I switched on BBC1 this evening, too late for Panorama, and no sooner had I switched on than I saw a shot of Westminster. This was in a programme called New Tricks and it showed what purported to be a meeting with a Labour peer at the House of Lords. The programme-makers clearly have no knowledge of the House. It showed the peer in a rather grand office of his own.
This was misleading for a number of reasons. Only the Lord Speaker has a large, grand office of her own of the sort portrayed in the programme. A few other office-holders – the Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition and the like, as well as law lords – have individual offices. Everyone else has to make do with shared offices, some of them rather crowded. My desk is in a large room – it was initially Black Rod’s living room – but it houses ten desks: seven of us are among the regular attenders. What was formerly a shower-room across the corridor has been converted into an office for two peers! When former Prime Minister, James Callaghan, joined the House, the then Labour Chief Whip, Ted Graham, had enormous difficulty getting him an office of his own. When Lord Callaghan died, his small office was immediately converted into an office for two senior peers.
Some offices are in good locations in the Palace of Westminster. My room on the second floor overlooks Westminster Abbey. Others are not so fortunate and have windows looking out on walls or courtyards. Pressure on space means that outlying buildings have been acquired to create additional office space. The offices are modern, but it entails quite a walk when a division is called in the House – not much fun if it’s raining and there’s heavy traffic when crossing the road. Such is the pressure on space that I once found the Government Deputy Chief Whip in the corridor on my floor wandering round to see if he could identify additional space. Some peers have, or prefer, to work in the Library or at one of the desks in the Royal Gallery. Lord Healey some years ago told me that it reminded him of what the House of Commons was like in the 1960s.
I report this for information, not for the purpose of complaint. Rooms are allocated on a party basis and it can be useful to discuss issues, and share information, with one’s colleagues. There’s an extremely good atmosphere in my office, which makes it a pleasure to work in. I had the opportunity to move to another room when I was made a Chairman of a Select Committee, but I declined. Being where I am is a privilege and I have no wish to move.