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9.12 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): I am grateful for the effort and thought put in by the Select Committee on Administration to a report which, if we agree to it, will allow the line of route to open again in the summer. The Committee took on board comments and ideas raised during the previous debate on the matter, and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) has discussed the visitor survey, an idea proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) which produced a wealth of helpful information. The Committee took on board the comments made in our previous debate and ensured that that survey took place.

The House should be grateful to everyone who worked hard to ensure that last summer's experiment was a success. The Committee has acknowledged that there

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were teething problems. Having identified such problems, the Committee has proposed solutions. The Committee recognised that the House could not be expected to approve a permanent reopening of the line of route while such problems existed and has rightly asked that the experiment be extended. I strongly believe that we should give the scheme another chance this summer.

I agree with what has been said about the need for better marketing. I am impressed by the thought already given and effort made in that respect. I was also impressed by the strong support shown by members of the public who undertook the tour and found it most valuable. I note that the Committee is not asking for an increase in funding--a rarity in this age of tight budgets.

This is a House matter and, rightly, is subject to a free vote. As has been pointed out, their lordships approved another trial during the forthcoming summer adjournment. Like the hon. Member for Broxbourne, I hope that colleagues in this place will approve the motion so that the Palace of Westminster will again be open to the public--to our constituents--this summer.

9.15 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I certainly support the proposal made in the first report of the Select Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) that the experiment should be continued this summer. I agree in principle that as many people as possible should have access--controlled, of course--to the House of Commons, to see how Parliament is constructed and how we work. It is important that we continue to engage the interest of members of the public in the history of this building, which is so important in our nation's life.

Regrettably, there is far too much cynicism about politics at present--especially about the work of the House. We can overcome that by encouraging members of the public to take an interest--to see and to hear more of what we do, if they are minded to do so; although I would not make that compulsory. The opportunity to do so during the summer months is to be valued. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Committee's careful analysis of the experiment so far and on bringing the information to the House.

I want to pick out one or two points from the report. I note that paragraph 17, headed "Profile of Visitors", states:

As a Member representing a south-west constituency, I point out to my hon. Friend that, for a family, a trip to London--even for a weekend--is extremely expensive. That was clearly demonstrated by the lack of interest from people around the country in visiting that other attraction--of much less importance than this place--the dome. People thought twice about the cost of the rail fare. That is one of the realities of life that must be taken into account when we consider what our capital offers by way of visitor attractions.

I trust that my hon. Friend will take my remarks in the spirit in which they are meant when I say that I hope that we will not take the too politically correct route of trying

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to manipulate visitors to visit the House of Commons. Although 78 per cent. of visitors are from the United Kingdom, it is important for the people of this country to see the Parliament to which they send their representatives. I am pleased that the proportion of home visitors is so much greater.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My hon. Friend refers to the proportion of visitors from London and the south-east. She will not have failed to notice the significant interest demonstrated by our friends from the United States. Does she agree that, as regards improvements--even my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) accepted that there can be improvements--it is important to focus on merchandise that matches the interests of the visitors? For example, given that only £1,970 was raised from the sale of mini teddy bears, House of Lords version, does my hon. Friend agree that we would probably do better on profitability of merchandise if we could offer as an attraction to our American friends figurines of my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher?

Mrs. Browning: I shall deal with merchandise in a few moments. My hon. Friend's suggestion had not occurred to me, but he will have noted that paragraph 17 refers to the fact that the visitor profile was made up of people

socio-economic category.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): What is wrong with that?

Mrs. Browning: I hasten to assure my right hon. Friend that there is nothing at all wrong with that, but as someone with a background in marketing, I would say that if people are to market merchandise, they first need to know the marketplace. That is easily identified by the socio-economic groupings. Given the point that my hon. Friend made a moment ago, the appropriateness of the merchandise for that particular category of visitor needs to be considered.

I was disappointed and astonished that the items--I am not sure whether they are china or porcelain--that carry the Pugin designs had not found favour. There are two possible reasons for that: either they are more highly priced, better quality items, or the importance of Pugin and examples of his work, especially the decorative work, are not pointed out properly by the visitor guides. It is astonishing that mugs bearing the portcullis emblem were the most popular souvenirs--not just any old portcullis mug, but the white ones with a gold portcullis emblem, whereas those with the green portcullis emblem did not find favour.

One has to test the market, and last year's line of route experiment provided a good opportunity to test the market and the way in which merchandise is sold to visitors, but I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne to consider carefully why the Pugin merchandise has not found favour. It is clearly of good quality, but perhaps its historic importance is not well appreciated by visitors. If Pugin's importance to the House is not apparent after a tour of the House, I should be extremely concerned about the content of the tour. We all agree that people appear to be satisfied with the content of the tour, but perhaps she will consider that matter.

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As for the House of Lords teddy bears, it could be that visitors were of an age-group profile that already had a teddy bear, so perhaps they are not the right sort of merchandise.

I hope that the House will take this in the spirit in which I say it, but I would not wish to have at home any china bearing the portcullis emblem, nor any other emblem of the House. I am fond of the House and respect it, but I should be afraid that if visitors came to my home and saw crockery bearing House of Commons insignia, it would be like being found at home with a British Rail cup and saucer in the cupboard--they would wonder how I had acquired it. Perhaps people in socio-economic group ABC1 might pause for a moment and wonder what the vicar's wife would think if they handed round teacups bearing House of Commons insignia. Much market research remains to be done on the merchandise, but I do not want to be negative because the experiment has clearly been a success and I am sure that the appropriateness of the merchandise and any new range that hon. Members might suggest tonight will be properly market-tested before money is invested in it.

There is a more serious matter, which my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne mentioned. I have no objection to Portcullis House, especially the rooms on the first floor, being made available to the public, but I am a little concerned that paragraph 26 states:

I have been a Member of Parliament for only nine years, but during those years there have been times when we may have been a little cavalier about the security of this building. Such concerns are no less now than when I was first elected. Although we all want to welcome visitors and allow them to see where we work, the word "casual" gives me cause for concern.

There was a time when most of the security focus was on terrorism from a particular source. There is a view--it is only a view--that that threat is somewhat diminished, but we face as much risk today of terrorism from unknown sources as we did in the past. Therefore, whether the House is in recess or not, I stress to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne that we should take seriously the issue of security. We should not take a casual approach to access at any time; it should be properly managed and controlled.

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