The BBC has picked up on a written answer from Baroness Royall on the cost of Parliament, showing that the cost of the Lords this past year was down on the previous year. As the figures also show, the cost of running the Lords is almost a quarter of the cost of running the Commons.
We tend to make a virtue of our frugality. At the present time, this is probably justified. Nonetheless, I would not be averse to an increase in resources where this enables the House to fulfil its tasks more effectively. Here I refer not to our allowances but rather to staff support. As Lord Tyler mentions, we get little provision to hire research assistants. This could be extended and the contract be held with the House: in other words, the peers could do the interviewing and appointing, with HR support, but with the contract being offered and administered by the House. The principal problem, though, is a physical one. Where would we put them? We are already under great pressure. When what is known as the island site (2 Millbank) is complete, there will be more offices for peers, but still relatively little space for research and secretarial staff. We are in a situation where there is no space or where part of a desk has to be cleared in a shared room, and space found for a laptop and a chair. This is the situation in the offices of Opposition front-benchers and not just back-bench peers.
It is not clear what the answer is. There is no scope for a new building – we could not have our own Portcullis House (no space, too expensive) and there appears little available space in existing buildings. The expansion of the Millbank site may provide some limited space, but there seems little we could utilise beyond that. Or is there somewhere else that may be appropriate?