WORKS COMMITTEE 1992-97
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
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.
The Committee's responsibilities include:-
- the general
allocation of accommodation to Members and their staff
- building maintenance
- New Parliamentary
- the Parliamentary
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.
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
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.
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
and again on 10 July 1996,
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
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.
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
14. Although the Committee
has met frequently and the attendance record has regularly exceeded
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