I have very grave reservations about all this. If Parliament really wants to become more effective and to make progress at doing its basic job, instead of rushing into the 21st century we would do very well on many occasions to return to the 19th, perhaps even better to the 18th.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, during my period on the House Committee I was very well aware that the burden on Black Rod is indeed very heavy, and is getting heavier all the time. As noble Lords will recall, first there was the rebuilding of the kitchens on top of all his ordinary duties. Then there was the visitor centre and now there is the Millbank contract. I have no doubt that a new high-level post is needed for someone with experience of managing large-scale building contracts.

I do not feel very strongly one way or the other about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, on whether the person should be a member of the management team, but on the whole I would back the judgment of the House Committee on that. However, the point on which I feel very strongly is the name. Surely we can do better than Director of Facilities. To me, it suggests an advertisement for a cheap hotel or boarding house with all mod cons and the usual facilities. Can we not find something a little more dignified for this House? I suggest that if any of your Lordships are in favour of the word “facilities”, they go straight away and look at a scathing article on the subject of facilities in Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and then they will never support that name again.

I have to suggest an alternative. If we must have a director of something—nowadays everybody seems to need to be a director—I suggest instead Director of Establishments. That is a nice, old-fashioned word, but I am bound to say that I would go back even
31 Mar 2008 : Column 736
further in history and choose a name like Receiver-General. That is a name by which the exactly equivalent job in Westminster Abbey is held. What about Receiver-General? What about Estates Bursar—another good, old-fashioned term? Estates is what he will be dealing with and we all know what bursars are. Above all, I suggest the word “Commissary”, which is perhaps not familiar to all your Lordships. That is a perfect word to describe it. It means an officer put in charge of something. Therefore, it has a certain mystery about it, whereas, I am bound to say, Director of Facilities has none. If I were applying for this job, I would be much more attracted to it if I were called the Commissary of the House of Lords than I would if I were called the Director of Facilities.

Lord Denham: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees will not be misled by the tone of some of the speeches into being unaware of the real feeling of disquiet among many of your Lordships about what has taken place. Decisions have been taken on matters that deeply concern the House as a whole without the House as a whole being given the slightest idea even that discussions were taking place until the crucial decision had already been taken by the House Committee. I ask the Lord Chairman—perhaps the Leader of the House would listen to this, too—if he could give two undertakings. First, that no such decisions that affect all your Lordships so deeply should be discussed and decided behind closed doors in the future. Secondly, that when any further or consequential adjustments between the holder of the old post and the holder of the new post are discussed, the dignity of the office of Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod will not be diminished and will be paramount, and that our respect and affection for the present holder of that office should be demonstrated beyond doubt.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, we have been told that the new Director of Facilities will receive a salary of £100,000 a year. We have not been told what his office staff and his office facilities will cost. What will be the total cost of this whole operation? I would also very much like to be told how much it would cost to give Black Rod, within his office, the necessary expert assistance to do the job, instead of creating a whole new office.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I just have one question. In view of the fact that the House is to be reformed in due course and is likely to be half the size, what will happen to all this new island estate, which is costing millions, at the end of the day? Perhaps the Leader of the House might be able to answer that.

Noble Lords: The Leader!

Lord Bilston: My Lords, may I make a comment? I support the recommendation that is before us today. I declare an interest in my former capacity as chairman of the House of Commons Catering Committee. We made some very tentative steps forward when I was
31 Mar 2008 : Column 737
chairman. I have heard some rather adverse comments about the other place today. I emphasise that, as well as any new structure that is put in place, it is important for noble Lords to engage freely and frankly with their colleagues in the other place.

The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn—who was the chairman of the House of Lords Refreshment Committee when I was in the House of Commons—and I worked very closely on the first stages of bringing together certain aspects of catering between the two Houses, although not as strongly as I would have wished. We developed the first policies on procurement, joint purchasing and several other areas that were very beneficial to both Houses. There is a long way to go, but I believe that both Houses can work together in a spirit of co-operation.

I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, when he talked about Portcullis House. It is important to us too that there is the Jubilee Café. In all the history that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, spoke about, in this 19th-century building we never had a facility—I use that word advisedly—for constituents and visitors, often coming from far-flung parts of the country, to have a cup of tea. There were no facilities. When the noble Lord criticises Portcullis House, I hope that he will remember that we have for the first time a facility where constituents can come collectively and sit down and have refreshments at the end of a tour of their Palace, which they pay for. They have a right to expect that kind of facility—

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I do not want to prolong the debate, but the noble Lord should know that this building is not about running a cafeteria for visitors. The building is not supposed to be a tourist attraction. It is supposed to be a working building to control the Executive. The less work it has as more and more of the executive functions are transferred to Brussels, the more it seems to want to become something of a visitor attraction. That is all it will be before very much longer, the way we are going on.

Lord Bilston: My Lords—

Lord Elton: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, we need to begin to wind the debate up. I speak as a member of the House Committee, and as a representative of your Lordships' House on it. I want to make three or four key comments from my perspective, and obviously the Chairman of Committees will sum up and respond to the important comments made.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker for the way in which she chairs the House Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is right that it is important that someone representative of your Lordships' House is able to play the appropriate role, and she does that extremely well. Chairing us—the group of House Committee members—is not a task I would
31 Mar 2008 : Column 738
relish in my life, but it is done with great professionalism and due regard to your Lordships and your needs above any one of us.

I pay tribute to Black Rod. I have had the privilege of discussing the issue on my own, one on one, three times with him to make sure that he was in agreement with me that the move was important to make. Unless something has changed, I can confirm that Black Rod feels strongly that it is important; he did so on each occasion. That was not because I or anybody else had questioned capabilities. It was because, when we realised that we would lose Black Rod before too long to retirement, it was important for the committee to look at what the future needed. I joined the House Committee after discussions had begun, despite what the Mail on Sunday says. I listened with great care and considered some of the options that noble Lords have put forward about where the level of person ought to be, what requirements your Lordships would have in the future, whether simply extending the professionals within Black Rod’s office would suffice, and so on. It became clear to me, for some of the reasons already outlined by other noble Lords, that the most suitable way of dealing with the matter was to find somebody of a high level and quality—a person of great calibre—who could take our estate and facilities on to the next phase.

Although noble Lords feel passionately that perhaps we spend too much time worrying about technology and so on, I should say what the footfall is like in my office day to day from Members of your Lordships’ House who do not have a desk where they can sit properly, who are worried that they do not have a computer that works properly, who complain about some aspects of whether facilities are available to them as often as they might be, who have concerns—dare I say?—about the refreshments provided in the House, and so on. Rarely a day goes by when I do not hear something, and some noble Lords are more vocal than others on these subjects. No doubt there is great concern to make sure that we move forward into the future, as well as keeping the quality we have now.

The pressure of work on Black Rod is obvious to me. I find it practically impossible to get into his diary because of the number of meetings that he has. He always makes time for me with great grace, but it is a genuine issue that we have been fortunate and may not be so fortunate in the skill mix again. The role of the House Committee on noble Lords’ behalf is to look at the future and determine what is needed, without diminution of the person, the role and the importance of what has gone before. It has to say that what is to come requires something additional, new and different, and that is what we did.

The report comes to noble Lords with the best endeavours of the people who on your behalf are trying to provide you with the best possible quality of service. It does not take a single thing away from the Black Rod we have today, nor the Black Rod we shall have in future. It recognises that if we are to provide the services that we think you and I deserve for the future, to have the quality of controls over the expenditure that we need, and to have the ability to work—as my noble friend Lord Bilston said—more
31 Mar 2008 : Column 739
closely with another place to develop the facilities of the future, whether separately or jointly, we need this person in post.

4 pm

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I will attempt to cover some of the points that have been made. If I miss any, I have no doubt that noble Lords will let me know at a later stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, started the debate by moving his amendment. I felt that the noble Lord seemed to misunderstand in one respect—I thought that he referred to the Director of Facilities being in authority over Black Rod; that is not the case. Both people will be responsible to the Clerk of the Parliaments; both will be members of the Management Board. The jobs will be separate. The noble Lord also asked me when the Palace was consulted. All that I can say is that it was consulted some time ago; I do not want to go into the details, but it was certainly not today or yesterday. It was before that. The noble Lord also raised the issue of the possibility of constructive dismissal; but, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, no one is actually being dismissed in any case, because the present Black Rod has been given an extension to his contract until May of next year, and these changes will apply to the person who takes over as Black Rod at that time.

I say to all noble Lords—I am very grateful, by the way, to other members of the House Committee who supported the report—that I am not surprised at that support. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, seemed somehow surprised that members of the House Committee should actually get up to speak in support of the report. That is what a unanimous committee does. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, who complained that this whole thing was apparently done in smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors, “not at all”.

Noble Lords: Oh!

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, perhaps they would not be smoke-filled rooms these days, but he said that it was done behind closed doors. That is what the House Committee is for. That is what your Lordships at the beginning of the Session appointed the House Committee to do—to discuss important matters such as this, to come up with proposals and bring them to the House in the form of a report, which is what we are debating. The House can decide whether or not to agree to the report, whether to accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, or whatever. That is the way in which the whole thing is set up. So I really cannot recommend another way to do it.

Other points were made. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and other noble Lords that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, did not nod off during any of the debates on this matter. As I have said, this report was a collective decision of the House Committee, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said, this is being done in no way to belittle the great office of Black Rod, which will continue in the
31 Mar 2008 : Column 740
traditional role. For example, the State Opening ceremony, when he goes down to the House of Commons, will remain exactly the same. The new Director of Facilities will have nothing to do with that at all. I must take into account, of course, the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, whose support I was grateful for. I can assure the noble and learned Lord that we in the House Committee will bear in mind his dislike of the title Director of Facilities. We will consider the possibility of using title Receiver-General or Estates Bursar, but I cannot make any firm commitment to agreeing to a change.

A number of other points were made. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, asked whether Black Rod was happy with the proposals. I cannot, of course, speak for Black Rod from the Dispatch Box. All that I can say is that he was with the discussions on this matter all the time, and he is and will be a member of the working group that is looking into the future. So he is on board with the proposals; as to whether or not Black Rod is happy with them—the noble Lord will have to ask him himself.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, that is not quite the question that I asked. I suggested that Black Rod is better placed than anyone to know whether the present work burden is too heavy and whether another person is required. Surely he must have expressed a view on that, and personally I would accept his view rather than that of anyone else. He must know whether he can do the job.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as I said before, we are not talking about the present Black Rod; we are talking about the future—next year, when the present Black Rod retires. That is as far as I can go on that.

Various noble Lords queried the cost. As I said in my opening remarks, £100,000 is an indicative cost of the new post. We will obviously have to take advice on the appropriate grading of the post and the background to it, and there will obviously be one-off expenditure on recruitment, although it is highly unlikely that a vast new army of staff will be involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, referred to years gone by and said how, in his view, Parliament was much more effective 200 years ago than it is now. That is a matter of opinion but it does not have very much to do with whether we have a new Director of Facilities. I do not know how things were all those years ago but, in the present day, this person will be responsible for a budget of upwards of £35 million a year. How that compares with what it was when this place was built, I do not know, but we are now talking about a very much larger estate.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I sought to question whether all this extra expenditure would advance the cause of Parliament in doing its job.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I think that most noble Lords would say that it would. The fact that noble Lords will have proper offices and
31 Mar 2008 : Column 741
facilities and so on should, in any case, improve their ability to hold the Executive to account.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, a very important question was raised. Will the target for these facilities be to meet the needs of the present 600-odd of us or the proposed 400 of us whom we will see in the future, or will the offices just be built and fill up and fill up?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, also raised that point. I was going to say to him but I shall say to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as well that I do not know what the size of the House will be in future. I only know that if the size of the House is reduced to 400 people who are elected or partially elected, they will all have researchers, secretaries and goodness knows how many other people. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, holds his head in gloom at that prospect but I am pretty certain that that is what will happen. There will probably be a demand for more space rather than less. However, I am getting slightly away from the point. I think that I have probably answered most of the questions raised, so I invite the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne—

Lord Elton: My Lords, will the noble Lord give an assurance on a fairly technical matter? Black Rod will continue to be responsible for security. The security of this House depends in large measure—or, at least, in large part—on the building and the work of the Parliamentary Work Services Directorate, which will be the responsibility of the new appointee. Can he assure us that, while Black Rod is here in his extended year, he will be consulted and that a protocol will be in place to ensure that the person in charge of the works department is kept abreast of, and takes into account, the security requirements before recommendations go to the House Committee?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I can give an assurance that, as now, works that are required for reasons of security—for example, putting the Corus barriers outside—will in future obviously be a responsibility of the Director of Facilities. The demand will be led by the people in charge of security, of which Black Rod and the Security Committee will form part. Before I conclude and invite the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to withdraw his amendment, I should say to noble Lords that, as a member of the House Committee, I shall break the habit of a lifetime: if the noble Lord calls a Division on this amendment, I shall vote for the report as it is.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, if I read the House right, we are at the end of the debate and it is for the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to speak now.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness. I have two things to say. First, I am not opposed to the appointment of a Director of
31 Mar 2008 : Column 742
Facilities or whatever he may be called. I am opposed to the fact that he should not report to Black Rod, who I believe should have overall responsibility for these matters. Secondly, I believe that the deliberations of the House Committee on this important matter should not have been in secret, as they were. Other Members of your Lordships’ House were not permitted to attend—only the members of the committee. For this important matter, I believe my noble friend Lord Denham is entirely right that that was quite wrong. The Chairman of Committees should be ashamed of that.

4.10 pm

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?