Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Report by Sir Raymond Powell, Chairman of the Committee

  1. The Domestic Committee structure which resulted from the recommendations of the team led by Sir Robin Ibbs[26] is relatively new. The 1992 Parliament will be the first Parliament in which the Accommodation and Works Committee and the other Domestic Committees have operated throughout.

  2. The Committee has the normal powers of Select Committees together with some additional powers to exchange information and meet concurrently with other Committees and Committees of the House of Lords.[27] The Committee's responsibilities include:-

       - the general allocation of accommodation to Members and their staff

       - building maintenance and improvements

       - New Parliamentary Buildings

       - the Parliamentary Works programme

Allocation of Accommodation

  3. The Committee delegated to Accommodation Whips the day to day responsibility for allocation of offices to Members and (provisionally) Members' staff. The Committee however would expect to arbitrate in the event of differences of opinion between Whips on accommodation matters.

Building Maintenance and Improvements

  4. The Committee approved a study of access to the Palace of Westminster by disabled people. The report recommended a large number of improvements, many of which were implemented, and the details of which were published in the answer to a Parliamentary Question.[28] Other major projects included the endorsement of proposals by the Catering Committee for a major refurbishment of the Refreshment Department in order to comply with Health and Safety regulations; and of recommendations from the Information Committee for the installation of a data and video network. Many other building and improvement projects were undertaken such as the continuing programme of stone restoration, the improvements to lighting of the Great Clock face and the conversion to Members' offices of the area above Speaker's Courtyard, known as the "yellow submarine".

New Parliamentary Buildings

  5. The most expensive project, oversight of which occupied a great deal of the Committee's time, was the New Parliamentary Building and the construction of the new Westminster Underground Station which has to be completed before the New Parliamentary Building can be erected. In the early years of the Parliament the Committee concentrated on the detailed design of the new building and the progress of work on the new station both of which had been the subject of reports of the predecessor Committee at the end of the previous Parliament.[29]

  6. As construction of the Underground Station progressed, it became apparent that there was a substantial delay in the agreed programme, completion of which would lead to a full handover of the site. The Committee took evidence from London Underground Limited (LUL) on 8 February 1995[30] and again on 10 July 1996[31], when the Committee was told that there was a risk of damage to the Parliamentary Estate and that it would be necessary to install additional strengthening in the excavation of the new station. The Committee was also informed that LUL's contractor had been advised by the Health and Safety Executive that intensive 24 hour working was not acceptable. The Committee reluctantly accepted that the delay (initially stated as 18 weeks but subsequently confirmed as 26 weeks) was unavoidable and a consequential delay to the completion of the New Parliamentary Building was inevitable.

  7. Alongside the monitoring of the London Underground Limited works, the Committee contributed to the detailed design of the new building and the selection of contractors. The tenders for major contracts for the roof and fenestration and some contracts of lesser value were unexpectedly high and the Committee agreed, in order to minimise the overall effect of the substantial excess cost, to cancel or postpone some Parliamentary works projects and to use much of the contingency allowance. The major supplier of granite and sandstone, an important element in the New Parliamentary Building, encountered financial difficulties and the strength of some of the stone was found to be inadequate, resulting in extensive revision of the design.

  8. Tenders for the later contracts were closer to the budgeted amount or in many cases below the estimate. The Committee invited the Speaker to lay the foundation stone and proposed that the New Parliamentary Building should be called Portcullis House.

  9. During the first session of the 1992 Parliament the Committee supervised the acquisition and refurbishment of an office building in Millbank as offices for Members, their staff and departments of the House.

  10. Towards the end of the Parliament it was decided, in order to accommodate the equipment and staff of the enlarged Communications Directorate, to lease a floor of a building in Great George Street.

Parliamentary Works Programme etc.

  11. The Committee examined each year the Director of Works' proposals for PES. The Ten Year Rolling Programme of Works, which had been deemed necessary when the House took responsibility for its own accommodation following approval of the Ibbs report, was also examined on an annual basis. Approval of these proposals proved contentious in the early years of the Parliament, with 6 divisions in the Committee during the deliberations on the Ten Year Rolling Programme in 1993-94. However, once the major projects (Refreshment Department, Parliamentary Data and Video Network, New Parliamentary Building) were under way, the task became one of oversight of the implementation and monitoring of the expenditure.


  12. The Committee is supported by its Clerk and a Personal Secretary with some (shared) clerical support. Both members of staff have other responsibilities. The Committee appointed a Specialist Adviser to monitor the London Underground Limited excavation work and to report any concerns to the Committee. In spite of the minimal level of support it is not proposed, given the continuation of the current workload, that staffing levels should be increased.

Committee Responsibilities etc.

  13. The Committee does not seek to change any of its responsibilities. There have not been significant problems of overlap between the Committee and other Domestic Committees.

  14. Although the Committee has met frequently and the attendance record has regularly exceeded 75%[32], the relationship between the number of Members (7) and the quorum (3) has occasionally given rise to difficulties of obtaining a quorum at meetings and on visits. It should perhaps be considered whether the number of Members appointed should be increased (perhaps to 9 as proposed in the Ibbs report) or a relaxation of the rules governing travel could be permitted.

26  Report on House of Commons Services HC (1990-91) 38 Back

27  SO No. 125 Back

28  Official Report 8 February 1995 Back

29  HC (1991-92) 269-I and HC (1991-92) 388 Back

30  HC (1994-95) 222-i Back

31  HC (1995-96) 591-i Back

32  See for example the Select Committee returns for session 1994-95, (HC (1995-96) 132) which show an attendance record of 75.9%. Back

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Prepared 13 March 1997