§ 4.47 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.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the first four items in the report were first put to the House in the committee's last report which was debated on 21st June. At the end of the debate I withdrew the Motion to approve the report, partly in response to complaints that the report did not contain enough information. At its most recent meeting, the committee reaffirmed its approval of these items, which are now reported back to your Lordships but in greater detail. The final four items in the report 605 are put before the House for the first time. I do not intend to speak to any of them now but I shall try to answer any questions Members may have about them.
As I believe the House will expect, I now turn to item 5, the proposal to appoint a consultant to lead a review of the management structure of the House and the structure for taking decisions about its services. After this proposal was criticised during the debate on 21st June, both the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee and the Offices Committee reconsidered the matter at great length. For the reasons set out in the report, the committee remains convinced that a review is necessary. But as your Lordships will have seen from the report, the terms of the proposal have been revised and, in addition, we recommend that it should take place under the supervision of a small steering group of Peers.
The financial management structures of the House have not been reviewed since they were put into place in the early 1990s when the two Houses assumed control of all parliamentary expenditure. In the last financial year, the budget for this House alone was £45 million. A review would help to assure the House that its services are being delivered efficiently and that its procurement procedures are robust enough to avoid the threat of litigation.
As the report notes, the House of Commons may change the way in which it supervises the services which are shared between the two Houses, such as the Parliamentary Works Directorate. It seems sensible for this House to take any changes into account and to respond to them if necessary.
I should also like to say a word on behalf of the Clerk of the Parliaments, who has been charged with the responsibility for delivering services for the House. He would welcome advice on these matters and, if for no other reason, Members may wish to permit him to seek the advice that he requires in order to discharge his responsibilities to the House. That is not intended to imply that the House is badly managed at present. However, although it is clearly the case that we have great expertise within the House, I would hope that we would not regard ourselves as the sole repository of all wisdom and knowledge on these matters or that we are not capable of benefiting from outside advice. A review would benefit from the involvement of someone with knowledge of modern management practices and who could approach the task without any preconceived views. That is why the committee recommends the appointment of Mr Braithwaite to conduct the review.
As the report emphasises, the final decision on whether or not to implement any recommendations will be made by the House and its committees. But I appreciate the desire within the House to keep any review under its control, especially after the criticism of this proposal last time. The committee therefore proposes that a small steering group of Members of the House be appointed to supervise the review. I do not believe that the House has anything to fear from what is proposed, since decisions remain within the control of the House. On the contrary, I believe that 606 improvements to our management structure can only be to the benefit of individual noble Lords and the House as a whole. I commend the report to the House.
Moved, That the sixth report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 97) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.) Following is the report referred to:
1. Pay proposals for fast stream clerks and library clerks
The Committee's fifth report informed the House that the Committee had agreed to new arrangements, developed in conjunction with the House of Commons, for paying clerks (recruited through the Civil Service competition for administrative grade civil servants) and library clerks. The report was criticised for lacking detail, which is as follows: the old pay range was £16,306 to £28,336 and the new pay range will be £20,000 to £27,500. Progression will be by three annual increments, subject to satisfactory performance. Promotion should normally be after four years, subject to satisfactory performance.
2. Salaries of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Committees
The Committee's fifth report informed the House that the Committee had approved revised salaries for the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. The report was criticised for lacking detail, which is as follows: the salary of the Chairman of Committees is increased from £64,429 to £66,294; and the salary of the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees is increased from £60,032 to £61,773. Both of the increases are with effect from 1 April 2000, and are in line with changes to the salaries of Ministers and other paid office holders.
3. Lords' reimbursement allowances
The Committee's fifth report informed the House about changes to the motor mileage allowance and the bicycle allowance. From 1 April 2000 the motor mileage allowance was uprated in line with the retail price index to 52.5 pence per mile for the first 20,000 miles and 24.2 pence per mile thereafter (up 1.3 pence and 0.6 pence respectively); and the bicycle allowance was uprated to 6.7 pence per mile (up 0.2 pence).
4. Commercial activities
As stated in its fifth report, the Committee has agreed that the House of Lords should not be used by Members as a business address nor the name used for the promotion of any commercial activity.
§ 5. Appointment of a management consultant
In its fifth report the Committee recommended the appointment of Mr Michael Braithwaite "to undertake a review of the management structure and the structure, including the Committee structure, for taking decisions about the services of the House and other domestic matters, which were introduced in the House of Lords in 1991–92 following the Ibbs reforms in the House of Commons".
During the debate on the Committee's report on 21 June there was considerable criticism of the proposal. In particular, it was argued that not enough information had been provided about the proposal; that there was no need to look outside the House for advice; and that the money could be better spent elsewhere. The Chairman of Committees withdrew the Motion to approve the report, and said that the proposal would be reconsidered.
At its meeting on 19 July the Committee considered the matter at length. For the reasons set out in this report the Committee remains convinced that a review is necessary, but it has revised its original recommendation to the House.
Reasons for a review
The proper resourcing of the House is of fundamental importance to its effectiveness. As the activities of the House continue to change and grow, and the expectations of Members increase, the Committee believes that a review would help to ensure better strategic planning for the future and effective management of the House's resources.
The House's financial management structures have not been reviewed in detail since they were put in place nearly 10 years ago following the Ibbs reforms in the House of Commons. The reforms gave the two Houses much greater control over parliamentary expenditure, especially in relation to the maintenance of the parliamentary estate and printing. In the financial year 1999–2000, total expenditure by the House was £45 million. Many savings have already been achieved (especially in relation to printing) and better services provided, but the Committee considers that more could be done.
In his role as accounting officer the Clerk of the Parliaments must be certain that value for money is secured in the provision of services for the House; and that the existing system of budgetary control is satisfactory. In his role as corporate officer of the House, he must also be sure that procurement and contracting procedures are sufficiently robust to avoid the threat of litigation1. A review would provide additional assurances to the Clerk of the Parliaments in the discharge of his responsibilities.
None of this is intended to suggest that the House is poorly managed at present. But a review would ensure that the House's management structure operates to the very highest standards and that it is responsive to the increasing demands being made upon it.
The House of Commons have already undertaken a review of their management structure, assisted by Mr Braithwaite, and the recommendations which resulted are now being implemented2. Additionally, Mr Braithwaite has just completed a second review for the House of Commons into the Parliamentary Works Directorate and the Parliamentary Communications Directorate. While there are significant differences between the two Houses, this House should not ignore changes in the way the Commons may manage shared services such as the Parliamentary Works Directorate, which is responsible for works and the maintenance of the parliamentary estate, and the Parliamentary Communications Directorate, which is responsible for the telephone network and the Parliamentary Data and Video Network (PDVN). Both are part-financed by the House of Lords.
Furthermore, many Members have expressed their dissatisfaction with the House's "domestic" committee structure3 and their apparent failure to deliver all the improvements which Members would wish to have. A review should ensure that the House and its committees retain effective control over the delivery of its services and that the entire structure is responsive to the needs of Members, for example in relation to accommodation, which is the source of widespread dissatisfaction.
Obtaining a fresh perspective, while retaining control of the review
The Committee considers that a review would greatly benefit from the involvement of someone with in-depth knowledge of modern management practices and who could approach the task with an open mind and without pre-conceived views. The Committee therefore recommends that Mr Michael Braithwaite be appointed to lead the review. The final decision on whether to implement any recommendations will, of course, belong to the House's committees and ultimately to the House itself. There is no question that reforms affecting the House will be made without its prior approval.
However, the Committee understands the desire to keep the review under the control and supervision of the House. The Committee therefore proposes that a small steering group of Members be appointed to supervise the review, and to act as a channel for comments from Members (the review will, in addition, involve interviews with Members). If the Committee's proposal is agreed to, such a steering group will be appointed before the start of the review. The Clerk of the Parliaments also proposes that two senior officers of the House (Rhodri Walters, the current Establishment Officer, and Brigadier Hedley Duncan, the Yeoman Usher) form part of Mr Braithwaite's team (a similar arrangement was made in the Commons).
The final cost of the review will depend on the time it takes to complete which, in turn, will depend largely on the number of interviews the review team is required to carry out. However, the cost of employing Mr Braithwaite is likely to be lower than other consultants with his experience because of the knowledge of
Parliament he has acquired during his two reviews in the House of Commons. This knowledge will be particularly useful in relation to the services which the House shares with the Commons.
The Committee recommends that there should be "a review of the management structure and the structure for taking decisions about the services of the House and other domestic matters, including the impact on the domestic Committee structure"; that the review should take place under the supervision of a small steering group composed of Members of the House; and that Mr Braithwaite should be appointed to lead the review.
6. Steps of the Throne
On 9 December 1999 the House agreed that hereditary Peers who are no longer Members of the House should be allowed to sit on the steps of the Throne, but that the privilege should be reviewed before the end of the Session.
The Committee found that between 10 January and 12 July, 46 hereditary Peers made use of the privilege on a total of 104 different occasions. There were 102 sitting days in the period in question, meaning that the privilege was used, on average, a shade over once per sitting day. The Committee concluded that the privilege was not being abused and that there was no reason at the present time to end it.
The Committee recommends that hereditary Peers should continue to be allowed to sit on the steps of the Throne. The privilege can be reviewed in the future.
7. Judicial Fees and Security Money
The Committee has agreed to increase the flat rate taxing fee, introduced at £25 on 1 April 1983, to £50; to increase the amount of security for costs set at £18,000 in April 1994 to £25,000; and to increase the other judicial fees payable (last set in 1995) by the following amounts:
|Petitions for leave to appeal - mandatory fees|
|Petitions of appeal - mandatory fees|
|Presentation (following successful petition for leave to appeal)||£500||£570|
|Presentation (not following petition for leave)||£1,000||£1,140|
|Lodging statement and appendix and setting down||£3,000||£3,420|
|Petitions of appeal-occasional fees Waiver of security||£100||£115|
|First petition for extension of time||£200||£230|
|Second petition for extension||£300||£340|
|Third petition for extension||£500||£570|
|Fourth or subsequent petition for extension||£1,000|
|Other interlocutory petition, if agreed||£200||£230|
|Any interlocutory petition, if opposed||£500||£570|
The Committee expressed its concern at the lack of progress which had been made in providing further office accommodation for Members. The occupation of 7 Little College Street in December 2000 and Millbank House in August 2001 will provide 180 new desks for Members, and staff of the House will also move into Millbank House, creating more office space for Members within the Palace.
The Committee is well aware that this is only a start. At our next meeting, we will review the disparity in the accommodation available to the two Houses within the Palace itself on the basis of information provided by Black Rod on the amount of office accommodation and other facilities available to the two Houses.
9. Smoking policy in Millbank House
The Committee agreed that smoking should only be permitted in private offices if all of the occupants of a room agree; and that smoking should not be permitted in any of the communal areas of the building (including the entrance lobby, the library, the refreshment facility, the conference room and corridors, staircases and lifts).
- 1. The House of Commons has incurred damages and costs following litigation over the tender for the facade of Portcullis House.
- 2. Review of Management and Services, Report to the House of Commons Commission by a team lead by Mr Michael Braithwaite (July 1999, HC 745).
- 3. The "domestic" committees are the Offices Committee, its four Sub-Committees on Finance and Staff; Administration and Works; Refreshment; and Library and Computers, and the Advisory Panel on Works of Art.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I thank the Chairman of Committees for that statement. Before I turn to the main issue of the consultant, perhaps I can put two main points to the House on paragraph 1 and the pay proposals for fast-stream Clerks. I strongly agree with that and am delighted to support it. We need good quality Clerks and I am very happy with that proposal.
In paragraph 2, under salaries of the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman, I have a specific question which was not answered last time. We are now told that the increase is from around £64,000 to £66,000, back-dated to 1st April 2000. That is a perfectly reasonable increase, which I support. But, according to the annual report and accounts, a year earlier the Chairman's salary was £54,000. So the increase during the course of the year was £10,000. I do not know whether that is an oversight but I shall be glad to know how that happened. I see the Leader of the Opposition nodding, indicating he too seeks a reply. It may be that there is some special reason for that £10,000 increase. If so, perhaps the committee could find a special reason for increasing the expenses for your Lordships.
Let me turn immediately to the main issue, which I raised last time; that is, the question of the consultant. I am obliged to the Chairman of Committees for the further information. We have now heard, and read in the report, the case for a review. Let me say at once that I strongly agree with that; after 10 years there can be little doubt about it. The case for a consultant, however, is an entirely different matter. The last time we discussed this, my impression was that most, if not all, of your Lordships agreed with me that we did not need a consultant.
We now see in the report that the main case put forward for a consultant is that the House,would greatly benefit from the involvement of someone with in-depth knowledge of modern management practices and who could approach the task with an open mind and without preconceived views".I hope the committee will not mind my saying that that is an insult to your Lordships. We are now told, as a way out of this difficulty, that we are to set up a small 610 steering committee—presumably made up of Members of your Lordships' House with open minds. I shall be glad to know how they will select that type of Peer.
We are told that the consultant will lead the review. What will he do? One thing he will do is consult. That is what most consultants do. They then tell us what those they consulted recommend. That will be the case here. Except, as we saw from the House of Commons report, the Members will be consulted. So presumably the consultant will consult noble Lords with or without open minds; then the consultant and the committee will come back to your Lordships' House with the result.
But the Offices Committee does not simply recommend a consultant; it recommends a specific consultant—Mr Braithwaite. Let me make it clear that I do not know the gentleman. I imagine he is a good consultant; he gets paid reasonably well. So the Offices Committee will appoint him, despite the fact that it has not used the rules that normally apply; namely, the Nolan rules. The committee recommends we appoint that gentlemen with or without the Nolan rules. Why? Because he did a great job in the Commons.
I understand that we want to begin the review as soon as possible. But the gentleman concerned was appointed in the Commons in October 1998. He reported one parliamentary year later and that report was debated in January 2000. If we have such a review, with or without the consultant, can the Chairman of Committees ensure that some of the interim decisions are brought before your Lordships' House rather more quickly than happened in the other place?
We are asked to support this review without being told what it will cost. The committee cannot tell us because it does not know how long it will take. Perhaps we could be told how much an hour or a day will be paid. I can tell your Lordships that the cost to the other place of employing Mr Braithwaite was £77,000, "of identifiable expenditure". That is a new phrase. So £77,000 was "identifiable", but we have no idea what was unidentifiable. No one could tell us that. But that figure included the cost of printing a 179-page report. So the amount we are being asked to agree to will be in that region. The report in the other place was actually drafted in its entirety by a senior Clerk. So perhaps that will stand as a warning to the Clerk of the Parliaments to consider who will draft this report here if we agree to it.
Unless noble Lords have changed their minds from what was implied the last time we discussed this matter, the setting up of a steering committee, with or without a consultant, is crucial. If that committee was appointed by your Lordships—the Leader of the Opposition shows surprise that I suggest that—it could employ a consultant or an adviser, but that should be for that committee to decide.
Judging by the way that these matters progress, this is likely to finish up being dealt with by the usual channels. I hope, therefore, that we shall at least be 611 given an assurance that the committee will consist of senior Back-Benchers. They are the Members upon whom we can rely to speak for us—that is to say, for your Lordships' House. If I may say so, with the greatest possible respect, this should not be a matter for the usual channels, or even the usual authorities. The committee must represent us.
So I hope that we shall be given an assurance that, whatever happens, we shall have a speedy interim report that can be dealt with properly, and which includes, for example, the question of accommodation referred to in paragraph 8 of this report. We know that there are some 40 rooms in this House that are still used by the House of Commons, despite the fact that the other place now has 200 extra rooms at a cost of £1 million a piece. I hope that we shall not be reminded of the terrible cost about which we are talking, when the other place still has—and will not give up—40 rooms that should be available to us. I trust that that matter will be dealt with quickly by the proposed committee.
I rest there what case I have. I hope that we shall receive assurance that, whatever happens, we shall have an early debate on these matters. I also hope that I shall receive support from all parts of the House for what I have said.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, as usual, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, has put the case far better than I could have done. However, I should like briefly to support the burden of his remarks as regards paragraph 5 of the Select Committee's report. It seems to me to be rather perverse for this report to suggest that there should be a committee whose job would be to steer this review. If that committee has as its purpose the job of steering the review, it seems at least curious that part of that steering exercise should be taken from it and determined before its members have even been appointed. If the job of the committee is to steer that review, would it not be much more sensible for its members to be appointed and for consideration to take place thereafter on who should be appointed to undertake the nuts and bolts of the review, so that that person can report to the committee? In that way, we would have some assurance that the committee is not just a piece of window dressing to enable the powers that be—whoever they may be nowadays—to get through their pre-agreed solution.
It was extremely helpful of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees—indeed, the House should be most grateful to him—to take into account to such a degree the concern that many of us expressed on the previous occasion such a report was debated on the Floor of the House. I wonder whether the noble Lord will be able to consider the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett; namely, that, if the steering committee is to perform its task properly, it would give a number of us a considerable amount of reassurance that the House is in control of its own affairs if the proposed committee were commissioned to examine who might best help it to carry out the review.
612 It may well be that Mr Braithwaite will be the right man for the job. In fact, there is a good argument for that because, I dare say, a good deal of what another consultant might be required to do would duplicate the work that Mr Braithwaite has already accomplished for another place. Indeed, we might economise on his services in that respect. I believe that this House would be well served if it were possible for the steering committee to be set up first. The committee should then consider who best to appoint to assist it in this task. Thereafter, as is the way with modern appointments, the committee should, if it thinks it right, hold a suitable beauty parade. In that way, we would be assured that the committee had exercised due diligence in deciding upon the appointment.
As I said, the House should be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who, as we know, is vigilant in such matters. Indeed, his experience as a former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, let alone as Chief Secretary to the Treasury under a previous government, affords him a considerable amount of authority in matters financial.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I speak as a relatively new member of this committee. As a simple soldier, I have found myself somewhat perplexed by its proceedings and its organisation. I believe that this is the time for me to say so. The committee seems to have sub-committees that are, apparently, totally autonomous. They do not report, and are not subordinate, to the Offices Committee. Moreover, up until now, it seems to me—and I speak with the greatest respect to the Chairman of Committees—that the Offices Committee has been acting as little more than a rubber stamp as regards certain proposals that come before this House.
The last time that the Select Committee reported to the House I had some reservations about the report, but I kept them to myself. However, when I heard the somewhat acrimonious exchanges that took place at that time in the Chamber, it seemed to me that some of these matters needed to be reconsidered. Those matters have now been looked at and a fuller report is before the House which I hope is more acceptable to your Lordships than the earlier one.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words on the matter about which everyone is most concerned; namely, the proposed appointment of a management consultant. I have to confess that I, too, have had reservations about this and have made them clear in the committee. I am dubious about the need for outside advice. It seems to me that there are people in this House who have the kind of qualifications that are needed to make the sort of recommendations required to improve the structure, the management, and the committee structure of this House.
The argument about the outside consultant having experience of the House of Commons is not entirely persuasive to me. The House of Commons is art entirely different place with a completely different history and traditions. I do not believe that we should place too much emphasis on the experience of a consultant as regards his activities in another place. 613 However, the majority of the committee decided that this appointment was desirable. Being a good democrat, I went along with that decision. Indeed, I am persuaded that there should be a review of some kind. If the majority of the committee want to appoint a management consultant, I am persuaded that that is the proposal and the recommendation that should be made to your Lordships.
However, my only reason for being so persuaded at this stage is because of the two important qualifications that have now been introduced into the report. The first is that the review shall look at the management structure. It may be helpful to the House if I mention the exact words in the report. The recommendation states that there should be,a review of the management structure and the structure for taking decisions about the services of the House and other domestic matters, including"—this is the part that I wish to emphasise—the impact on the domestic Committee structure".That is rather different from the original idea that the management consultant should look at the committee structure. Noble Lords will notice that this qualification is an important one. Whatever else the consultant looks at, it will stop short at,the impact on the … Committee structure".The second, and most important, qualification is the one that we have already discussed; namely, the matter of the steering group. I am persuaded that that will ensure that the House has control of whatever organisation is established to carry out the review. I should like to echo the feeling expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that this should be a committee of Cross-Benchers—
§ Lord Chalfont
I am sorry, my Lords; I meant to say Back-Benchers. However, as I am not a candidate for the job, I am sure that noble Lords will accept that as a slip of the tongue. But that is not to say that I believe that such a committee of Cross-Benchers would not be a good one. The committee should comprise Back-Benchers; it should not consist of either Front-Bench Members or others from the usual channels.
Having made that point, I should stress that I am persuaded that such a review is needed. I hope, therefore, that we can find a way of going ahead and agreeing on how it should be done. It is important for us to know when and how this steering group is to be selected and appointed. I very much hope that the views of the noble Lords who have already spoken, as well as those of noble Lords who will speak shortly, are taken fully into account.
§ Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe
My Lords, I wish to pursue points raised by my noble friend Lord Barnett and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I am sure that Mr Braithwaite is an excellent man and I do not wish anything I say to impugn him in any respect. However, he has carried out a study of the House of Commons 614 and there are certain matters that we should consider. My noble friend mentioned the report which Mr Braithwaite produced. The House of Lords' Offices Select Committee report states on page four that Mr Braithwaite,has just completed a second review for the House of Commons into the Parliamentary Works Directorate and the Parliamentary Communications Directorate".The "Parliamentary Works Directorate" is "parliamentese" for accommodation. Mr Braithwaite has carried out a review of accommodation in the Commons. I understand that that report will be published in September. With the best will in the world, I am sure that all the work that he has carried out has given him a mindset almost as a House of Commons person. I am sure that if he undertakes the job that we are discussing, he will find it difficult to adopt the flexibility which is needed.
I inquired about 7 Little College Street and Millbank House which have been acquired for parliamentary use. I was informed in a Written Answer of 10th July that the annual rent over the road is £33.50 per square foot. The building has a 15-year lease; that is not terribly long. I then tabled a Question to ask how many square feet were involved. I was informed that the area comprised 28,500 square feet. That means that a rent is being paid of £1,035,000.
My noble friend Lord Barnett said that there are 40 rooms in this House which are being used by Members of the House of Commons. I do not like to correct my noble friend but I walked along the second floor corridor this morning and discovered 43. There are 43 offices in our own premises occupied by Members of Parliament from the Commons and yet Portcullis House across the way is being opened up. All this has been examined by Mr Braithwaite. We are in a new situation now. We are becoming more accountable and, in many ways, more representative. We are no longer the poor relation of the other place. In our fight for more resources and better facilities we shall have to come to grips with the House of Commons over a number of matters. I should have thought that one of the first should be the issue of 43 Members of the Commons in offices on our own premises when we are looking for accommodation all over the place and paying rent over the way of £1 million a year.
There is much public scrutiny now of that kind of expenditure. We have a duty to protect ourselves in this regard. I wonder whether a man who is so deeply immersed in the study of all aspects of the House of Commons can bring to bear the total objectivity which is needed. For once, we should think about ourselves and our reputation with the public.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I rather regret the trend of employing outsiders to inquire into our affairs. As far as concerns Parliament, this is a comparatively novel innovation. Many of us expressed reservations about the work of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. It is not that we object to the nature of the work that he is carrying out, but he is doing it from outside the House. Some of us thought that that was not the right way to proceed. I wonder whether appointing a consultant 615 from outside the House is the right way to proceed in the matter we are discussing. Is it not better for noble Lords to conduct their own inquiries and look after their own affairs in these matters?
On the question of accommodation, the plain fact is that we are appallingly provided for in this House. Most noble Lords do not even have a desk, never mind a room. Most Members of the Front Benches do not have a room. They are lucky if they share a desk in a room with others. Those shortcomings must be looked into and, I hope, addressed firmly and effectively. As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, has suggested, let us start with the 43 rooms within our building which I hope the other place will make available when it moves into the new, grand place over the road.
I raise another point which is not directly mentioned in the report but which I believe comes within the description of facilities for Members of your Lordships' House; that is, the medical facilities available to Members of your Lordships' House. I believe that there are good medical facilities available to Members of the other place. I am told that the staff who man those facilities have specifically been told that they may not, except in exceptional circumstances, attend to noble Lords. Will the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees confirm that that is the case? If that is the case, what is the rationale for that? It is not satisfactory, if that is the case.
Finally, I mention one other point which arises from the report which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has brought before us. The report refers to the decision of the committee to allow our non-parliamentary colleagues—our former hereditary colleagues—to continue to sit on the Steps of the Throne, as was originally provided for. That is entirely right. However, will the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees tell us what work is now being done to review the other facilities available to our former hereditary colleagues? I am one of those who felt that we did not do enough for our departing hereditary colleagues. I know that there is more than one respectable view on that but my view is that we ought to do more. I hope that we can do more. I hope that what is presently provided for will be reviewed on an urgent basis.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I hope that I may add a few words of support for the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. I missed what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, called the acrimonious debate which took place on 21st June. However, having considered the report, I fully understand how it arose. I do not think that in retrospect any Member of the Offices Committee should feel at all upset or surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, raised these matters in the way that he did. However, I must confess that I was surprised that the issue arose in that way. I reflected on the debate of 10th May initiated by 616 the noble Lord, Lord Peston. There was a large measure of agreement in the House on that occasion in two respects. The first concerned what I might refer to as management. I said on that occasion:I hope we can adopt a more efficient system for the management of our part of the Palace of Westminster. I have seldom sat through more unsatisfactory meetings than those of the Offices Committee of this House.—[Official Report, 10/5/00, col. 1587.]I think that the view was widely held in the House that something ought to be done about the way we manage our day-to-day affairs.
The second respect concerned policy and scrutiny; that is, whether we were looking after our affairs in the proper way and, in particular, whether we were moving forward on the appointment of Select Committees and whether there were the resources available. The view that I mentioned, which was widely reflected in the debate on 10th May, I thought was reflected in the decision first of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee and then of the Offices Committee. It was a genuine attempt on the part of those present to address the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, had raised with the general approval of the House.
Perhaps it was unfortunate—however, sometimes things work out this way—that the meeting of the Liaison Committee which addressed the question of committees took place on 26th June, but the report did not appear before the House until, I believe, 17th July. In a sense we got the cart before the horse. The House was not aware that progress was being made on the substance of the matter at a time when it was being asked to endorse the appointment of a consultant.
I believe that lessons have been learnt from this matter. I am sympathetic—I cannot say more than that—to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that the steering group should comprise Back-Benchers.
I hope that the House will not itself attempt the role of management. We are not here as managers; we are here as legislators, as Members of Parliament. It is important that those who are appointed to manage the place are allowed to get on with the job. If this means the appointment of a management consultant, so be it—the decisions will still be made by this House., to which eventually his report will come.
We are nearly at the end of the Session; I hope that we can now get on with it in the spirit of the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. Of course there will be some doubt, some unease—we all admit that—but let us get on with it; let us not delay as so often, I am afraid, we are prone to do.
§ Lord Gilbert
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I have been a member of the Offices Committee for only a short period of time. It is one of the most remarkable committees that I have ever sat on in my life. If I were to disclose to your Lordships everything that went on, I doubt if you would believe me. However, I am not about to do that. What I will say is that your Lordships would benefit from a scrutiny of the minutes of that committee, in addition 617 to the report it produces and the minutes of the subcommittees of that committee. When I went to the Library to ask for the minutes of the sub-committees, no one there knew if it had them—which shows how many Members of the House are aware that the minutes of the sub-committees are available to them, at some delay.
As a result of that, I have learnt several things about the committee. First, members of that committee are far better informed, in my experience, than other Members of this House. Extraordinarily, they do not seem to realise that they are much better informed than other Members of this House. We have a serious problem in ensuring that information about the workings of the Offices Committee become available to all Members of the House.
The second thing that I find interesting about the Offices Committee is that I am never sure what is decided. Under the benign, elegant and gentle chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, we discuss things—but nothing is ever put to a resolution or to a vote. I have therefore taken as a guiding principle that if anything I say is not contradicted by anyone, it is thereby to be endorsed by the whole committee. At least I hope that is right; we shall find out. The third thing, as I have said, is that the reports do not do justice to the committee.
I confess that when I was first on the committee this proposal for a management consultant went through. I was a new boy; I was very diffident—as your Lordships will know—and I said nothing on the subject. I then read the report of the debate on the Floor of the House and I came to the view that the proposal could not be justified. I therefore spoke to that end at the previous meeting of the Offices Committee, where I was argued out of my position. I think I lost the argument in the committee and I now accept that it would be of value to this House to have the objective views of an outsider—to whose recommendations none of us is bound in any way. It would be beneficial to us to have a fresh, outside view, provided it is a guided scrutiny of our affairs.
In my view, the most important part of the report produced by the Lord Chairman of Committees is contained in the very brief paragraph on accommodation. I am sure we all agree that the conditions in this House are simply intolerable. I have my views—I shall give them briefly—of what should be the minimum standards of accommodation in this House. First every Minister should have an office to himself or herself of a size appropriate to the status of that Minister. I can say that because I shall never be one again; I know that perfectly well. In other words, a Minister of State who has to entertain visiting ambassadors and visiting defence ministers should have an office of appropriate proportions.
Secondly, all Front-Bench spokesmen of all opposition parties should have an office to themselves, if they want one, on the premises and accommodation for at least one secretary/researcher for each spokesman, as close as possible—it may not be possible—within the Palace of Westminster.
618 As to the remainder of us, the humble Back-Benchers, many will want separate offices. I should tell the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees that this is where I take issue with the minutes of the previous meeting of the Offices Committee. I raised then the need for a survey to be taken of all Members of the House to discover who wanted individual offices. Not everyone of course will want one— some Members are more gregarious than others—but until we know how many Peers want individual offices, how many want provision for secretaries or researchers, we shall not know the extent of the problem. I hope that that lacuna in the minutes of the previous meeting of the Offices Committee will be rectified at the next meeting; if it is not, I shall make sure that the issue is raised.
It is very unlikely that we shall meet even the first two criteria that I have set out for improving our accommodation without a redistribution of the accommodation within the Palace, as was very forcefully adverted to by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks. It is difficult to know precisely what is the division of the Palace of Westminster between this House and the other place. I have armed myself with a floor plan of the House of Lords, covering all floors, which is dated July 1998. I am glad to tell your Lordships that, on the principal floor at any rate, at least part of the Central Lobby is marked down as belonging to the House of Lords. It is my view that, as a starting point, the division of the two Houses should be on a line through the Central Lobby on the axis of St. Stephen's Chapel. That produces some very interesting consequences, which go far beyond what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, said about a few offices on the second floor. For those of your Lordships who are not familiar with the consequences, I should be very happy to lead a guided tour and explain what we might get based on that formula.
In addition to obtaining a floor plan of the House of Lords, I have asked the Library how the line was drawn between the two Houses following the reconstruction after the fire of the 19th century. I also asked the Library to prepare me a document showing every single alienation of Lords' territory into the care of the House of Commons since that time, together with any supporting documents there may be by way of Statements on the Floor of the House, White Papers and so on. I shall be happy to make those available to your Lordships when I get my hands on them.
Your Lordships will be interested to know that when it comes to the question of resources and how we acquire the resources we need, there is more than one view. I was told within the past couple of weeks by a very senior person in this establishment—who I will not embarrass by identifying—that, of course, we have to get the approval of Treasury officials. I said that I was afraid that that line disclosed a great rift between us as to the view of the relationship between this House and Treasury officials. I do not know whether the House of Commons got a £¼ billion just by talking to Treasury officials; I should be very surprised if it did. It is my view that we tell Treasury officials what we want; they provide it; and if there is any dispute it is between 619 this House and Treasury Ministers—the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor—and not with Treasury officials.
I do not think that we need anything like £¼ billion to accommodate ourselves properly and to a standard equivalent to that of the House of Commons, but I am quite clear that we have to do something drastic. When I first arrived in the other place some 30 years ago, I went into a room where there were six colleagues and six desks, with one telephone on top of a filing cabinet at the other end of the room. The Commons has improved its accommodation since then. I left the Commons to come to this place; I became a Minister of State for a time; and I found that I had to share an office with two colleagues—one of whom was not even a member of the Government—whereas, as an opposition Back-Bencher, in the other place I had a comfortable office to myself, with a chair in which I could sleep and room for all kinds of other amenities. I was told that I was very lucky to have an office as a Minister and that it would not be very long before I would have one to myself. Of course, I never did get one. When I ceased to be a Minister I was told how lucky I was that I was going to get a desk. I went back to a room with six desks—this time shared with seven people—with some of the most congenial people one could ever meet in one's life. I was delighted to be among them. We had a telephone on each desk. We had one television set with two remote controls. The trouble was that the remotes had insufficient power to operate the television set from my desk. So whenever my colleagues had left the room and I wanted to change the channel, I had to get up with the remote control and operate it from about half way across the room. So noble Lords can see the deprivation that some of us suffer.
I know how fortunate I have been compared with other noble Lords. I know I speak only for myself on these recommendations with respect to accommodation, although, from conversations with colleagues, I have a feeling that my views are not entirely unshared. I have told the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that after the Recess I think it will he of value to test the opinion of the House. I propose to come back and table a substantive Motion to test noble Lords' opinion on the Floor of the House on the standard of accommodation they want. That will be very helpful for those who have been negotiating on our behalf. It is high time that we moved beyond talking about these things and did something very firmly, very quickly.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I remind the House that we have two extremely important Second Readings to follow, with 33 speakers. We should try to wind up this debate.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip pre-empted me. I have sat on the Front Bench for the past two and a half hours. Although some useful work has been done, we have not yet started what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of 620 Quarry Bank, called our main duty as legislators. There are these hugely important and highly controversial Second Readings to follow.
I am a member of the Offices Committee, so I declare an interest. I attended the first two committees when we looked at the matter. I am a member also of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee of the Offices Committee and played a part also in that. Most of the report is uncontroversial; it is—as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said—managerial material. I cannot believe that it will not be approved.
Other questions have been raised, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe and Lord Gilbert, on accommodation, and by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne on medical matters. It was entirely correct for them to be raised, but perhaps the best place to consider those matters is in the subcommittees. If the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, in the spill-over tables a substantive Motion to discuss accommodation on the Floor of the House, I shall welcome that and encourage the Government to give him the time, because clearly there is a great deal of concern on the matter.
There are points that need to be clarified on the issue of the appointment of a consultant. I was part of the committee that looked at that. Having heard the arguments several times over, I am convinced that we should appoint the consultant, Mr Braithwaite. We should get on with that as soon as possible after return from the Recess. If it is the wish of the House—as I think it is—that the steering group should be made up of Back-Benchers, I support that too.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I rise briefly to support what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said and indeed the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. I am aware, as the Chief Whip said, that we have not yet reached the substantive business for this afternoon. Indeed, the debate has continued longer than the one on the National Health Service Plan. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, the proposal has been approved by those committees, of which we are both members. We have been taken through the matter on two occasions and we have both been convinced, as were other members of the committee, as noble Lords have said, that that is an entirely meritorious proposal.
The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and other noble Lords have raised points which are of general interest and which sit comfortably within the framework of the debate raised by my noble friend Lord Peston. As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, has said, those of us who listened to the presentation of the proposal by those who came from the subsidiary committee to the main committee believed that it was a continuation of the discussion on some of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, so usefully raised in his debate, and to which other noble Lords spoke. But this comes back to the basic point, which many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have re-emphasised, as did my noble friend Lord Barnett, that these matters will always ultimately rest with the decision of your Lordships' House. None the less, I am 621 persuaded that the time has come to appoint a consultant to assist the Officers of the House. I simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who said that it was a novel and perhaps not entirely happy idea, that it was 10 years ago, when the management procedures were first reviewed, that an outside accountant was brought in to help precisely with that review. Those of us who support the appointment of Mr Braithwaite in the present context see it as a continuation.
So far as concerns the point that Mr Braithwaite may be dominated by House of Commons concerns, I say simply that I am sure that he is very well aware of the many important differences between the Houses. He has a working knowledge of the services which are shared between the Houses, without being dominated by a House of Commons perspective. Therefore, he is uniquely qualified to help us with this particular task. For those reasons—very briefly put because both the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, have explained the position arrived at by the committee very clearly already—I advise your Lordships to accept the Motion and, as the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers and Lord Gilbert, have said from slightly different positions—get on with the proposal.
§ Lord Tomlinson
My Lords, I am reluctant to stand up after my noble friend, but too many noble Lords have so far participated in the debate in private. Some Back-Benchers want to say something in public, because this is the only time that we shall have the opportunity to give any expression of view.
First, I refer to paragraph 8 on accommodation. I do not want to go into detail because it has been extremely well explained, but one begins to get some measure of the irritation being felt by Back-Bench Members. We had a debate in May, much of it about accommodation, in which we expressed our concern about the lack of accommodation. We received a report back from the people who are supposed to address that concern. They told us that they are concerned about the lack of progress. So we have had a reciprocal expression of concern about lack of progress, but no progress. We need better channels of communication between those in the committees who purport to represent us and those who feel that at the present time our views are not being represented.
We had the opportunity of an extremely good debate in May. That debate seems to have sunk into the sands. Other people are making decisions without the communication process happening.
Secondly, so far as concerns smoking policy at Millbank House—a point which has not been mentioned thus far—I should like someone to explain to me the precise logic of having a smoking policy in the public areas of Millbank House which is a different policy from the smoking policy of public areas in the Palace. They are both places of work and I should like someone to explain the logic of having different policies in two places of work.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I rise to say that I never agree with the noble Lord, Lord 622 Tomlinson, but this is one occasion when I do! We have not been given the opportunity to put our views. For that reason I intend to speak briefly. First, I do not like to appoint any consultant on what I call a taximeter basis; that is, one pays according to how long he takes. I cannot see why we cannot have a beauty contest, as noble Lords suggested, and ask people to quote a fixed price for the job. That would be a more efficient way of doing it.
Secondly, I support the point made about the 43 offices. I waited 12 years to get a desk in a room with eight other noble Lords. It is scandalous to have to manage one's work in the House on that basis.
Finally, I understood that when we put down the red carpet in the Pugin Room it was because we were about to get it back. The red carpet is beginning to look worn and we still have not got it back.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, I should like to ask a brief question about paragraph 9 of the report entitled "Smoking policy in Millbank House". Is it contemplated that there will be some kind of smoking room for the use of poor, wretched, smoking Peers who are not allowed to smoke in the common areas and whose stablemates in their office object to smoking; or will they be forced out into the street? I do not smoke myself but I did for 40 years of my life. I have great fellow feeling for them.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I do intend to speak. I am becoming extremely angry. Perhaps I may say—I can say it to my noble friend Lord Carter as we are very old friends—that I object very strongly to being told that we must get a move on because there is other business of importance to be discussed. I intend to speak for the length of time I wish to speak.
When I raised this matter some weeks ago, I said that one of the problems of debating these matters is that we are always told that we must get a move on because there are much more important things that need to be done. I was assured by the Chairman of Committees that there was no such pressure on us and that we could speak and debate these matters as fully as we wished.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I must intervene because I think my noble friend may have forgotten that he had an extensive five-hour debate on precisely these subjects in May. That is one of the reasons why those of us who have supported the Motion before the House today feel that that is a way of taking forward those matters, which we agree are important and were so very well discussed.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that intervention. I shall explain to her in a few moments why I disagree with her about as strongly on that as I do on everything else.
I feel that I have a moral obligation to speak because I am a devoted Member of your Lordships' House and this is a chance to begin to get your Lordships' House right. However, I believe that I am completely wasting 623 my time and probably that most other noble Lords are wasting their time. If noble Lords ask why that is so, I have two answers. First, my noble friend the Leader of the House, the noble Lord the Leader of the Official Opposition, the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and, for all I know, the Convenor have already agreed on this matter. They think that this is a good idea; they are the most distinguished and able Members of our House and this is what they want. I cannot believe that we would stop them. None the less, those of us who disagree have an obligation to go on the record about these matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was most kind about the debate that I introduced. But that debate was not on anything of this kind. That debate was about this House improving its role in scrutinising and criticising legislation. The other reason why I am completely wasting my time today, as I now realise I did when I introduced that debate, is that nothing has happened as a result of what I had to say then—absolutely nothing. I now believe that nothing will happen. Perhaps I may add that I do not single out anyone for that. I blame all those who lead the House on all sides for the fact that nothing has happened. But I do believe that I have wasted my time. We have not moved forward and I see no sign of us remotely moving forward on that matter. I do not believe that the debate I introduced in May has anything to do with what we are doing today.
Everyone has been rather gentle. I do not feel gentle about this at all. Everyone else is well balanced. I am not. I read the document:Furthermore, many Members have expressed their dissatisfaction with the House's 'domestic' committee structure and their apparent failure to deliver all the improvements which Members would wish to have".I feel obliged to go into an American mode here and say, "You're darn right they are dissatisfied about this". But what most amazes me is the sentence:None of this is intended to suggest that the House is poorly managed at present".Perhaps no one else thinks that the House is poorly managed at present. But in a House where for years we have lacked resources, for years lacked accommodation and everything else that is required for us to be a proper legislature, what else can we say but that there has been a failure of management? I do not wish to talk about anyone as an individual person, but who is taking responsibility for this state of affairs?
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I suggest to the noble Lord that it is not a failure of management. It is, as he said, a failure of resources. If one does not have the resources, one cannot provide the facilities. I do not blame the management. I think that the place is well run within totally inadequate resources.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I have to say to the noble Lord that his concept of management may be different from mine. Who is responsible for getting the resources? I am not; nor is the noble Lord. We have no role in this matter. If I am asked why we do not have 624 the resources, I must say that those who are in positions of authority—those who are part of what we call the management—have not provided them.
We cannot carry on in this gentle mode of saying, "Really, we want a few changes but we don't want to criticise anyone. We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings". It is all nice and cosy, as your Lordships love it to be. But there is something wrong about what has been going on in your Lordships' House. It is not something wrong that has emerged since the Labour Party became the Government. It has been going on all the time I have been here. The reason I am in an angry mood is that what is particularly wrong is the wish for us not to expose these matters and demand that something be done. Having said I think that we are wasting our time—I do believe that —I agree with the notion that the committee should consist entirely of Back-Benchers.
I have another point. What we are getting, as always, is talk and no action. That is what this debate is about and that is what we have had for years. What we want is action and no talk. What we are not remotely told is how long what is proposed will take. I am entirely sympathetic to the view of my noble friend Lord Barnett that this is an attempt to make sure that it takes a long time. I cannot see it being done in time for some of us to live to see it, but that may be unduly cynical on my part. I should like to have seen in the report that someone would say to the consultant, whoever he is, "We would like the job done by that date. Will you do it?" If the consultant said, "That is not enough time", we could say, "We will find another consultant. He will do it by that date".
I really do wish to introduce a nasty note into this discussion. I think I have succeeded in doing that. I really do wish to offend the powers that be, because I regard them as the target for criticism. They are responsible. They should have taken the necessary steps. They should not be hiding behind consultants and committees. I do want to criticise people. But what I really want is for the resources to be made available soon and for something to happen.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I wish to ask the Chairman of Committees a question. I have been trying to ask it for the past three-quarters of an hour. On page five of the report, the paragraph entitled "Costs" reminds one of Alice in Wonderland. It states:The final cost of the review will depend on the time it takes to complete".We are responsible to the taxpayer for the cost of the House. When the Chairman of Committees comes to reply, can he say whether the committee has put a cap on the cost of the review—at any rate, a cap on the cost of Mr Braithwaite? We would be failing in terms of our responsibility to the taxpayer if it has not. That follows on from the question asked by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I should like to spend a couple of minutes supporting my noble friend Lord Peston and other noble Lords who have spoken on this matter, except perhaps those who 625 constitute the usual channels. I want to say in my noble friend's support that he is absolutely right that the resources available in this place are deplorable. They are a disgrace. If they were applied in any outside industry, they would be illegal.
My noble friend has a very good point. But I want to make this point, too. If noble Lords have read Hansard and have read the Written Answers, they will have seen that this House is now sitting for more hours than the House of Commons, it is sitting on more days than the House of Commons and it is doing much of the legislative work of scrutiny that the House of Commons, unfortunately, is not doing. If it is to continue to do that—to sit late at night, at all the hours God sends—then it needs very much better resources.
I shall also say this. If noble Lords have been reading their Written Answers in Hansard, they will have seen that it costs £45 million a year to run this House, whereas the House of Commons costs £270 million a year. That is six times more than the House of Lords. The amount of money available to us is only one-sixth of that available to the House of Commons, even though we are doing the job—the job that we should be doing, of course—of revising and scrutinising legislation on an ever-increasing and far more important scale.
For those reasons, I believe that my noble friend Lord Peston was right to be tough. I hope that his tough talking will be taken on board by the Offices Committee and by the usual channels.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, I should like to ask the Leader of the House, who represents the interests of all Members of this House, if, during the spillover period, she would be kind enough to put down a Motion for this House to agree that we require back the office accommodation on the second floor currently being used by the House of Commons at the end of the next Session of Parliament. That will give them plenty of time to make alternative arrangements.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly because I contributed to this debate on the last occasion. I should like to point out that the House should set an example in connection with procurement and contracting procedures.
If a local authority had appointed a consultant on the basis that the next-door local authority thought that he was a "good egg", that authority would find the Audit Commission and every other agency jumping down its throat. I am not persuaded that one needs a management consultant, but if that is to be agreed, then one of the roles of the corporate officer of the House, as it states in the report, is to ensure that,procurement and contracting procedures are sufficiently robust to avoid the threat of litigation".Litigation was pursued in another place. I suspect that that was because the members of that committee decided to "Buy British" and did not comply with the rules on public procurement.
626 I can see no reason why, if the House wishes to employ a consultant, it should not comply with the rules covering public procurement by putting work out to competitive tender and considering alternative proposals. The House should set an example and follow the procedures that would be expected of all local authorities and other public agencies.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by agreeing with one of the general points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon; namely, the point he made on the length of the Sittings of this House. For quite some time I would tell people from outside of the House—especially visiting parliamentarians—that another place was the longest sitting Chamber in the world, while this one was the second longest. The noble Lord is quite right to say that your Lordships' House has now overtaken another place. I agree that that is something to be borne very much in mind when we discuss resources. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, along with other noble Lords.
I should like to go on to say this. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if, after our detailed debate, I do not attempt to respond to every point that has been made, or to every individual speaker. Indeed, I believe that some of the contributions spoke for themselves. A further point develops from that comment. I am grateful for the contributions made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. They have already dealt with some of the points of detail which would otherwise have fallen to me.
Before addressing the main point made in the debate, I was asked a specific question by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. He asked about paragraph 2 of the report covering the salaries of the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. He asked in particular whether there was a special reason for the increase awarded last year. I feel bound to reply to that. Yes, the answer is that there was a special reason. I shall quote a memorandum from the Clerk of the Parliaments to the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee written in July of last year. I shall quote only a part of it:Following a review by the Senior Salaries Review Body, the Prime Minister announced on 31st March 1999 that the pay of Lords Ministers below Cabinet level and other paid office holders would increase from 1st April 1999. The SSRB recommendation was that the salary of each post should be increased by £8,500 a year, in addition to the 4.31 per cent that other ministerial posts have received. The Chairman of Committees and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees are not covered by the order, but the SSRB recommended, and the Government accepted, that the salaries of these two posts should receive equivalent increases".I hope that that provides an answer to the specific question. I hope also that your Lordships will forgive me if I say that I do not think that it would be seemly for me, in the circumstances, to join in a debate about these salaries. Indeed, when the first occasion to discuss the increases arose in the committees of your Lordships' House, I offered to withdraw. However, 627 the members of those committees declined to accept a withdrawal. On every occasion since, I have reminded those committees of my offer to withdraw.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I do not wish to debate this matter, but I should like to know when noble Lords were told of this.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, it was reported last summer to the meeting of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee when the Clerk of the Parliaments presented the memorandum from which I have quoted. That was duly approved and those details (the Clerk of the Parliaments will correct me sotto voce if I am wrong) were made publicly available.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, it might be my own misunderstanding, but the matter is still not clear to me. When did your Lordships' House approve this?
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I apologise for intervening. I wish only to follow up the point made by my noble friend Lord Barnett. So far as I am aware, the minutes of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee are not available to the House and not available even to the Offices Committee.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. It was in fact in the Offices Committee, whose minutes are available in the Library. The Offices Committee receives reports from this sub-committee as well as from its other sub-committees. That was the position on that matter.
Perhaps I may turn to the main matters which have been debated this afternoon. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for their kind words about the further consideration which has been given to those matters. However, those thanks are not due to me, they are due to your Lordships' committees, which have given their further consideration.
As regards the proposal for the appointment of a management consultant, perhaps I may say that, if your Lordships approve this matter, I cannot tell the House this afternoon who would be the members of the steering group. Until this matter is passed by noble Lords, it will not be possible to go into the matter. If one were to approach it the other way round, then I believe that your Lordships would be forgiven for thinking that we were taking noble Lords for granted.
However, points have been made from all sides of the House as regards the wish expressed by a number of Members for Back-Benchers to be considered to serve as members of the steering committee. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I go only this far this afternoon—it is all the power that I have—and say this. I shall ensure that those quite strong expressions of view are brought to the attention of those who will participate in the consultations which will take place, 628 as is usually the case with appointments to our committees and recommendations to your Lordships' House. There will be no way after the matter has been raised this afternoon that that point will be ignored.
On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and touched on by other noble Lords that it should be for a committee of the House to decide and give its recommendations on the question of a management consultant, that has in fact been done. Committees of this House considered these matters and decided to recommend that proposal to the House. So that hurdle has already been overcome, which is why this recommendation has been put forward to your Lordships.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord in mid flow. Will he also consider the question of whether it is sensible to divide the responsibility for supervision between unspecified other committees of the House and the Steering Committee which is now to be appointed? Would it not be more sensible for the role to be undertaken as a whole by the Steering Committee and for the Steering Committee to consider whether a management consultant should be appointed and, if so, who should be appointed?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I understand the noble Viscount's point. But that kind of consideration was gone into thoroughly in the course of lengthy deliberations in the committees, both before the previous recommendation was put forward to your Lordships on 21st June and again in the reconsideration of this matter. It was clear that the Offices Committee wished to put this recommendation before your Lordships. So while I understand the noble Viscount's point, those considerations have already been taken into account, which is why the proposal is before the House.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, will the Chairman of Committees tell the House how many candidates were considered? Also, will he assure us that Mr Braithwaite has not already been appointed?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, certainly he has not been appointed. He cannot be appointed until your Lordships have, if your Lordships do, approve this Motion.
A number of points have been raised on the matter of procurement, tendering and so on. If noble Lords will forgive me, I shall wrap up all the contributions in one in my reply to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.
It was decided that the tendering process was not necessary. There must be a tendering process if the expected amount is approximately over 100,000; that must, for one thing, be in accordance with European Union rules. Alternatives to Mr Michael Braithwaite were considered. I can go so far as to say that a distinguished and very experienced Member of this 629 House who is very knowledgeable in these matters was consulted, and two other possibilities were considered. However, the outcome, which was overwhelmingly accepted by the Offices Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, was that because of Mr Michael Braithwaite's extensive experience and qualifications, and in particular because of the two inquiries that he had carried out on behalf of another place, he had in the first place a considerable head start over any other possible candidates and it would be a comparatively short period of time before he could, to use a colloquialism, "get up to speed" so far as this House is concerned. The committee was convinced that that was a substantial reason for pacing him as the strong contender.
The other point—
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Chairman of Committees, but I thought that the figure of £ 100,000 related to a requirement to advertise tenders in the European journal. Surely, for orders or procurement under that value, if a local authority gave a consultancy contract to someone for £50,000 or £70,000, could it do it simply on the say-so of someone else? Would it not need to obtain competing proposals?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I understand that the way in which the Offices Committee approached the matter is perfectly acceptable. I do not think that I can take that matter further now.
I was in the process of explaining a point on the question of cost. If Mr Michael Braithwaite is appointed, because of the other work that he has done and because of the length of time that he would need to spend on an inquiry into this House, his fee would be substantially lower than it otherwise would have been. I have been left in no doubt that the fee is less than it has been in another place, and substantially less than the £100,000 that I quoted.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, perhaps I may just finish this point because it is relevant to the sentence that I last delivered. Another quotation that we received was between £120,000 and £150,000, plus expenses. In terms of qualifications, that was one of the contenders who was also considered suitable.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again. Perhaps I may quote from the minutes of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee, which are not available to the House. I proposed that,the terms and conditions of engagement of any consultant should be made known".I believe that that is right, and the House should know those terms and conditions.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I quite understand the point that the noble Lord makes. It is 630 not advisable for me to deal in a public way with any negotiations that may have to take place. The costs will, of course, be made known in due course if your Lordships go ahead with this proposal. But it would not be right for actual amounts to be settled in a public way like this. I suggest that it is much better for the matter to be settled in a less public way. Indeed, we do not know the number of days that will be needed if Mr Michael Braithwaite is appointed. Indeed, it is for the Clerk of the Parliaments, as our accounting officer, to settle the daily terms. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not go further than that this afternoon.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, Mr Braithwaite comes to us with great experience of these matters. Is he not able to say how many days this will take him?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, that depends on a number of factors—not least, if he is appointed, on the number of interviews with noble Lords and members of staff whom he finds it necessary to consult. If noble Lords will forgive me, it is simply not possible to put a figure on these matters this afternoon. If the House decides to go ahead with this proposal, it must be left for later negotiation and to see how long the inquiry will take.
Another matter raised by a number of noble Lords is the speed of the inquiry and the possible need for an interim report. I give noble Lords an assurance that, if the Motion is passed, this matter will be pursued with all due speed. I should not be happy about a great deal of time being spent on it. We need to get on with further action. A great deal has already been done, and insufficient credit has been paid to your Lordships' staff, the Parliamentary Works Department, and others who have dealt with the matter. However, I shall not be satisfied if we spend too long on these matters. While I cannot say until the inquiry gets under way, if it takes place, whether it will be absolutely necessary, there is no reason why an interim report should not be made to your Lordships to show how things are going.
Two noble Lords referred to the medical service. I can confirm that a nurse and occupational health physician are available to Members and staff of both Houses. That is kept under a great deal of scrutiny by the Offices Committee. The Offices Committee was criticised for being something of a rubber stamp. Those noble Lords who raise that kind of point are not alone in believing that, as at present constituted, the Offices Committee is perhaps not the right vehicle to carry forward these matters. I agree that that is something that we must look at, not in the present context although it arises out of it.
§ Lord Gilbert
My Lords, can the noble Lord give the House an assurance that the point I raised in the Offices Committee about the need for a survey of the 631 needs of all Members of the House, including secretaries and researchers, will be considered as soon as possible?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I can give the noble Lord an assurance that I shall bring back that proposal to the Offices Committee. I do not believe that it is for me to commit your Lordships' committees to something until they have had an opportunity to consider it. I am sure that the point made strongly by my noble friend, not only this afternoon but elsewhere, will not be overlooked.
I deal with one other point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy. Some kind of smoking room is proposed for Millbank House and 7 Little College Street which would be usable by both staff and Members. The reason why Millbank House, which encompasses 7 Little College Street, has been considered separately in this way is because that is new accommodation which is becoming available. It was thought appropriate to deal with it straight away as one proposal. The other matters relating to the Palace of Westminster are to be returned to later. That was the reason why it was thought to be a good opportunity to deal with the matter in one go.
I am conscious that noble Lords who have raised other points that I have not dealt with this afternoon will be disappointed. I hope that I shall be forgiven if, following this quite lengthy debate, I leave the matter there. Together with other noble Lords who have made this recommendation, I very much hope that, in the light of the significant changes which have been made since 21st June, your Lordships will pass the Motion this afternoon.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I apologise for taking up a little more time before the Question on the Motion is put. It was not I or any other Member of your Lordships' House but the usual channels who decided that the matter should be debated today before the two major Bills. We could have had this debate a few days ago. The report from the Offices Committee was published on 19th July. The last time that we had this degree of confusion, if I may put it as mildly as that without being provocative—as my noble friend Lord Peston always is—the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and I simply asked whether the appointment of this consultant could be made by the steering group. I believe that there was general agreement that that should be so. Incidentally, contrary to what has been suggested, that steering group should not be composed of some, but all, Back-Benchers. That was what I asked for, and that is what I hope will happen.
The last time this matter was debated and there was a degree of confusion, at my suggestion the Chairman of Committees withdrew the report. We are now told that if we approve the report we shall approve the appointment of Mr Braithwaite as consultant. That is not confusing but quite simple. Mr Braithwaite may be a lovely man—like me—but that is not the issue. We are being asked to appoint him now on a simple 632 resolution. I hope, therefore, that the Chairman of Committees will listen to the Clerk of the Parliaments; better still, perhaps the Clerk of the Parliaments can speak to us.
It is clear that the mood of the House is that, once again, noble Lords today are not willing to support the appointment of Mr Braithwaite. Perhaps the Chairman of Committees will consult the usual channels. We can adjourn during pleasure, which is the normal procedure, and deal with the two major Bills tomorrow morning.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords. I see no reason why the proposal for the proposed management consultant should not be put before the steering group when it is set up, if your Lordships pass this Motion this afternoon. For obvious reasons, the steering group cannot be set up until the spill-over. There would, therefore, be delay. But if it is the view of noble Lords that that delay is worth while so that the steering group can consider the matter, I take it upon myself to give that assurance.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps as a simple Back -Bencher I may ask the Chairman of Committees for a degree of elucidation on this matter. Does the noble Lord propose that we should pass the Motion before us to approve the existing report, which includes provision for the appointment of the consultant but that that consultant should not be appointed, or that we should reword the resolution in order to accept every part of the report except for the appointment of the consultant which should be left to the steering group? If it is the latter, I am with the noble Lord; if it is the former, I am not.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, is the Chairman of Committees saying specifically that if we pass this resolution we shall not be appointing Mr Braithwaite?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, as I hoped I had made clear when I responded to the point earlier, if the Motion is passed this afternoon, it will be put to the steering group and it will be for the steering group to make the appointment.
§ Lord Gilbert
My Lords, would the steering group have the right to say "No" to Mr Braithwaite or anybody else, or would it be stuck with Mr Braithwaite?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, of course it would if the matter was referred to it in the way that I suggested. But if your Lordships pass the Motion this afternoon, it will be for the steering group to settle the matter. I do not suggest that the matter should again come back to the House before we can proceed. The 633 matter should be left to the steering group; otherwise, we shall never get on with the serious work which really needs to be done.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, I have succeeded only in becoming more confused. We have a report which, it is proposed by the noble Lord, should be accepted in its entirety with the verbal reservation that that report does not apply in its entirety. Is it open to this House to pass a Motion which does not represent what we intend?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, it is not without precedent. Assurances have been given. They are given on a variety of matters when your Lordships are considering proposals. I should have thought that such an assurance from this Dispatch Box would have meant something and would have been acceptable to your Lordships. Surely we can proceed in the way I have suggested and leave it for the steering group to deal with this point.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he quite sure about this? If the House passes a Motion which appoints Mr Braithwaite and subsequently a sub-committee of a committee of the House decides not to appoint him, is it not likely that Mr Braithwaite would have a good case to sue for breach of contract? It is proposed today that we make a contract to appoint Mr Braithwaite. Surely we are not saying that a sub-committee of a committee of the House can then reverse that decision.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, perhaps I may introduce a note of conciliation. I understood the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees to say precisely that there would be a steering committee. He heard our views on its composition. He has given us—it is acceptable to me—his personal assurance that that steering group would have the final say. He has said that twice and placed it before this House. He says that that is what passing the resolution means. If he says that as Chairman of Committees—he has so declared and no one has said that he cannot do so—I can live with it. I have heard what he said and he is an honourable man. The Chairman of Committees has stated that the steering committee will decide. If that is what he says, that is good enough for me.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I was in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to complete the point.
634 In order to place the matter beyond peradventure—some noble Lords have qualms despite the helpful intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Peston—I propose that if your Lordships agree to pass the Motion today the report will be minuted to exclude the words in the final sub-paragraph of paragraph 5,and that Mr Braithwaite should be appointed to lead the review".
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Geddes)
My Lords, the Question is that this Motion be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion shall say "Content"—
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, a Motion has been put before the House that the report of the Offices Committee shall be accepted with the deletion of the words that refer to the appointment of Mr Braithwaite. There has also been a clear assurance from the Chairman of Committees that the steering group will be responsible for the appointment of the consultant. There is no contract with Mr Braithwaite. This will delay the work that needs to be done. There is a clear Motion before the House which removes from the report the appointment of Mr Braithwaite.
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, we are seeking to perform totally unnecessary gymnastics which convince no one who is prepared to consider the terms of the report that we are doing anything except passing the report.
I respectfully submit that all that is necessary is to bring back the matter tomorrow with paragraph 5 redrawn. Then we shall see precisely what we are voting for and the gymnastics that are going on will be entirely unnecessary. I suggest that it is a thoroughly bad precedent to pass a clear resolution with secret or collateral provisos.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I understand the noble and learned Lord's point. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to trouble your Lordships by bringing back the matter tomorrow. If the Motion for the approval of the report is put to the House with the deletion of the words I have quoted, and for complete clarity I again quote the words to be deleted,and that Mr Braithwaite should be appointed to lead the review".that will meet what I believe to be the requirements of your Lordships. Accordingly, I commend the Motion with the deletion of those words.
§ The Deputy Speaker
My Lords, with the deletion of the words as stated by the Chairman of Committees, the Question is that this Motion be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". I think the Contents have it. Clear the Bar.
635 I have to advise the House that Tellers for the Not-Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 53. Therefore a Division cannot take place, and I declare the "Contents" have it.