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House Of Lords Offices: Select Committee Report

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1993

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My Lords, I beg to move that the sixth report from the Select Committee on House of Lords Offices be agreed to.

Moved, That the sixth report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 109).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to.

1. Annual Report and Accounts

The Committee has considered and approved a draft Annual Report and Accounts in respect of the financial year 1992–93. The Report and Accounts will be published as a House of Lords paper and circulated to every peer.

2. Accommodation strategy

The Committee has been informed of new accommodation which will become available to the House of Lords between autumn 1993 and early 1994 as a result of the relocation of staff in the Lord Chancellor's Department and of the police control room. The Chairman of Committees and the Chief Whips will draw up plans for the use of this accommodation and will report to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee later in the year. At the same time the Clerk of the Parliaments will undertake a study of how best to provide office facilities in support of peers in the future.

3. Development of Black Rod's Garden entrance

The Committee has approved the basis on which final sketch plans will be drawn up, and submitted later this year, to provide a new vehicle entrance and Pass Office in Black Rod's Garden.

4. Expenditure on security

The Committee has taken note of a review of expenditure on security, and in particular of the fact that the House of Commons Commission has now agreed that expenditure on security should in future be divided 60:40 between the House of Commons and this House, instead of 50:50 as hitherto. The Committee has approved a proposal, recommended by the House of Lords Staff Adviser and the House of Commons Staff Inspector, for the replacement of Metropolitan Police security staff in the Pass Office by civilian staff. These staff will be employed by the House of Commons, and the House of Lords will pay 40 per cent of the cost. The resultant saving will enable security to be strengthened in other respects within the existing financial provision.

5. New pay arrangements

The Committee has confirmed its approval (given in principle in March) of proposals for applying new Civil Service pay arrangements to the staff of the House of Lords.

6. Childcare Vouchers

The Committee has been informed of the outcome of a survey to test the level of demand for Childcare Vouchers under the scheme approved in principle in May. It appears that the annual cost will initially amount to only half the maximum expenditure approved, and the Committee has accordingly endorsed the scheme.

7. Application of Health and Safety legislation to the Palace of Westminster

The Committee has been informed that, in the light of its decision in March 1990 that employment legislation applicable to the House of Commons should be extended to the House of Lords, the Health and Safety Executive had been notified that this House could be expected to approve the application of health and safety legislation if the Commons authorities approved its application in that House. The Committee has taken note with approval, on the understanding that primary legislation would be required and that the House would therefore be able to examine the details of its application further when considering that legislation.

8. House of Lords Library

The Committee has been informed that the recataloguing of the Library's main collection has been completed with the result that for the first time in its history the Library has a single catalogue.

The Committee has congratulated the Librarian on this achievement.

9. Computers

The Committee has agreed that the House of Lords should participate fully in the first phase of the Parliamentary Data and Video Network and in decisions about its long-term future.

The procurement of computers for use by peers should be primarily funded by the House, rather than out of the peers' allowance for secretarial costs. Computers paid for centrally should remain the property of the House, with the emphasis on shared facilities.

The Committee has been informed of plans to undertake a full review of computer security. All those using House of Lords computers will be expected to sign an undertaking that they will comply with conditions of use imposed by the Library and Computers Sub-Committee.

10. Staff of the House

The Committee has approved proposed regradings in the Record Office recommended by the Staff Adviser, as follows:
  • (1) The regrading of the post of Deputy Clerk of the Records from Grade 6 to Grade 7 when a vacancy arises.
  • (2) The regrading of the post of Assistant Archivist from Executive Officer to Curatorial Grade E/F.
  • (3) The regrading, on a personal basis, of the part-time Architectural Archivist from Higher Executive Officer to Curatorial Grade D.
  • The Committee has also approved the creation of a new post of Personal Secretary, 4 days a week, to serve the Law Lords' Office.

    My Lords, I wonder whether the Lord Chairman can give one or two small explanations for items that appear in the sixth report. I observe that at paragraph 5:

    "The Committee has confirmed its approval (given in principle in March) of proposals for applying new Civil Service pay arrangements to the staff of the House of Lords".
    This is the first time that many of us may have heard of new Civil Service pay arrangements. Can the noble Lord give a brief indication as to how those vary from the Civil Service pay arrangements previously in force?

    My second question arises on paragraph 9, where the committee is good enough to state:
    "The procurement of computers for use by peers should be primarily funded by the House".
    Many of your Lordships will welcome the indication that the Offices Committee is considering the provision of computers for the use of peers. There are many of us to whom this facility would be extremely welcome and it would relieve the work-load, particularly in regard to EEC matters. EEC matters will, I take it, be made direct through to the House of Lords which would facilitate many demands that there would otherwise be on the research staff in your Lordships' Library.

    Finally, in paragraph 10 we note:
    "The Committee has also approved the creation of a new post of Personal Secretary, 4 days a week, to serve the Law Lords' Office".
    We should like to know just why it has become necessary at this late stage to provide this facility to the Law Lords' Office. No one would wish in any way to do anything other than facilitate the labours of their Lordships on the second floor, but if we could be informed as to what inspired this extra facility, to which I am quite sure none of your Lordships will object in any way, we should be very much obliged.

    Having asked those three questions, perhaps I may be permitted—possibly with the approval of the whole House —to congratulate the Librarian on having completed the entire re-cataloguing of the Lords' Main Collection. That is a formidable achievement indeed. I should like to offer my own modest congratulations on this achievement.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his last remarks in respect of the Library. I am sure that the whole House would wholeheartedly agree with him. It has been a mammoth task. I do not know whether the House is aware that there are 44,900 volumes which have now been catalogued. It is a remarkable achievement which has been brought to a conclusion.

    The noble Lord asked about pay arrangements. There has always been a relationship, as the noble Lord is aware, between pay rates in the Civil Service and those for the people who work in the House. A new complication has entered our lives—performance related pay.

    Whereas some noble Lords fully understand how it should be implemented in this House, I have to confess that I find it extraordinarily difficult. But we are struggling to do our best in this regard.

    The noble Lord will have read in paragraph 9 that we want everyone to be able to participate fully in the first phase of the parliamentary data and video network which is gradually being installed. A great many of your Lordships are computer literate. Some of us, I regret to say, are not. But we wish to introduce facilities for those who can make use of these toys. They will be available and they will be of benefit to those who can make use of them. The Clerk of the Parliaments is undertaking a study whereby certain rooms may be designated where they will be installed—two or three rooms perhaps scattered around in areas in which Back-Benchers work, where communal use can be made of these machines so that we do not have to install too many of them.

    The additional part-time secretary for the Law Lords is, I believe, reintroducing a service which previously existed. There has been a modest increase in the number of Law Lords over the past few years and I dare say it would be said, if any of them are present, that they are working even harder than they did before. It is a necessary inclusion.

    My Lords, perhaps I may make a comment about the secretarial assistant. The opposite numbers of the Law Lords on the Supreme Courts in Canada and in the United States each have three research assistants and two secretaries. The Law Lords have one-fifth of a secretary and no research assistants at all.

    My Lords, perhaps the House detected a slight note of jealousy in the noble and learned Lord's observations. We should congratulate the Law Lords on the magnificent job that they do without such invaluable help.

    My Lords, can we be informed whether performance related pay is operative on the Government Front Bench; and can we have a vote?

    My Lords, I may not have fully understood the noble Baroness's question. I believe that this refers to those who work for us in the House rather than those who work in the House.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.