§ Lord Aberdare
asked the Chairman of Committees:
Whether he will clarify the position on refurbishment of the Lord Chancellor's Residence.[HL634]
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)
The process by which decisions on works in the House of Lords are taken is as follows:
- 1. The Administration and Works Sub-Committee considers and approves proposals based on estimates prepared by the Parliamentary Works Directorate.
- 2. The Finance and Staff Sub-Committee approves the necessary expenditure.
- 3. The House of Lords Offices Committee considers the recommendations of its two Sub-Committees and reports to the House.
- 4. The House debates and agrees to the Offices Committee's report.
Membership of the Sub-Committees consists of senior members from all parts of the House. Backbenchers have a majority of members on the Offices Committee.
Following the general election, the Lord Chancellor's Permanent Secretary, Sir Thomas Legg, advised the Lord Chancellor that it would be in the interests of the office for him to reside in the Residence as his predecessors had done. Black Rod, as Agent of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, put forward proposals, on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, for a comprehensive restoration prepared by the Parliamentary Works Directorate. The Sub-Committee, aware of work carried out on the Speaker's rooms in the House of Commons, agreed that the Lord Chancellor's Residence should be restored to a similar standard.
The Administration and Works Sub-Committee approved these proposals on 8 July 1997. The sub-committee recommended that the work, to a total of £650,000, should be carried out as a single project, rather than staged over two years. This proposal was subsequently approved by the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee on 16 July and endorsed by the Offices Committee on 22 July. The House itself 24WA approved the Offices Committee report on 30 July 1997 (Hansard, col. 181).
The Palace of Westminster is a Grade I listed building. Repairs and refurbishments are carried out to standards which are in keeping with the listed status of the House and in accordance with the needs of a Speaker's Residence. The decoration has to reflect the original schemes designed by Barry and Pugin.
The refurbishment of the Residence was not part of the 10-year programme of works for the Palace of Westminster prior to the general election and was not included in the works estimate for the current financial year. It has however proved possible to accommodate that part of the expenditure which will fall for payment in 1997–98 (£350,000) from within the estimate and without the need to seek a supplementary estimate. This is in part due to savings in the works estimate arising from the Dissolution of Parliament in 1997 (when the House did not sit for several weeks). Consequent upon the decisions of the Committee referred to above, the work has now become part of the 10-year rolling programme.
A Parliamentary Answer on 19 November 1997 gave details of contracts which had been placed amounting to £333,784. Since then the following contracts have been let:
£ Soft furnishing 51,000 Carpets 21,000 Furniture 96,000 Ceramic tiles 5,000 Blinds 5,000 Domestic equipment and tableware 11,000 Total 189,000
There have been inaccuracies in recent press reports on the likely cost of this work which is taking place. Carpets, orders for which have been completed, cost £34 per square yard and not £100 as quoted in the press. Similarly, fabric for curtains is being supplied at £60 per square yard and not £200 as reported. The dining table, which will seat 16, and not 10 as reported, will cost £9,640, not £25,000 as reported.
The contracts placed for these works are standard parliamentary contracts and have been in use since 1990. No special arrangements have been made for the Residence. Clauses relating to the Official Secrets Act relate to the possibility that contractors may have access to official information of a confidential and sensitive nature.
Details of contracts are regarded as commercial-in-confidence and contractors who work with the Palace of Westminster are not expected to comment to the press or other similar bodies without prior approval. This is normal commercial practice and has nothing to do with the Official Secrets Acts.