Memorandum from the Board of Management
1. The central task of the Board of Management
is the management of resources to meet the requirements and demands
of the House, whatever they may be, on behalf of the Commission.
Staff who work in the House of Commons Service are motivated and
keen to serve the House and Members as best they can; they do
their utmost to adapt to meet whatever new demands the House chooses
2. Some of the proposals in the Leader's
memorandum (those relating for example to modernising scrutiny
of the executive and legislation) are primarily for Members and
others to consider. The Board notes that significant increases
in the level of pre-legislative scrutiny, sifting of delegated
legislation and, to a lesser extent, the use of Special Standing
Committees would require increases in staff resources that could
not be met within current budgets.
3. Other proposals, if taken forward, would
have a significant and direct impact on the working life of the
House and its staff. These are ultimately matters for the House
of Commons Commission, but the Board offers some comments, which
it hopes will be helpful to the Committee.
4. As a general principle, any significant
alterations to the pattern of sitting would alter the terms and
conditions of those staff closely involved with the work of the
House and its Committees. Carrying such changes through would
take planning by management, some investment and the support of
the Trade Union Side. The more time the Board has to work with
staff to prepare for and effect change, the more efficient any
transition will be.
5. A more predictable sitting pattern would
have positive implications for departments. Advance publication
of sitting weeks would enable the timing of major capital projects
to be finalised at an earlier stage, and make forward planning
of services in general considerably simpler. If the roll-over
of bills from one session to the next were to result in a smoothing
of the peaks and troughs of work, that would enable departments
to make more effective use of their staff.
6. There would be cost and service implications
should the House choose to sit in September. The Palace is a World
Heritage Site and requires a continuous programme of capital works
in order to provide a safe and comfortable working environment
for Members, their staff and staff of the House. The current summer
recess provides a key opportunity for major projects to be completed
with minimal disruption. Should the House choose to return in
September, it is likely that Members may experience some inconvenience
due to ongoing works to the buildings, information infrastructure
or refreshment facilities (although every effort will be made
to minimise the impact on Members).
7. September sittings may also have an impact
on staff leave arrangements in certain departments, depending
on when the House rises in July. Many staff in the House are permitted
to take leave only when the House is in recess, and it may not
be possible for all of them to take a summer break in July and
August while retaining adequate cover across all offices. Furthermore,
it may be that the October "conference recess" becomes
a working period for some offices (for example the Committee Office)
following activity in the September sitting weeks, and that some
of August is taken up preparing for September meetings.
8. These factors taken together may mean
that certain staff will, for the first time, be permitted to take
leave when the House is sitting. This could have an impact on
service levels and costs, though these are difficult to quantify
(and may be alleviated by reductions in night allowances). Negotiating
this with the Trade Union Side will be a challenge for management,
and require some lead-in time.
9. The Leader's memorandum proposes a change
in Wednesday sitting hours, with an earlier start in the morning.
Though contentious business would end at 7.00 pm, the sitting
itself would end at around 10.00 pm.
10. Avoidance of very late sittings might
be expected to have a beneficial effect on the work-life balance
of staff in all departments whose work is connected with the Chamber,
or Members' presence in the House. However, it is also true that
these staff have to stay at least until the rise of the House
(whether the business is contentious or not), and possibly well
after (an hour or more) to finalise Hansard and the next day's
11. Earlier Wednesday starts would affect
staff. Some need to be in well ahead of sittings of the House
or its Committees, for example Public Bill Office staff and Hansard
reporters can be required an hour before the House/Committee meets.
12. It might not, therefore, be possible
for current numbers of staff to meet these requirements without
breaking the Working Time Regulations. The answer may lie in introducing
more flexible working practices, but this will take time to arrange,
and could increase costs. If the Wednesday proposal was extended
to Tuesdays, the staffing and cost implications would further
13. Furthermore, if the Chamber, Westminster
Hall and Standing Committees were all to meet at the same time
on two days a week, there would be a considerable stretch on those
staff resources associated both with procedural services (the
Clerk's Department, Hansard and the Department of the Serjeant
at Arms) and associated support services for Members (the Library
and the Refreshment Department).
14. There may also be cost implications
for the House, and an impact on required staffing levels, if Refreshment
Department takings on Wednesday nights decrease, as they have
(dramatically) on Thursdays.
15. The Board hopes that, if morning statements
are introduced, staff will have as much notice as possible about
their timing and number. This will assist managers in planning
staff rotas and the Table Office and Vote Office when producing
the necessary documentation (eg the Order Paper).
16. Earlier delivery of written answers
to Hansard would improve the production process and reduce the
need for night staff.
17. One of the four core tasks in the Commission's
strategic plan is "providing information and access to
the public". The Board has been working on this for some
time; and much of the work has been done by a group of officials
reporting to it, the Group on Information for the Public (GIP).
GIP has already worked on the pilot of webcasting, and is also
currently doing initial work on a Visitor Centre feasibility study.
The Finance and Services Committee is planning to look at some
of the resource implications of visitor facilities shortly. GIP
has been involved in the preparations for opening of the new Visitor
Café, due next month.
18. The Board notes that there will be knock-on
implications for visitor access if the parliamentary timetable,
and the House's hours of sitting, are changed. If the House sits
from 11.30 am on a Wednesday this will reduce the opportunities
for accompanied parties to walk the Line of Route on sitting weekdays.
A "split recess" might also affect the summer Line of
Route opening (if a suitable six-week block of time in July and
August could not be found).
19. The Leader's memorandum proposes extensions
to the education programme. It would certainly be possible to
expand the work of the Education Service, given the necessary
resources and agreement from the House of Lords (which currently
pays 30 per cent of the costs of the Education Unit). The form
of any new services would need careful consideration. In particular,
visits to Westminster can only ever reach a minority of pupilswith
a bias towards those in the south east. The Unit would be happy
to consider what other forms of outreach could also be used.
20. The Parliamentary Communications Directorate
stands ready to do the long-term planning and testing that this
project would require, should it be approved by the House. The
software will need to be robust and the hardware secure. The division
lobbies are due to be cabled for PDVN access in summer 2003. Any
project will have to be considered alongside other major IT and
IS initiatives, particularly the Parliamentary Information Management
Services project (PIMS), and future developments for card access,
authentication and recognition arrangements.
21. The Board is happy to meet the challenges
put to it by the House. Proposals that would require significant
changes to staffing levels and patterns will have to be teased
out in some detail with staff and the Trade Union Side. There
may be some transitional costs. The Board hopes to ensure that
the House retains its reputation as a good employer, safeguards
the high motivation and commitment of staff, and acts in a way
commensurate with the fact that all six Departments (and the Speaker's
Office) hold Investors in People status.
22. The Commission has recently agreed a
strategic plan for the period 2001-06 based on the current sitting
pattern. The cost implications of any changes are difficult to
quantify, but it is likely that both the plan and the House's
three-year financial projections would have to be revisited if
significant changes of the nature proposed in the paper were made.
23. This paper will also be sent to the
House of Commons Commission.
Chairman of the Board of Management
25 March 2002