, L.
Borrie, L. Lewis of Newnham, L.
Broughshane, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Lyell, L.
Butterworth, L. Macclesfield, E.
Cadman, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Caldecote, V. Manton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Merrivale, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Mersey, V.
Castle of Blackburn, B. Middleton, L.
Chadlington, L. Milverton, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Minto, E.
Cockfield, L. Molloy, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Cooke of Islandreagh, L. Monkswell, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Montrose, D.
Cork and Orrery, E. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Cross, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Cumberlege, B. Nelson, E.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Newall, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Davidson, V. Onslow of Woking, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
De L'Isle, V. Pender, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Perry of Southwark, B.
Dearing, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Derwent, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Dixon, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Donegall, M. Prior, L.
Elibank, L. Puttnam, L.
Ellenborough, L. Radnor, E.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Rea, L.
Exeter, Bp. Rees, L.
Gallacher, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Richardson, L.
Gisborough, L. Rogers of Riverside, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Glentoran, L. Sandwich, E.
Gormanston, V. Scanlon, L.
Grantchester, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Gray, L. Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Sharples, B.
Grenfell, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Habgood, L. Shepherd, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Hardy of Wath, L. Skelmersdale, L. [Teller.]
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Harrowby, E. Southwell, Bp.
Holderness, L. Stallard, L.
Stodart of Leaston, L. Trumpington, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Vinson, L.
Strathcarron, L. Vivian, L.
Suffolk and Berkshire, E. Waddington, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L. Walton of Detchant, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L. Waterford, M.
Tebbit, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Teviot, L. Westbury, L.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L. Wharton, B.
Tombs, L. Young of Old Scone, B.
Addington, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Annan, L. Kelvedon, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Kirkwood, L.
Attlee, E. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Knutsford, V.
Beloff, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Blackstone, B. Ludford, B.
Bramall, L. Luke, L.
Bridges, L. Lytton, E.
Brigstocke, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Brookeborough, V. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Burlison, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Burnham, L. McNally, L.
Butler of Brockwell, L. Maddock, B.
Byford, B. Mallalieu, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Calverley, L. Marshall of Knightsbridge, L.
Carew, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Carnarvon, E. Mishcon, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Monson, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Mountgarret, V.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Munster, E.
Clement-Jones, L. Newton of Braintree, L.
Coleridge, L. Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.
Courtown, E. O'Cathain, B.
Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Palmer, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Parry, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Peston, L.
Dholakia, L. Plumb, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dubs, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Dunleath, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Rawlings, B.
Ezra, L. Razzall, L.
Falkland, V. Redesdale, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Renton, L.
Freyberg, L. Renwick of Clifton, L.
Gainsborough, E. Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Gilbert, L. Rochester, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Rowallan, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Russell, E.
Hacking, L. Sandberg, L.
Hampton, L. Seccombe, B.
Hamwee, B. Sewel, L.
Hardie, L. Simon, V.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Simon of Highbury, L.
Haskel, L. Slim, V.
Hattersley, L. Smith of Clifton, L.
Hayman, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Steel of Aikwood, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Strabolgi, L.
Hoyle, L. Strafford, E.
Hughes, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Hylton, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Taverne, L.
Islwyn, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Tomlinson, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Tope, L.
Tordoff, L. Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Tugendhat, L. Weatherill, L.
Turner of Camden, B. Whitty, L.
Uddin, B. Wigoder, L.
Varley, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Walker of Doncaster, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Wallace of Coslany, L. Windlesham, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.