House of Commons (Annunciators)

Oral Answers to Questions — Public Building and Works – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd December 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Dr. Bennett:

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works how many closed-circuit television sets have been installed in the Commons part of the Palace of Westminster as annunciators of business in the debating Chamber; and at what cost to public funds.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

387 sets have been installed at a cost of about £20,000.

Dr. Bennett:

I am sure that the whole House is most impressed by that figure, but how many machines did the 387 sets replace? Secondly, as the figure is approaching a ratio of one per Member, how many sets are for the use of Ministers, and perhaps in even smaller rooms?

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

The hon. Member was not here at the beginning of Question Time when I said—and I repeat it, because it is worth repeating—that I did not put these sets in because I liked doing it but because I was instructed to do so by the Services Committee of this House, of which several hon. Members opposite are very prominent members.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this matter is not something within the discretion of his Department; neither is it in the discretion of the Government? This is a conscious act of a Committee of the Legislature—a Select Committee of this House—and he should not be held accountable in this place for such expenditure.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

I could not have said that better myself.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

Is it not nevertheless within the Minister's competence to see that some of these television sets work—because an awful lot do not?

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

Incidentally, they are provided by a private enterprise firm. I think that I shall get my directly employed labour to have a look at them.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these sets are so wired that they could be used for a closed circuit transmission of the proceedings of this House? Will he see that they are used for this purpose?

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

That possibility frightens the life out of me. The old machine annunciators were virtually worn out. I understand that when the Services Committee considered the matter it was told that it would be cheaper to replace them by a television system than by a modern type of machine system. The present television system also provides much more flexibility in operation.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear, notwithstanding his earlier Answer, that responsibility for recommending expenditure lies solely with Ministers and that he is not entitled to shelter behind the recommendations of a Select Committee?

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he was part of this new democratic procedure of the Services Committee. The first that I knew about the television sets was when I received instructions from Mr. Speaker to put them in.