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House of Lords: Accommodation

Volume 698: debated on Monday 4 February 2008

asked the Chairman of Committees:

What arrangements have been made to accommodate Members and staff during the work on 1 and 2 Millbank.

My Lords, the House has secured accommodation in 14 Tothill Street for use as decant space during the refurbishment of the Millbank island site. Staff currently located in 2 Millbank will relocate to 14 Tothill Street for the duration of the refurbishment works. Office space suitable for use by Members will be provided in 14 Tothill Street and elsewhere in the parliamentary estate. Noble Lords will be informed of the arrangements at the earliest opportunity.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I have to declare an interest as one of the 71 Peers who will be evicted from 2 Millbank in July this year. It should be a day of celebration for every Welsh man and women, but it is also a day of distress for us. Does the Chairman of Committees agree that every Peer who is appointed as a working Peer needs at least a desk, a filing cabinet, a telephone and a computer to fulfil his obligation? Secondly, does he agree that some offices are luxurious, with many sofas, and that each sofa could be replaced by a desk? The communal rooms, especially the Salisbury Room, which is often totally empty, could, for the duration, be adapted for the use of the working Peers.

My Lords, I cannot discriminate to say who are working Peers and who are not. All Peers are working Peers these days. I assure the noble Lord that all Peers who are currently in 2 Millbank—I am well aware that he himself is one of them—will be offered accommodation in Tothill Street, the palace or one of the outbuildings. No one will go without. It is also intended that additional computer terminals will be provided within the Library and the Writing Room to facilitate those Members who may not require a desk but who wish to be able to access a computer.

My Lords, would one not have to be faster than the Welsh wing to reach the House from Tothill Street in time for a Division?

My Lords, as an Englishman who watched the game on Saturday afternoon, I think I would rather not say awfully much about it. It was a good first half.

The time that it takes to get from Tothill Street to the House is seven minutes. Were it necessary to look into the time for Divisions, that could be done.

My Lords, when is the House going to allow wi-fi access for computers? That would make much better use of the entire establishment of the Palace of Westminster, it would abolish the need for many offices and it is vital for those of us with laptops.

My Lords, I cannot answer precisely the point made by the noble Lord. I believe that wi-fi access is available in certain places—I have seen it in the Corridor by the Library—but I take on board his point and come back to him.

Will the Chairman of Committees confirm that the addition of the island site will enable most Peers eventually to have an office— sometimes sharing but mostly for themselves? Will he confirm that yet again, particularly since, with reform coming along, the total number of Peers will presumably decline?

My Lords, I cannot possibly comment on the second part of the noble Lord’s question. The purchase of the whole of the island site was made possible by the reviews that underpinned the need for better accommodation for Peers. If it was as easy as many people would like it to be to accommodate occupants of 2 Millbank within the palace or elsewhere, there would have been no justification for buying the whole site.

My Lords, am I not right in thinking that there is empty accommodation only a short distance down Millbank that is owned by the House of Commons? Have there been discussions on the use of that accommodation? It would be more convenient and save public funds.

Yes, my Lords, there have been discussions and they have been fruitless, as far as this House is concerned.

My Lords, may I congratulate the Chairman of Committees on the hard work that he and other staff in the House have put in to organising this move? When I first came to the House of Lords, it took me 11 years to get a locker and 25 years to get a desk. I very much appreciate the facilities that I have now. As these arrangements are temporary, perhaps we ought to be a little more patient with the noble Lord.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Countess. Not that long ago there was not the demand for desks that there is now in the House. As I said earlier, the review pointed out the need for proper working arrangements for everybody. That was why we went ahead with the decision to buy the whole of the Millbank site.

My Lords, having spent 12 years in the dungeon here—meaning a room in the basement where there is no window—can the Chairman of Committees assure me that everyone will have natural daylight and air in their rooms in the new development?

My Lords, when we eventually go to the sunlit uplands of 2015, when we occupy the whole island site, I am sure that everybody will have a palace.

My Lords, can the Chairman of Committees remind us when the Law Lords are due to leave and how their accommodation is to be reallocated?

My Lords, that is a very good question. As I understand it, the Law Lords will be leaving next year and that will free up some 26 rooms on the second floor.

My Lords, does all this fresh accommodation mean that there will be somewhere for Ministers to have talks and meetings with Foreign Ministers? There is, in my experience, a tremendous shortage of such rooms now.

My Lords, there will be more meeting rooms. In the first phase for Millbank House, there will be, I think, five meeting rooms, which the House rather lacks at the moment. When we get towards the whole of the occupation of Millbank in 2015 we also need to review the accommodation in the palace itself, which should facilitate the type of meeting rooms to which the noble Baroness referred.