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6.2 pm

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): I pay tribute to the members of the Select Committee on Administration who have prepared the report. Most of the departmental Select Committees are high profile. Some of them appear to travel frequently and they are widely regarded as prestigious bodies. The domestic Select Committees do not have such a high profile and are sometimes taken for granted. They perform an essential role and, on behalf of the Opposition, I should like to express our thanks and appreciation to all members of those Committees, from whichever party, for their diligence, dedication and hard work.

I am broadly supportive of the report and I shall not seek to divide the House. However, I have some concerns and wish to make a number of observations and comments. It is right that the Administration Committee has as its primary objective the smooth running of this building as a place of work and that any arrangements put in place for visitors must not constrain Members in the discharge of their duties. Also, any such arrangements during these difficult times, must not breach our security. In my view, such considerations must remain at the forefront of any debate on public access to the Palace of Westminster.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) will be pleased to know that I am also firmly of the view that the opening of the Line of Route for visitors who are not accompanied by their elected representatives should be self-financing. I do not see why the taxpayers of east Yorkshire, or anywhere else, should subsidise visitors from other parts of the country, most likely, it appears, from the affluent south-east, or from any country overseas, whether affluent or not.

I refer the House to sections 2 and 5 of the report which deal with duration, volume and costs. I am pleased to see the Leader of the House in his place. My hon. Friend the

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Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) referred to his recent modernisation proposals. However, I wonder whether the Committee—in calculating its conclusions and projections—properly reflected on the proposal, announced by the Leader of the House, to change the timing of our summer recess so that, apparently, the House will sit during September. That will surely have a serious effect on revenue, but it is likely to do little to reduce administrative costs.

The report refers to setting up a permanent visitor management office, and we are entitled to ask whether that will prove viable. Given that the House will sit for three weeks in September from 2003 onwards, should not the proposal for a visitor management office be revisited and perhaps abandoned? We should not proceed with any proposal that would leave the British taxpayer out of pocket.

The Committee might therefore need to re-cost some of its plans before announcing the ticket price, and I look forward to hearing the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne on that issue when she sums up. If the figures do not add up, we have two options: to increase the proposed admission fee to cover all the costs, or to abandon the experiment. I prefer the former option, but I would rather accept the latter than allow the proposals to become a drain on the public purse.

I refer hon. Members to paragraph 25 of the report, and in passing I express my surprise—and some concern—at the following, almost throwaway sentence:

No, no, no. Why on earth should we? This new, unliked and floundering currency is not legal tender in the United Kingdom, and I hope that it never will be. We should have none of it.

Martin Linton: Does the right hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that every other tourist attraction in London will accept euros by next summer? It is completely contradictory to argue that we should be commercially minded and not accept an extra cost, but that we should not accept euros.

Mr. Knight: In this House, we lead and not follow. If current trends continue, the euro equivalent of a £7 admission fee, if it were accepted in good faith on a Monday morning, might be worth only a fraction of that amount by the time the attendants have cashed up and got to the bank. Why should we have to stand any financial loss caused by a continuing lack of confidence in this dubious currency? The case has not been made for this mother of Parliaments to accept anything but our own currency from any visitor, and I hope that we shall hear no more of this unnecessary and rather offensive suggestion.

The Line of Route to which the report refers is the long-established and widely accepted route that Members are accustomed to and prepared to tolerate. In paragraph 37, the Committee points out that it is not suggesting extending the route, and it is correct, as some Members might find that unacceptable. However, I am rather concerned about the wording. The steering group is expected to

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and apparently may decide to add to the Line of Route. I sincerely hope that no additions will be contemplated or authorised without reference to the Committee that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne chairs, and ultimately to the House.

As at present, the proposed Line of Route will end in New Palace Yard, which is the last area of the parliamentary estate that visitors see before they leave. For how much longer will it look as if it is part of a film set for a new production of "Steptoe and Son"? We are right to be concerned about security, but why should the House have to tolerate the hideous concrete blocks that are scattered seemingly willy-nilly across New Palace Yard? They are not present at the entrance to the Lords, where an altogether more satisfactory arrangement exists. There, a metal barrier drops flush to the ground when vehicular access is required. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne why an identical arrangement cannot be introduced here, and as soon as possible.

Apart from blighting our grade I listed building, the blocks mean that negotiating access to and egress from New Palace Yard is like taking part in an advanced drivers obstacle course, especially for people driving wide and long motor vehicles. The blocks should go forthwith. If necessary, an increased police presence should be provided until a more sophisticated security scheme can be put in place.

Subject to my comments being satisfactorily answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne when she replies, I hope that the House will agree to the report.

6.10 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I do not intend to follow the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) in his limousine, nor to respond just yet to the hon. Members for Battersea (Martin Linton) or for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), the Chairman of the Committee.

By way of introduction, I want to say that, despite comments to the contrary about my past involvement in these debate, I yield to no one in my admiration for this place, as both building and institution. I want as many of my fellow citizens and visitors from other parts of the world to experience it to its full extent.

However, people did not always admire this building. Yesterday's edition of The Times contained a reprinted leader that originally appeared on the same date in 1861. Headed "The Decay of Parliament", it stated:

It went on:

The leader explained that a commission had been set up to travel the length and breadth of the British Isles to find appropriate stone with which to build this great institution. I do not know the membership of that commission, but I do know a little about how both ends

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of this place work and I suspect that it contained a number of hon. Members. I suspect too that, as they went round the country, those hon. Members were more interested in making sure that stone from their particular areas was selected. As was remarked to me earlier today, they may also have discussed the matter over a great deal of claret.

Apparently, the commission eventually recommended what was thought to be an

However, the 1861 leader added:

It concluded:

Fortunately, in more modern times we seem to have looked after the building rather better. It is in that context that the hon. Member for Broxbourne and her Committee—rightly, I believe—have sought ways in which more people can enjoy it. I have no disrespect for the work that the Committee has done, and any minor criticisms of the report that I may make should in no way be taken to seek to undermine that work.

My first concern refers back to the debate mentioned by the hon. Member for Battersea. I am concerned that hon. Members should steer this exercise, whether it be temporary or permanent. Will the steering group, which is mentioned in passing, include members of the hon. Lady's Committee? It is important, for a number of reasons that have been adduced by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, that Members steer the exercise. It must not simply be left to the Officers. I hope that that will mean strict adherence to the principles set out in paragraph 14 of the report and the criteria in paragraph 23. They have been referred to already, and I believe them to be extremely important.

This issue was at the forefront of Members' minds during the debate to which the hon. Member for Battersea referred. It is the thin end of the wedge in the way in which the House would be available to our constituents and in taking away from Members control over constituents' access. That is why I believe that in making a temporary expedient permanent, we should take stock of what is happening. The thin end of this wedge is still quite thin—the report's appendix refers to 26 full days and 20 half days. We must think hard about how that may be affected by the change in the recess arrangements in 2003.

The hon. Member for Battersea referred to the extent to which what he called contracting out might take place. I call it old-fashioned privatisation. I know that under new Labour it is called contracting out, but to me it is privatisation, just as it was when the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was a Member of the last Conservative Government. I am glad that a major change of emphasis has taken place in 2001. The proportion of the income coming from the direct sales by the House has increased and sales by Ticketmaster,

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the privatised institution outside the House, have gone down. In round figures, in 2000, Ticketmaster sold £115,000 worth of tickets, which decreased to £72,000 last summer, while our direct sales went up from £5,000 worth of tickets—this is just a temporary expedient—to £152,000. Those of us who want the House to have home rule over its own institution are reassured by that welcome change of emphasis.

I accept the point made by the hon. Lady and her Committee that the subsidy from the House's Vote has been dramatically reduced, and that is to be welcomed. I accept that it would be reasonable to make it revenue- neutral in 2002 for the simple reason that we have, in capital expenditure, provided a wonderful new visitors centre. I hope that we will soon be allowed to look at it. We have spent quite a lot of money on a visitors centre which, while it will be of use to our constituents during other times of the year, will have an important role this year. If anybody asks why the price went up in 2002, the answer is because at long last we have some decent loos. The major criticism of many visitors is that we did not before, so that is a step in the right direction. That is the rationale for the increase in costs.

I do not share the view of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire about the possible extension of the route into Portcullis House. Whenever I take constituents around the House I like them to see that we have good British architecture in 2001 and 2002 and that Parliament was rather more open-minded about commissioning good modern architecture than some of our immediate predecessors. The fact that Portcullis House was a runner-up for the Stirling prize last autumn was a great achievement not only for the architect but for the House. Many minor problems are being encountered there, such as handles on doors that no one with arthritis could possibly use to get out of an office in the event of fire. Basically, it is a handsome building which is doing its job well. I hope that the security problem, which I understand to be the major difficulty, can be resolved, and that we can include Portcullis House in the tour.

I also hope that we will ensure that the security issue is dealt with properly as regards ticket sales. It makes no sense to bring people in through the security system to buy their ticket only for them to have to go out again. The hon. Member for Battersea made a fair point. The Committee is trying to deal with it and I hope that they do.

Those are my two major qualms. Beyond those, the major concerns were expressed on both sides of the House when we voted on the proposal and when, uniquely in that Session, although those on both Front Benches were in favour of the motion, the majority of Members were on my side and voted for my amendment—I have never had that experience before and doubt that I will again.

At the time of that debate there was a concern that we were commercialising the House. We were putting the work out to tender and reducing the respect that our fellow citizens and visitors would have for it. A sub-current of the debate was that many hon. Members thought that the Department of the Serjeant At Arms and other offices of the House were being privatised. Someone referred to it as a sort of "Ofdesk", and said that we would then have, "Housetrack" as a privatised company running the show. We have a visitor manager, which sounds as though we have gone down that track, but basically the

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Administration Committee has done an important job on behalf of the House and has responded to the concerns and anxieties of hon. Members and I wish the report well.

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