Examination of Witnesses (Questions 93
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
CBE, MR EDWARD
Can I, first of all, welcome you warmly to our
proceedings. I know that you are aware of the background to this
inquiry and the great importance we place on your evidence. We
have already had a written statement from you and we felt that
in this evidence session we may be able to develop some thoughts
and ideas as to how we may be able to develop further the links
between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. We wanted
also to identify particular problems that we have got and we are
taking evidence from many groups in order to try and help us make
progress on our facilities. Of course, the House of Lords is very
important as part of that equation and I wonder if you could firstly
for the Committee describe briefly your existing facilities, and
tell us whether at the moment there are any plans really in your
Committee to develop capacity?
93. Or to cut it, Chairman!
(Lord Colwyn) Would it be helpful if
I list the facilities? We have the Dining Room which has a guest
area and Members' area where I can accommodate about 60 Members
at any time, and there is enough for about 90 guests. We have
the Barry Room which is our rather smart restaurant down in the
basement area which can accommodate on the long table about 15
Peers at any one time and that can take also 50 guests; the Home
Room which is our brasserie area, which can accommodate 40, and
that is Members only. Those are the main eating areas. Then we
have the Lords Bar, of which you are aware; the Bishops Bar which
is just an area for drinking and sandwiches; the Guest Room which
again is the only place where Peers can entertain guests; and
then the two staff areas, the staff restaurant down opposite the
Lords Bar which can seat about 40 members of staff at any time,
and then just recently opened last year the Millbank Cafeteria
on the other side of the road which can accommodate up to about
36 members. Those two staff areas are available to anybody with
a pass, of course.
94. And what about increasing capacity? Is there
any plan currently?
(Lord Colwyn) We have three main problems in the House
of Lordsspace, space and space. We have very limited facilities.
Obviously there are plans, and in the last couple of years I have
been very much aware that the kitchen facilities downstairs are
very limited and the facilities I am able to offer to the staff
are really not adequate. We felt that health and safety officers
would probably not approvein fact, we know they are barely
adequateso we initiated a feasibility study and we now
have that. We have not got Treasury approval yet but we do have
plans to change that whole area of the Lords Bar and try and provide
an additional staff dining area which would increase the covers
from about 40 to 60 but that, at the moment, is all we are really
planning. This is primarily to redevelop the kitchen areas and
improve staff facilities. Apart from that, we really are very
limited on space. If I had more space I would create more facilities,
but it is very difficult.
95. In your view, whatever happens to the House
of Lords reform, are you likely to see an increase or decrease
in usage, do you think?
(Lord Colwyn) This is much talked about and with the
different plans we do not really know the answer. My feeling is
that, if we are going to have a lot more elected Members of the
House of Lords, there will be more staff and more secretaries.
You will have Peers who are going to be full-time Members, unlike
me. I can do my job during the day and then come inI try
and be here for two lunch times a weekbut I think we will
need more facilities. On the other hand, if the House is cut down
to a more reasonable number, say 300 or so, it may lessen the
requirement but I suspect that the numbers required for even that
size of House will be very similar to now. I do not think there
is going to be any change on the numbers.
96. In your written evidence you say you think
there is fairly widespread ignorance amongst Members of the Lords
about the facilities available to them in the Commons. Do you
mean that they think they can use everything, or they do not know
what they can use so they do not come to the Commons?
(Lord Colwyn) There are two real main groups of Peers.
There are the ex-MPs who are allowed to use any of the facilities
whenever they want, I think they probably do understand where
they are allowed to goin fact, they are allowed to go everywhereand
the other group of Peers like myself who are very ignorant about
what is available. A lot of them had never been to Portcullis
House, for instance, and although I do have in my possession a
scheme which shows where Peers who are not formerly Members of
Parliament can go, it is not something we circulate because I
would like them to eat in my Department. I think really there
is a lot of ignorance about your facilities. I do not think, apart
from the ex-MPs, that many other Peers use the facilities down
97. So if we made them more aware of what they
could use, it would mean that the pressure on the facilities here
would be even greater than it is now?
(Lord Colwyn) The facilities in the House of Commons?
(Lord Colwyn) I think it probably would. I get a letter
or two a week from Membersthe Bishop of Oxford was the
last who wrote to me saying that he had booked into somewhere
in Portcullis House and was turned away. It is from ignorancethey
do not understand what they can and cannot do. I am under pressure
to produce a little booklet to show Peers where they can and cannot
go and, if I was to circulate that, if they were allowed to use
other areas in Portcullis House, it might become more popular.
But there is a widespread ignorance; they do not really know what
they can use.
99. In the case of the Bishop of Oxford, he
had previously enjoyed the hospitality of the Members Strangers'
Dining Room when he booked it, and because of the pressure on
our side on the Strangers' Dining Room we had tightened up and
he had gone to make a booking after previously being able to book
and found that he was told he was ineligible.
(Lord Colwyn) I am aware there are Peers not eligible
to use your facilities who do use them, and I think the staff
have a problem dealing with it, of course.
Chairman: I have told you about the Law Lords:
we have managed to move them at least into the staff cafeterias.
1 Note by witness: My implication was that there
would probably not be any significant decrease in numbers. Back