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

I absolutely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said, although I hope that my testimony to the work that has been done was implied in the fact that I said that the business improvement plans should be given a chance.

Turning to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, I am speaking ahead of him, but he has helpfully sent round an e-mail indicating the thrust of what he intends to say. As I have indicated, I do not believe that “commercialisation” is a dirty word. I think that we should adopt a business-like approach, respect taxpayers and recognise that they are concerned about what this place costs, and, at the same time, widen access for many more of those taxpayers. The fact is that we do not yet have a proper visitors centre. We have talked about it in the past and there is a motion in its favour dating back some years, but we have shied away from the cost of it. We ought not to have people standing in a queue outside in all weathers, waiting to get into this building. It is a serious interference with their rights and, in part, probably, the true business of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross mentioned film crews when responding to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow. There is nothing new about film crews using the Elizabeth Tower—that has happened before. All we are talking about is charging a proper fee. As I have said, rooms can be hired out already—what is wrong with that? The demand for commercial tours is ever greater, so why should we not satisfy it? Of course, if we meet that demand, there is wear and tear and it is reasonable, on the whole, to find the income to deal with that.

If that is wrong or demeaning, would my hon. Friend extend that description to the sale of souvenirs? We could be accused of going down market by doing that. When I first came here a long time ago, the only gifts available were bottles of whisky and packets of cigarettes. Souvenirs have been extended a great deal since then. It gives great pleasure to people to have the opportunity to buy such things. We could certainly sell a lot more of the gifts that we have. We are doing it, revenue is going up, and I do not see why we should not take every single opportunity proposed by the report.

We are talking, as I said at the beginning, about the House’s budget, which has been laid out in detail. If we take out any item, we must consider the alternatives. I say respectfully to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow that some of the alternatives that he put forward in the debate on the Clock Tower to save £469,000 a year would, if debated individually like the Clock Tower charges on that day, be heartily rejected by a large majority of his colleagues. The idea that we should cut down on parliamentary outreach at a time when we are trying to extend the idea of what this place is throughout the country or that we should cut down further on overseas trips and delegations, which would hit at the very purpose of our Select Committees, let alone other groups in this House, is all wrong.

It is absurd to suggest that there has been no consultation before today’s debate. The Administration Committee consulted, listened and put forward a sensible plan that we would defend to the hilt. We cannot afford to delay. We need to have a budget in place.