Annual Report and Accounts 1998-99

Part II - Office Reports

(Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod: General Sir Edward Jones)

1  Purpose

Black Rod's Department is responsible for control of access to the Chamber of the House and has a number of associated responsibilities which include the organisation and mounting of ceremonial events, the coordination of security arrangements, the planning for and provision of accommodation for Peers and staff, oversight of the Works programme, and domestic services.

2  Organisation

The organisation of the Department remained unchanged and it enjoyed a welcome level of stability as regards staffing. The introduction of new technology has continued and the Document Management Systems Trial (DMS) (see Part I, paragraph 47) has been a challenging and positive experience and the efficiency of the Department has clearly benefited.

Air-Vice Marshal David Hawkins-Leth reached the end of his five year appointment as Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod. He has been replaced by Brigadier Hedley Duncan.

The Doorkeepers and Attendants have maintained their level of service to the House. Both will be subject to review by the Staff Adviser in the year ahead. The first female Doorkeeper was appointed.

3  Activities and Financial Performance

The high level of activity in the House and the rising average daily attendance by Lords have highlighted the problems caused by the shortage of working accommodation. The announcement of the date of the State Opening of Parliament was made only two weeks before the event, placing a particular burden on the Parliamentary Works Directorate (PWD). The PWD were further tested, and rose to the challenge, when the House was recalled in the middle of the summer recess 1998.

    a.  Ceremonial

      (1)  Apart from the State Opening, no specific ceremonial events took place but preparations were made for a ceremony in the Royal Gallery in May 1999 to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Council of Europe.

      (2)  The Department has participated in planning celebrations for the 900th Anniversary of the completion of Westminster Hall later in 1999, the Millennium Exhibition and the visit to London of the American Bar Association in 2000.

    b.  Filming

      The Department was involved at all stages in the arrangements for the production of a series of 3 programmes on the House of Lords which were shown on BBC2 in January 1999 (see also Part I, paragraph 51).

    c.  Administration

      (1)  Attention was focused on the question of accommodation. Efforts were made to locate temporary offices for Lords within division bell distance of the Palace of Westminster but these proved unsuccessful. The Department was also involved in all aspects of the project to provide additional accommodation for the House at Millbank House.

      (2)  Despite the inconvenience of the recall of the House, the summer works programme was completed on time.

      (3)  A Families Room was established in the Bishops' lower changing room to provide facilities for spouses.

      (4)  Negotiations with the Metropolitan Police to renew the Special Service Agreement (SSA) have begun. The review of security arrangements conducted by the Security Service was disappointing and a Consultant has been retained to assist in these negotiations.

      (5)  Progress has been made on many aspects of the Review of the Fire Section. Outstanding issues will be addressed in the context of the SSA. Significant savings will accrue. A successful fire practice was held.  

      (6)  Substantial progress was made to meet the recommendations of the message handling consultancy. Many Peers have taken advantage of the offer of a pager service and voice mail.

      (7)  Together with the House of Commons, work continued throughout the year to devise a scheme to open the Line of Route to the general public (see also Part I, paragraph 42).

    d.  Finance

Annual out-turn
Black Rod's Department

4  Future Activities

The following activities are contained in the Departmental Plan for 1999-2000:

  • Completion of the implementation of the Fire Service Review.
  • Implementation of the Consultant's recommendation in respect of security and the successful completion of negotiations with the Metropolitan Police in respect of the SSA.
  • The preparation of detailed plans for the occupation of Millbank House and monitoring of the works programme.
  • Monitoring of the use of car parking space.
  • Completion, to time and to target, of the annual works programme and, in particular, planning for the commencement of work on the Old Palace Yard project.
  • Progress on works associated with fire certification.

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