|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I have been a member of the Offices Committee for only a short period of time. It is one of the most remarkable committees that I have ever sat on in my life. If I were to disclose to your Lordships everything that went on, I doubt if you would believe me. However, I am not about to do that. What I will say is that your Lordships would benefit from a scrutiny of the minutes of that committee, in addition
As a result of that, I have learnt several things about the committee. First, members of that committee are far better informed, in my experience, than other Members of this House. Extraordinarily, they do not seem to realise that they are much better informed than other Members of this House. We have a serious problem in ensuring that information about the workings of the Offices Committee become available to all Members of the House.
The second thing that I find interesting about the Offices Committee is that I am never sure what is decided. Under the benign, elegant and gentle chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, we discuss things--but nothing is ever put to a resolution or to a vote. I have therefore taken as a guiding principle that if anything I say is not contradicted by anyone, it is thereby to be endorsed by the whole committee. At least I hope that is right; we shall find out. The third thing, as I have said, is that the reports do not do justice to the committee.
I confess that when I was first on the committee this proposal for a management consultant went through. I was a new boy; I was very diffident--as your Lordships will know--and I said nothing on the subject. I then read the report of the debate on the Floor of the House and I came to the view that the proposal could not be justified. I therefore spoke to that end at the previous meeting of the Offices Committee, where I was argued out of my position. I think I lost the argument in the committee and I now accept that it would be of value to this House to have the objective views of an outsider--to whose recommendations none of us is bound in any way. It would be beneficial to us to have a fresh, outside view, provided it is a guided scrutiny of our affairs.
In my view, the most important part of the report produced by the Lord Chairman of Committees is contained in the very brief paragraph on accommodation. I am sure we all agree that the conditions in this House are simply intolerable. I have my views--I shall give them briefly--of what should be the minimum standards of accommodation in this House. First every Minister should have an office to himself or herself of a size appropriate to the status of that Minister. I can say that because I shall never be one again; I know that perfectly well. In other words, a Minister of State who has to entertain visiting ambassadors and visiting defence ministers should have an office of appropriate proportions.
Secondly, all Front-Bench spokesmen of all opposition parties should have an office to themselves, if they want one, on the premises and accommodation for at least one secretary/researcher for each spokesman, as close as possible--it may not be possible--within the Palace of Westminster.
As to the remainder of us, the humble Back-Benchers, many will want separate offices. I should tell the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees that this is where I take issue with the minutes of the previous meeting of the Offices Committee. I raised then the need for a survey to be taken of all Members of the House to discover who wanted individual offices. Not everyone of course will want one-- some Members are more gregarious than others--but until we know how many Peers want individual offices, how many want provision for secretaries or researchers, we shall not know the extent of the problem. I hope that that lacuna in the minutes of the previous meeting of the Offices Committee will be rectified at the next meeting; if it is not, I shall make sure that the issue is raised.
It is very unlikely that we shall meet even the first two criteria that I have set out for improving our accommodation without a redistribution of the accommodation within the Palace, as was very forcefully adverted to by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks. It is difficult to know precisely what is the division of the Palace of Westminster between this House and the other place. I have armed myself with a floor plan of the House of Lords, covering all floors, which is dated July 1998. I am glad to tell your Lordships that, on the principal floor at any rate, at least part of the Central Lobby is marked down as belonging to the House of Lords. It is my view that, as a starting point, the division of the two Houses should be on a line through the Central Lobby on the axis of St. Stephen's Chapel. That produces some very interesting consequences, which go far beyond what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, said about a few offices on the second floor. For those of your Lordships who are not familiar with the consequences, I should be very happy to lead a guided tour and explain what we might get based on that formula.
In addition to obtaining a floor plan of the House of Lords, I have asked the Library how the line was drawn between the two Houses following the reconstruction after the fire of the 19th century. I also asked the Library to prepare me a document showing every single alienation of Lords' territory into the care of the House of Commons since that time, together with any supporting documents there may be by way of Statements on the Floor of the House, White Papers and so on. I shall be happy to make those available to your Lordships when I get my hands on them.
Your Lordships will be interested to know that when it comes to the question of resources and how we acquire the resources we need, there is more than one view. I was told within the past couple of weeks by a very senior person in this establishment--who I will not embarrass by identifying--that, of course, we have to get the approval of Treasury officials. I said that I was afraid that that line disclosed a great rift between us as to the view of the relationship between this House and Treasury officials. I do not know whether the House of Commons got a £¼ billion just by talking to Treasury officials; I should be very surprised if it did. It is my view that we tell Treasury officials what we want; they provide it; and if there is any dispute it is between
I do not think that we need anything like £¼ billion to accommodate ourselves properly and to a standard equivalent to that of the House of Commons, but I am quite clear that we have to do something drastic. When I first arrived in the other place some 30 years ago, I went into a room where there were six colleagues and six desks, with one telephone on top of a filing cabinet at the other end of the room. The Commons has improved its accommodation since then. I left the Commons to come to this place; I became a Minister of State for a time; and I found that I had to share an office with two colleagues--one of whom was not even a member of the Government--whereas, as an opposition Back-Bencher, in the other place I had a comfortable office to myself, with a chair in which I could sleep and room for all kinds of other amenities. I was told that I was very lucky to have an office as a Minister and that it would not be very long before I would have one to myself. Of course, I never did get one. When I ceased to be a Minister I was told how lucky I was that I was going to get a desk. I went back to a room with six desks--this time shared with seven people--with some of the most congenial people one could ever meet in one's life. I was delighted to be among them. We had a telephone on each desk. We had one television set with two remote controls. The trouble was that the remotes had insufficient power to operate the television set from my desk. So whenever my colleagues had left the room and I wanted to change the channel, I had to get up with the remote control and operate it from about half way across the room. So noble Lords can see the deprivation that some of us suffer.
I know how fortunate I have been compared with other noble Lords. I know I speak only for myself on these recommendations with respect to accommodation, although, from conversations with colleagues, I have a feeling that my views are not entirely unshared. I have told the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that after the Recess I think it will be of value to test the opinion of the House. I propose to come back and table a substantive Motion to test noble Lords' opinion on the Floor of the House on the standard of accommodation they want. That will be very helpful for those who have been negotiating on our behalf. It is high time that we moved beyond talking about these things and did something very firmly, very quickly.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip pre-empted me. I have sat on the Front Bench for the past two and a half hours. Although some useful work has been done, we have not yet started what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of
I am a member of the Offices Committee, so I declare an interest. I attended the first two committees when we looked at the matter. I am a member also of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee of the Offices Committee and played a part also in that. Most of the report is uncontroversial; it is--as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said--managerial material. I cannot believe that it will not be approved.
Other questions have been raised, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe and Lord Gilbert, on accommodation, and by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne on medical matters. It was entirely correct for them to be raised, but perhaps the best place to consider those matters is in the sub-committees. If the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, in the spill-over tables a substantive Motion to discuss accommodation on the Floor of the House, I shall welcome that and encourage the Government to give him the time, because clearly there is a great deal of concern on the matter.
There are points that need to be clarified on the issue of the appointment of a consultant. I was part of the committee that looked at that. Having heard the arguments several times over, I am convinced that we should appoint the consultant, Mr Braithwaite. We should get on with that as soon as possible after return from the Recess. If it is the wish of the House--as I think it is--that the steering group should be made up of Back-Benchers, I support that too.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page