Backbench Business — House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 8th November 2012.

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Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee 12:38 pm, 8th November 2012

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. Had I not thought of those questions before, it is now firmly planted in my mind to ensure that they are all properly asked.

The last point that I wanted to touch on is the plans to increase revenue. The Administration Committee has done considerable work on this, and we had a debate in Westminster Hall which featured that topic. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden

(Sir Alan Haselhurst), the Chair of the Committee, will speak in this debate and I am sure that he will cover this in greater detail. It is also the subject of an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Robert Halfon. Notwithstanding the fact that I am about to disagree with him, I respect hugely the point that he puts and I am extremely grateful to him for having raised it in the debate. It is one of the core points and it is absolutely right that we as Members should discuss that. He has therefore done us a service by tabling the amendment, and I am grateful that it has been selected. However, I will now proceed to disagree with him, if I may.

The House has operated a number of facilities for staff, visitors and Members, including cafes, restaurants, bars and shops, for a considerable length of time. I hope it will be uncontroversial to affirm that these should be correctly priced and effectively costed. All these are details that the Administration Committee goes into. However, the Palace not only houses Parliament, but is a world-class heritage asset and one of the United Kingdom’s leading visitor attractions. I suggest that as such, we have a duty to make the Palace available to visitors who want to visit it, and an equal duty to ensure that the cost of that does not fall on the taxpayer, but is recovered from those visitors.

The key point is to ensure that there is no conflict between Parliament as a working institution and the Palace as a world-class visitor attraction, so I shall set out my principles in that regard. They are three. First, Parliament is a working institution and while it is sitting, those activities take precedence over any other activity. Secondly, all citizens have the right to visit their Parliament and to engage with their Members of Parliament and the parliamentary process without any charge at any point. Thirdly, subject to those first two principles, the Palace is a world heritage and tourist asset which should be made available for tourist visitors, provided that the costs of such provision are recovered and not passed on to the taxpayer.

I believe—and I think this is where I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow—that provided we have absolutely ensured that parliamentary proceedings are sacrosanct and that citizens can visit the Palace without a charge and without fear of a charge, we have a duty and a right to open it to wider visits and to charge to recover the costs.