Backbench Business — House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:18 pm on 8th November 2012.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee 1:18 pm, 8th November 2012

My hon. Friend is both unfair and wrong. I said that one effect of the price increases has been felt by colleagues, but that a much greater effect has been felt by lower-paid pass holders in this palace—I was more concerned for them. The fact of the matter is that large organisations, be they charitable, private sector or nationalised, have access to this place already, and we take a great deal of revenue from them. All they need is the fig leaf of sponsorship from a Member of Parliament. The proposals simply say that access could be achieved without the presence of a sponsoring MP. There is no actual difference with regard to the ability to access the palace.

I am worried about the IPSA effect—the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—on our budgeting arrangements. I believe that the change to Tuesday’s sitting hours has been effected by those colleagues who have found themselves without support for accommodation in central London. I must not impute motive to them, but 43 out of the 96 people affected by that IPSA regulation voted for the change in hours. I can understand why, but it has a serious effect on revenues. On Tuesday evenings this place is now deserted, and on Tuesday mornings we now have great difficulty in bringing in visitors from our constituencies, which is something that many Members value. That is also a question of access.

The Administration Committee has looked—indeed, it is still looking—at how our facilities can be better used. As a general approach, I honestly do not see what is wrong with that. First, I would like to think that Members themselves would use the facilities more often—that would be a start. The Committee, together with the catering management, is trying to find innovative ways in which we can hold Members here more often to take advantage of the facilities and, therefore, make a contribution to revenue, but allowing public access is the other way. Other Parliaments do it. Indeed, in the Parliament of Quebec, the public are able to book a table in the restaurants not only when Members are not present, but on days when the Parliament is actually sitting. I am not suggesting for a moment that we go that far, but the idea that this is a revolutionary or demeaning move on the part of the Palace of Westminster is entirely wrong.

Is it wrong to host civil ceremonies? Is it wrong to develop specialist tours, such as a works of art tour? Is it especially wrong to hire out the facilities? That is what we already do, but we could do more of it. My amendment to the business improvement plans simply draws attention to the valuable work done by the management in that direction, and I believe that that should be given the fullest opportunity to work before we consider any outside catering or similar. Let us put that to the test first—that is the gravamen of my amendment.