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Lord Carter: My Lords, perhaps at this point I may intervene to explain how the usual channels have operated since the meeting of the Offices Committee took place. On the assumption, and the hope, that the report will be accepted, we have allocated the rooms between the parties with the agreement of all parties and the Cross Benches. It is hoped that a number of Peers, including the noble Lord, already know the rooms to which they will go in the autumn. We are supposed to inform Black Rod by tomorrow evening of the allocation of rooms and, it is hoped, of the allocation of the majority of desks. If that were to be held over, it would create chaos in the autumn.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I have been referred to as one of those who have been, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, decapitated. I have a

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desk in room S/O2, and I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that so far I have received no intimation whatever of where I shall be moved to; I do not know whether I shall remain within the Palace or not. I have said that I should rather stay within the Palace but, although tomorrow is the end of term, I have received no intimation of where I am supposed to go.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and others, raised a most important point in the debate--it is far more important than finding out where my desk will be next year. It involves the growth of a department within the House of Lords and it is about whether it is right in principle for Peers to be thrown out so that civil servants may take over. That is what this is all about. The Select Committee report refers to, "a small private office", and to,

    "a small number of new staff".

Dare one say, "What weasel words!"? What numbers are involved? There are 13 of us in the two rooms that are being taken over; there are six in my room, and we have a desk each. Four of us are Privy Counsellors--and fairly senior Privy Counsellors, at that. We are, to put it crudely, being thrown out. I told my Chief Whip that I did not want to go but, with respect, that made no difference whatever.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, touched on a root problem. To what extent should civil servants, whether they work for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or not, be permitted to take over space in the Palace of Westminster rather than in departments outside in Whitehall? That goes to the heart of the matter. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that the idea that we could say, "This is not a precedent", is, with respect, bunkum. We all know that in years to come today's decision will be referred to as a precedent. Other Ministers who want to be in Westminster will do so.

I turn to another important point. I do not know whether the Government's reform of the upper House is intended to make us--how should one put this?--a more serious upper Chamber. If we are to become slightly more weighty and if more attention is paid to our decisions, it is wrong that we should have to fight for a desk and for somewhere to put our umbrella and briefcase. It is lovely at last to be given post-paid and pre-paid envelopes but there are other things in life, which go with being an important, serious upper Chamber. That should also be weighed in the balance when trying to reach a decision.

Finally, I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Marlesford, who told me last week--no one else told me this--that the entire Computer Office is being moved out of the House. I have found that department to be an extreme help.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I am a neophyte in my attempts to master Windows 98, the Citrix system and so on. It has been very useful indeed to be able to go with one's

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laptop and printer to the rooms on the second floor and be told what one is doing wrong or why one's laptop has broken down. In the four years that I have been in this House I found that office to be one of the most helpful in the House of Lords. The idea that that office will be booted out and that I shall have to traipse up and down Whitehall with my laptop trying to find someone who can tell me why I have, once again, mucked up my system because I pressed the wrong button, is unattractive. I hope that that matter will also be reviewed.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, there are just three matters to which I should like to draw the attention of noble Lords. They are all matters that I raised with the House of Lords' Offices Committee last week.

My first point relates to the questionnaire to which the Chairman of Committees referred. I am very happy that that questionnaire was sent out and that the authorities found it useful. It was sent out against a great deal of resistance. I draw to the attention of noble Lords the fact that it does not coincide with the terms of the Motion that appeared before your Lordships' House on 29th March of this year. The Motion that led to the sending out of the questionnaire had two parts: one part dealt with the division of the premises of the Palace of Westminster, which was not, for reasons that I understand, accepted; the other part dealt with accommodation, and it was accepted.

That second part of the Motion itself had three parts: one involved establishing whether Members wanted accommodation on their own; the second was about whether they wanted shared accommodation; and the third was about whether or not they wanted accommodation for secretaries or researchers. Strangely enough, the final requirement, which is about whether Members wanted space for secretaries or researchers, disappeared from the questionnaire--it does not appear there. That is not a frivolous matter. I have a pretty good idea why it disappeared, but I shall not go into that today. I also have a pretty good idea about the arguments that were involved, and I do not intend to go into them, either.

I shall explain to noble Lords why this is not a frivolous matter. Many Members who come here also have to make a living, and they need a secretary or researcher to do so. If the secretary or researcher were miles away, that would reduce their enthusiasm for attendance at this place. That is one of the reasons why there is not a full take-up of offices here--Members find that they cannot come here because they cannot do their outside work properly. That question will become even more acute when we have 100 or 120 elected Members in this place. They are all going to have constituencies to serve. We have simply got to think ahead about this House's requirements; if we do not, we shall be in the most appalling mess when 100 or 120 elected Members arrive here. In this regard I very much hope that in the immediate future I shall have the support of the Opposition Front Benches of both parties--Front-Benchers, of all people, need secretaries and researchers to do their work and to

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ensure that the House operates efficiently. I give notice that I propose to return after the Summer Recess to the provision of space for secretaries or researchers.

I turn to my second point. A report, which is not in the Offices Committee report, was prepared for this House by a small group--I believe that that is the right word. My noble friend Lord Grenfell played a distinguished part and the noble Lords, Lord Newton, Lord Levene and Lord Oakeshott, were also part of the group. They produced a report that, if I am correctly informed, was completed before Christmas and which was given to the Clerk of the Parliaments. If I am again correctly informed, he gave the report to the newly elected late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who was then the Chairman of Committees. That report has yet to see the light of day. Frankly, that is a scandal. There is no earthly reason why it should not be published or why noble Lords should not know what is in it. Whether noble Lords agree with what is in it or not is beside the point. That report should be the property of the House. Before this debate ends I hope that we can have an assurance from the Chairman of Committees that the report will be published before the Recess. I happen to know that in saying that I have the support of the leaders of all the political groups here and of the Convenor.

I have not seen a copy of the report but I have some idea about one or two items that appear in it. One of those items relates to the structure of the Offices Committee. The structure of that committee is a complete nonsense. I raise that point because it is relevant to the next matter that I want to discuss.

According to a list that I obtained today from the Library, the Offices Committee has 28 members. Seven of those members sit on the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee and eight sit on the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. A great deal of the authority of the Offices Committee was delegated many years ago to those sub-committees. Altogether, 11 members of the Offices Committee sit on those two sub-committees--there is a certain amount of overlap between the two sub-committees. It does not take a great deal of arithmetical knowledge to figure out that no fewer than 17 of the 28 members of the Offices Committee sit on neither sub-committee.

Why is that important? A report from the Chairman of Committees on behalf of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee was sent to the Offices Committee on Tuesday of last week. This is the report. It can be obtained from the Library. The sub-committee met on 3rd July. There is reference in the report to accommodation and to the many letters and documents which came before the Offices Committee. The report goes on:

    "Proposal to present a casket of sand from the Normandy beaches".

That required four paragraphs and was, no doubt, a wholly appropriate decision for the Administration and Works Sub-Committee to take.

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I thought that was very strange so I did a little digging. I went back to the previous meeting of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. Lo and behold, I found that there is a great deal in there which is not included in this report to the Offices Committee.

No doubt the rest of your Lordships know what I am now about to say. However, I did not know that we have in this House a 10-year rolling programme of capital works, involving tens of millions of pounds; we have a three-year rolling programme of maintenance works, also involving a great deal of money. Neither of those reports has ever been in front of the Offices Committee, never since the rolling programme was set up 10 years ago. So already every item on the original 10-year programme will be history and all the items now will be new, as against when the programme was started.

The only people that see that are the administration committee, of whom eight, of a total of 28, are members of the Offices Committee. That is an extremely unsatisfactory state of affairs. Those matters are not secret. Your Lordships can find them out but one has to do quite a lot of digging to know that that is going on.

What is more, every item on the 10-year major works rolling programme, which, as I said, involves tens of millions of pounds, has a priority assigned to it--4, 3, 2 or 1 in descending order of importance. I inquired as to who had allocated those numbers. It is a wholly admirable combination of the Clerk of Works and the Black Rod of the day. Those matters are rubber-stamped. I should not say that because "rubber-stamped" is a pejorative term which I should not use in this House. The matters are agreed by the Administration and Works Sub-Committee.

I mention all that to your Lordships because, as I understand it, the report of the group of which my noble friend Lord Grenfell was a member, as were the other three distinguished Members of this House, includes proposals for the committee arrangements of the Offices Committee and its sub-committees. I believe that your Lordships' House should be seized of that matter. Noble Lords should know about that major works programme and, indeed, the minor works programme. It should be the subject of a debate in this House in the fullness of time.

4 p.m.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I make a few comments both as a member of the committee which produced this report but perhaps more importantly, as someone who has now been in the House for nearly 40 years and as someone who has a great deal of concern, as I think most of your Lordships have, for the authority and prestige of the House.

My comments concern a point which has been mentioned already by the noble Lords, Lord Barnet and Lord Peyton; namely, the resolution of disputes between this House and the other place.

The background to the question of accommodation in the Upper Committee Corridor bears a few minutes, attention. It starts in March of this year when the three

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Leaders of the main parties in this House, plus the Convenor of the Cross-Benches, wrote to the Leader of the House of Commons asking for those offices to be handed over, and giving reasons for doing so. As we already know, the result was a refusal. It was not just a refusal but a fairly blank refusal. It came first from the Leader of the House of Commons and then from one of the committees of the House of Commons which said that there can be no question of the House of Commons handing over any accommodation from the House of Commons to the House of Lords.

It seems to me--and I have asked questions about this in the Offices Committee--that that is an end of the matter. If the House of Commons says "No", "No" is the answer. There is no one who can arbitrate or adjudicate on this decision as between the two Houses.

That is totally unacceptable. We need to have some machinery for resolving such disputes. Noble Lords will see from the report of the Offices Committee that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip have been asked to go to see the Leader of the House of Commons to discuss that matter.

It seems to me that they should go with some very, very strong guidance indeed from your Lordships' House. The request is that a Joint Committee of both Houses should be established to adjudicate or arbitrate on such matters. This House should make it quite clear to the two noble Lords who will be representing us at that meeting with the Leader of the House of Commons that there is extremely strong feeling in the House about a number of matters, including accommodation.

But this is not just a matter of accommodation. As has already been said, it is a matter of the prestige and authority of this House. We need the House of Commons to be clear that the very least we can accept is some kind of Joint Committee of both Houses to arbitrate and adjudicate. That is the very least we can accept. I find myself in full agreement with the noble Lords, Lord Peyton and Lord Barnet, that we must be rather tougher about those issues and not go cap in hand to the House of Commons. We are, or should be, equal partners in the occupation of the Palace of Westminster and the House of Commons must realise that.

The setting up of a Joint Committee of some kind has a precedent of a sort. In 1864, a committee was set up to deal with the question of the ventilation of the House because there was a dispute which could not be settled. As a result of that committee then, it was decided that the ventilation of the House of Commons should be dealt with by Mr Reid, who was the adviser to Barry, and that the ventilation of the House of Lords should be left in the hands of Barry.

The result of that can be judged later in 1865 when the Hansard of the day reported the fact that by four or six o'clock in the afternoon, most of the Members of the House of Commons were suffering from near asphyxia. Therefore, that was not a particularly good

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outcome. However, I make the point because I believe that although Members of the House of Commons can no longer be threatened by asphyxia, they will be sending to this House a large amount of legislation from the House of Commons over the coming months. We should make it clear that that legislation has a much better chance of passing smoothly through this House if the House is regarded as an equal partner and not as some kind of underprivileged neighbour. In spite of everything, this House still has some weight and we should start throwing it about a little.

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