HL Deb 06 January 2004 vol 657 cc78-80

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked the Chairman of Committees:

Whether there is any common area within the Palace of Westminster where Members of both Houses may meet socially on an equal basis.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, in most outlets where Members of both Houses can meet socially, Members of one House will be invited as guests of the other. There are a number of catering facilities to which Members of both Houses have access, including the Lords cafeteria and bar, the terrace cafeteria in the House of Commons and cafeterias in Westminster Hall, Portcullis House, Millbank and Parliament Street.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Chairman of Committees for his fairly encouraging reply. Might he consider using the Pugin Room as an equal basis for both Houses to meet as it already has our carpet and is equidistant between the two Houses. It would be so lovely if both Houses of Parliament could meet on a daily, friendly basis just to chat together about what we were doing. While I am on my feet, may I also wish all your Lordships and all our friends in this House a very happy new year?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, your Lordships will, of course, be well aware that the Pugin Room was handed over to the House of Commons in 1906 in exchange for Committee Room 4. I believe that various attempts have been made over the years either to get it back or to have it used as a shared facility. All of those have currently been unsuccessful. The House of Commons clearly wishes to continue to have it for their use, whether or not it has a red carpet in it.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, would not this excellent idea of a common area provide those Members of this House who pay lip service to the primacy of the House of Commons with the opportunity to explain why on three separate occasions on the Criminal Justice Bill on Clauses 41 and 42 on jury trial they defeated the Government and ultimately destroyed the clauses despite the fact that the House of Commons on three separate occasions had approved those clauses with increasing majorities? Does not this development—which I shall mention repeatedly as it was an important development in the way the House of Lords operates—bring into dispute the relationship between the two Houses?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, it is not, of course, for me to answer on what happens to legislation in this House. However, there is no more evidence of the primacy of the House of Commons than in the comparison between the various facilities, particularly refreshment facilities, available in both Houses.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, can we come back to the Pugin Room? Is there not in fact an overwhelming case for Members of this place, not only Members of this place who were formerly Members of the House of Commons, to use a part of the building which is physically in our part of the building? It is an obvious place in which Members of both Houses should be able to use the facilities. The noble Lord said that efforts have been made in the past to regain it. Is it not time that we made another effort?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, of course, if that is your Lordships' wish I am very happy to try to reopen the argument, perhaps not to regain the Pugin Room but to use it as a shared facility. That might be more successful than an attempt to regain it. I shall certainly see what I can do to achieve that, but I advise your Lordships not to hold their breath.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as the House of Commons now rises so early is it not rather a waste of space for it to have the Pugin Room for itself?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I wish that we could rise a little earlier sometimes too. However, I really cannot comment on the new working practices of the House of Commons and how they affect the revenues of the Refreshment Department, but it must perhaps give us some hope that there will be some movement at some stage. While I am on my feet, I recommend to your Lordships the new handbook on facilities and services for Members of this House, which is extremely good and details those facilities of the House of Commons that we are allowed to use and when we are allowed to use them.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, to return to the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, would it not be a great improvement for this House and for the other place if there was somewhere where we could meet socially? I have been in this House 11 years now and I cannot think that I have ever had a social engagement with an MP that did not have to be arranged in advance, whereas I have had many opportunities to run into Members of this House whom I have never met before just by sitting down next to them at tea or dinner or having a drink in the Bishops' Bar. Would not one facility where we can get to know Members of the other House he a great improvement in the way in which this House and the other place operate vis-à-vis each other?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am certainly not disagreeing with the noble Lord. It would indeed be very nice if there was a room where we could meet on equal terms. Of course, those Members of your Lordships' House who have been in the other place have a great advantage over those of us who have not as I believe that they are allowed to enter most of the House of Commons facilities. That would indeed be very nice for us. However, in view of the imbalance between the facilities in both Houses, we would be looking to try to get into one of their rooms rather than the other way round.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, if the issue is one of shortage of accommodation, will the noble Lord consider looking at spaces that will be made available when the arrangements for the Lord Chancellor have been agreed by Parliament, thereby releasing quite an amount of space which could be used for the purposes that are the subject of this Question?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, it would be unwise of me to pre-empt the debate on the Lord Chancellor and the future of his accommodation in this building.