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House Of Lords' Offices: Select Committee Report

Volume 611: debated on Monday 27 March 2000

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3.6 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Fourth Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 45) be agreed to.— ( hairman of Committees.

Following is the report referred to:

1.Steps of the Throne

The Committee has considered the four categories of heirs to peerage currently allowed to sit on the Steps of the Throne:
  • eldest sons of Peers of Parliament;
  • eldest daughters or grand-daughters of such Peers when heiresses presumptive;
  • grandsons of such Peers when heirs apparent;
  • eldest sons of those who have disclaimed their peerage.
In the case of hereditary peerages, these categories all assumed that those exercising the right would eventually become Members of the House. That is no longer true, except as the result of a by-election to become one of the 90 hereditary peers who remain Members of the House. The chances of the eldest son, daughter or grandchild of a hereditary peer who had been a Member of the House being elected would be uncertain, though not impossible.
As the original rationale for the four categories no longer applies, the Committee considers that in future the privilege should be granted to the eldest child of a Peer of Parliament, without regard to gender. The Committee was, however, mindful of the need to avoid any unfairness to eldest sons who had previously exercised their right to sit on the Steps of the Throne but who have older sisters, and therefore recommends that the privilege be granted to:
"the eldest child of a Peer of Parliament (or the eldest son where the right has been previously exercised)."

2. Black Rod

The Committee agreed to an extension of the appointment of Sir Edward Jones for one final year to 8 May 2001.

3. Staff of the House

The Committee was informed of the following new posts:
  • —an additional Assistant Archivist / Records Manager in the Record Office;
  • — an additional personal secretary in the Committee Office;
  • — four Legal Assistants to the Law Lords, the posts to be held for up to one year at a time, with effect from September 2000.

4. Private Bill fees

The Committee agreed to the following increases in fees, broadly in line with inflation over the period 1995–99:

Current Fee

Proposed Fee

Payable on First Reading of Private Bill£3,500£4,000
Payable on Third Reading of Private Bill£3,500£4,000
Payable on Second Reading of Provisional Order Confirmation Bill£3,500£4,000
Payable on appearance at Joint Committee on Special Procedure Order£1,750£2,000
Payable on appearance at Select Committee on Hybrid Instrument£1,750£2,000
Taxation fee per £100 of any bill of costs allowed£1.40£1.60

5. Emergency Medical Services—Defibrillators

The Committee took note of the decision of the Medical Advisory Panel that the House should hold two defibrillators, one in Peers' Lobby and the other in 1 The Abbey Gardens. The defibrillators and trained personnel will be in place by Easter.

My Lords, I should like to raise two points with the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. Perhaps I should declare an interest, in that the first section of the report will allow my own daughter to sit on the Steps of the Throne. I very much applaud that ruling.

However, I believe that many other matters should be of concern to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and the House authorities. First, what facilities will be made available for those sitting on the Steps of the Throne? Secondly, and more important, are we pressing the other place—when they have acquired 200 offices at a cost of £1 million each in Portcullis House—to concede 200 offices to your Lordships' House? If not, why not?

My Lords, as regards the first point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, it is proposed that those mentioned in the report of the House of Lords' Offices Committee should be given the facility of being allowed to sit on the Steps of the Throne, if that is acceptable to your Lordships this afternoon. No other facilities were envisaged in relation to those concerned.

So far as concerns office space, which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, has mentioned, that is not a matter which arises out of this report. I believe that I would be trespassing on the indulgence of noble Lords were I to venture into that matter this afternoon. However, perhaps I may indicate that matters connected with accommodation are very much in the minds of those committees of your Lordships' House which are concerned with these issues.

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will agree that it would be wise if he were to take away the question put to him by his noble friend and give it a great deal more thought than he has been able to give it so far? Personally, I should hate it if he were to leave the Chamber without having it clearly in his mind that a great many noble Lords agree with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett.

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees explain the meaning of the word "or" used in the sentence quoted at the end of the first point, where it states, "or the eldest son"? "Or" can mean one of two things: it can mean one but not both, or it can mean "and/or". Am I right to assume that here it means "and/or", in that, where an eldest son is sitting but his sister is older, she will be able to sit on the Steps as well? That would seem to me to be an entirely correct recommendation.

My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Boston, give the House an indication as to whether or not the committee discussed the agenda of its next and future meetings? Also, will the whole question of repairing and bringing up to a tolerable standard the acoustic properties of the various committee rooms of this House receive more than a perfunctory consideration?

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the committee for extending the rights of females to sit on the Steps of the Throne. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that new incumbents will have will far less of a battle than I had with the noble Lord, Lord Denham—I see he has just taken his seat—when he was Chief Whip. When I sought to persuade him that my daughter, who is also my heir, should be allowed to sit on the Steps of the Throne, after a lot of excuses which did not stand up, he said that I might produce a son. I said that I could produce a certificate to prove that I could not and he finally gave way.

My Lords, as hereditary Peers who have been excluded from this House were granted as a concession the right to sit on the Steps of the Throne, should not the order be amended?

My Lords, perhaps I can deal with the last point first; that is, the one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boardman. Hereditary Peers in fact already had the right to sit on the Steps of the Throne. On the point raised by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, I can only say that I am grateful to her for what she said, and am happy that she is happy.

The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, mentioned the matter of the House of Commons and House of Lords offices arising from the question raised by the noble Lord. Lord Barnett. There is no lack of interest in your Lordships' committees on this matter; indeed, it is being actively dealt with in the committees. I can give the noble Lard that assurance. However, I hope he will forgive me if I do not go further today because these matters will be referred to at a later date, though they are very much in people's minds.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, raised the question of repair of committee rooms. As your Lordships will he aware from earlier reports, there is a continuing and extensive programme of work along the lines mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I can assure him that those are being pursued with vigour. If he has any problems in mind relating to specific rooms and will let me know outside the Chamber what they are, I will look into those to see whether they are being dealt with.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, raised a point in relation to the word "or". That word has its legal connotation and therefore it is used to indicate the alternative, not both.

On Question, Motion agreed to.