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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I speak as a relatively new member of this committee. As a simple soldier, I have found myself somewhat perplexed by its proceedings and its organisation. I believe that this is the time for me to say so. The committee seems to have sub-committees that are, apparently, totally autonomous. They do not report, and are not subordinate, to the Offices Committee. Moreover, up until now, it seems to me--and I speak with the greatest respect to the Chairman of Committees--that the Offices Committee has been acting as little more than a rubber stamp as regards certain proposals that come before this House.
The last time that the Select Committee reported to the House I had some reservations about the report, but I kept them to myself. However, when I heard the somewhat acrimonious exchanges that took place at that time in the Chamber, it seemed to me that some of these matters needed to be reconsidered. Those matters have now been looked at and a fuller report is before the House which I hope is more acceptable to your Lordships than the earlier one.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words on the matter about which everyone is most concerned; namely, the proposed appointment of a management consultant. I have to confess that I, too, have had reservations about this and have made them clear in the committee. I am dubious about the need for outside advice. It seems to me that there are people in this House who have the kind of qualifications that are needed to make the sort of recommendations required to improve the structure, the management, and the committee structure of this House.
The argument about the outside consultant having experience of the House of Commons is not entirely persuasive to me. The House of Commons is an entirely different place with a completely different history and traditions. I do not believe that we should place too much emphasis on the experience of a consultant as regards his activities in another place.
However, my only reason for being so persuaded at this stage is because of the two important qualifications that have now been introduced into the report. The first is that the review shall look at the management structure. It may be helpful to the House if I mention the exact words in the report. The recommendation states that there should be,
The second, and most important, qualification is the one that we have already discussed; namely, the matter of the steering group. I am persuaded that that will ensure that the House has control of whatever organisation is established to carry out the review. I should like to echo the feeling expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that this should be a committee of Cross-Benchers--
Lord Chalfont: I am sorry, my Lords; I meant to say Back-Benchers. However, as I am not a candidate for the job, I am sure that noble Lords will accept that as a slip of the tongue. But that is not to say that I believe that such a committee of Cross-Benchers would not be a good one. The committee should comprise Back-Benchers; it should not consist of either Front-Bench Members or others from the usual channels.
Having made that point, I should stress that I am persuaded that such a review is needed. I hope, therefore, that we can find a way of going ahead and agreeing on how it should be done. It is important for us to know when and how this steering group is to be selected and appointed. I very much hope that the views of the noble Lords who have already spoken, as well as those of noble Lords who will speak shortly, are taken fully into account.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I wish to pursue points raised by my noble friend Lord Barnett and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I am sure that Mr Braithwaite is an excellent man and I do not wish anything I say to impugn him in any respect. However, he has carried out a study of the House of Commons
The "Parliamentary Works Directorate" is "parliamentese" for accommodation. Mr Braithwaite has carried out a review of accommodation in the Commons. I understand that that report will be published in September. With the best will in the world, I am sure that all the work that he has carried out has given him a mindset almost as a House of Commons person. I am sure that if he undertakes the job that we are discussing, he will find it difficult to adopt the flexibility which is needed.
I inquired about 7 Little College Street and Millbank House which have been acquired for parliamentary use. I was informed in a Written Answer of 10th July that the annual rent over the road is £33.50 per square foot. The building has a 15-year lease; that is not terribly long. I then tabled a Question to ask how many square feet were involved. I was informed that the area comprised 28,500 square feet. That means that a rent is being paid of £1,035,000.
My noble friend Lord Barnett said that there are 40 rooms in this House which are being used by Members of the House of Commons. I do not like to correct my noble friend but I walked along the second floor corridor this morning and discovered 43. There are 43 offices in our own premises occupied by Members of Parliament from the Commons and yet Portcullis House across the way is being opened up. All this has been examined by Mr Braithwaite. We are in a new situation now. We are becoming more accountable and, in many ways, more representative. We are no longer the poor relation of the other place. In our fight for more resources and better facilities we shall have to come to grips with the House of Commons over a number of matters. I should have thought that one of the first should be the issue of 43 Members of the Commons in offices on our own premises when we are looking for accommodation all over the place and paying rent over the way of £1 million a year.
There is much public scrutiny now of that kind of expenditure. We have a duty to protect ourselves in this regard. I wonder whether a man who is so deeply immersed in the study of all aspects of the House of Commons can bring to bear the total objectivity which is needed. For once, we should think about ourselves and our reputation with the public.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I rather regret the trend of employing outsiders to inquire into our affairs. As far as concerns Parliament, this is a comparatively novel innovation. Many of us expressed reservations about the work of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. It is not that we object to the nature of the work that he is carrying out, but he is doing it from outside the House. Some of us thought that that was not the right way to proceed. I wonder whether appointing a consultant
On the question of accommodation, the plain fact is that we are appallingly provided for in this House. Most noble Lords do not even have a desk, never mind a room. Most Members of the Front Benches do not have a room. They are lucky if they share a desk in a room with others. Those shortcomings must be looked into and, I hope, addressed firmly and effectively. As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, has suggested, let us start with the 43 rooms within our building which I hope the other place will make available when it moves into the new, grand place over the road.
I raise another point which is not directly mentioned in the report but which I believe comes within the description of facilities for Members of your Lordships' House; that is, the medical facilities available to Members of your Lordships' House. I believe that there are good medical facilities available to Members of the other place. I am told that the staff who man those facilities have specifically been told that they may not, except in exceptional circumstances, attend to noble Lords. Will the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees confirm that that is the case? If that is the case, what is the rationale for that? It is not satisfactory, if that is the case.
Finally, I mention one other point which arises from the report which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has brought before us. The report refers to the decision of the committee to allow our non-parliamentary colleagues--our former hereditary colleagues--to continue to sit on the Steps of the Throne, as was originally provided for. That is entirely right. However, will the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees tell us what work is now being done to review the other facilities available to our former hereditary colleagues? I am one of those who felt that we did not do enough for our departing hereditary colleagues. I know that there is more than one respectable view on that but my view is that we ought to do more. I hope that we can do more. I hope that what is presently provided for will be reviewed on an urgent basis.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I hope that I may add a few words of support for the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. I missed what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, called the acrimonious debate which took place on 21st June. However, having considered the report, I fully understand how it arose. I do not think that in retrospect any Member of the Offices Committee should feel at all upset or surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, raised these matters in the way that he did. However, I must confess that I was surprised that the issue arose in that way. I reflected on the debate of 10th May initiated by
The second respect concerned policy and scrutiny; that is, whether we were looking after our affairs in the proper way and, in particular, whether we were moving forward on the appointment of Select Committees and whether there were the resources available. The view that I mentioned, which was widely reflected in the debate on 10th May, I thought was reflected in the decision first of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee and then of the Offices Committee. It was a genuine attempt on the part of those present to address the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, had raised with the general approval of the House.
Perhaps it was unfortunate--however, sometimes things work out this way--that the meeting of the Liaison Committee which addressed the question of committees took place on 26th June, but the report did not appear before the House until, I believe, 17th July. In a sense we got the cart before the horse. The House was not aware that progress was being made on the substance of the matter at a time when it was being asked to endorse the appointment of a consultant.
I believe that lessons have been learnt from this matter. I am sympathetic--I cannot say more than that--to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that the steering group should comprise Back-Benchers.
I hope that the House will not itself attempt the role of management. We are not here as managers; we are here as legislators, as Members of Parliament. It is important that those who are appointed to manage the place are allowed to get on with the job. If this means the appointment of a management consultant, so be it--the decisions will still be made by this House, to which eventually his report will come.
We are nearly at the end of the Session; I hope that we can now get on with it in the spirit of the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. Of course there will be some doubt, some unease--we all admit that--but let us get on with it; let us not delay as so often, I am afraid, we are prone to do.
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