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House Committee: Fourth Report

Volume 700: debated on Monday 31 March 2008

rose to move, That the fourth report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 78) be agreed to.

The report can be found at http://www.publications.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will first introduce the committee's report and then deal with the issue raised by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, at the appropriate point.

The report makes a recommendation for the restructuring of the senior management in the House of Lords, following the retirement of the current holder of the post of the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Sir Michael Willcocks, in May 2009. The Clerk of the Parliaments has reviewed the responsibilities of Black Rod's post and found that a very significant increase in Black Rod's responsibilities has taken place in recent years, due largely to heightened security needs, the acquisition of additional buildings on the parliamentary estate and the increasingly demanding works programme.

The management of the works and estates has become a major and vital responsibility, which requires its own professional expertise. In response to this, the House Committee has recommended that the senior management team should be strengthened with a new post of Director of Facilities, reporting directly to the Clerk of the Parliaments. The new director would have responsibility for works, accommodation, facilities and certain services. The post-holder would be responsible for the largest single element of the House of Lords budget. It is therefore appropriate that the new post-holder be a member of the Management Board.

I will enlarge on that point in the light of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. It is important not to underestimate the significance of the role which the new Director of Facilities will perform. The committee takes the view that there is now a real need for the House to acquire the type of professional expertise proposed here. Works and estates have taken on tremendous importance in recent years, especially due to the pressure on accommodation. I need not tell your Lordships that the House is much busier than it once was. Average daily attendance has shot up; overall activity levels are at an unprecedented high; and with that the demand for office space and meeting rooms has risen dramatically.

The House administration has responded to those challenges by investing in the Millbank island site. Plans are well developed to refurbish 1 Millbank to become the location of choice for Back-Bench Members. The Millbank island site is a tremendous undertaking with many far-reaching effects on the arrangements for the accommodation of Members and staff. The scope of that project alone justifies the recruitment of a Director of Facilities.

However, there are other long-term projects for this estate. The House is about to begin substantial work on the mechanical and electrical services of the palace and major repairs to its roofs. I do not anticipate that the new post-holder will be underemployed once the Millbank site is operational. The Director of Facilities will also undertake supervisory responsibility for the Refreshment Department. At present, that responsibility rests with the Director of Human Resources, to whom the Head of Catering Services reports. The new Director of Facilities will not have day-to-day operational responsibility for the catering facilities; that duty will remain with the Head of Catering Services.

The portfolio of the Director of Facilities will be of such significance to the House and to the public purse that it is imperative that the post-holder reports directly to the Clerk of the Parliaments. The individual appointed to the post is also likely to be of a grade that will make it necessary for him or her to report to the Clerk of the Parliaments. The Clerk of the Parliaments, who as head of the administration is responsible for determining the membership of the Management Board, has advised that the significance of the new role will be so great as to require the new director to be a member of the Management Board.

I turn to the other side of the coin and explain how the new arrangements will affect the holder of the post of Black Rod. The appointment of a Director of Facilities will enable the holder of the post of Black Rod to focus on the more traditional aspects of the role as Gentleman Usher, Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain and Serjeant at Arms. Those roles carry responsibility for such vital duties as security, order in the House, the Doorkeepers, ceremonial duties and events, public access and the Sovereign’s residual estate at Westminster. We will therefore look to the new post-holder to have all the experience and expertise that have traditionally been required of that post. Black Rod would continue to report directly to the Clerk of the Parliaments and would be a member of the Management Board.

Black Rod’s role would continue to be largely similar to that of many of the previous holders of the post of Black Rod. Works and estates is a relatively recent addition to the portfolio of Black Rod’s responsibilities, which arose in 1991 when both Houses took over responsibility for works and estates following the Ibbs review. We are in large measure reverting to a previous pattern. Buckingham Palace has been consulted on the proposed changes and is content. I can therefore assure the House that there is no diminution of the importance of Black Rod’s traditional role.

It is a recognised imperative that Black Rod and the Director of Facilities would work closely together and be easily and readily accessible and responsive to Members. The House Committee has emphasised the importance of the continued provision of efficient services to Members under the new arrangements. Indeed, I emphasise that Members’ needs are at the forefront of the proposals for restructure. A working group of officials has been established to consider the detailed arrangements of the division of responsibilities, and the House Committee will consider its recommendations in due course.

I pay tribute to the work of our current Black Rod, Sir Michael Willcocks, and am pleased to say that his appointment will be extended for a further year to May 2009 so that he can assist in the introduction of this important change. The House is invited to agree the recommendations set out in paragraph 6 of the report. I beg to move.

Moved, That the fourth report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 78) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

rose to move, 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).”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for inviting us to agree to the House Committee report, but I am afraid that I have to disagree with much of what he said. I hold no brief for the present Black Rod; he is a distinguished former officer. As it happens, I knew his predecessor rather better, having served with him in the Ministry of Defence. The plain fact is that we have benefited over the years from a succession of very distinguished former officers who became Black Rod, and I pay tribute to all of them in their time.

The position of Black Rod, held as it is by a former senior military officer, reflects the competence of such people to hold that position. Our Armed Forces are a huge business by any standards. They have all the problems and all the activities that we have in this palace, so it is completely appropriate that a former military officer should hold the position of Black Rod, as he will have held similar responsibilities during his career. They all come to us with a distinguished background and great competence, so the idea that a senior officer cannot carry out these duties is absurd.

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.

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.)

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—

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 helpful if we knew the views of Black Rod? I have not heard them yet, and it seems to me quite extraordinary that they are not set out in this paper.

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.

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 to catch the stopping buck without the full information that I feel is necessary for the proper management of those projects. This is not some last-minute scheme cooked up on the back of an envelope. It evolved after the most considered discussions in the House Committee of how we now deal with two separate functions of the ancient responsibilities of Black Rod.

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 19th century, 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 21st century.

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?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we are but at the foothills of giving this Parliament the structure required for the 21st century. 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.

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.

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 responsible to Black Rod, so there will be upheaval as they change loyalties. I repeat that I would not be disappointed at having a new Director of Facilities, but he ought to be available through Black Rod, not counter to him.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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—

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.

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 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 closely with another place to develop the facilities of the future, whether separately or jointly, we need this person in post.

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”.

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 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.

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.

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.

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

My Lords, I think that most noble Lords would say that it would. The fact that noble Lords will have proper offices and facilities and so on should, in any case, improve their ability to hold the Executive to account.

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?

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—

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?

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.

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.

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 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.

On Question, Motion agreed to.