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Parliamentary Estate: Traffic Marshals

Volume 835: debated on Thursday 8 February 2024


Asked by

To ask the Senior Deputy Speaker what recent consideration has been given to the costs associated with traffic marshals operating on the Parliamentary Estate.

My Lords, safety on the Parliamentary Estate is a matter for the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House, who delegate responsibility for the traffic management system to Strategic Estates, a bicameral team. Regular reviews have taken place since the one-way system was implemented, and marshal numbers have been reduced where possible. The most recent review took place last month. Costs were considered each time, along with the need for safety, particularly while construction is being undertaken on a working estate.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to meet him on two occasions to discuss my frustration in trying to get to the bottom of both the need for and the costs associated with the traffic marshals. Is it possible for me to take the matter to the Finance Committee to discuss the figures I am being given? At the same time, can consideration be given urgently to reducing/removing traffic marshals, particularly on recess and non-sitting days?

My Lords, as I said, this is a bicameral health and safety matter and is the responsibility of the two clerks, but I certainly see no difficulty if the Finance Committee wishes to look into the contract and all matters relating to that. I have not spoken to the Finance Committee, as this is an immediate question, but I see no difficulty in so doing. On the issue of recesses, I should say that, for instance, from 22 December to 2 January, when traffic was very low, there were no traffic marshals on the estate. But there are some recesses when there is heavy construction traffic, and therefore it is very important that Strategic Estates looks at each part of the year, each recess, to see what is needed to ensure health and safety on the estate.

My Lords, I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. I think it is more appropriate for a committee to look into these matters, rather than them being discussed in the House in this way. An important element of this that we often omit is that there is also a requirement to have proper risk assessments, in which not just Peers and MPs but the people who work on the estate, particularly trade unions and their representatives, should be involved. Their health and safety is much more of a priority and there is actually a statutory duty for them, so I hope we can be reassured that there will be an inclusive approach to this and that the voice of the workers is not forgotten.

My Lords, the Parliamentary Safety Assurance Board and the Logistics Steering Group—both boards of officials of both Houses—gave approval to this additional mitigation. This is in the context of speed bumps, zebra crossings, traffic calming signs and, wherever possible, traffic/pedestrian segregation. I should also say, perhaps for some sceptics, that in the last year there were eight reported near misses, which I think we should all be very aware of, on a busy Parliamentary Estate with not only us as Members but members of staff and visitors.

My Lords, a Telegraph article reported that a traffic marshal working 60 hours a week on a day shift for 52 weeks is paid £65,613 a year. If that is the case, they are the best traffic marshals/security officers in the country. I wonder whether this is more an issue about each level of subcontractor adding on 20% for management, because every traffic marshal and security officer I have ever talked to has been on the minimum wage of £10.42 an hour, and they have to pay for their own training and their own DBS badges in most instances. Will the noble Lord please ask the Finance Committee to look at this and make sure that Parliament is not being charged three or four times for the management of these people, and that they are being paid an appropriate amount and not being forced to fund their own training and their own security badges?

My Lords, contracts are let by the Parliamentary Commercial Directorate through a public sector procurement framework. Traffic marshals are paid £13 per hour during the day shift, but of course the responsibility for the marshals rests with the contractor; we are not directly paying the marshals.

My Lords, I commend my noble friend Lord Hayward on his tenacity in pursuing this subject. I asked a Question on exactly this about a year ago and was told that it was costing nearly two-thirds of £1 million a year—I think it has gone up since. It is the most spectacular waste of public money on a job creation scheme. Many of us in this Chamber have been using the back road from Speaker’s Court to Royal Court for 30 years. I have never encountered any danger on bicycle, on foot or in a car. What exactly did the risk assessment find that was suddenly making it more dangerous? I still use that road by bicycle, foot and car and have not encountered any danger at all, except some poor man in an orange suit looking bored and rather getting in the way.

My Lords, risk assessments are taken very seriously. They do not come under my responsibility, but my information is that Strategic Estates has a duty, on behalf of the clerks, to look at this rigorously. This was in the context of a one-way system that was needed because of the works in New Palace Yard. As I said, there have been eight reported near misses—that is just the reported ones—in the last year. There would be no problem if the Finance Committee wished to scrutinise the financial aspect of this, but there are still legal duties that rest with not us in this House but the clerks.

My Lords, this is yet another example of how this building is not fit for purpose. We are spending millions on Peers’ Entrance but nothing seems to be happening there, and we will spend billions on Victoria Tower. We have already spent millions, if not billions, on R&R but nothing has started and no one seems to know what will happen or where anyone will be decanted. Is it not about time that we abandoned this building and created one fit for the 21st century, in which individual Members could have offices and people who are disabled could get around properly, and give this place the only purpose for which it is fit, as a museum?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that I have considerable respect for him, but we should be proud of this building and what it represents around the world. We are a very active Chamber and I see nothing but vibrancy in the work of the House of Lords. If we believe in culture and heritage, we have to make old buildings work and have a purpose. We are a living building, with a lot of people working here, and we should have a good future as that. I agree that there are frustrations, but I think it will be millions rather than billions for Victoria Tower, and Peers’ Entrance will, I hope, be finished this September—

This is important not only for enabling people with access difficulties to get into the building more safely but for the security of the Palace.

My Lords, given how long this has gone on and is likely to go on, can the noble Lord urge that this rigorous consideration includes the use of not only human beings but electronic means? There are traffic lights all over London where roadworks are going on, ensuring that traffic going in both directions, and pedestrians, are kept separate.

My Lords, I am sure that all these matters will be and are considered by Strategic Estates. I understand that there was an experiment with a traffic light that was not quite as successful as hoped. I am sure that the point the noble Baroness makes will be heard.