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Mr. Forth: Like me, my hon. Friend has the privilege of having accommodation in Portcullis House, so the issue is perhaps closer to our hearts than to those of other Members. Does she not agree that it is one thing to allow or even encourage the public into the existing public area on the first floor of Portcullis House, but it is a different matter to allow them into what is now called the courtyard in the large atrium? That area provides direct unlimited access to 1 Parliament street and to other parts of the parliamentary estate. Should we not be very careful indeed about allowing further access, given the peculiar nature of Portcullis House and its relationship with other parts of the estate?
Mrs. Browning: My right hon. Friend is right, and that is why I am very concerned about the use of the word "casual". Access is an important issue not only when the House is sitting. We work during recesses and some of us
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. I hope that the visits to the line of route this summer will be successful. I am sure that they will in no way detract from the excellent service provided by the staff of the House, particularly those in the education unit, who do an excellent job throughout the year in taking our constituents and school parties around the building. They explain the history of our Parliament and our country, and the work that we do. I am fully in favour of opening the building to as many people as possible so that they can have access to that information and experience.
I conclude by referring to a constituent of mine who came to the parliamentary estate from Devon. Not many people visit the House as frequently as we do, and a trip to London is often a treat for people who live a long way away. When my constituent arrived in Westminster Hall, she ran her hands along the walls and said to me, "It's just wonderful to be able to touch the history." When we whip through Westminster Hall and other parts of a building that we regard as the office, we sometimes take for granted the marvellous history that is represented by this place. I would like us to share that with as many people as possible and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne will continue to enable that to take place during the summer recess.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley): Tomorrow, I shall attend my first meeting of the Administration Committee as a newly appointed member, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) on the report.
The price of £3.50 to visit the parliamentary estate and all that it has to offer must make it the best deal in town. The fact that the ticket price has been kept so low compared with what people have to pay elsewhere is to be commended. However, I am glad that the report recognises that the issues of marketing and distribution need to be addressed. My area of South Yorkshire is a fair distance from the House, and if people do not know what is on offer, they will not take the opportunity to visit it. Has the Committee considered advertising the fact that the parliamentary estate is open in the summer in the magazines of organisations such as English Heritage and the National Trust, which have many members? Other organisations with an interest in political history and heritage may also want to take that opportunity.
The report mentions the lack of toilet and refreshment facilities. A Conservative Member raised a point of order recently when all the toilets in Portcullis House broke down. My experience is that such problems are not confined to this place. When I attended a royal garden party some years ago I found that even in the gardens of Buckingham palace ladies were queuing round the block to use the toilet facilities. It is pretty much the same in every public venue. Bearing in mind the comments about security, in future, once arrangements in Portcullis House are more stable and the toilets work from one week to the next, perhaps we could think about using the refreshment facilities on the courtyard floor for visitors. At the end of their tour, they could leave the parliamentary estate through the tube station exit.
I wonder whether the Committee has thought about how we could market souvenirs better. When people come here, they may be weighed down with packages and feel that they do not want to buy anything, but they might buy something from the airport on their way home to remind them of their visit. Other specialist retail outlets might also have something to offer.
Mr. Forth: Does the hon. Lady realise that there is a danger in that approach? We must decide whether we want to turn the sale of souvenirs into a large-volume, high-profit operation, which has some attractions for me, I must admit. If I catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will say more about that. On the other hand, if we pursue that aim, we may sacrifice the exclusivity and prestige that we like to think the products have at the moment. On which side of the argument does the hon. Lady find herself?
Caroline Flint: I agree that we must be sensitive in dealing with the matter. Teddy bears and coasters are high-prestige products, but if we are to produce merchandise we must consider how we shall sell it because we do not want to end up with surplus stock. The matter can be handled with sensitivity and merchandise can be made tasteful so that we can ensure that people visiting the country have the opportunity to buy a memento of their visit to this place.
Mr. Bercow: That was a gloriously indeterminate answer, if I may say so. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment to the Administration Committee, as a result of which I am sure she will display even greater gravitas in future than she has exhibited in the recent past. On the subject of good taste, does she agree that the sale, for example, of teddy bears is testimony to all that is cuddly and bland, while the sale of figurines of my heroine would prove that we were neither?
Caroline Flint: We must recognise that people have different desires in their choice of mementos. Figurines of many politicians, past and present, may be well received. I visited the American Senate and Congress, where one can buy a diverse display of such ornaments. There is something to be said for selling objects that appeal to children. I have certainly found that the teddy bears go down very well when I present them to local hospitals and charities for raffles. We must offer something for everyone. If we are to produce these objects, we may as well get a return on our money. We must consider different ways of ensuring that people find them accessible.
I generally welcome the fact that the palace is open to the public. I have no problem with the fact that a large number of the visitors are from the United Kingdom, but I hope that we can draw people from beyond London and the south-east. We must remove some of the mystique while allowing people to enjoy the history of the many centuries of democratic progress that the House reveals to all who visit it.
I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on Portcullis House. The electorate are entitled to see as much of what they have paid for as it is possible to show them. It is a magnificent and distinguished building and I hope that we are eventually able to use it for tours. It would be helpful to make it the end point of a line of route tour of the buildings, as suggested. Assuming that the toilets are in operation, that would provide the public with refreshment facilities at the end of their visit. I adopt a more positive view than that taken by Committee members and other hon. Members.
One aspect of the Committee's approach concerns me. The hon. Member for Broxbourne referred to the budget for last year's trial opening and the planned deficit of £232,000. The report does not put the deficit in those terms. Paragraph 8 of the background to the report mentions the worst-case scenario, which could lead to
I do not want to go into detail about the quality of the tour; I am sure that that can be improved. The report says that some guides did not know who Mr. Pugin was, which was a problem. I hope that their information will improve. However, we are used to a high standard of tours in the House because when our constituents visit, we, our staff or the Badge Messengers take them around, and the quality of the tour is very good. We might be unfairly criticising last summer's guides, who were simply not up to that standard. Other criticisms may also be unfair. There were concerns that to get around efficiently and be out in an hour took precedence over the quality of the material passed on to visitors.
However, I am more worried about the basic economics of the exercise. The hon. Lady will know from my contributions to both the previous debates that I have always been anxious about that. Although the report refers to the impact on the Parliamentary Works Directorate--she mentioned that tonight--we are not told what additional costs arose as a result of its overtime on Sundays. That cost is not in the financial breakdown. Incidentally, I find it intriguing that, although the Committee refers to the PWD throughout the report, there is no apparent reference to the summer opening programme as the SOP--perhaps that is a sop to the tender delicacy of our concerns.
The passage on the cost of reopening, which is critical to the report, is interesting. The total number of ticketed visitors was 40,577, at a nominal cost of £3.50 a ticket. By my calculation, that adds up to £142,019.50. We are told in the report that the income from ticket sales was £119,991, so there is a shortfall of £22,000-odd.
Some of the figure may be commission for agencies. If so, it is not stated in the report. Otherwise, if the shortfall is owing to the concession given to carers, to which the report does refer, 6,293 carers must have brought through visitors, which is probably an excessive estimate. It would be useful to know the precise reason for the discrepancy.
The report refers to the fact that the millennium exhibition was taking place at the same time. It is extremely important that we do not base all our forecasts on the very special circumstances of last year. It is important to understand that the millennium exhibition was clearly an extra attraction. All the merchandising sales of £188,551 stated in the report have been credited to SOP, yet a fair proportion of those sales must have been generated by the exhibition. I notice, incidentally, that although the estimate for the average spend given to the House during our previous debate was £4, it is actually £3.41, which is a considerable difference. I hope, therefore, that we shall consider that matter again.
On the question of tour operations, which are referred to in paragraphs 1 to 3 on page 4, the booking of tickets was contracted out to Ticketmaster and the provision of guides to Tour Guides Ltd. There is no mention in the financial breakdown of the exact commission or of any fees paid. That means that the figures to which I have just referred are a little misleading. I hope that we can have some more information on that. I would certainly like to know what sort of contractual fees and commission were paid to those two private companies.
The SOP employed five co-ordinators to assist at the sovereign's entrance. The financial breakdown shows that the cost of uniforms was £1,825. As far as I have been able to discover, that paid for sweaters or sweatshirts for five people, so those five sweatshirts must have cost £365 each. I guess they are gold-plated. Perhaps something else is included under the cost of uniforms. If so, it would be interesting to know exactly what.
According to paragraph 3 on page 10, two consultants were employed for a total of four days in order to brief the local media. They do not seem to have done a very good job. As the hon. Member for Don Valley said, we do not seem to have received all that much press coverage for what I would have thought was intrinsically an extremely interesting story. Therefore, I am not sure how well they did their job. Given that the manager and assistant manager were paid £54,000, surely they could have undertaken the task. I should have thought that the Visitor Manager would have been just as good a person to undertake such a responsibility. Again, it would be helpful to see a breakdown of the costs.