HL Deb 15 June 1998 vol 590 cc1291-3

3.12 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.

Moved, That the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on the House of Lords' Offices be agreed to (HL Paper 109).—(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 Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.


The Committee considered proposals for an exhibition on parliamentary democracy to be held in Westminster Hall in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium. The exhibition will be organised jointly with the House of Commons. The Committee agreed expenditure provision to be made in respect of the House of Lords contribution.


The Committee took note of an agreement reached with BBC News and Current Affairs to allow filming until the end of November of a documentary about the House. In addition, Wall to Wall Television Ltd will be allowed access to the House to research a prospective documentary of the House.


The Committee were informed that the History of Parliament Trust has decided that, from 1999–2000, the House of Lords should form part of the programme of work of the Trust. The Committee agreed that the House of Lords should in future contribute to the funding of the Trust.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I would like to thank the committee members for the work they do on our behalf. I wish to ask a question about paragraph 1 of the report dealing with the millennium exhibition. It states that there is to be an exhibition in Westminster Hall, organised jointly with the Commons. It says also, The Committee agreed expenditure provision to be made in respect of the House of Lords contribution". Can the Chairman of Committees say how much expenditure is involved? How much is capital expenditure and how much constitutes running costs? I cannot believe that in these times of financial prudence the House is being asked to give a blank cheque. So I look forward to details from the Chairman of Committees, because, if we do not get them now, in future, if there is dissent about this expenditure, I fear that we shall be given the formula that it has been considered by the relevant committees, approved by the House and a line will then be drawn underneath it. More details should be given when we have such reports. Otherwise the House is being treated unfairly and its authority sought without the fullest information being made available for people to make up their minds.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, says. One wonders where this proposal originated, how much it is going to cost and how much your Lordships' House is going to pay as opposed to the other place. Cannot the Chairman of Committees envisage the possibility that unkind people may suggest that it would be preferable if an exhibition on democracy in Westminster Hall were replaced by a constant display of democracy elsewhere, and particularly in another place down the road?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I shall deal with all of the matters raised by the noble Lords, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe and Lord Peyton. Perhaps I should not venture into speculation about the final point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, tempted though I am to do so.

As regards costs, the Administration and Works Sub-Committee and the Offices Committee, in making these recommendations to your Lordships, felt it right to agree in principle to a capital cost provided that the two Houses of Parliament went ahead together. I hope that your Lordships will feel that that is right. There can be no question of one House of Parliament going ahead with this idea. The Offices Committee, on the advice of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, suggests that this House should contribute £50,000 towards the costs. If another place decides to join in supporting the project, it should authorise an equivalent sum.

The sum of £5,000, shared jointly between the two parties, has been spent so far in commissioning an adviser. She is an expert in interpreting historic buildings to the general public. I am advised that she has considerable experience in the matter. She was commissioned to help the working group of officials from the two Houses establish the basis of what became the proposal for an exhibition on parliamentary democracy.

I refer now to a specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. At the moment, much as I would like to do so, I am unable to give your Lordships any information about running costs. I am advised that they would add quite considerably to the capital cost of £100,000 shared between the two Houses. Those costs are in the process of being assessed. It will probably not be until towards the end of the year—certainly later in the year—that I shall be able to advise your Lordships of the precise amount.

In answer to another of the perfectly fair and valid points raised, there is no question at all of your Lordships' committees committing this House to any proposals. They will have to be scrutinised by the committees in the first place and then come before your Lordships for authorisation.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the immense relief that he has given, at any rate to me, in saying that the lady concerned is a well-known interpreter of old buildings. I am so glad to know that she is not going to devote her undoubtedly immense talent to interpreting some of the so-called practitioners of democracy who claim to be alive.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am very grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton—and myself to a lesser extent—can speak from personal experience of those considerations from our time in another place.

Although I cannot give the figures, for the reasons I have explained, perhaps I may help a little further on the question of costs. If the project goes ahead, running costs will have to be met by the two Houses. I am advised that additional security would form a substantial element but lesser amounts would also be needed for practical facilities such as lavatories for members of the public attending the exhibition, if it goes ahead.

It may be appropriate to mention one other consideration regarding costs. It has been suggested that an admission charge should be considered. Again, that would need to come before your Lordships for consideration. The admission charge, if it were to be introduced, would help quite significantly to meet the overall costs of the exhibition.

I am sorry not to be able to give further details at the moment, but there is the assurance, which I hope will bring some comfort in particular to the noble Lords, Lord Peyton and Lord Cocks, as well as to other noble Lords, that these matters will need to be further considered by your Lordships' House before they can go ahead. I understand that the House of Commons Commission, which will consider these matters, is meeting this afternoon.

On Question, Motion agreed to.