Annual Report and Accounts 1998-99

Annual Report 1998-99

Part I - Review of the Year


Accommodation and Works

39.  The proposal that the House should acquire a lease on Millbank House and 7 Little College Street-two of the buildings within the site of 1 Millbank-so as to provide additional accommodation close to the Palace of Westminster was formally approved by the Administration and Works Sub-Committee in June 1998. The timetable will allow 7 Little College Street to be ready for occupation in December 2000 and Millbank House in August 2001. A full investment appraisal was prepared, on the basis of which funding for the project was approved by the Treasury. Discussions with the Church Commissioners on the lease (which will continue until 2015) were nearing completion by the end of March 1999.

40.  The Sub-Committee appointed a Working Group to make recommendations about the allocation of accommodation when the new building becomes available. The Group concluded that certain accommodation in Millbank House should be set aside for Lords, and that certain offices of the House, including the Accountant's, the Establishment and the Computer Offices, should move there, thereby releasing accommodation in the Palace for Lords. It also made recommendations on the facilities to be provided, which will include an outpost of the Library, a small refreshment area and a committee room. The Committee Office will occupy 7 Old Palace Yard. These recommendations were approved by the Sub- Committee.

41.  The Administration and Works Sub-Committee also approved detailed proposals to restore the character of Old Palace Yard and to improve the setting of the Palace of Westminster. The proposals, which are associated with, but not dependent on, the World Squares for All project, include repaving the Yard with level granite blocks; removing car parking on the west side of the Yard; and simplifying the street ``furniture''. However, in July 1998, on consideration of the report from the Offices Committee, the House, on division, referred this matter back to the Sub-Committee for further consideration. Subsequently, in October, the Sub-Committee again endorsed the scheme and this time its recommendation was agreed by the House, again on division. The delay in approving the scheme led to the postponement of the start of the project until 2000.

42.  Both the Administration and Works and the Finance and Staff Sub-Committees considered a proposal that the visitors' tour (``Line of Route'') through the Palace of Westminster should be opened to the public during the summer recess. Detailed proposals and a business plan, which envisaged a charge for visitors, were put forward by consultants appointed by the two Houses. In December, the Sub-Committee met concurrently with the House of Commons Administration Committee when the proposal to charge for admission was the main item of discussion. Although the Commons Committee recommended imposing a charge, the House of Commons declined to approve the Committee's report until other options had been examined and costed. The House of Lords has not taken consideration any further.

43.  The refurbishment of the roof over the Chamber was successfully completed in July 1998.

Printing and Publishing

44.  Under the contract with the House's printer, The Stationery Office Ltd (TSO), annual charges for the printing of House papers are agreed on the basis of forecasts of the number of pages likely to be printed and the copies likely to be required. Several forecasts for 1998-99 were exceeded due to the length of sittings and increased demand for papers from Lords. A substantial supplementary charge for the year therefore became payable.

45.  The Finance and Staff Sub-Committee agreed that the House should join the Commons in putting the printing of bills (and amendments) and the electronic publication of parliamentary papers out to competitive tender in 1999. By the end of the financial year this process was well underway. The contract with TSO will be extended in respect of other House papers which will be put out to tender in 2000.

Computer Developments

46.  New initiatives to support the Parliamentary IT convergence strategy and to ensure Year 2000 compliance started during the year. The change to Microsoft software included a move to Outlook 98 for Parliament's electronic mail service. This change will be completed for peers during 1999-2000 and was completed for the offices of the House during 1998-99. The system used to prepare the House of Lords Hansard was also replaced with a new system based on Microsoft software. The next phase of this project will be to introduce digital recording techniques to assist with Hansard production.

47.  A successful pilot exercise to test the usefulness of electronic document management was undertaken in Black Rod's Office. The Record Office participated in the project and has made recommendations for future developments that will ensure compatibility with long term record storage. A joint working group was set up between both Houses of Parliament to review document management systems and made recommendations for Parliament as a whole.

48.  The programme to install cables to provide access to the Parliamentary Data and Video Network (PDVN) continued in 1998 when three floors of the south front were cabled.


49.  A restructured Information Office and a new call centre telephone system has facilitated a dedicated service to the public and to members of the House. Since it began in September 1998, over 14,500 calls were dealt with, averaging over 650 in a sitting week-three times the number previously answered. Between January and March 1999, over 1,000 calls about the Pinochet appeal alone were received from all over the world.

50.  The profile of the House was raised following a mailing of briefing material about the role and work of the House to over 4,300 secondary schools throughout the United Kingdom. Feedback from schools has been positive; the mailing boosted demand for the new series of Teacher Seminar Days run by the Parliamentary Education Unit, which is funded by both Houses. Demand for information and briefing papers in general has risen significantly.

51.  A BBC television team was given access to the House from April to November 1998 to film the work of the House in the context of its proposed reform. A series of three programmes, ``Inside the Lords'', was broadcast on BBC2 in January 1999 and has since been shown in Australia and the United States of America.

52.  New customised software has enabled the Journal and Information Office to develop databases of statistics and other information about the membership and business of the House in a more efficient and effective way.


53.   Voice mail for Lords and offices of the House was introduced in 1998 and improvements have been made to the message delivery system.

54.  The Painting of ``The House of Lords debating The Queen's Speech in 1995'' by Andrew Festing was unveiled in December 1998. It was exhibited for three months in the National Portrait Gallery early in 1999 and now hangs in the Library corridor.

55.  On the retirement of the Architectural Archivist, Lady Wedgwood, Professor Clive Wainwright, of the Victoria and Albert Museum, was appointed Special Adviser to the Advisory Panel on Works of Art and the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. Before this Report was published, the House learnt with regret of the death of Professor Wainwright.

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