HL Deb 10 June 2002 vol 636 cc16-20

3.17 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I beg to move the fourth Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The report covers various matters, most of which are reported to your Lordships' House for information. I shall deal with the minor matters first, the least important of which is paragraph 6, which relates to the salaries of the Chairman and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees.

On reimbursement allowances, we draw to the attention of noble Lords the fact that the mileage allowance has been increased and that the bicycle allowance has now reached 7p per mile. Noble Lords will note the reference to the restoration of Old Palace Yard and the fact that the carriageway will be closed during the summer period while it is restored.

I turn to international telephone calls. It will now be possible for noble Lords to nominate a convenient extension from which they can make international telephone calls—on parliamentary business, of course—without being charged. Noble Lords will also be able to make international telephone calls from any other phone in the building simply by giving their name to the operating bureau, as happens at present. The only difference is that they will not get a bill in future.

I turn to the question of access to the facilities of the House. Noble Lords will remember that the issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, in March in a Written Question and in a Starred Question on 22nd April, which was answered by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. We are all aware of the sensitivity that surrounds the issue, which involves Members of another place who have not yet taken the oath and the extent to which they should have access to your Lordships' House. In the end, that is a question of balancing the very strong feelings of individual Members, which we well understand, with what is practically achievable.

The recommendation, agreed by both the Administration and Works Sub-Committee and the Offices Committee, will perpetuate the informal arrangements already in place; namely, the privilege of appearing at the Bar of your Lordships' House, normally extended to Members of another place, will not be extended to those who have not yet taken the oath, and the same will apply to the privilege of being able to go into the Library.

So far as concerns the rest of the building, of course, people who have passes are entitled to go where they will. It is not within our remit to stop that.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, before the Question is put, perhaps I may ask the Chairman of Committees whether, since Members of another place are able to use our Library, Members of this House are able to use the Library of another place.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I understand that that is so.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I want to ask a question about access to the House of Lords by people who have not taken the oath and their hangers-on, if I may so express it, and who may previously have been terrorists in Northern Ireland and perhaps even in parts of this country. When we last discussed this issue, I raised the question of Members of this House who have held ministerial office—some of them very senior ministerial positions—in Northern Ireland and who might well be at particular risk. I am still concerned. I should like to know what extra precautions are being taken to ensure that such people who now have access to the Palace of Westminster are kept away from those I mentioned.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, people who have been granted a pass to the Palace of Westminster at the other end can go into any part of the Palace of Westminster, save in areas where your Lordships have total control. As I believe was said on the previous occasion when the matter was raised, people who are assistants, research assistants or secretaries to Members of another place are given security vettings. I am not in a position to deal with the way in which those are carried out. First, I do not know, and, secondly, it would probably be improper if I did know and said something about it. The position is that it has been agreed that such people are entitled to have passes. In that case, they can go anywhere in the building, save below Bar and in your Lordships' Library.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I want to ask a question hut, before I do so, has the Question been put to the House?

Noble Lords


Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I am sorry. I was not clear about that. I wanted to ask on what grounds it is thought that it costs 7 pence a mile to ride a bicycle down a London street.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I have not the slightest idea how the calculation is made. However, I should have thought that, as a way of saving money compared with people driving motor cars at 50-odd pence a mile, it is probably rather good value and very good for our health.

Moved, That the Sixth Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 124) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

1. Access to Facilities in the House of Lords On 18 December 2001 the House of Commons decided to grant full access to Commons facilities to Members of that House who have not taken the oath. As a result the four MPs directly concerned have been issued with full Members' passes, and enjoy exactly the same rights of access to the Palace of Westminster as any other MP, with the exception that they may not enter the Chamber of the House of Commons or otherwise participate in proceedings. It has long been a convention of both Houses that certain courtesies should be extended to Members of the other House. The courtesies extended by this House to MPs are as follows: they may stand at the Bar of the House to listen to debates; they may use the Library reading rooms; and they may use the Members' Gallery. In addition, MPs may sponsor tours of the Line of Route, part of which passes through the House of Lords. Since 18 December the four MPs who have not taken the oath have enjoyed the same privileges that have been granted by the House of Lords to MPs as a whole. However, as an interim measure staff have been instructed not to permit them either to enter the Chamber to stand at the Bar of the House or to use the Library. Should they request entry into the Chamber they will be directed to the Members' Gallery. Given that as ordinary members of the public they enjoy an absolute right of access to the Strangers' Gallery, the House authorities have taken the view that there is nothing to be gained in barring them from the Members' Gallery. However, none of these interim arrangements has any formal standing: it is for the House to decide whether they should be formalised and put on a permanent footing, or changed. The Committee has taken account of the strong feelings within the House, but has also weighed up what is achievable in practice. We understand that there may be Members who feel, as a matter of principle, that the four MPs should not be entitled to have access to any of the premises of the House of Lords. But regardless of abstract entitlement the House has to acknowledge that all passholders, Members as well as staff of both Houses, do as a matter of fact have access to most areas within the Palace of Westminster. Such a ban on the four MPs would not be enforceable except at wholly prohibitive cost. In contrast, we believe that the House authorities can control access both to the Bar of the House and the Library effectively, and at minimal cost. Access to the Bar of the House is a practical as well as a symbolic privilege for MPs—it allows them to listen to debates in the House of Lords that are relevant to and may influence their own parliamentary work. MPs who have not taken the oath may not participate in any proceedings of the House of Commons, and we therefore see no reason why they should be granted the privilege of standing at the Bar. The authorities of both Houses monitor security constantly, and we understand that all aspects of security have been reviewed since 11 September. One element of security within Parliament is the screening process that takes place before any individual is granted a pass. We look to the authorities of both Houses to ensure that the security of all Members and staff in the Parliamentary Estate is protected. The Committee therefore supports the interim measures taken by the House authorities, and recommends to the House that the privilege of access to the Bar of the House and to the Library should not be extended to Members of the House of Commons who have not taken the oath.

2. International Telephone Calls The Committee took note of the decision of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee that Members should be able to make international telephone calls free of charge. Each Member will be invited to nominate one convenient extension which will be "enabled" to make direct international calls. Members will also be able to make international calls from any other telephone within the House by calling the Operator Bureau, as at present, with the difference that they will no longer be charged. Fax machines in facilities rooms will be similarly "enabled", as will equipment in each of the Whips' Offices. These arrangements will be for a 12 months trial period in the first instance, with an initial review after 6 months to assess take-up and cost implications.

3. Restoration of Old Palace Yard The Committee was informed that the third and final phase of the project to restore Old Palace Yard, involving the granite paving of the carriage-way itself, will be carried out during the summer recess of 2002. The highway authorities have agreed in principle to a temporary closure of the road through Old Palace Yard while the work is carried out from 1 August to early October 2002. Through-traffic will be diverted via Horseferry Road, Marsham Street and Great Smith Street. Normal vehicle access to Parliament will continue via Carriage Gates and Black Rod's Garden and pedestrian entrances will remain open as normal. It will not be possible to use Peers' Car Park during the period. However, the Abingdon Street car park will be available, and as in 2001, 30 spaces will be made available in the House of Commons underground car park.

4. Lords' Reimbursement Allowances The Committee was informed of the annual uprating of the motor and bicycle allowances, in line with the increase in the retail price index, with effect from 1 April 2002. The motor mileage allowance has been uprated to 54.4 pence per mile for the first 20,000 miles and 25.1 pence per mile thereafter. The bicycle allowance has been uprated to 7 pence per mile.

5. Staff of the House The Committee approved the adoption of a new pay structure for senior staff of the House, following the adoption of a new structure in the Senior Civil Service. The pay structure is modelled on the Senior Civil Service structure and has been developed in conjunction with the House of Commons authorities. The Committee also approved the appointment of a financial adviser on a temporary 2-year basis at Senior Band 1; the creation of a new committee clerk post in the Committee Office to meet the demand for more committee work; the creation of a new post at pay span A2 as Head of the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments and Secretary to the Board of Management; the regrading of the post of Senior Information Officer from pay span A2 to pay span A1; and the creation of a new Housekeeper post in Black Rod's Office at pay span E2.

6. Salaries of the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees The Committee approved revised salaries for the Chairman of Committees (from £70,283 to £74,040 per annum) and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (from £65,626 to £69,267 per annum), with effect from 1 April 2002. On Question, Motion agreed to.