I have no difficulty in providing Black Rod, whoever he may be, with the additional expertise and advice that may be required for the extensive building programme and related matters in this palace. What I object to, and what I believe is wrong, is that the new man—if it is a man; it might be lady, who knows? I see the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, looking at me disapprovingly. The new person, whoever they may be, will no doubt provide admirable new advice and support to Black Rod in the role that he fulfils. But he does not need to be set in authority over Black Rod on these matters as is proposed. Although it is proposed that he will sit alongside Black Rod on the management committee, in these matters he will be supreme and Black Rod will have no role to play in them. I do not approve of that.
I have heard of a number of assurances that Black Rod will always be a military man. I am not sure who gave those assurances, but I doubt whether they were given on any authority. When the time comes, Black Rod is chosen by the House. Non-military people have been considered in years past, and may well be in the future. I do not agree with that; a military man is the sort of chap—the sort of person—that we need.
Noble Lords: Oh!
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, perhaps there is a very senior lady officer somewhere in the Armed Forces ready to take over this post. Maybe she will be outside the Armed Forces, but I think I would have some difficulty with that, as I explained. For example, in years past very senior police officers have been considered for the post, which is as it should be. Some very senior police ladies may like to be considered for the post, and I would have no difficulty with that. However, I rather think that the military ethos is the best.
The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said that the Queen has been consulted, and I was very glad to hear it. She presides over the appointment of Black Rod and approves his appointment once it is decided on by the senior representatives in your Lordships’ House. The Queen acts wholly on ministerial advice on these matters but she does need to be consulted. Perhaps I may ask in parenthesis when she was consulted. I believe that the question was raised only at the end of last week. I would not be surprised if the Queen was consulted only this morning—but consulted she has been, and I am very glad to hear it.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, a question on a more important matter regarding employment protection legislation. Regardless of whether the noble Lord likes it, and however justified or unjustified it may be, about 50 per cent of Black Rod’s present duties are being removed. In the real world, under the present employment protection legislation, that would represent constructive dismissal. I know that from my own experience. Has the noble Lord considered that implication, and what would be his response?
I turn to what I regard as a rather sensitive aspect of this matter, so I shall do so with the utmost care—the position of the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker. She is the chairman of the House Committee. That was decided by your Lordships, and I accept it. Since becoming Lord Speaker, she has discharged her duties—if I may say so—with charm and with sensitivity. I thank her for that. However, part of her appointment is that she does not become involved in controversial matters. She is chairman of the House Committee and, whether she likes it or not, she is now involved in a controversial matter. Because she does not speak in your Lordships’ House, the report was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, in his capacity as Lord Chairman, but he is not chairman of the House Committee. I think that the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker finds herself in a slightly awkward position as a result.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde is a distinguished member of the House Committee, but I do not know how he came to agree these proposals. There can be only two possible explanations. The first is that he was swayed by the arguments. But the deficiencies in the arguments that I have taken the liberty of deploying to your Lordships lead me to a more charitable explanation of my noble friend’s position—that he nodded off during consideration of the matter, and when he woke up it had all been decided and it was all too late. I would say only this to him. I am sure that he will be the Leader of your Lordships' House in a couple of years’ time. If he nods off then, the noble Lords opposite—who will by then be on these Benches—will have a field day on government legislation.
We are, I fear, at the top of a slippery slope. At the bottom of that slope lies Group 4 security, Pret a Manger catering and some foreign company looking after the building services of the House. We run the risk of becoming the T5 of Westminster. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert
“save for the words
“the Management Board member” in paragraph 3,
“Both post-holders would be members of the Management Board.” in paragraph 4, and
“the Management Board member” in paragraph 6(a),
and with the addition of the words “The post-holder would not be a member of the Management Board.” at the end of paragraph 6(a).”—(Lord Trefgarne.)
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I did not intend to join this short debate quite so early, but I have been drawn to my feet by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. He may not be right in saying that I am a distinguished ornament on the House Committee, but it is a job that I take most seriously, so there is no nodding off in the House Committee. However, on behalf of the whole House, perhaps I may wish my noble friend a happy birthday today.
I agree with my noble friend on one very important point: it is unthinkable that this House would agree to do anything that would belittle the great office of Black Rod. As noble Lords know, Black Rod was a creation of King Edward III, and for more than 650 years successive holders of the office have served their sovereign, this House and, indeed, the Order of the Garter with unfailing loyalty. Sometimes this has brought them up against the political arm, and on occasions those were the most powerful in the land. They have even had to arrest Members of your Lordships’ House from time to time, but that is not something that has been held against successive Black Rods by this House.
When you hear the guides talking to visitors in Central Lobby, they never fail to describe the ceremony of Black Rod striking the doors of the other place at the State Opening of Parliament because it always has resonance. People of all ages respond to the ceremony and its deep symbolism, not only of the long battle for English liberties and parliamentary government, but also of something greater than all of us in either House—and that is the authority of the Crown.
There has been a great deal of talk about searching for Britishness. It did not need President Sarkozy to tell us last week, although he did so both admirably and eloquently. Britishness is here in the bones of our Parliament, in our ways and in our traditions, and Black Rod is very firmly part of it. Many noble Lords feel that keenly. Lately we have too often carelessly scorned our traditions; I refer in particular to the dumping of great offices of state such as that of Lord Chancellor. It is high time to stop tearing up our roots and start nurturing them, so I am sure that I speak for the vast majority of this House when I say that we want no change to the nature of the office of Black Rod. But that is not what is proposed in this House Committee report; it is the nature of our House that has changed. The demands made by newer Members in particular for new office space—
Lord Waddington: My Lords, will my noble friend give way on this point? Many of us think that Black Rod himself is better placed than anyone else to know whether another officer is necessary. Would it not be
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the Chairman of Committees will answer the specific point about the views of Black Rod. My understanding is that Black Rod is entirely happy with what has been proposed, but if I am wrong, the Chairman of Committees will of course point that out.
My noble friend has raised another question: is Black Rod the right person to decide who should get offices? No, he is not. That should be up to the Convenor and the Chief Whips of the respective party groups. We are talking about the management of projects for the provision of new accommodation. A massive project is being undertaken in the multi-million pound development proposed for Millbank. This issue, and that of Black Rod, were not passed on the nod but discussed and deliberated at length in the House Committee. I believe it was right for the Clerk of the Parliaments to recommend and for the House Committee to agree that this specialist task of managing the huge building works to meet our accommodation requirements requires special skills and full-time attention. And with so much attention being given to the expenditure involved, it is essential that this House shows in this project that it can use public money prudently.
Apart from the Clerks, Black Rod is the most significant interface between Members of this House and the Administration. His presence just next to the Chamber and the position of his office on the Principal Floor reflect the important part he plays in the role of this House, and will continue to play in the future.
The Clerk of the Parliaments has been in office for only four months. It is clear already that he has inherited a number of difficulties, along with great new responsibilities. If he believes that this major project requires a new officer, and that that officer should be on the Management Board and report directly to him as Accounting Office for our House, we should surely back the judgment of the Clerk of the Parliaments. Given the nature and cost of the procurement project ahead, the Clerk of the Parliaments is right in the action that he has suggested. So I hope that my noble friend, having underlined the strong feelings that we all have about the ancient traditions of this House and the office of Black Rod in particular, will not press his amendment and that the House can accept the House Committee report.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I was eager to get in before the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, so that I could defend his reputation against the scandalous slur that one of the most alert members of the House Committee should ever nod off, even when I am speaking.
I consider the House Committee to be among the most onerous and responsible of the committees on which I sit. It is the committee where the buck stops. My experience of recent time, particularly in terms of major construction projects, is that I have been asked
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I say to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, this is the first case of unfair dismissal that I have heard of which involves a year’s extension of the contract of the person concerned, but perhaps he is more expert on employment law than I am. This is not a diminution the role of Black Rod but a recognition that the House now has multi-million pound projects to manage. Frankly, if I am going to sit on the House Committee and take the ultimate responsibilities on your Lordships’ behalf, I want the person managing such projects before me with the final responsibility for the advice that he has given me. I hope that we do not get diverted.
One of the problems of managing this estate, which is costing the taxpayer millions of pounds, is the push-me-pull-you structure which leaves committees at that end making decisions without proper consultation with committees at this end. There is a far greater case for having many more joint services between the two ends of this building and much more joint management, rather than accommodation and other issues being squirreled away at one end and information kept from the other, all at the cost of the taxpayer.
The quick trip of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, from the 19thcentury, where he usually sits, into the early 20th century was of interest. However, the next Black Rod could well be a woman and the Director of Facilities could be a woman because, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that is what happens in the 21st century. If this House has any sense it will follow the advice of the House Committee and give us a management structure fit for the 21stcentury.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord for clarification. Where does it say in the report that the new Director of Facilities will liaise with the other part of the Palace? If the report stated that a certain person would be in charge of the facilities and the grand projects of the whole Palace, that would make much more sense. It does not say that anywhere. And why is the Refreshment Department tagged on to such an important role?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we are but at the foothills of giving this Parliament the structure required for the 21stcentury. Of course the new director will not have responsibility for the whole of the Parliament; those battles are still to be fought with some of the most conservative elements in the Palace—which are through those doors—but I can assure her that this proposal will give the House someone who can do a proper job on projects which will cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, for which we must have a proper line of management responsibility through to the House Committee.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, much of what I wanted to say has been said by the previous two speakers, with whom I agree. I support incremental reform of the House of Lords, and here we have a small but, to my mind, vital change to ensure that the House is professionally equipped to undertake major building programmes in the 21st century and to be accountable to the House for the expenditure of many millions of pounds. As a Member of the House Committee I have fully endorsed the restructuring of senior management.
I offer profound thanks to Black Rod and others who have had to grapple with the complex business of managing building projects, including, as your Lordships will know, the now-completed visitor reception centre, the proposed work on the Millbank island site and the onerous commitments to modernise mechanical and electrical equipment—in some cases, for the first time in 80 years. I do not underestimate the time, skill and heavy responsibilities that that work has entailed on the part of Black Rod and his office in the past few years. It is a testament to the Clerk of the Parliaments’ reform approach that he has initiated the senior level restructuring, and I offer him and his offices my full support, now and in the future.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I find myself rather pulled about in his debate. One does not like to hear the House arguing against itself. All we have heard so far are the arguments from Members of the House Committee—apart from my noble friend Lord Trefgarne—who of course support the House Committee’s recommendations. I greatly admire the Clerk of the Parliaments, who is doing the most superb job of work, and one hesitates even to consider taking an opposite view from his.
I understand the necessity of having an important person to take charge of the Parliamentary Estate in the House of Lords and that he should be called a Director of Facilities, but I do not see why he cannot be responsible to Black Rod. Black Rod has always looked after these affairs as well as the security, the attendants and the doorkeepers. I do not see why it is not possible to have a person who is a highly-paid official and an expert who is responsible to Black Rod, so that there is continuity. I would have thought that was a reasonable thing to do. It worries me that we are proposing to employ this new gentleman at £100,000 a year—a great deal of money and a good deal more than Black Rod gets—who will do only half the work that Black Rod does. He will get twice the emoluments but apparently do half the work. That is in rather a vulgar sphere, but at least it is pertinent.
I regard my noble friend Lord Strathclyde as totally correct: we ought not to diminish by one iota the standards, and the standing, of Black Rod. He epitomises this House in many ways, and people look up to him both within the House and without. My fear is that, if we put this man up next door to Black Rod on the management committee, he will assume similar proportions, although not the same ones. What will happen on state occasions? The new Director of Facilities will be responsible for the attendants, the housekeepers and all that. On state occasions, all such people are
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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I hope the House will recognise that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, made two points of some importance. The first is small: he echoed the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in saying that there is at least an arguable case on the question of employment protection for Black Rod and his office. The noble Lord shakes his head: an arguable case is not a crushing case, so that is a small point.
The second point is much more important. If the House, as I hope it will, supports the report from the committee—and I have seen many committees dealing with these matters over many decades now—I hope that we will support it in the spirit given to us by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. We are in the foothills of a new venture in control of the Palace of Westminster. On this matter, we should not be bound by any conservative views of the other place, including the future of your Lordships’ House itself.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I was not a member of the House Committee when this matter was discussed and the fourth report published, so I do not speak as a member of that committee. I was not there. I did not nod off or forget. However, I was a member of the House Committee for many years and I am conscious from the discussions that took place then how much the workload in relation to accommodation and works has increased, and—this is an important point—how much it is likely to increase. There seems to be an assumption that the workload is static. I do not believe that: the workload will continue to increase primarily because of the follow-up to the acquisition of the Millbank island site, the decanting of some Members and the preparation of offices in the new building. In addition, the major works that have been mentioned involving electrical supplies to the House and on the roof will be long-term operations, so we should assume that the work will increase.
For all those reasons, I understand why the House Committee recommended that senior management should be reinforced by May next year by a new Director of Facilities, thus reducing the burden on Black Rod or his successor. I agree with the committee’s recommendation on the basis of my knowledge from the past and of the structure that has been proposed.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I look at this from the attitude of being a Conservative. As noble Lords may know, there are several of us still at large—perhaps as many as 10 or 20. We meet at safe houses in the countryside, well away from Notting Hill and other such suburbs. I shudder at all this talk of enormous expenditure on new facilities. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was almost sneering in what he said about my noble friend Lord Trefgarne being rooted in the 19th century and not up to speed in the 21st. I invite him to consider whether Parliament was more effective at holding the Executive to account in the 19th century than it has been in the 21st.
When I stand and look across Bridge Street at Portcullis House, I frequently wonder how, before we had computers, telephones, radios and all those things to make life easier for management, this Parliament managed the British Empire without that building and its facilities. How on earth did we do it without them all? I suspect that the more facilities and offices we have, the more millions of pounds we spend and the more experts we bring in, the less Members of Parliament of both Houses actually do in controlling the Executive. They all seem to be too busy consulting their researchers, their focus groups or someone or other to have any time to spare to participate in the job of Parliament. I suspect that we may see a similar process in the report—that we will all get pushed a little farther away and have much more professional management. We could probably find a very good manager from Northern Rock or somewhere who would come in. I understand there are a lot of people spare in the City these days who two or three years ago we would have all said were wonderful. We could get one of them to come to do this job, which is clearly beyond the scope of a mere retired Army officer.