New Parliamentary Building

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 9th March 1992.

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Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 6:34 pm, 9th March 1992

I accept that there is a shortage of office space. The situation is far from satisfactory, but I must look askance at a proposal costed at between £120 million and £130 million to remedy that deficiency. Many people outside will think that the housing crisis that engulfs this nation should be eradicated first. Let us get rid of cardboard city and elect a Government who give money to local authorities to reduce housing waiting lists and who build houses, flats and maisonnettes built for low rents that ordinary working people can afford rather than spend £120 million or £130 million on offices for Members of Parliament. We can struggle on a little longer, despite all the inadequacies and difficulties, in the knowledge that the money will be spent on people who are facing much greater difficulties and inadequacies who do not need a carpeted, panelled, lush air-conditioned office to satisfy their needs. All they want is a roof over their heads. There are 100,000 homeless people, yet we are talking about spending £120 million or £130 million on offices. I am not happy about that.

Last July, I raised with the Leader of the House the problems experienced by some visually handicapped children from a school in Bradford whom I brought here. There were no facilities for them to have a meal in the Palace of Westminster as hon. Members can take only three people into the cafeteria. Apparently my query has been dealt with by a labyrinthine series of Committees over month after month.

Why have not proposals been made to deal with such problems, because the reality is that that wonderful group of youngsters had to eat their meal on a park bench outside St. Stephen's entrance. It takes them six hours to make a round trip. If the report made provision for such facilities in the Palace of Westminster and not in a distant outbuilding, I should support it. Since I raised the issue last July, the Leader of the House has not said that there are to be any facilities for such people in the Palace. He has not said that there is to be a conversion of, for example, one of the private Dining Rooms which the commercial lobbying organisations hire so regularly. He has done nothing. Why not convert one of those Dining Rooms to provide facilities for the disabled?

I have a solution to the office problem. It is claimed that some Members of Parliament have an increased workload. I am a full-time Member of Parliament without any outside interests. I have a large volume of correspondence, but I do not mind, as this is a good job and I enjoy it. I look forward to returning to the House after the general election. However, some hon. Members are not full-time Members of Parliament, and we know who they are because they are mentioned in the Register of Members' Interests. Those who have directorships and parliamentary adviserships cannot be here all the time. If they were, they would be shortchanging the boards from which they get money.

A simple solution which would not cost £120 million to £130 million would be for those hon. Members with full-time or part-time outside directorships or parliamentary adviserships to go down to the Cloisters and for full-time Members of Parliament who have only their parliamentary salary for income to get the offices. Why should there be two classes of Member of Parliament, one class existing on their parliamentary salaries and working full time to do a decent job for their constituents, and the other class which, as soon as it gets here, offers itself for hire? That is what it boils down to. They get as many parliamentary adviserships as they can, roll up a few directorships and double, treble and quadruple their parliamentary salaries. Let them have offices in the boardrooms where they are employed rather than call on the taxpayer for £120 million to £130 million for lush offices across the way.

Phase 2 is estimated to cost £120 million to £130 million. The report rightly states that we expect our successors to he provided with detailed advice on these projected costs". I bet they should. If this is anything like the Ministry of Defence, the costs will soar. They may start at about £120 million to £130 million but they could double in about five years. We should examine the project carefully before we give it the go ahead. It is not a sufficiently high priority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and his colleagues on the Committee were given a task that they carried out and they have brought the report to Parliament. It is not their fault that the Government have created a housing crisis. Let us solve that crisis first and put builders back to work not on this prestige project but to give people shelter, to get rid of cardboard city and to reduce local authority waiting lists. When we have done that, we can consider this prestigious project.

Yes, this is the legislative centre of the United Kingdom although some Conservative hon. Members—and one or two of my colleagues—do not object to the shift of power to Brussels. I object, and I want to keep Parliament as the centre of legislative power in the United Kingdom. However, we must bear it in mind that many initiatives are now coming from the Common Market and some members of the Government do not seem keen to stop the flow of power from this place to the Common Market.

We must get our priorities sorted out before continuing such a project with enthusiasm. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that the priorities that I have mentioned are more important than the glass palace proposed across the road.