In 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.