Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [
That this House approves the First Joint Report of the Accommodation and Works Committee and the Administration Committee on Visitor Facilities: Access to Parliament (House of Commons Paper No. 324) and endorses the Committees' proposals for a new reception and security building at the north end of Cromwell Green.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Question again proposed.
I remind colleagues that we were interrupted on
I am pleased to have the opportunity to acknowledge the enormously difficult task that Mr. Speaker, the Metropolitan police and the Serjeant at Arms have in the field of the security of the House. It is not easy for them to balance all the pressures and constraints, the need for access and openness and the fact that there are 659 different views in this place as to what is the correct level of security, access and so on. We should place that on record. I do so in the knowledge that, very unfairly, the Serjeant at Arms was traduced by a newspaper a few weeks ago. I thought it not only flippant but very unfair to have a go at him, because he and his staff are preoccupied every day with all the difficult and sensitive decisions relating to individual Members of Parliament and the need for oversight, with Black Rod, of the security of the Palace. We should acknowledge that this evening.
I have read and read again the report before us, and I think there is an error here. We are in danger of conflating two separate things: the immediate problem of security and the wider aspirations to which my hon. Friend Mr. Banks referred at length on
Does the hon. Gentleman share my puzzlement that we are being asked to go ahead with what is allegedly a security measure at the very time when the Leader of the House has been at great pains to tell us that a comprehensive review of all security is being carried out? Does he think it premature, to say the least, to spend £5 million of public money on this project when the security review has not yet been completed?
The right hon. Gentleman anticipates the thrust of much that I want to say. Since
I know that there was an endeavour to involve and advise as many people as possible about some of the security constraints, both in relation to the previous debate on the screen and to this one. We were told that some 60 Members were approached, largely Privy Councillors; hon. Members will understand how this obsession with Privy Councillors grates with me. In any event, may I suggest that, in addition—but not instead—we use the executive of the 1922 committee, Labour's parliamentary committee and the representative organisations of the other parties to at least expand the consultation? After all, the 1922 committee executive and the Labour party's—
I will, Madam Deputy Speaker, but my point was that the consultation, which is mentioned in the report, could have been greater. As this issue is not going to go away, I invite the House and the authorities to consider whether in addition to Privy Councillors, the shop stewards—the 1922 committee and the parliamentary committee—might be used.
Neither the 1922 committee nor the parliamentary Labour party are leak-free zones, as my hon. Friend well knows. I am glad that he has had a rethink about considering matters in closed session. I was the only Labour Member who voted for a closed session, and I was phoned up by a newspaper and asked if it was a mistake. I have perhaps made many mistakes in my life, but that was not one of them.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was trying to explain that we need some way of being able to share our concerns and a closed session is one such way. I have tried to canvass other ideas, as these issues will not go away. I do not want to labour that point.
To try to help the hon. Gentleman and others, I am sure that he will appreciate that I cannot discuss in the Chamber detailed security advice. I can, however, confirm that the proposals have been examined by security specialists, both inside and outside the House, and the best current advice is that they would significantly improve on the current arrangements, which I am sure that he will agree are not necessarily satisfactorily, and no problems whatever have been identified with the proposed location.
I am coming to that. I do not doubt that there has been consultation with the security and intelligence services and other professional advice. Perhaps I would like occasionally to be included in the circle. If we look at column 508, on
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a bits-and-pieces approach towards security is exactly the problem? Agreeing with one measure—incidentally, I did not agree with the screen, as it is another limitation on our interaction with the public—does not necessarily means that one agrees with another. Since this is a strategic issue, does he agree that we need a strategic solution, not something that bolts on one piece after another, perhaps without achieving the objective at all?
On the technical point, I asked the Deputy Leader of the House a question previously, and I hope that he will reply later. If somebody, heaven forbid, wished to explode a device in the proposed new building, how would that be an appreciable improvement on the existing arrangements, which, without question, endanger staff? I am not an expert, but I understand that explosions blow outwards. If we want a building that will deal with screening, we want one that will allow the thrust of such an explosion to go outwards. I stress that I have not had a reply on this point and the fact is that the building proposed is in a trench. If Mr. Heald, who is a member of the Commission, has an answer, I would be pleased to have it.
As I said to the hon. Gentleman last time, I cannot go into the detailed security advice and I have not had a great deal of it in respect of this building. I thought that the general point about security screening buildings was that they had thick walls to stop the blast going outwards and make it go upwards.
I am genuinely surprised that the hon. Gentleman takes that view, which is why we need some opportunity to explore these issues in confidence. One of the reasons that the marquees, which we all agree were unsightly, were put outside St. Stephen's entrance, on the advice of specialists, was the heightened security at that time. Those marquees are there precisely because if an atrocity involving an explosion had been attempted, they would have blown outwards. Marquees were used outside St. Stephen's, and are used outside the United Nations building in New York, precisely to minimise loss of life. I challenge someone to explain to me how the proposed new building will meet that requirement. I suggest that it does not.
Is not there an answer already to the problem of visitors getting wet when it is raining outside? We already have a marquee structure, which is used once a year on the occasion of the state opening and erected outside the House of Lords. It would be far cheaper to put up the small tented area that we have for state opening and leave it up so that visitors queueing to get in at the other end of the building do not get wet when it rains.
That may be a valid consideration and it relates back to the point that we should not approve the motion tonight but have a period of reflection during which some of these points can be explored. As well as explaining the technology of what is proposed, will the Deputy Leader of the House, and even the Chairman of the Administration Committee, who intervened a few moments ago, undertake that the people who advised the House will not, after the building is erected, if it is, in the Cromwell garden, say that because of the heightened security situation, marquees will have to be erected? That is what I think will happen. We will get the building, it will be deemed administratively good and allow the throughput that has been mentioned, which is a valid point, but if and when—regrettably, I fear that it is almost inevitable—there is a renewed heightened security situation, advisers will say to Officers of the House that we must erect marquees. That was precisely what happened some months ago when marquees were put up outside St. Stephen's entrance.
Given the territory that the hon. Gentleman now wishes to explore and the sensitivities voiced a moment ago by the Chairman of the Administration Committee, my hon. Friend Mrs. Roe, should we not at least consider allowing the House to sit privately so that we can speak more freely? We tried that when this matter was last discussed. I felt rather let down when the Leader of the House, who had said that he would be open and honest, voted against the motion for the House to meet in private and then barefacedly told us later that he could not tell us everything because it was all very secret and hush-hush. It might be worth considering the possibility of allowing ourselves to obtain further and better information in a private sitting this evening, so that we can make some progress.
I have already beaten my breast and do not want to labour the point. I have said that I am sorry that we cannot have some form of secret session—even informally—and that it is probably my fault because I did not pursue the matter at the time.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that he owes me one. He will recall that I made an uncharacteristically abbreviated speech, lasting just two minutes, so that he could speak.
I suggest that the statement with which the hon. Gentleman has just been led to agree conflicts with what both he and Mr. Forth have said previously. At the moment we are not likely to receive such information, in private or in any other context, because we have not been given the wide-scale, comprehensive security assessment that we have all been promised. Even if we were to sit in private, we would be likely to receive the same sort of information from the Government that we have received previously. This is the point: we do not have the context for either this discussion or—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It concerns the point that you just made. Will you confirm that, if any Member decides to put it to the test, you could accept a motion for us to sit in private, even though, as this is an adjourned debate and not a debate starting afresh, the question has already been put?
As I was saying, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who, I think, chairs the Accommodation and Works Committee, intervened to speak of how he came from Yorkshire to visit this place as a very excited 11-year-old. That struck a chord with me. I think that everyone remembers their first visit. I was 12 and recall queueing for two and a half hours in St. Stephen's Hall to see Harold Wilson, then shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, make a wonderful speech. It had a profound effect on me. Rather sadly, I never wanted to be a train driver after that; I wanted to come here.
Over the next 30 years—this is relevant, Madam Deputy Speaker, because we are talking about visitor facilities—I did come here, and I queued. I look back with nostalgia to the days when it was possible to go to the Strangers Gallery and obtain a pass from the staff of the Serjeant at Arms to go down to the Strangers Cafeteria for half an hour. If only those days existed now. There used to be double ranks of queues in St. Stephens Hall. I mention that because one of the problems emphasised in the report is that of people queueing outside in the rain. I think that it will always be thus, because even with the new arrangements there will be exceptional occasions on which people will queue in the rain; but, in comparison with the days of my youth and adolescence, and even with more recent times, we do not seem to have packed them into St. Stephens Hall as we used to, although there is still capacity for keeping people out of the rain.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the new provisions would increase throughput by speeding up people's entry. Has he thought about that carefully? Increasing the number of security screening machines from two to only three strikes me as a missed opportunity. If we are to go to all this expense and spend £5 million, why do we not put in four or five machines so that we can get people through even more quickly?
What the hon. Gentleman says demonstrates that some of us have a feeling in our bones that this has not been examined adequately. I suggest that the small space in Cromwell Green would not allow an increase in numbers but the hon. Gentleman makes the valid point that what is proposed is only a marginal increase on the existing arrangements.
Does it strike the hon. Gentleman as ironic that one of the problems is not how fast we can get people into the place, but how much space there is? In fact, we have managed to reduce the amount of available space in the Strangers Gallery. Far from making it easier to get people in here, we have increased the backlog by reducing throughput.
I am not going to respond to what was dealt with in our last debate, but I will say that I supported the idea of the screen. I did so because I was privy to information that was not discussed in the Chamber, which persuaded me of the urgent need for it. There might well be information that could persuade me of the need for what is proposed now that cannot be shared with me in this open forum.
Let me now deal with the proposed development. I invite the House to consider this. In a sense, we are the planning committee: we are going to give ourselves planning permission for a development. We have a duty to approach this in the same way as any other developer. We do not usually do that; we sometimes deal with matters in a shameful way. We are not going to give ourselves outline planning permission tonight; we are going to give ourselves total planning permission. There will be no coming back.
Members who have served on local planning authorities will know that sometimes people who apply for permission for outline plans are given consent, subject to details—for instance, details of the facing materials. What will the end result look like? I have read the report several times and it is not clear what the facing materials will be or what the roof will look like. As far as I can tell from the black-and-white drawings, if I am standing with Cromwell Green behind me I will see some sort of glass building, but that is not clear. That is an important point. People may think I am being pernickety, but the House should be ashamed of itself in this regard. We have ignored normal planning procedures in the past. I have spoken here before of those dreadful marquees on the Terrace. Pugin and Barry did not design them, nor did the Almighty; they were put there by us.
A paragraph in the report tells us that there will be consultations. We are going to approve this proposal tonight when consultations with the appropriate bodies—including, I believe, the fine art commission—have not been exhausted. I think that our track record is shameful. First, we are going to give approval tonight without those consultations and the resulting observations; secondly, the fine art commission has said that the marquees on the Terrace should come down every year, but they do not now—we have forgotten about it. We have forgotten about it because it does not suit us. That would never happen if a private developer were involved.
We should not approve this proposal without consultations with the fine art commission and the various heritage authorities. We should consider their responses to the idea in principle and any conditions relating to the facing material, construction and appearance. We should give a solemn and binding undertaking to adhere to the conditions that they lay down, rather than following the dreadful, shameful practice that we have allowed to take place on the Terrace of the House of Commons.
Will my hon. Friend accept from one who has served on both the Administration Committee and a planning committee on a local authority that those questions were posed during deliberations on the document? Assurances were given that consultation had taken place and that advice had been taken by the appropriate heritage bodies. Although there is no detailed building specification, I am sure that neither of the Committees involved would ever allow us to proceed in the knowledge that there would be abuse of heritage and conservation principles.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps he can explain to me why paragraph 32 contains a statement on the costs which says:
"This figure does not take into account the effects of inflation or the cost of any additional related security works required once consultations with security and heritage bodies have been completed."
Those have not taken place. I did not write that report, someone else did and I ask them a simple question. The report refers to consultation with the heritage bodies, but that has not yet happened. I am pleased that my hon. Friend raised that matter, because he is a diligent Member and no doubt was a diligent member of his local authority, but I can tell him that when this House asks, it gets conditions laid down and then ignores them. That is why we have those wretched marquees out there, as we speak. They should not be there, and would not be if we had followed the recommendations—the equivalent of the conditions laid down in a planning consent.
I, too, have planning experience and architectural experience. Has the hon. Gentleman noted that paragraph 27 records "firm objections" from English Heritage to a very modest incursion into Westminster Hall, which is quite insignificant compared with what is proposed in the report? We should anticipate that several bodies will take a close interest in the detailed design of the facilities, and I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's view that we must be very careful.
To use the vernacular down in Thurrock, too damn right. In response to my hon. Friend Mr. Luke, I was referring to paragraph 32, which rather glibly says that the developments will cost approximately £5 million but that there could be extra costs, for example relating to security. That is not the proper way in which to do business. I would not mind if this debate were like a First Reading, or was the first canvass of the ideas. I would welcome that, and say, "Very good." The Minister and relevant Committees could then take cognisance of some of the things said here tonight. However, we are being asked to approve something now and almost to give a blank cheque to the suggestions.
Equally, some Members might say, "That's all very well, Mackinlay, but what are the alternatives?" I recognise that we must address security, which I have acknowledged throughout my speech and earlier. There might well be some palliatives that could be explored. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham has explored some matters that are worthy of consideration as temporary measures. I have made much of the marquees on the Terrace, but my complaint is that they are permanent; that sort of structure erected temporarily in the park adjacent to the Palace might be one possibility. My hon. Friend also rightly said that at some stage we must address ourselves to the wider campus around this place, including Parliament square, and consider whether that could be used. Again, that goes back to the need to look at the issues comprehensively, rather than study this report in isolation. If we had more space at the House's disposal, we could act much more sensitively.
I was going to ask the Deputy Leader of the House this question but, cheekily, I shall ask the whole House: will Members put their hands up if they have ever been in the Jewel Tower? A couple of Members here have, but when I mentioned it to some distinguished hon. Members earlier today, they were aghast and did not know what I was talking about. The Jewel Tower is opposite Parliament. It is run by English Heritage and claims to house a parliamentary exhibition. I revisited it the other day, and was really quite embarrassed. English Heritage charges quite a lot for people to go in there and all there really is to see is Speaker Weatherill's gown—which is very generous of him, to his credit—and the gown worn by the Speaker at the state opening of Parliament. Our present Speaker must have donated that.
Those exhibits are interesting, but aspects of that place relate to this report. First, the exhibition was generally disappointing and embarrassing, and although it is run by English Heritage, I think that that reflects badly on us. Secondly, the report refers to the long-term objective of having a heritage centre. The Jewel Tower does not have a lift in it and never will have, because it was built 1,000 years ago, but it occurred to me that it has some relevance to tonight's debate. We have a shortage of space and some people here—Officers or Members—might be prepared to do an accommodation swap. The tower is not an ideal place for the interpretive centre that we have discussed and it is extremely bland. I hope that you and others trot over there to see it later in the week, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you will share my disappointment. However, there is an opportunity to find some more space there through a trade-off.
If we had control of Parliament square and its roads, that could be used at some stage for many of the facilities referred to in the report, including ticket offices.
I noted my hon. Friend's earlier comments about English Heritage. Will he clarify the point that he has now made about the Jewel Tower? He and other Members might have had the experience before entering this place of serving on planning committees of local authorities and finding that one problem with English Heritage, wonderful institution though it is, is that it has little concept of buildings as living entities in which people have to work. Therefore, the notion of the Jewel Tower being available as, if I have understood my hon. Friend correctly, office space for staff of this building, seems to be a non-starter so far as English Heritage is concerned.
That is for another debate. All that I am telling the House is that there is a building over there that we need to look at in the context of this report. It claims to be a parliamentary exhibition, but it fails in that. If we were looking at this matter in totality—in the round—we could explore such ideas.
A few moment ago, the hon. Gentleman said to the House that he was being slightly mischievous, so let me be the same. Somewhere at home, my family has a picture of the Houses of Parliament without the spire over Central Lobby. We have that because my mother's kinsman was Charles Barry. This building was originally designed without what is, in fact, a chimney over Central Lobby. There are five floors of empty space up there that are totally unused.
When we came to discuss the televising of this House—in my view, a major mistake—we looked at those five floors, but the heritage bodies said that we could not touch that chimney. It strikes me, as it might also strike my friend, the hon. Gentleman, as extraordinary that we are going down the road tonight of giving in effect carte blanche planning consent, if the motion passes, to a plan that has not been through the heritage bodies, given that they chose not to allow us to use the chimney.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling us that story, which illustrates a fact to which the Minister needs to be sensitive. The House behaves dreadfully on occasion. When it wants to pursue an end selfishly, it will ignore all the ground rules and consultations, but on other occasions it will embrace them. I am not going to sign up to that sort of behaviour. I did not know of that occurrence, but it underscores my point. I am certain that, when I go home tonight, when we have won the debate but lost the vote, I shall reflect on that as something that buttressed my point.
The paradox that we face is that the obvious places around the parliamentary estate that we could use not only for visitor facilities but for interpretive facilities for democracy, are out of bounds. Some of us have canvassed Parliament square as a suitable place for politicians and people to meet and hold discussions outside Parliament. Those areas are out of bounds precisely because of the rules, regulations and attitudes of the conservation bodies, including English Heritage, which force us back into the Royal Palace, where we have a free hand to do what we want. However, we are failing in two ways tonight. We are failing to take account of the wider heritage issues and we are not considering this matter as part of a wider strategic review of security.
I entirely agree. Members who have visited the United States Congress—that is probably the majority of us—will have seen how the entire area has been dealt with from the point of view both of security and of access. A comparable area here would include Parliament Square and the related roads.
There is another point that the Deputy Leader of the House and the Committee may have not considered. There is a BBC studio on the green by the Jewel Tower that is hardly ever used. Some trade-off could be arranged with the BBC—I assume that it is the landlord—in order to provide additional space in either the interim or the longer term. [Interruption.] To judge by the body language of the Deputy Leader of the House, he seems not to know where I am talking about, which is a pity, if I may say so. I hope that he will consider that idea.
Paragraph 36 of the report refers to the long term and to the need for an exhibition space, accommodation for school parties, a bookshop, a ticket office, and a display area for artefacts and so on. I certainly sign up to that idea; indeed, it is my long-term dream to have such facilities here. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham was slightly unfair to the little bookstall in St. Stephen's Hall. Even if all the proposals are passed tonight and adopted, that bookstall should endure. It is not only sympathetic to St. Stephen's Hall; by providing a welcome it fulfils a function that will still be needed. The lady who runs it is very innovative in terms of the small, relatively cheap but quality products that she sells, such as the postcards. I hope that, whatever else happens, that bookstall is sustained.
The hon. Gentleman is being very patient and I appreciate his courtesy. Has he noted that section 5 of the report, entitled "The Longer Term", is not technically before the House? As the Deputy Leader of the House confirmed to me, we are in no way committed by tonight's motion to a wider, longer term, more elaborate and expensive scheme. It would be very misguided to go any further than what is a very limited scheme. If we are really to invest in making a better connection with those who send us here—I have had this discussion with the hon. Gentleman before—we should invest in giving them much cheaper, more effective and wide-ranging electronic access, rather than spending a lot of money on a visitor centre. Section 5 is actually outwith this discussion.
We are approving the report, so I think I am in order in discussing section 5, but the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I am in the rather privileged position of having constituents who are relatively close to the House of Commons, and I have a high visitor ratio. In the 12 years I have been here, I have had some 7,000 guests, all of whom I took to the little "broom cupboard" in the Chapel in St. Mary Undercroft, although not all at once. Constituents from North Cornwall, Glasgow, Rutherglen and many other places ought to have access to a virtual guided tour not instead of, but in addition to, the opportunity to come here, which I hope they do.
Over the weekend, I visited the website of the United States Congress—I had nothing else to do—and looked at its various chambers. The website was extremely good, and I regret the fact that, at this stage, we do not have a comparable facility. So I take the point made by Mr. Tyler. I do not want to rehearse my point about the bookstall in St. Stephen's Hall, but I implore the Chairman of the Committee to keep it, because it is extremely useful for a whole variety of reasons.
I am afraid that the bookstall caused problems with English Heritage, which complained about its being there. We had to take that into account, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that it was removed on a whim. Unfortunately, pressure was put on us to have it removed.
We seem to be talking at cross purposes. I am talking about the postcard stall in St. Stephen's Hall, which is mercifully still there today. I am simply saying, please do not remove it. The two ladies who have run it have been there virtually since the time of Barry.
The hon. Gentleman allows me to pay tribute to Pat, who ran that little stall for 20 or 30 years until she retired only a couple of years ago. It is now run by someone who is equally sympathetic to the place.
Pat and Freada stand there as custodians of the House, along with Grattan, Fox and the various people who have distinguished that Hall. I want them to stay.
I understand that there is a parliamentary bookshop at 1 Parliament street. I am not sure who has the title deeds, but I think it is the Houses of Parliament. It is extraordinarily bland, and I would like to be let loose on the task of putting some attractive books and other artefacts in it. They would not only earn money—I realise that that is not the primary objective—but promote Parliament. The bookshop is simply not being used at the moment.
In view of the spotlight that my hon. Friend is casting on the bookstall that he loves and that we have all used, he might have averted the danger of our receiving a letter from English Heritage in the near future telling us that that bookshop is also out of order, as was the Westminster Hall bookshop to which the Chairman of the Select Committee referred—[Interruption.]
I do not know whether Members heard what one of my colleagues uttered from a sedentary position; doubtless it will not be recorded in the Official Report. In answer to the point that my hon. Friend makes, I shall deal with that problem when it comes. Just as Speaker Lenthall saw off Charles I in St. Stephen's Hall, so we will see off any such attempts in future.
As you will remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you were present during the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham—he cannot be here tonight—painted a canvas describing the work that complements and helps interpret Parliament and its activities. He referred to the part of the report that calls for an interpretative centre, and I want to take this opportunity to compliment my hon. Friend on his initiative as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Works of Art. He has done an extremely good job. I disagree with him on one or two details—
The hon. Gentleman will know that the summary of the report states that
"we recognise the demands for a large-scale interpretative visitor centre."
He will also know that on
"the Committees' report—for which I hope the House is grateful—is part of a wider strategy of improving information about, and access to, the Palace of Westminster."—[Hansard, 22 April 2004; Vol. 420, c. 509.]
So all of what we are discussing is surely inextricably bound up with the ghastly further ambition to spend £15 million more.
That is entirely my point. I was reading the relevant part of the Official Report over the weekend. During that debate, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham said:
He is absolutely right, although now is not the night to have that discussion. But I do hope that the Leader of the House will take note of the fact that some of us are interested in this building. The great work that is done by the various Committees should be discussed on a suitable occasion.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that some members of the Committee appear not to be interested in the future of this building, given that only about half are in their places listening to our debate? If we accept the recommendations listed on page 13, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it will not be without cost to our own space? The recommendations may look fairly anodyne, but hidden away in the report, it appears that we are to lose the use of Room W5, which is to be turned into a public lavatory. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has ever had the difficulty that I have experienced in trying to book a room, but is it not a matter of deep regret that, if we accept the report, we will lose parliamentary space?
The right hon. Gentleman raises the question of Westminster Hall as did my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham. I want to say that I am very catholic about that question. I have an open mind, but now is not the time to resolve how it should be. In fact, the W Rooms are not part of Westminster Hall. I believe that they date from 1888. Even after Pugin and Barry had created the wonderful building joining the mediaeval Westminster Hall, there stood, next to the place where Oliver Cromwell now stands, some quite attractive courtrooms, which were demolished with the opening of the courts elsewhere in London. Then within the buttresses of Westminster Hall were placed the W Rooms, the IPU Room and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Room. They are not part of the mediaeval building, but recent add-ons in the great sweep of things. They are nevertheless attractive and fulfil a utility.
We are faced with a problem tonight because we are the custodians of important heritage buildings of which we are immensely proud at the same time as being a functioning democratic Parliament and legislature. That poses a great dilemma. I am pleased that Mr. Knight mentioned the problem of space and reminded us that we will lose out from the proposals. We are rushing into things inappropriately without having a total development plan that combines and reflects all the constraints of heritage against utility.
The hon. Gentleman has done his research very well: the W Rooms were indeed an add-on. We are talking about visitor facilities. I want to mention three parliamentary bodies—the parliamentary armed forces scheme, the parliamentary police scheme and the industry and Parliament trust—that are all looking for accommodation within the parliamentary estate. If we are going down this road, surely priority should be given to those parliamentary bodies before we start sacrificing space in Westminster Hall.
If it were within my gift—if the Almighty suddenly deigned that I was in charge of these affairs—that is the sort of thing that I would take into cognisance, but alas the Almighty is not going to do that. The hon. Gentleman provides another illustration of factors that need to be taken into account. They are not going to be so taken into account because on the pink forms tomorrow we are going to sign up to the motion; that is what will bounce us through. Many people will be there who have not trespassed into the Chamber this evening. That is why, as I have already said, we will win the debate tonight and lose the vote. It is wrong. Even now, I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House might give at least some undertaking about a further period of consultation for MPs before any final decision is taken. We must have the opportunity to have some further input.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and other hon. Members have referred to the document's proposals for Westminster Hall. I take us on a virtual tour. At St. Stephen's Entrance there is going to be a new creation, which I believe is a mistake. It will be a pillbox—no doubt a nice pillbox done in Gothic style—which I do not believe should be situated there. I invite hon. Members to look at the black and white drawing in the document. Someone is at the pillbox to give information and advice, and some paragraphs refer to the additional costs, but I believe that the pillbox is unnecessary. Furthermore, it is not aesthetically appealing and would not gain planning permission if it came before Westminster city council. We should look at that proposal again.
If we go down the ramp, we go through security and into Westminster Hall. I ask the House to reflect on a particular point. One of the great attractions of Westminster Hall is the great door. Under the proposals, it will be permanently open—so not seen—and there will be a new glass construction put in its place. It is necessary, so we are told in the report, if large volumes of people are coming through. I view the effective removal of the door as an outrage. It is a profound mistake. The beauty of looking back down the Hall from the place where Charles I was tried lies in the wonderful door. It makes me cross: the door should stay there.
I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham in his enthusiasm about how Westminster Hall should be used and what people should see if the proposal goes through tonight. I get an enormous thrill going through Westminster Hall—I know that other hon. Members do—because of its emptiness. It is the most wonderful, beautiful covered open space that exists in London. If we leave late at night when just the emergency lighting is on, it takes on a new beauty in its darkness. I want to preserve that, but the report talks about having new additional lighting. What a profound and foolish mistake that is—and what an outrage that it is in the report before us tonight.
I have was impressed by the historical detail and research in the earlier part of my hon. Friend's speech this evening. However, does he agree—perhaps I am wrong—that the emptiness of Westminster Hall is, in view of the long history of that part of the parliamentary estate, a fairly recent phenomenon? For most of its existence, it has been thriving with a throng of people visiting this place. Among other things, it was once a market. I understand my hon. Friend's wish to preserve, but he may be trying to preserve a relatively recent part of the history of the Houses of Parliament.
I do not sign up to that. The same point was uttered in the earlier part of our debate that took place on
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham spoke about exhibitions in the Hall, a matter that is also covered in the report. It is a question of degree. If the motion is approved, I could live—albeit reluctantly—with occasional exhibitions using stands that are sensitive to the surroundings. However, I think that many hon. Members will have been concerned about two recent exhibitions.
About a year ago, the content of an exhibition about political cartoons was superb and compelling, but the structure used was inappropriate. The more recent exhibition of photographs was in place for a long time. I am all for photographic exhibitions, but that one was a dreadful blot on the landscape. It looked like a trade exhibition, and was wholly inappropriate for the guests who come here from all around the world. I urge the relevant Committees to be sensitive to this matter, in the immediate period and in the long term. Exhibitions in Westminster Hall should be held sparingly, and the stands used should be appropriate.
I have detained the House for some time, but I have been accepting interventions. I urge the Chairman of the Administration Committee, Mrs. Roe, and the Minister to reflect on what I have said. The mood of those hon. Members who have intervened indicates that there is a powerful case for some reflection on the proposals. I am sure that hon. Members could find a way to revisit some of these matters. We need greater consultation in respect of security aspects and the long-term ambitions for this wonderful building, in which we are privileged to live and work.
The hon. Gentleman has done the House a great service in illustrating the tensions between the title of the debate—"Visitor Facilities"—and the underlying security concerns that are of such great interest to us all. With that in mind, I beg to move, That the House sit in private.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the motion approving the joint report of the Administration Committee and the Accommodation and Works Committee. As hon. Members will be aware, I was unfortunately away on parliamentary business when the motion was first debated on
My hon. Friend will know that I spoke on that occasion, before the debate was adjourned, and paid tribute to her and her Committee for their hard work on the report.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments.
I am also grateful to my colleagues on both Committees for the assiduous way in which they have tackled the whole subject. There was a helpful spirit of co-operation, not only between members of my Committee, which I have come to expect since I became its Chairman, but also between members of both Committees. The proposals in our report will be a joint resource with the House of Lords. We are grateful to members of the House of Lords Information Committee and of the Administration and Works Committee for their constructive comments and support.
I have listened carefully to the remarks made by Andrew Mackinlay. He certainly covered a great deal of ground during his speech, and I wish to pick up one or two points that he made, as some clarification may be helpful. He mentioned paragraph 32 of the report, which says:
"This figure does not take into account the effects of inflation or the cost of any additional related security works required once consultations with security and heritage bodies have been completed."
Consultations have started—it is not a question of their having yet to start—and they will certainly continue until we have confirmed all the details of the final design. I hope that I can put his mind at rest about the fact that the consultations are ongoing and thorough.
May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to paragraph 21, where we refer to exactly how the proposed new building will look, and say that it will be
"single storey, with a flat roof at the Cromwell Green level" and so on? The last sentence of that paragraph states:
"We are aware of the sensitivity of the site and recognise that the eventual design will need to be appropriate for its surroundings."
I want to confirm to him that both my Committee and the Accommodation and Works Committee are very anxious to ensure that whatever is put into or attached to this building certainly does not intrude and certainly enhances not just the facilities, but the scene.
I do not say this facetiously, but what the hon. Lady says—of course, I take it in good faith, as I do with the Committees' motives—is what everyone who makes a planning application tells any local planning authority, and they mean it, but sometimes we have to act quasi-judicially and look at things in the round. Her intentions are fine—I fully accept them—but we ought at least to look at the final proposal when the consultations have been completed, so that we can see the sympathetic cladding materials.
I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. Such things will take time, there will be consultations, and I can assure him that no one, certainly on my Committee, would wish to stop colleagues, on whichever side of the House they sit, having an input into ensuring that the facilities are appropriate and fulfil their role.
I associate myself with my hon. Friend's remarks about the hard work done by the members of the two Committees, but it is a pity that they could not all be bothered to turn up for tonight's debate. For the avoidance of all doubt, will she confirm to the House that although the recommendations on page 13 are strangely silent about this, the report, if accepted, would involve the loss of Room W5 to Members?
Yes, I confirm that, but if my right hon. Friend will allow me to continue my remarks a little further, I shall explain why we feel that that is necessary, and I hope that he will understand the points that I make.
Our Committees' proposal would improve the access facilities for visitors and increase security. Our report is centred on one major recommendation: a new reception and security building should be built at the north end of Cromwell Green and the west side of the Jubilee café. The proposed new building would replace St. Stephen's entrance, as the main entry point for visitors to both Houses.
The Houses of Parliament receive at least 400,000 visitors a year. As our report makes clear, they visit for many different reasons. For example, some visit the Galleries of each House or attend Select Committee sittings. Some come to lobby their Members of Parliament or to take part in mass lobbies. Others come for official dinners or to meet staff of the two Houses. People wish to come to the House of Commons for a variety of reasons.
Currently, most non-pass holders enter through St. Stephen's entrance, where they and their belongings are searched. Many hon. Members will share my Committee's long-standing concern that that arrangement is unsatisfactory. We have all seen the long queues that sometimes build up on the pavement outside, a particularly unwelcome sight when it is cold and wet. The limited space at St. Stephen's entrance means that there is insufficient space to offer visitors much information about what is happening in the Chambers or the Committees. The present arrangements are also inadequate from a security perspective, as was highlighted at the end of last year, when security equipment had to be moved outside into a temporary marquee.
I am rather intrigued by that argument. Is there any evidence that people are put off visiting the Palace of Westminster because of the present arrangements? We hear pitiful stories about people waiting in queues and standing cold and shivering in the rain, but I have never had the impression that that has deterred people from coming here. In fact, it may make them appreciate it more when they get in.
Even if it does not deter them, we should offer a slightly more welcoming atmosphere for people coming here. We are not offering them a warm welcome if they have to queue in the rain and cold. My Committee feels strongly about that, and has supported for some time the view that we should do more to welcome visitors. As we state in our report:
"Our visitors are the electors of the present and the future, or those who come from abroad to visit one of the most important and historic sites in the United Kingdom."
We could and should do more to welcome visitors and provide them with information to help make their visit more memorable. If that aim can be achieved while, at the same time, enhancing security and easing the burden on our security staff, we should seize the opportunity to do so.
I shall explain briefly why my Committee believes that the proposed new building would help to achieve those two important objectives. I shall also try to address the concerns of hon. Members who have reservations about the effect of our proposals on the Palace and the work of Parliament, and who are afraid that they represent the thin end of the wedge. Conversely, other hon. Members believe that we have not gone far enough, so I shall explain why I think we have struck the right balance.
Under our proposal, visitors would enter the new building by means of a ramp leading down from St. Stephen's entrance along the inside of the wall separating Cromwell Green from the pavement. It would be wide enough to make arrangements to fast-track Members' guests or people attending meetings with Members. Visitors would then enter the new building, where they would pass through the security machines. There would be space for three search machines, as opposed to the existing two at St. Stephen's entrance, which would reduce the time that visitors have to wait before entering the building. From the new building they would walk alongside the Jubilee café and enter the Palace through the north door of Westminster Hall. A visitor's first view of the inside of the Palace would therefore be the magnificent sight of Westminster Hall, which would be enhanced as it would be free of the unsightly security equipment that currently stands at the south end of the Hall.
There are other advantages to the proposal, as we outline in part 4 of our report. The new arrangements would greatly reduce the need for visitors to queue outside and, importantly, there would be a great improvement in the access arrangements for disabled visitors. Currently, disabled visitors have to enter the Palace separately from other visitors because of the steps in St. Stephen's Hall. Under the proposed arrangements, however, they would be able to enter down the ramp with everybody else, then continue to their destination, as now, via one of the lifts off Westminster Hall. That would definitely be an improvement for certain guests coming to the Palace of Westminster.
I should point out that the proposed new arrangements are strongly supported by the police and senior security staff of both Houses and are based on the best current security advice. The new building would provide a dedicated building outside the main Palace for security checks. That would be a significant improvement from a security perspective. It is important that visitors can be searched outside the main building, and the location below street level has also been approved by security experts.
At present, disabled visitors must leave the party that they are with, whereas under the new arrangements they would all be able to come in through the same entrance. In Westminster Hall they would be guided to a lift. I believe that these arrangements would be more acceptable, and from the soundings that have been taken, disabled groups believe they would be an improvement for their supporters.
I shall try to reassure hon. Members about what the proposals do not include. They do not affect the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Inter-Parliamentary Union rooms, nor are there plans for them to be used in the future. The smallest W meeting room will be converted to extend the ladies lavatories, but the four main meeting rooms will not be affected and will continue to be available as valuable meeting rooms for Members. The proposals are modest and should not affect the work of Parliament.
In reply to my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight, I should say that there have been complaints from visitors to the House about the lack of facilities, and it was therefore thought appropriate that the opportunity should be taken to improve the facilities for ladies lavatories.
When we were first asked to look into the matter by the House of Commons Commission, the consultants who had been engaged by the House proposed a full-scale interpretative visitor centre in Westminster Hall. I am sure that we all recall the reaction to those proposals. They would have involved significant disruption and changes to the use of the rooms off Westminster Hall. The proposals, as I said, met significant opposition and we did not support them. In our report we clearly say that we did not support the proposals. We state in the summary that
"we recognise the demands for a large-scale interpretative visitors centre. We support this concept but believe that this is not feasible within the Palace of Westminster, and therefore recommend that suitable accommodation outside the building be sought."
I hope that allays any fears on that score. I believe that we are supporting the main view of Members.
I very much respect the work that the hon. Lady and her Committee do. Can she take the opportunity to make it clear to the House this evening, as the Deputy Leader of the House did in response to me earlier, that if the House approves the motion, we are not approving the long-term section on page 12, which appears to commit the House to a very expensive and elaborate interpretation centre, when many of us feel it would be a much better use of the House's limited resources to make sure that more members of our electorate can access the House electronically? It is rather confusing that the motion before the House is in two parts. We are asked to approve the joint report, but we are asked to endorse only the immediate proposals for the new reception and security building. Will the hon. Lady please clarify for the House that as far as her Committee is concerned, we are endorsing only the latter proposal, not the wider long-term proposal?
I fully support the hon. Gentleman's comments on the matter. As he will see, the title of the report is "Access to Parliament". That is what we are approving today. I hope that everybody appreciates that we will have a different debate about what will follow and where any interpretative centre will be located in the future. There will be serious consultations among colleagues and elsewhere on any proposal that might come forward on that.
May I make two points to my hon. Friend? First, in any further view that she and her Committee take on providing a full-blown visitor centre, will she rule out placing it in the parliamentary estate as the parliamentary estate currently exists, because room is simply not available? Secondly, if she is looking for a candidate building to use as a visitor centre, will she examine the Middlesex court building on the other side of Parliament square? A court has no need whatsoever to be situated on Parliament square, and we should take it over and use it as a visitor centre.
I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend's suggestion. We will, of course, examine all facilities, but my Committee discussed the issue and concluded that it is not feasible to locate a visitor centre within the Palace of Westminster because space is not available, and I am sure that all hon. Members in the Chamber agree with that decision.
Sufficient space is also not available to hold exhibitions on the work and role of Parliament, which many hon. Members in the Chamber feel is an important part of welcoming visitors. The first page of the report, which I read out, makes it clear that the Committee supports the concept of a full-scale interpretive visitor centre, which I feel should be sited outside the main building. Such a proposal clearly requires much more work, and the officials who supported the Committee on the current proposals and for whose work we are very grateful will now examine the options outside the Palace. When the Committee has considered those options and feels that it has done enough work for the House to take a view, it will, of course, report again.
The more difficult issues associated with a visitor centre should not delay progress on the new reception and security building, on which there is every reason for a consensus across the House. A new reception and security building would be an important step in improving access facilities for visitors and would represent a significant improvement in how we treat visitors and provide information to them.
The final section of the report sets out that my Committee is committed to examining options for other facilities. However, I stress again that the development of a full-scale visitor centre within the Palace of Westminster is not proposed. I put that point on the record and hope that everybody accepts my confirmation of it.
The hon. Lady is being typically generous in giving way. This point may seem minor, but it means a lot to many of us: if the new visitor centre is built, will we have seen the last of the baleful presence of the malefic Oliver in the form of that statue? The green could be renamed Prince Rupert of the Rhine green or—this is my personal preference—Charles Stuart green.
I note the hon. Gentleman's point. My Committee has not considered the matter, and it would not be appropriate to make pledges to him about such a suggestion. However, my colleagues and I can read his comment in Hansard and reach a view in due course.
The proposal will improve access facilities for visitors. The plans in the report will hopefully form phase 1, and phase 2 will not be within the Palace of Westminster. I trust that the House will enable progress to be made on our modest proposals, which should meet the important twin objectives of making visitors feel more welcome and improving security. As other hon. Members said, this is not our House—and it belongs to the people who give us the right to sit in it. We should do all that we can to welcome visitors while minimising disruption to Parliament's work and taking into account security issues. Our joint report sets out our proposals that meet those aims, and I urge the House to support them.
I shall be brief. I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay, who generously gave way several times earlier in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Members for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Conway) and members of their Committees on their work in producing the report. I have the honour of chairing the Select Committee on Broadcasting, which considered these proposals at the beginning of last year when they were in a much earlier form and based on the notion of a fully-fledged visitor centre. Committee members of all parties endorsed the principle of a visitor centre and the improved access to this House that would form part of it. The proposals that are before us today, although limited in terms of those earlier considerations, are about access and security. They are in line with the first part of the priority that the House of Commons Commission agreed in June 2002—to improve access to and understanding of Parliament—and they are worthy of support for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Broxbourne presented.
None of us has any way of knowing whether having to stand outside St. Stephen's entrance in whatever weather is a deterrent or an inducement to people who want to come in to see the work of Parliament or to visit these buildings. Clearly, people are prepared to stand outside whatever the weather, but they should not have to. There should be better facilities for those who want to come in to see us at work in this Chamber or in Committees Upstairs, or just to see the architecture of the building. It is plain common sense to improve access to this place as the report suggests, and a simple courtesy to our electors to ensure that they get a better welcome.
Although I accept and endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Broxbourne, I hope that the wider and fuller concept of a visitor centre will not be forgotten and that her Committee and other Committees will go on to explore how that can be provided, thereby fulfilling the other part of the Commission's priority—to improve understanding of Parliament.
Mr. Tyler talked about improving understanding and access electronically. That is important. We now have, although it is limited at the moment, the webcasting of Parliament. Almost day by day—certainly, year by year—we have improvements in the technology that gives people access to what is going on here, even though they may be many miles away. I would say two things about that. First, it will never be a replacement for wanting to visit the House of Commons and the House of Lords to see them in reality. Virtual reality will never satisfy everyone, nor should it.
Secondly, I hope that when the hon. Members for Broxbourne and for Old Bexley and Sidcup and their Committees consider the wider issue of the visitor centre, they will bear in mind a point that has already been made to the hon. Lady's Committee by members of my Committee—that the broadcasting of Parliament, including the relaying of what is happening at the time and the archive material that is available, should play an essential role in the visitor centre. I ask the hon. Lady to give cognisance to my Committee's wish to have some involvement in the future planning of a visitor centre.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I appreciate the very thoughtful contribution that he is making. I hope that his Committee will accept that, in terms of value for money, a comparatively small investment made now could result in major improvements, comparable with those made in legislative assemblies in other parts of the world. While his constituents can come here and see us at work relatively easily, the constituents of those of us who come from further afield have much greater difficulty in doing so. It is important for young people, particularly during their school years, to have the opportunity to see Parliament at work electronically when they cannot possibly visit these buildings.
I would certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the important educational function of being able to watch the proceedings of this place on television, via the internet or by some other means that might become available in the near future. However, the fact remains that people come from far afield to visit these buildings and to see what goes on inside them. That will always be the case, and I want us to guard against the notion that technological advance might make it preferable to watch what is going on here over the internet or by some other similar means, rather than by coming here to see Parliament at work. I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman has said, however.
I support the proposals before us, but I hope that the hon. Member for Broxbourne will be able to give the House assurances about the involvement of members of my Committee in any future planning of proposals for a visitor centre.
This is the wrong proposal at the wrong time. It is what the Americans call a boondoggle, and it really is time that it was exposed. I follow very much the arguments of Andrew Mackinlay, but I want first to pick up on why I think that the proposal is being made at the wrong time.
We find ourselves in an odd position because, on the one hand, the Leader of the House, no less, has said that there will be a
Well, I suppose that makes it all right, then. The Leader of the House has announced a wide-ranging review of security, which I think that we all agree is timely and necessary. But before that review has reported, we are now being asked to give our approval to a proposal based on a security argument. So we are in the absurd position of being told that this proposal is about security, when we have not yet reached the completion of the wide-ranging security review announced by the Leader of the House. That strikes me as somewhat eccentric—I shall put it no more strongly than that. The timing of the proposal is therefore completely wrong. It is premature, and it will make a nonsense of the security review.
The other anomalous position is illustrated by the statement of the Deputy Leader of the House that the report
"is part of a wider strategy of improving information about, and access to, the Palace of Westminster."
He went on to say that
"the Government regard the reception building very much as the first stage. We hope that we will be able to build consensus on proposals for a proper visitor and education centre, with space for exhibitions interpreting our work, for the reception of school parties, and perhaps for a book and souvenir shop."—[Hansard, 22 April 2004; Vol. 420, c. 466, 509–512.]
What we are being asked to approve here is simply phase one of an overall project, and we are being asked to do it in a detached way. So in two respects, first in terms of security and second in terms of the overall vision of those who see this place as a theme park—I shall come back to that in a moment—we are again being asked to look at only part of the argument. We are therefore embarking on a debate based on a partial and premature approach.
Paragraph 2 includes the contention that
"across the UK there are many people who are keen to be more closely involved in Parliament's work but who are not currently engaged."
Members of Parliament are very taken with such contentions, which we like to hear because they make us all feel better about ourselves, but I do not know what evidence exists for that contention. I suspect that it is simply regarded as self-evident but I am not sure that it is true that many people are keen to be more closely involved in Parliament's work. The philosophical basis and thrust of the report is in doubt from the start, because simply stating a contention does not make it true although we are often fond of that approach. Doubt arises immediately about our motivation.
Paragraph 3 contains a phrase that I find somewhat more attractive and refers to
"recognising that the Palace of Westminster is primarily a place of work and public access should not impinge on that work."
That is a welcome statement. For some time I have worried about the danger that, as we do less and less useful work in the House of Commons because the Government have throttled it and give Members fewer and fewer opportunities to do their job, we will turn the place into a theme park. We are telling people, "Come and sit behind a glass Screen." Even more absurdly, we are saying, "Come and parade silently along while we do our business here in the Chamber" because visiting the building and seeing what happens here is subtly and gradually becoming more important than what we do in it. Again, that is an underlying but unstated part of what we are asked to approve this evening.
The report is all about making the place more welcoming to visitors rather than thinking more seriously about what we do in the Palace of Westminster. That bothers me because it shows a mindset that is becoming all too common among Members of Parliament and our esteemed establishment figures. They believe that much more emphasis should be placed on lavatories and ramps without displaying much concern about the fact that increasingly fewer Members attend or are able to carry out their duties.
Earlier today, we had a drastically truncated debate in which we were sadly unable to complete our scrutiny of an important Bill. That passed almost without comment. We usher more and more visitors through the building to watch us doing less and less effective work. That is an odd view of the parliamentary process but it appears to motivate an increasing amount of what we do. I find that sad and wish that we would resist it.
Would my right hon. Friend like to reflect on the number of people who pack the Public Gallery on some occasions and the relatively few people who pack—if that is the right word—any Galleries in Select Committee hearings and especially Standing Committee sittings? In the context of a debate on public access, will he further reflect on the fact that our Standing Committees are not even televised?
My hon. Friend typically makes an incisive point. Again, I am not aware of any reflection upon it. Hon. Members often cite important Committee work Upstairs as an alibi for not being in the Chamber. Those of us who are part of the secret society know that that is sometimes true but that it is often not exactly true. The proof of that pudding would be to ask why we are not spending much more time and attention on greater and better access for the public to what some would regard as our real work in both Standing and Select Committees instead of ushering them through ridiculous pieces of glass and funny corridors to see an ever emptier Chamber. Such questions are not asked because we are probably rather afraid of the answer to the question of why we are here on fewer and fewer occasions. So, the whole thrust—the whole philosophy—behind the report is flawed. The assumptions made and the underpinnings should be seriously questioned.
It gets worse, because when we consider the financial aspects we are entitled to become slightly ashamed of ourselves. Here we are, posturing and posing as the custodians of the taxpayers' purse, and scrutinising in the House of Commons the amount of money that the wicked Government are spending. Indeed the Government are wicked and indeed they spend far too much—let there be no doubt about that—but when do we gaze at our own financial navels? The answer is all too rarely.
The real truth is that there are effectively no constraints on expenditure by the House of Commons on itself. In that, we are disgracefully self-indulgent. We have before us a very good example of it, because here we are, quietly and unobtrusively voting ourselves what paragraph 32 of the report coyly refers to as
"in the region of £5 million."
That is not much money if we say it fairly quickly, and I am sure that the taxpayers will not mind it being lavished on what the Chairman of the Administration Committee, my hon. Friend Mrs. Roe, referred to in her charming way as "their Parliament". Whether that is how people see it I leave to others to judge.
So, £5 million is involved. Well, no it is not, because the report then says, semi-honestly:
"This figure does not take into account the effects of inflation or the cost of any additional related security works required once consultations with security and heritage bodies have been completed."
That is the point that was made so effectively by Andrew Mackinlay. This is a pig in a poke—another blank cheque that we are being asked to sign. The figure is not £5 million at all. It might not even be
"in the region of £5 million."
It says here in the report that the
"figure does not take into account . . . consultations" yet to come. Then it says, with almost charming transparency:
"The final figure is therefore likely to be higher."
How much higher we do not know. Could it be just £1 million higher, or twice that? Could it be, following the pattern of the Scottish parliamentary building, 10 times the current estimate? We do not know, but we are being asked this evening to give our approval.
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are in fact not being asked to give our approval this evening, because in the final disgrace to the Parliament—I am ashamed to admit it—we will not be asked to vote on the measure this evening. We will be asked to come back tomorrow. No doubt several hundred colleagues will vote, in that disgrace called the deferred Division, on something of which they have little knowledge due to the fact that they have not bothered to be here to take part in the debate.
Who knows, but maybe even the Prime Minister will vote tomorrow, because the deferred Division will be staged at a time convenient to him, when he happens to pay his once-a-week visit to this place to answer questions. Rather conveniently, he will be able to nip through the Lobby immediately afterwards to cast his vote on a ballot paper for the deferred Division, not having been here for the debate. I do not particularly blame him for that, because, sadly, nearly every other Member of the House shares in it, as it happens.
So, colleagues—those guardians of the taxpayer—will waltz through the Division Lobby and put their name on a bit of paper tomorrow to sign away at least £5 million of their constituents' money, probably with very little knowledge of where it is going. That is for them, not us here at present, to answer for.
We do not know how much this measure will cost. That is the conclusion we draw from the report.
My right hon. Friend is generous in giving way. There are some 17 Members in the Chamber, which at 9.23 on such a night is not bad, because normally nobody would be here at all as the House would not be sitting. Will he invite the Minister to place on record his view of the cost, so that before Members vote on paper tomorrow there will at least be for the record a clear Government statement of the expected cost? I suspect that, in years to come when the bill is finally delivered, the Minister might not wish to take responsibility for that reply.
All I can say to my hon. Friend is, "In your dreams." That will not happen, although I admire his gall in asking for it. By the by, I wonder, as he probably does, where are the 180 or so Members who just a short time ago went through the Division Lobby to deny us sitting in private? They have all disappeared somewhere, very strangely. They were all in the building not long ago, but they have not seen fit to remain here in the Chamber. That, however, is a matter for another day.
I will not prolong my contribution—I could expand considerably on the matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you know me well enough to realise—as I want to leave time for my hon. Friend Bob Spink in particular to make his contribution, and there is at least one Labour Member who also wants to speak. I am sure that time will properly be allowed for everyone to make their contributions, since the Order Paper usefully tells us, as will have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this debate can continue until any hour. That is appropriate. This is a House of Commons matter. There is no urgency about it, and no need to curtail the debate. It is subject to a deferred Division, so, sadly, Members need not wait to vote.
That is what I feared, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be watching to see Government Whips hovering near you and whispering in your shell-like any time from about now onwards. Sadly, I suspect—whispers have reached me—that the Government may try to close this debate down. Perhaps they are so ashamed of the amount of money being spent that even they would not approve of it. Let us see how events unwind. Certainly, I do not want to be a party on this occasion, although I am always happy to be on others, to going into the matter in great detail.
Unusually swiftly, I shall move on to paragraph 34 on the revenue implications. We have found out, have we not, that we have no idea what the capital cost will be, so let us see if we know any more about the revenue costs, as the taxpayer will pick up that bill too. The paragraph states that "the consultants"—oh dear, I always worry when I see that word—
"estimate that the staffing of the new information point near St. Stephen's Entrance and the extra searching capacity of the new building would require additional staff—three full-time posts for the kiosk, and six full-time posts of security officers for the search points. This gives a total increase in revenue costs of £200,000 per annum."
One would have thought that that was all right, and that now we will know something of what it will cost. It goes on to say, however:
"Some extra costs would also be incurred for lighting and heating, staffing an information desk in Westminster Hall, and for the production of information material."
I would have thought that it was not beyond the wits of men, and even beyond the wits of consultants, to give us some idea of what that might cost. I am rather disappointed that my colleagues in the Committee have not sought further information to offer to the House in asking us to approve this expenditure.
There are two other aspects of revenue costs to which the right hon. Gentleman might like to turn his attention. I had hoped that there might be savings involved in the proposals, because we could get rid of the dreadful building that is put up temporarily on the green to accommodate those visiting the House to take the line of route during the recess—I do not know whether he has noticed it. I was told in the previous debate, however, that that was not likely to be the case. Secondly, I wonder whether he would like to look at paragraph 26, which states:
"Contingency arrangements would need to be made for those periods when Westminster Hall is closed, for example, in preparation for, and during, formal occasions involving both Houses of Parliament, such as the presentation of Addresses. This is likely to involve putting temporary security facilities back into St. Stephen's Entrance."
Of course, that will also incur cost.
In one sense, the hon. Gentleman has been here longer than I have, and he must know as well as I do that expecting anybody to find savings in this place is a dream. I am amazed that he has even thought that consideration would be given to savings. I would have thought that saving taxpayers' money in today's House of Commons was a most unlikely outcome, certainly from this debate. I share his aspiration but, sadly, that is not the mood of the moment. We are in spending mode right now, and we are spraying money around pretty generously.
Some extra costs would therefore also be incurred for all the matters that the poor old consultants were unable to pin down for us. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has drawn the attention of the House to paragraph 26, because it almost belies a lot of the arguments that have been put to us this evening about the virtues of what we are being asked to agree. In spite of the fact that we will have all these wonderful new facilities, it would appear, for those periods in which Westminster Hall is closed, as he has just quoted, that we will incur further cost to put back temporary security facilities at St. Stephen's entrance.
We can do a bit of reminiscing. We can be a bit nostalgic, remembering what it used to be like in the good old days. Having spent at least £5 million, with revenue costs of at least £200,000—an unspecified sum—we shall be asked to spend even more, because the old facilities will have to be put back.
This is a sad little episode. It reveals all too much about us, our attitude to these matters and our casual expenditure of taxpayers' money. I regret all that. I think the whole thing is unnecessary, ill-conceived and premature. I think that in the light of the so-called security review, this is a partial answer to a comprehensive problem. I wish it were not happening, but I suspect that the troops will march through the Lobby tomorrow. Only partly aware of what they are voting for, they will fill in their little pink or yellow slips—or whatever they are these days—and the matter will be concluded. But we will fight the battle again, as we shall have to, when another amount—the last figure I saw was £15 million—is proposed for the ludicrous theme-park-style interpretative centre that has been mentioned a number of times. When that day comes, we will fight the battle all over again.
As a member of the Administration Committee, I think it right to stand up and put the arguments. There has been a good deal of criticism of people who allegedly do not speak up for the decisions they make in Committees. I think it only right for us to discuss these matters tonight, for this is an important decision which, in my view, will bring advantages.
I am happy to support the Chairman of the Administration Committee, Mrs. Roe. It has been suggested that we have not considered specific planning or finance issues, but in fact we have considered many of them in detail. I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who has handled this in a detailed and comprehensive fashion.
Obviously, some of our conclusions will not be agreed to. Whatever they were, they would not be agreed to, especially when we have suggested progress. But we have proceeded in a very positive manner and we have tried to make the House more attractive to the public. Some of the report's terminology may be high-flown, as Mr. Forth suggested, but the ideal is there. We want to make the House more accessible, and I think that our proposals will achieve that.
In his opening remarks, the hon. Gentleman suggested that the Committee had considered all matters. In a very informative speech, Andrew Mackinlay suggested first that this constituted, effectively, carte blanche planning consent for whatever course was chosen, and secondly that the heritage interests had not been fully consulted, or given their approval. Is the hon. Gentleman saying categorically that the heritage interests have approved the plans?
As I told my hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay, I was given the impression—the outline section of the report refers to this—that there had been continuing discussions with the planning authorities involved, and that they had indicated their happiness with the way in which things were progressing. The heritage issue was raised in the Committee, at both joint and separate sessions, and I am led to believe that there has been ongoing consultation. It is not complete because the final article has not been arrived at, but it will continue.
I served on a planning committee for some time, and on a development control committee. One of the issues that emerged was that of planning gain. The new entrance from Cromwell Green to Westminster Hall through the big doors will free the entrance to St. Stephen's Hall. As I remember it, the comment made on that was that in planning terms, it would be a gain because it would remove the clutter of the security arrangements there.
I am not sure whether the section is the same in English as in Scottish planning law.
There are advantages, and it is my impression that there have been discussions on these issues.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is generous in giving way more than once, but he has just said that that is his impression, and he is a member of the Committee. What we are going to endorse—not tonight, but on pink paper tomorrow—is a detailed planning consent, but the hon. Gentleman says that discussions are ongoing. If the House votes for this project tomorrow, that will be it and discussions will not be relevant.
In technical terms, we are at the very early stages. There is an outline planning application, and once we have approved it, the final details will have to be approved by the appropriate authorities. If the heritage bodies say that they will not go with the plans, I believe that they can effectively pull the plug at that stage.
If only what my hon. Friend hopes were true. The fact is that the fine art commission said that the tents on the Terrace could stay there provided that they were removed every year. They were removed every year until someone deliberately forgot. We flouted and totally disregarded the very body that my hon. Friend is referring to.
I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I know that he is very knowledgeable on these issues. I have heard of the background to the erection of the marquees, and if the rules or stipulations made by the heritage bodies have been flouted, the House authorities should look at that seriously.
As I have said, we are talking about a positive change, and I hope that people will see it in a positive light. In supporting the proposals, there are issues that we must look at fully, and points will be made in opposition that also have relevance. At the end of the day, the decision must be balanced. I think that the plans are a logical extension of the process of modernisation of the House. Perhaps that upsets people, but this House has to modernise. We have to move on. I spoke in the debate on the modernisation proposals that came before the House. Many people see the House as a quaint museum or even a theme park, as has been mentioned, but it is in fact a body of unique relevance to the life of the United Kingdom, and we should bring it into a modern mode of working.
There is a whole issue over the way in which people connect and engage with this Parliament. Although fewer hon. Members were present when I looked around earlier, I think that I can still say that I represent the most northern constituency of any Member in his place tonight. I have constituents who come a long way to visit here, and I want to ensure that they have the best possible experience. It is a long way from Dundee to Westminster, and often the railways do not work properly, the motorways are crowded or aeroplanes are grounded. When my constituents finally arrive, I want to see them dealt with in a smooth, modern fashion. That is what they expect once they have gained access to this building.
A point has been made about the detriment to the Westminster Hall entrance if people come in from that side of the building, but I think that people will have a panoramic view if they come in through those big doors and look up that majestic Hall, which has served a multitude of purposes. Indeed, the top of the stairs at the other end is where William Wallace was tried before the King's court, before we became the United Kingdom. That huge, panoramic view will enhance visitors' experience of the building.
In the light of the excellent earlier analysis of Andrew Mackinlay, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that visitors will see this magnificent view through the ghastly glass structure that will apparently be constructed, which will desecrate Westminster Hall simply to allow the magnificent doors to be permanently open? Will that not rather spoil the splendour of the occasion?
That supposes that people will be standing outside looking in. In fact, they will gain access to Parliament through the glass doors. As well as going through the glass doors, they will be looking up the Hall as they arrive, so their view will not be cluttered as they enter the building. That will be of benefit, because at the moment the line of route starts off in Westminster Hall and works its way through the building. The proposed means of entry is the natural entrance to the building.
There has been much discussion of this issue, but change is necessary. We have talked about many aspects of bringing the Houses of Parliament into the 21st century, and reference has been made to the costs associated with the Scottish Parliament. The visitor experience provided by its interpretive centre, even in its temporary home on the Mound, puts this House to shame, even before it moves to its new home. The cost has been mentioned, but the centre will be excellent and people will be able to interact with it and understand more fully how the Scottish Parliament works.
There will be ongoing discussion of the planning issues as the new building takes shape, and mention has been made of returning St. Stephen's Gate to its former condition of a pristine and uncluttered entrance for those who wish to use it.
Some very worthwhile contributions have been made, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock on providing a truly historical perspective. I appreciate his concerns, which are real, but any change will give rise to concerns. I hope that the advantages that we derive from the changes will outweigh his concerns and that, in five years' time, he will be happy to say that although he opposed the changes, they were of benefit.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that when a Government Whip approaches you surreptitiously—no doubt to ask if you will allow a closure motion—you will allow lobbying by other hon. Members as well, so that they can put to you a different point of view? Or are your ears open only to Government Whips who seek to curtail the debate?
Any question on procedure is a matter for the Chair, and is to be judged according to the circumstances at the time. The Chair cannot deny access from time to time to hon. Members, who ask many things. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, any decision on procedure is taken by the Chair.
"Our visitors"— our constituents—
"are the electors of the present and the future, or those who come from abroad to visit one of the most important and historic sites in the United Kingdom. They deserve a positive approach to their access and welcome."
The proposals that form part of the report demonstrate that we are adopting such a policy. I hope—as the Committee and its Chairman doubtless do—that the House will accept these proposals tonight.
We need to make the Palace more accessible and welcoming to visitors and our constituents. Although I respect Mr. Luke—I will go further: I actually like him—I tend to disagree with his theme, which is that change is necessarily progress. It certainly is not, and this report raises more questions than it answers. The proposal is very underdeveloped, and the House should not vote in favour of it in its current state.
Some of the key questions are about the detailed design and materials, and the provision of utilities. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth said, another question is whether a new de-mountable glazed Lobby is right for Westminster Hall, which was built by William Rufus in 1097. I doubt that very much. Why not have four or five security screening machines, rather than the three proposed, so that our constituents and the queues could be dealt with much more efficiently? Will not the fast tracking of Members' guests so that they can overtake all those who have queued up in the rain for hours on end cause irritation? Will it endear constituents to their Members of Parliament when, as guests, they are raced past all those other people, who are effectively made second-class citizens by that policy? I am not convinced that that is a good policy.
Why not have a private sitting, so that we can all hear what Andrew Mackinlay now knows about the screen? We should all be able to share knowledge about security risks and have a proper debate about what is really going on and about the report's underlying security implications. We should be able to understand the full context of the most important security issues.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst dealt with the £5 million estimate more effectively than anyone else in the House. He rightly explained that it was not a confident or rigorously costed prediction. Indeed, it is just an estimate, and the report implies that it is likely to amount to more. I know of no other body, organisation or company that would go ahead with a multi-million pound proposal without a rigorous costing—
I do not see why the House should accept this nonsense. We need to link the changes to security recommended in the report with a comprehensive and cohesive security review. We should not tackle the problems in a piecemeal fashion, as we appear to be doing tonight.
We need better visitor facilities, especially toilets. I personally welcome the giving up of Room W5 to provide more ladies' toilets. Guests arriving here after travelling a long way on coaches—perhaps from Thurrock, from Castle Point or even from Dundee, East—really need toilet facilities, particularly the ladies. I see no reason why we should not seek to provide them.
I could not have put it better myself. We should not allow utility considerations to compromise the heritage of this place.
The report mentions increasing the lighting levels in Westminster Hall. Mr. Deputy Speaker, during the time of your predecessor, Thomas Hungerford, who is generally recognised as the first Speaker to be so called around 1390, William Rufus' original roof caved in. It was replaced by the beautiful and unique hammerbeam roof, which we still admire today. As I walk through Westminster Hall after this debate, I shall look up at that roof and enjoy the experience very much. It was built of great oaks taken from the then King's hunting ground in Thundersley wood in my constituency. Indeed, it created a clearing in those very woods in which my house was built.
Seriously, however, the current gentle and sympathetic lighting is subtle and evocative: some even find it ghostly. It is certainly mood enhancing, especially late at night. I do not want that atmosphere to be destroyed by modernisation philistines. The bottom line is that we must do nothing to compromise the heritage of this beautiful, wonderful and historic building.
I imagine that the lighting many hundreds of years ago was even more subtle, emotional and atmospheric than it is today. I do not want the present effect to be destroyed by increased levels of lighting of which we have no knowledge at present. The bottom line is that we must do nothing to compromise the wonderful heritage and history of this building.
The Benfleet historical society is due to visit this place next week, and the following week I shall be welcoming a group from Hadleigh. They want to see the true, beautiful Palace of Westminster in all its historic glory. They do not want to visit Disneyland.
We have had a very comprehensive debate. I remind the House that it has been the second half of the discussion: we had nearly an hour on
On behalf of the House, I thank the Committees that produced this report and their Chairmen, the hon. Members for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway). I also thank the Chairman of the Broadcasting Committee, my hon. Friend Mr. Lepper, who contributed to the debate. We all owe them thanks.
The Government strongly support the report, which has been compiled by the Domestic Committees of the House. In essence, there are three arguments against the proposals. The first has to do with security. I repeat what I said on
Secondly, it has been said that we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke and that the House will be committed to further expenditure and development. On
Finally, I think that the main thrust of the arguments against the proposal is based on a fear of change. Mr. Forth has said that he fears that the House is turning into a theme park. I put it to him that his proposals would turn it into a museum. In the modern age, it is right and proper for us improve the facilities and the welcome that we extend to the 400,000 people who wish to visit. I suspect that more people would want to come here as a result. The welcome that we give people at the moment is frankly risible. People are asked to stand outside in the rain and cold, treated like strangers.
The debate is open-ended, so there is no haste. However, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Given his concern about visitors to the House, will he contemplate the fact that most of the visitors for whom the proposed facilities will be designed are likely to be from overseas? The visitors whom hon. Members would like to invite are our constituents, but they are denied access on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. That is because the House now sits at times that render it impossible for them to be present.
No, I wish to finish on this point. Mr. Gale made a point about overseas visitors. I would have thought that Members of Parliament would see this building not only as a prime heritage site for the United Kingdom but as a prime world heritage site. The overseas visitors to this place, which is a symbol of democracy around the world, should be welcomed warmly and we should provide access for them. On that basis alone, I recommend the reports to the House.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Question just decided was, That the Question be now put. But, ironically, as I understand it, that will not happen. Is it possible, with the Government's agreement, for us to proceed now to vote on the main Question? To do otherwise makes nonsense of the House—are all here and all ready to vote, yet we cannot because of some silly rules.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not profoundly shocking that those of us who either took the trouble to vote for free speech or, presumably, voted to settle the main Question now, discover that we are to be denied that opportunity and that we may as well have not troubled ourselves to be here at all?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that a Minister has moved a closure motion on open-ended business that is subject to the deferred Division procedure? The Government's only possible reason for doing that is so that the Minister could have an early night in bed. Is that not an insult to the House?
I have the gist of the point of order raised by the hon. Members. As they must all know, I am bound by the Standing Orders of the House; they are as they are, so I must now put the Question on motion 4.
Main Question put—