The committee corridor

Lord Norton

61969In the Palace of Westminster, the committee corridor (pictured) has been at the hub of committee activity, though it now has competition.  The corridor is remarkable for being a long, unbroken corridor running the length of much of the Palace.  It has sixteen committee rooms overlooking the Thames.  Committee Room 14 is the largest and the one where the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Conservative 1922 Committee hold their weekly meetings.  Of the sixteen, only four are Lords committee rooms, though the House does have three relatively new rooms on the other side of the corridor.  Even so, the Lords remains the poor relation in terms of available committee rooms.

In addition to the twelve rooms it has on the main committee corridor, the Commons has a second set of rooms on the upper committee corridor – immediately above the main corridor – as well as modern purpose-built committee rooms on the first floor of Portculllis House.  Indeed, the committee rooms in Portcullis House have served to divide attention in terms of committee activity.  There are also meeting rooms in other parts of the parliamentary estate, including 7 Millbank.  

On the Lords side, we have another committee room on the ground floor of the Palace – Committee Room G (the G presumably standing for ground – it confuses people, many assuming there must be committee rooms A, B, C etc) – as well as one or two meeting rooms in the outlying buildings.  Even so, our committee room resources are modest relative to those of the Commons. 

Despite the expansion of committee room space, both Houses are under pressure when it comes to utilising rooms for meetings.  Committees of the House naturally take precedence.  If members have rooms booked for all-party groups or some other bodies, they may find they are gazumped at short notice by a select committee and have to be re-allocated a room, sometimes one of the ones in the outlying estate.  The pressure is particularly severe on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the main days for committee meetings.  There is less of a problem booking a room in an evening or on a Thursday. 

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the committee corridor in the Palace – and now the first floor of Portcullis House – is usually awash with people, MPs and peers heading for meetings, witnesses and members of the public looking for the relevant rooms, members of the media sometimes hovering to catch members, not least after party meetings.  It is important to remember that a mass of parliamentary activity takes place away from the two chambers and that the committee rooms are extremely, and increasingly, important in enabling both Houses to fulfil their scrutinising roles.

16 comments for “The committee corridor

  1. Frank W. Summers III
    25/08/2009 at 8:41 pm

    I wonder if a possible future role of the hereditary peers remaining in the House might be to hold official receptions in rotation for some of the frequent visitors to the Parliament. It has been said and written here in the USA that some of the great British aristocratic estates are underutilized and yet kept in good repair. This would be sort of a legislative equivalent Of America’s Presidential Camp David. Of course the Peers could expect some compensation. It seems to me that if physical environs of Lords do not overwhelm then one can tell by looking at the scheme of the building and at British hisotry that a point has been missed. There are many players in the economic lives of the average Briton who can be assumed to be less attached to their good than the HoL. I think the HoL is supposed (with due deference to the Royal House) to intimidate the barabarians at the gate which exist in every civization. In Britain architecture and hospitality have always been part of the larger social architecture. Do hedge fund managers appear before these committees or representative of munitions concerns and if so are they at least duly impressed that they are not calling on inferiors at some level? I do not know but it is worth considering over the long term perhaps.

  2. lordnorton
    25/08/2009 at 9:02 pm

    Frank W. Summers III: In this post, I confined my comments to committee rooms. I will probably do a separate post on the banqueting rooms in the Palace. The Lords only has the Attlee Room and the Cholmondeley Room, though in exceptional circumstances (and with royal approval), the Royal Gallery may be used. The Commons has far more banqueting rooms available. The Palace of Westminster proves an entremely attractive venue for holding dinners and receptions. It is rare for those invited not to want to attend. The Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall may also be used for speeches by visiting Heads of State.

    • Croft
      26/08/2009 at 11:07 am

      Do you know why there is even an Attlee Room in the Lords? Of the many distinguished statesmen, many of whom spent their entire careers in the Lords, to pick (the first Earl?) Attlee who was there but briefly and neither in government or party office seems odd. Or is it just the usual if party X has a named room party y gets to name one irrespective of anything else?

  3. Bedd Gelert
    26/08/2009 at 10:10 am

    Off-topic news about Lords Reform..

    I suppose my question arising from the second article is whether, in House of Lords terms, a ’12-year delay’ equates to short, medium or long grass ?

    • Croft
      26/08/2009 at 2:10 pm

      You’re assuming ‘forest’ isn’t on the options list which by past experience…!

      I despair really! Another suggestion of beginning a change with no clear idea where you are heading or how to get there. Election by as a yet unchosen method, for a chamber with as yet unclear function (revising/co-equal?) and without clear determination from the preceding decisions what powers it will/won’t need. 🙁

      The Lords can block any reform before the next election though whether the members will want to is another matter. Somehow I doubt it will have time to pass both houses even if it has the support.

      • 26/08/2009 at 6:50 pm

        I seemed to have missed hearing about the recall of parliament.

      • 27/08/2009 at 1:50 pm

        The Parliament could not possibly be recalled without you, ladytizzy!

        You were right in the end about the Ashes. Though after Headlingly, things seemed to have gone completely Marsham Street. Still, it all came right in the end.

  4. Frank W. Summers III
    26/08/2009 at 5:55 pm

    In another deviation from the topic. Edward Kennedy who servedover forty five years in a chamber modeled only in part but certainly modeled in Part on the House of Lords has died while still in service. In every sense a lifetime appointee of the popular vote. He is mourned at a private compound that could compete with some of the aristocratic estates. His father was Ambassador of the the United States to the Court of St. James. Thus I thought he deserved a mention here on the blog of a Lord who is a Professor of Government and lived in the USA for a bit. Being an American I choose to post this. It will not lead to an invasion — there is nobody in his category as regards this House. Possibly not in the whole wide world.

  5. lordnorton
    27/08/2009 at 10:36 pm

    Croft: On the name of the room, I should point out that there is also a Home Room on the ground floor – one of our dining rooms – and my presumption is that the decision was taken to name the rooms (Attlee and Home) after two distinguished former prime ministers who were also notable members of the Lords. If we had more rooms, presumably we would name them after some more recent former prime ministers who sat in the House.

    Bedd Gelert: I was aware Jack Straw was addressing the Unlock Democracy seminar and saw the reports of what he said. I rather share Croft´s despair. There is no intellectual discourse taking place about Lords reform. Rather, Jack Straw – as well as Andrew Tyrie and Sir George Young in a recent pamphlet – proceed on the basis that the vote in the Commons in 2007 justifies an elected House. This despite the fact that those favouring election did not clearly win the debate. I have no idea what Jack Straw is playing at. I may well do a separate post on this.

    ladytizzy: I have not heard about a recall of Parliament either – well not the UK Parliament. The Scottish Parliament was recalled for a special session.

    Frank W. Summers III: Thanks for your comments. When living in and regularly visiting the States, I heard various leading figures speak – indeed, the then President (Gerald Ford) was the speaker at my graduation ceremony – and also met, in the 1970s, a young George W. Bush. I also heard Edward Kennedy speak. On the Senate and the Lords, the two are notably for their differences, apart from the fact that both are self-regulating and, until recently, each had as its presiding officer a member of the executive. The Lord Chancellor ceased to be the presiding officer of the Lords in 2006, but the Vice-President remains formally the presiding officer of the Senate. In this respect, the UK appears to be ahead of the USA in ensuring a formal separation of powers!

    • 28/08/2009 at 10:44 am

      Regarding Lords reform: Lord Norton, if Lords reform seriously becomes an issue — either before or after the election — what do you propose to do about it?

      Opposing this in the house is all very well, but if people are not aware of the good thing they are about to lose, opposition might seem like you are just protecting your jobs.

    • Croft
      28/08/2009 at 1:03 pm

      I wonder Lord Norton whether the Labour party, expecting a defeat, is turning its mind towards the mandatory shadow cabinet elections and ministers, even those not running for leader, are aware of the gallery they need to play to to keep their jobs. It would tend to explain a number of comments by ministers of late.

      On the Senate/Lords comparison – when you look at some of the appointments (especially mid term appointments) and quasi feudal nature of some local parties in appointing sons/daughters/brothers/cousins to office the ‘hereditaries’ seem to be doing better over there than over here 😀

      Liam: I seem to remember last time reform was discussed some peers (probably representing a larger silent group) implied the quid pro quo for voting for an elected chamber was a pay off package to allow them to retire.

    • Frank W. Summers III
      01/09/2009 at 5:05 pm

      I have been on a bit of a vacation. I do detect we have at least one flesh and blood connection in persona that is shared. Idid speak with then former President Gerald Ford when he addressed and audience at the Heyman Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. I was with my grandfather Louisiana Chief Justice Frank W. Summers and his wife (now widow) my grandfather. So one degree of separation now divides us in the flesh. If this expression is unfamiliar it is a pasttime in the USA to find degrees of separation and may or may not be in the UK.

  6. 27/08/2009 at 11:22 pm

    Lord N: “I may well do a separate post on [Lords reform].”

    Please do, Lord N. It strikes me as horrendously complicated. It is very easy to have a knee-jerk reaction in favour of an elected second chamber, but I for one – if it functions in the same manner as the Commons – would be totally against it. And surely the House must retain its function as a revising chamber, I mean Lord help us given the state of some of the legislation arriving there without a revising chamber!

  7. Rob
    28/08/2009 at 10:38 am

    With the departure of the Law Lords to the Supreme Court, will the House regain use of the judicial committee rooms at the far end of the corridor?

  8. lordnorton
    28/08/2009 at 11:19 pm

    Liam: If reform of the Lords becomes an issue before or during an election campaign, I will be prepared – but also immensely surprised. Given concerns about the issues such as the economy, unemployment, the NHS, education, and war in Afghanistan, I very much doubt it is something that will be cropping up on the doorstep when politicians canvass or be raised spontaneously in the clubs and pubs of Britain. Rather, in so far as it is pursued by politicians, I rather agree with Croft that it is something essentially for internal party consumption, but even that may not be a particularly productive strategy given that both parties in the Commons are split down the middle on the issue.

    Croft: As just indicated in my response to Liam, I tend to share your views as to the motivation for pursuing the issue. On US politics, certain family names do keep cropping up in the Senate over the years, though that is not an unusual feature of our House of Commons. We may be moving towards the situation where inheritance of seats is more of a feature of elected chambers rather than an unelected one!

    stephenpaterson: Many thanks. Yes, I will do a post on it. I very much share your views on the subject.

    Rob: Though Committee Rooms 1 and 2 were used for judicial sittings, their use by the law lords was not exclusive. When not used for judicial hearings, the rooms could be booked for other meetings in the same way as any other committee room. The departure of the law lords does, though, extend the availability of the rooms for committee meetings and other non-judicial use.

  9. Keith Ashworth-Lord
    11/04/2013 at 8:18 am

    On what date in 1975 and in which committee room was Margaret Thatcher elected leader of the Conservative Party. I cannot remember and I was in the HoC that day with my constituency MP.

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