HL Deb 18 June 2002 vol 636 cc622-4

3 p.m.

Lord Barnett

asked the Chairman of Committees:

Further to the Fifth Report of the House of Lords' Offices Committee, when he expects the proposed board of management to publish the business plan.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff)

My Lords, noble Lords will remember that the report of the Offices Committee which proposed the creation of the new House Committee suggested that it would approve a business plan prepared by the management board. The House Committee will not be established until the start of the next Session of Parliament and therefore it is too early to say when the business plan will be published. However, the Clerk of the Parliaments is chairing a management board which will come into being in October. I would expect the board to treat the preparatory work with a high priority.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord and his Committee on an excellent report, which I am glad to see was prepared without the use of a paid consultant. The business plan is a crucial part of that report. It states that it will be the responsibility of the Clerk of the Parliaments to be the chief executive. Does the Chairman of Committees agree that we are very fortunate in having an excellent Clerk of the Parliaments?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Barnett

However, my Lords, a few days' management training a year is hardly an appropriate way in which to prepare a chief executive to deal with the crucial job of spending more than £50 million a year—much less than the other place, but nevertheless an important job. Will the Chairman of Committees ensure that the new committee, when it is set up, will consider relieving the present chief executive of that role so that he can concentrate on his main job in your Lordships' House?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the nice things that he said about the report and the fact that we did not need an outside consultant. I agree with his remarks about the Clerk of the Parliaments, with whom I have the pleasure of working very closely on a day-to-day basis. As regards the large amounts of money, one has to bear in mind that a lot of that is dependent upon works expenditure and, dare I say it, upon Peers' expenses. So the controllable amount is much smaller than the noble Lord suggests.

He is correct—the Clerk of the Parliaments and his staff do have management training, but the new board will be assisted by a professional financial and management adviser, whose appointment for two years has recently been agreed. In that period of two years we shall have an opportunity to see whether the system is working and, if not, it will be up to the new House Committee to make other arrangements if it is not satisfied.

Lord Peston

My Lords, bearing in mind, as my noble friend Lord Barnett said, the excellence of the report, in connection with the business plan I recall that the lowly chairmen of lowly committees will be consulted. Has the Chairman of Committees considered devolving budgets to the individual committees? Good business practice suggests that that is undoubtedly the way to get efficient outcomes in the use of resources. Speaking as a chairman, it is absurd that one constantly has to go back to Clerks to get permission to spend money on quite small things. If we are to go forward, of which we all strongly approve, it is about time that we adopted some modern business methods.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, it is an attractive suggestion that we should make the noble Lord, Lord Peston, a profit centre—or a centre of profit, perhaps. I hope—this comes out clearly in the report—that the new House Committee will, in the build-up to the budget, have much closer co-operation with the various chairmen of Select Committees than has been the case in the past. Building up the budget in that way, from the grass roots upwards, will satisfy the needs of the noble Lord, but I do not think that he will get a full budget of his own to play with.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees accept that many people outside the House would be amazed to learn that we have existed for more than 700 years and still have not got a fully qualified, full-time finance officer responsible for a very substantial budget and about 400 staff? The Select Committee report looks forward to further progress in this area. Is there any chance that that might be within the next 700 days or even the next 700 months?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, that will depend on the efficiency and capability of the new House Committee. We have put the responsibility very clearly on to that committee. It certainly will not take 700 years. I cannot promise that, but I shall not be here to answer for it when the time comes unless reincarnation is possible—and who would come here twice?

These matters are best left with the House Committee. It has a clear remit to come back to the House within a couple of years to report on how things are working. If it is not satisfied, other arrangements can be made. But, with the amounts of money that we have got and the capability that we have in management, I am fairly confident that we will succeed.