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Lord Elton: My Lords, as a member of the Offices Committee I had intended to remain silent but the noble Lord has tempted me. As he knows, my view on the matter did not carry the day in the committee, nor was it minuted.
The committee was up against a brick wall because of the administrative impossibility of settling your Lordships into new accommodation after the Recess if we did not pass the report. Your Lordships will have great satisfaction in throwing it out and we will have flexed our muscles and may believe that we are doing as well as the people at the other end of the corridor. I see some Members nodding. But ultimately we Back-Benchers will suffer. I am crammed into a room in a distant tower with five others and I can only just manage to get down to the Chamber for Divisions.
I shall vote for the report with a heavy heart. My view was that if we took another step we would have achieved a better objective, but that was rejected by the committee. As a loyal member of the committee, I shall support its decision because I believe that your Lordships will be better off when we return after the Recess.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I found the answer given by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, totally unsatisfactory. If we throw out the report, or paragraph 2 of it, the offices which are available will remain available.
The argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Lord Chancellor has always been a Speaker of your Lordships' House has always been true, but previous Speakers-cum-Lord Chancellors have not required the additional space. That is the difference.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me if I correct him. They have used these rooms and more in the past. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, handed over not only these rooms but also a large number of others. Therefore, it is wrong to suggest that Lord Chancellors did not use them in the past.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, the noble Lord has confirmed my view; I always thought that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was a very decent fellow. I asked the former Black Rod how and why the rooms upstairs had been given over to the other place some 50 or 60 years ago. It was not that there was legislation or even a resolution of your Lordships' House but some deal was done between the Leader of your Lordships' House and the Leader of other place. Anthony Eden, or whoever, did a deal. I find that as unsatisfactory as everything else.
We in your Lordships' House must understand that this is a matter for us and not for the usual channels. We are Members of your Lordships' House and we can decide. And we should decide that what is being proposed is totally unsatisfactory. It is not a matter of a one-off situation; that we can let them have the space and it will later be returned to us. It is more serious than that.
I have noted the frequency--or rather lack of frequency--with which the Offices Committee meets. My noble friend Lord Grenfell was a distinguished member of the steering group and is a wise man. It reported many months ago--possibly nine--and the former Chairman of Committees promised noble Lords that they would have a report speedily. Here we are almost 12 months later and we still do not have it. We are now being told that it has to be published. I am grateful for that as I am sure is my noble friend Lord Gilbert.
I believe that we need to show the other place the strength of our feelings on a matter of this kind. If the Chairman of Committees is not prepared to accept the argument, I propose a manuscript amendment: that the report be accepted with the exception of paragraph 2. That will allow your Lordships to benefit from the free post, which I am sure is important, but I hope that your Lordships will agree that paragraph 2 relating to accommodation is not acceptable. In my view, it should not be and I hope that it will not be. I beg to move.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, for the time being I am happy to support the report. I did not speak earlier because I believed that for Members of this House to hold a 50-minute debate on their own facilities--noble Lords have now been considering this matter for one hour and eight minutes--was a little self-indulgent. There are perhaps more weighty items on the Order Paper today. Nevertheless, since noble Lords appear to be rather self-indulgent perhaps I should join them.
I am a member of the Offices Committee, although I do not serve on any of its sub-committees. There is a great deal of mystique about this matter, and when we hear the report of the wise men and all the information is produced noble Lords will know a good deal more. Many changes can be made. However, I believe that as far as concerns paragraph 2, a reasonable case has been made out, particularly as several more offices are available within walking distance of this House. Many noble Lords are fit enough to cross a road to reach commodious offices and decent facilities. I believe that, in the round, that is worth achieving. But the important part of the second paragraph is the final sentence which refers to the refusal of the request and agreement,
For me, the revelation at the Offices Committee is the absence of procedure of any description to resolve a dispute between the two Houses. If, as a result of the report and this debate, a way is found to have proper, reasonable discussions for the resolution of disputes something will have been achieved. I hope that we stick to the second paragraph, in particular the final sentence which indicates that at last there is some hope of finding a way to resolve disputes between the two Houses.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. I believe that the time has come for us to reach a conclusion after one hour and 11 minutes. For some of the reasons put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, I hope that noble Lords will resist the amendment. We need to pass the resolution to get the offices sorted out by the end of this year. The Lord Chancellor made his position quite clear to the Offices Committee. The committee accepted, perhaps with some reluctance, the argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord. I hope that noble Lords will accept the report of the Offices Committee which, after all, is a delegated body of this House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.