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House of Lords: Peers’ Entrance

Volume 747: debated on Thursday 18 July 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask the Chairman of Committees what information has been made available to members regarding the purpose of the visitor QR scanner and all associated equipment installed at Peers’ Entrance to the House of Lords.

My Lords, the new equipment at Peers’ Entrance is being trialled by the doorkeepers, who are moving from a paper-based system to an electronic one. The Administration and Works Committee has discussed the trial at two of its meetings, and members of the committee have been provided with a briefing note in order to brief other Members in their parties or groups. I also answered a Written Question on this matter on 17 June.

My Lords, I hope that Black Rod will now tell us that the equipment will not require the registration of visitor names and that the use of equipment by Members at this stage is to be voluntary, which will obviously thereby render the system of little benefit in terms of security. If ever it was thought that the use of the equipment should be mandatory, can we have an assurance that the House will be fully consulted and allowed to take the final decision on the introduction of its use?

The new system is not mandatory; I can give that clarification and assurance completely. I am very conscious that Members often arrange visits at short notice, which prevents them being able to give advance notice to the doorkeepers. Therefore Members will not have to pre-book their guests, who will not be turned away if they are not on the list. If they so wish, Members will still be able to record only the number of guests without the names. Furthermore, I assure the House that the system would not be made mandatory without the House being consulted and the House deciding. However, I encourage Members to book their guests in as it makes the processing of guests coming through that very constricted area much easier; I make that request.

On the issue of security, I partly fall back on the tried and tested formula that it is established policy not to comment publicly on specific matters of security on the parliamentary estate. However, I assure the noble Lord that security was not the primary reason for the introduction of the new system. One of the main reasons was to introduce a slicker, more efficient service for Members and their guests. We are trying to modernise a little and replace the pens and papers with computers. I appreciate that this is one of the challenges that the House faces as it struggles from time to time to come to terms with the technology of the latter half of the 20th century.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that it might have been better to have consulted Members of the House about the use of this equipment before the expenditure was incurred in getting it?

I think that all members of the Administration and Works Committee and of the domestic committees realise the importance of having a proper and thorough consultation before making and announcing decisions.

Would the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees care to hazard a guess at what further surprises Black Rod may have up his sleeve for us?

I am not sure that Black Rod keeps his surprises up his sleeve. In answer to the noble Lord, I have no detailed knowledge—they would not be surprises if I knew them.

My Lords, notwithstanding the understandable caveat in the first Answer of my noble friend the Chairman of Committees, has there been any indication from members of staff, including police and custodians, that security issues may arise from the sharp increase in the number of visitors to the House, which is a welcome development but may pose problems like this, partly because many are sent by MPs to visit this House as well?

The noble Lord makes an important and valid point; it is always a matter of proportionality. We want to encourage people to visit their Parliament—that is absolutely right—but at the same time we have a responsibility regarding security, not only for Members of the House but also for the people who work for and with us.

My Lords, should we not record our thanks to those who supervise the Peers’ Entrance for their unfailing courtesy towards and, on occasions, incredible patience with our visitors?

My Lords, I am always aware of the patience that the staff of the House show towards Members of the House in particular.

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend the Chairman of Committees would agree that security and safety are of prime importance in this House. Does he agree that it would be of great assistance to those who help us in maintaining that security, including Black Rod, if we played our part by reminding ourselves to wear our identity tags so as to assist them?

That is a very important point that I am more than happy to endorse. If we all got into the habit of wearing our tags it would make life a lot easier for everybody.