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House of Lords Administration

6.11 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding rose to ask the Chairman of Committees whether, in the light of the Annual Report and Accounts of the House, 1994-95 (HL Paper (1994-95) 93), he is satisfied that the new arrangements for the administration of the House are working satisfactorily.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may say at the outset how grateful I am to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees who is to reply to the debate. I must apologise for keeping him here this evening.

Although we are discussing the fourth annual report that has been produced on the affairs of the House of Lords (bringing such matters together in a single volume) and only the third in which not only do we have accounts but also a substantial amount of additional information in the form of a narrative, this is the first occasion on which the House has had a chance to debate such a report.

Last year, we actually spent some £37 million of public money on the services and accommodation which we require. The House employs over 250 staff and is

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responsible for 40 per cent. of the works staff and 40 per cent. of the security staff in the Palace of Westminster. The report discloses that we sat on 142 days of the year, spread over 36 weeks, for a total of 967 hours and 55 minutes. The average daily attendance--and I believe that noble Lords may find this slightly surprising--was 380 Peers. We took part in 135 Divisions.

The report now before us, like it predecessors, is a mine of information about the House. In my view, it is well written and produced. It records a huge amount of work done by the Clerk of the Parliaments, by Black Rod and by their staffs. Apart from anything else, tonight's debate gives the House the chance to say, "Thank you", to all those who serve us and make it possible for us to do our work. However, I hope that the debate is a little more than that. I always remember the moment in that amazing film "12 Angry Men"--the jurors--where Henry Fonda just held out for a moment and then said,"Well, I just think that we oughta talk about it". I believe that the House should talk about its own work for a moment.

Five years ago a review team headed by Sir Robin Ibbs reported on the management of another place. The Ibbs Report disclosed major shortcomings in the way that the affairs of another place were managed under a system which had evolved over many years. Lest any noble Lords might be tempted to be smug, perhaps I may say that exactly the same strictures could have been addressed to this House. The Ibbs team found a lack of clarity about how policy for services was decided and about where responsibility rested for policy and for its execution.

Honourable Members of another place seemed unaware of who to turn to solve problems or to get things changed. Good financial management systems, and control arrangements based on these, simply did not exist. Therefore, there was no confidence that the money being spent--indeed, it is much more in another place than it is here--was appropriate to needs or was being well spent. The fact that the management of the works expenditure actually lay outside the control of the House altogether was singled out for special criticism. The report concluded that there was no effective corporate management role.

Perhaps I may just quote one sentence from paragraph 17 of the Ibbs Report. I do so because it sums up the situation rather well:

    "At a time when the need to demonstrate cost-consciousness is widely accepted, not least by Parliamentary Committees, arrangements in the House, far from setting a standard for others to follow, are a complex anachronism. A complete overhaul of financial systems is an inescapable necessity".

That was written in 1990.

The other place moved quickly to begin to put matters right and the authorities in this House were swift to follow suit. The annual reports for 1992-93, 1993-94 and the latest one that we are debating this evening for 1994-95 have set out in considerable detail the new structures, procedures and arrangements under which our affairs are now managed. It is not now the time or the place to go into detail. But perhaps it is sufficient if I say that, guided by successive Offices Committees and

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successive Finance and Staffing Sub-committees, the Clerk of the Parliaments has now put into place a thoroughly reformed and coherent system of financial management, including proper costing and budgeting, with responsibility devolved to individual budget holders, themselves accountable upwards through a clear and logical management structure.

I turn now to the first question that I should like to put to my noble friend the Chairman of Committees. I call him my noble friend because he is sitting on this side of the House. Is he, and is the Offices Committee, now satisfied that this reformed structure is working well and effectively? Part of the purpose of the Ibbs reforms was to give control to the House of its own management. How far is it true to say that the House now has full control over its own affairs? In particular, does the new system really give us the chance to address the concerns of noble Lords?

Finally, perhaps I may single out the question of accommodation. If one turns to paragraphs 38 to 41 of the annual report, it will be seen that they describe the new accommodation which is situated across the road at Nos. 6 to 7 Old Palace Yard--and it is indeed very splendid. They outline the plans for converting and renovating the south-east corner of the Palace. The purpose is also:

    "to provide refreshment facilities, a new Committee room and Robing rooms for Counsel".

If there is to be a substantial refurbishment of part of the House that has been vacated by other departments, why can we not have more rooms for desks for Peers? I believe that that point is now well recognised.

Paragraph 41 continues:

    "The Administration and Works Sub-Committee remain very concerned that there is still not sufficient accommodation available for Lords and they have asked Black Rod and the Director of Works to explore ways in which new accommodation might be provided, including the relocation of the flats occupied by Black Rod and the Yeoman Usher to buildings outside".

It then goes on to mention other departments which might usefully be relocated.

I believe that I am reflecting a very widely held view among noble Lords that the lack of a desk and a telephone in the Palace is the most keenly felt want among many Members of your Lordships' House. When can we look forward to that want being met?

Noble Lords will be aware that at the other end of the Palace over recent years there has been a great deal of imaginative in-filling of space in the upper floors which has provided large numbers of offices and new rooms for its Members. Therefore, it is now possible, as it never was in my day, for a new Member to enter another place and be allocated an office more or less straightaway. When will the same happen at this end of the Palace?

However, it would be unfair not to draw attention to the number of improvements that have been made. I particularly commend the new entrance via what was formerly Black Rod's Garden. There will be a little garden left but I doubt that Black Rod will be much able to enjoy it. The work has been extremely well done and without doubt it enhances that end of the Palace and of

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course improves security and the movement of vehicles. However, I am forcibly struck by the slow and cumbersome security arrangements at the new entrance which contrast markedly with the easy informality of the arrangements outside the Peers' Entrance. Perhaps at a time of relatively low security alert one must ask whether we have to wait for two slow moving barriers to be moved before we are allowed access at that entrance?

I have three further questions for the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. Paragraph 32 of the report describes the procedure for selecting the person who now serves in the Office of Black Rod. I think the selection procedure set out in that paragraph--though Black Rod himself may not have appreciated it--was a welcome innovation. It gave Members of the House a chance to have a say in who should be appointed to that important post. Paragraph 32 states,

    "It was agreed by the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee, in order to clarify lines of responsibility, that, in future, Black Rod should report to the Clerk of the Parliaments as the Accounting Officer and Corporate Officer of the House of Lords".

Why was that thought necessary? In the past Black Rod has reported directly to the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee, to the accommodation sub-committee or to the Offices Committee itself. His is an ancient and honourable office. Why should he now report through the Clerk of the Parliaments?

Paragraph 57 deals with the administrative vote. Noble Lords will note that there was a welcome underspending in the year under question. However, the report states that the estimate for the year 1995-96--the year we are now in--is 6.2 per cent. higher than the preceding year. That is to say it is around twice the rate of inflation. I suggest that that sounds a little excessive. Can the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees give some more details as to why that is necessary? Spending departments have just come through an extremely tough spending round under the public expenditure system and they have been under great pressure. It smacks of self-indulgence if the House treats itself to a significantly less stringent regime.

Paragraph 59 gives the information that pay and grading of staff will no longer be subject to national agreements but is to be delegated,

    "to all public bodies, including Parliament, from 1 April 1996".

Can the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees give the House a little more information as to how this is to work? In principle I welcome the move. There is not much sense in delegating financial responsibility to the House, as has been done under the new dispensation, if its single biggest cost remains effectively outwith the House's control. I believe we are entitled to ask how it is intended that the House should exercise its new delegated authority.

I said earlier that the House is well served by its officers and staff and I wish them to know that we appreciate their efforts. I believe that particular thanks are due to those among our own number who chair the important committees through which all this work is done. I refer to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees who chairs three of the committees; the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who chairs the Refreshment

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Sub-Committee, my noble friend Lord Gowrie who chairs the Advisory Panel on Works of Art and my noble friend Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn who chairs the Library and Computers Sub-Committee. They are involved in a great deal of work on behalf of the House. That work is often unsung and it goes on behind the scenes quietly, unobtrusively and efficiently. The House should be able to express its thanks to them. It is because I did not think we should take this all for granted and just let it go through that I have tabled this Question. I look forward to hearing the other speeches.

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