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Sir Patrick Cormack: Personally, I would be delighted if the proposals were extended to other recesses and

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weekends, but, in respect of sitting days, the proposal would have to come before the House again and I cannot think of a single hon. Member who would vote for it.

Mr. Tyler: The hon. Member for South Staffordshire is always telling us about precedent. Once a precedent is established for charging for entry into this building, it will be difficult to stop it.

Mrs. Beckett: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify something? He has made a point about the Committee discussing the extension of the proposal throughout the year. It has certainly discussed opening during other recesses and weekends, as he rightly said, but surely he recognises that that would involve an access that is not now available. An incautious hearer might take the view that he is saying that a charge would be made for access that is now available. Surely that access is not now available. I wholeheartedly endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). It is grossly over-egging the pudding to suggest that the proposal is somehow the thin end of the wedge. I cannot think of any hon. Member who would advocate that we should charge for our constituents to come when the House was in session or who would vote for such a proposal.

Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to the Leader of the House. I shall return to that point in a moment in relation to the economics of the proposal. It is extremely important for hon. Members to recognise that, once we embark on this course, it will become increasingly likely that people will say that the only viable way for it to operate is to extend it as far as possible.

We have already been told that up to a quarter of those who will come here in August and September will be United Kingdom citizens who have already contributed through their taxes to their democracy and are entitled to see where that democracy resides. If the proposal is extended to the Easter and Whitsun recesses, the proportion will rise. We all know that far more of our constituents than tourists are likely to want to come at that time.

I take seriously the point made by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). I remember the wartime years only distantly, but I have many relations who served alongside those who fought on behalf of the Commonwealth countries against the Nazi dictatorship. Those people will feel that they are being treated in a rather shabby way if, at the only time that they can come here, they find that they are charged for entry.

Dr. Palmer: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler: I want to make progress as I know that others want to speak.

I know that some hon. Members object to all charging. I do not necessarily take that view. As the hon. Member for South Staffordshire has pointed out, there are already some charges, so that is not the big issue. The issue is whether the proposed method of charging will be worth losing the vital rights of our constituents and fellow citizens to come here free of charge. At the moment, groups from constituencies that are further afield can visit only during the months when we are not sitting,

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particularly September. A school group from Cornwall might very well come at Whitsun or in September. If it were possible, I would try to make arrangements for them to be escorted round, but that cannot be guaranteed. Increasing numbers of people will find it difficult to fit in with the proposed arrangements.

There are also some practical considerations. In addition to the outside contractors that the report envisages, paragraph 14 proposes that three new staff should be appointed--two senior and one subsidiary member of staff. What will they do for the other 10 months of the year? Will they be fully employed for only eight weeks? That does not seem very economic.

We are told in paragraph 17 that the two month-scheme will cost in the region of £500,000 in year one and £350,000 in the following year, with the Lords making an additional contribution. Within that very narrow margin, the pressure to extend the period will be enormous. Any private enterprise organisation--or any enterprise within the House--would immediately seek to expand the scheme other recesses and weekends. The Select Committee is obviously aware of that. What business would employ staff and equip itself to run an eight-week year? Of course it would immediately try to extend its working year as far as possible. The level of charging is referred to in the report and the hon. Member for Broxbourne said that some savings have already been made. Perhaps we should debate the matter every week so that the cost would come down to nil, as it is impressive that, since the publication of the report just a few weeks ago, it has already been possible to reduce the charge.

Let us consider the figures in the report. A family of two adults and three children would have to pay £14 to get in. That is a substantial sum for a small family. However, if a group or school party were not lucky enough to get sponsorship, a group of 13 young people and three adults would have to pay £45.50. Under the present arrangements, the maximum would be about £20 and would include a guide.

In addition, the report anticipates some 2,000 people an hour coming through in August and September. The hon. Member for Broxbourne and others have said that there will be no disruption to hon. Members' parties coming round. Hon. Members should imagine their own party arriving behind a queue of 2,000 people. How would they queue barge? How would they get preference? Of course the proposals will affect the entry of our constituents, whether we take them round themselves or ask someone else to do it.

There will have to be experts to answer questions. As has already been said, visitors will be equipped with audio guides of a make that I understand has just been thrown out by Buckingham palace and the Tower of London because they do not work properly. Audio guides cannot answer questions, so there will still have to be people to do that. If, as happens every summer recess, the Line of Route changes owing to building work, the audio guide will be useless unless someone is paid to record a completely new message. In addition, if groups are not accompanied by qualified guides employed by this place, security charges will have to increase. There will have to be people to keep an eye on those groups. When they come with our staff or the staff of the House, they are

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automatically supervised but, if they are unaccompanied, security staff will have to be doubled or trebled, at considerable cost. They will be there for only August and September, so I do not know what preferential rates are to be paid. Or will they be students taking up a holiday job? I have nothing against students, but their professionalism would be nothing like as great as one would expect.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire usually lectures us on the issue of precedent, and I hope that he feels that that issue is entirely appropriate. I believe that, once we start on the slippery slope of commercialisation and privatisation, there will be remorseless pressure to extend the period, to increase the categories that are included--eventually, I see our constituents being included--or to increase the charges; or all three. That will be inevitable once we have said yes.

I appreciate that the Committee has done some useful work, but it has not put a choice before the House. It has not put a choice before the Commission, or any other Committee of the House. We are entitled to a choice, and that is what the amendment provides. It does not call for the whole thing to be thrown out, as important work is being done. However, the House is entitled to know what choices there are and whether we can avoid what seems to be the least-good option.

I believe that we should invite an in-house bid. In their spare time, the staff of the House--as the hon. Member for South Staffordshire acknowledged--provide an excellent service. Why should they be done out of an important role that they fulfil admirably? Why should we not see whether they can provide, on a co-operative basis, an alternative method of dealing with the problem?

I believe that we should examine the costs. It is a fact of life, as the museums have just found, that charging itself costs money. One has to employ more people to handle the money, or use machinery, or a complicated combination of the two. The actual cost of charging is not referred to in the report, and it should be. We should keep supervised tours rather than move to an audio guide system. That would save dramatically on security costs.

If it is felt that the setting-up costs are beyond what we are entitled to consider, we should look carefully at some of the other costs being incurred within this building. I understand that Black Rod in the other place is pushing through a scheme that will cost £2.25 million to apply some cosmetic attention to Old Palace Yard. It has no practical advantage for us, or for our constituents. A small fraction of that sum, dedicated to making this House more accessible to everybody--whether they are from this country or abroad--would be a proper use of public funds.

Our constituents, the electorate, have paid through their taxes for the democratic system. I believe that it would be quite wrong for us to make them pay twice just so they can come and see us and our place of work.

6.12 pm

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I have listened attentively to the points made so far, and I declare an interest, in that I am a member of the Committee. I shall not go on at length because the issues are straightforward. In effect, we have three options. The first is the status quo, which is that there is no access, except by pre-planned groups who normally pay for a guide. That means that, if an individual--perhaps one of those

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referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike); a relative of someone who fought for Britain--seeks to visit the House during the summer recess and cannot contact an hon. Member, he or she will be unable to do so.

The second is to spend £500,000, on our estimate--I assure the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that we looked extensively at alternative costings, and guided groups made up of individual applicants would be more expensive--to provide what would be basically an additional tourist attraction. The third option--the one before us--is that we provide that attraction, but that it should be paid for principally by those who benefit.

As with any proposal for change, there are those, such as the hon. Member for North Cornwall, who propose doing nothing for the time being and awaiting further discussions and developments. They offer the prospect of a better world in which the ideal can be achieved. I have not been in this House for as long as many hon. Members here, but I predict that, if we reject the proposal today, £500,000 will not be found to provide free access for summer visitors, 80 per cent. of whom will be tourists. Politically, it will not happen.

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