Backbench Business — House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:32 pm on 8th November 2012.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth 2:32 pm, 8th November 2012

It gives me great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Robert Halfon in this afternoon’s debate.

I think I speak for everyone inside and outside this Chamber when I say that the principle that constituents can visit Members of Parliament freely and have access to their Parliament—this is the people’s Parliament—whenever it is sitting is absolutely sacrosanct. Although I have not entertained as many constituents as Jim Fitzpatrick—my constituents have to travel some 360 miles to visit me in Parliament—they come on a weekly basis. Indeed, at 5.30 this afternoon I will be meeting another group of constituents. Being able to welcome my constituents is a fundamental part of my job as a Member of Parliament, as it is of all other Members of this House. My constituents can turn up unannounced and demand to see me—and they do; one visited me yesterday from the Fire Brigades Union—or, like the constituents I am seeing later this afternoon, they can make planned visits. They will have free access to me and to this Parliament. Indeed, I am sure that each of us spends considerable amounts of time taking people on tours around this splendid, wonderful building—we all share an immense sense of privilege to be able to work here—and we show them whatever paintings they want to see, which are freely available. [ Interruption. ] I am so pleased to see that Members are nodding.

I am sorry, but I am very disappointed with my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, who I feel misrepresented the case entirely. What is being suggested—after a huge amount of tireless, thoughtful, painstaking work over two years by my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst and many other Members from across the House with years of experience and great regard for this place—is a way of responding to the sensible approach of both making efficiency savings and reducing costs, in line with every other part of the public sector, and looking at increased revenue opportunities. Those opportunities are very sensible. When this Parliament is not sitting and is in recess, the building is largely unoccupied.

Frankly, I do not think people will have any objections, especially if we cast our minds back to the splendid opening ceremony of the Olympic games. A highlight of that was seeing our great Queen being prepared to be part of a James Bond film. I think we all enjoyed that moment enormously, so I have no objection if a film maker—one of these rich, nasty corporates, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow branded them—wants to spend several hundreds of thousands of pounds filming a James Bond film using Big Ben, a great national icon of which we are all proud. I think nobody would object to that, and we could use the money to reduce the considerable upkeep and running costs of this building without going to the taxpayers. I represent a very poor part of this country, where average incomes are well below the national average. I do not want to have to go to them and say, “Please will you give me more of your hard-won cash in taxes?” to pay for this place when we have perfectly sensible and reasonable means at our disposal to generate some extra income.

I also trust the great consideration of my colleagues who work hard on the Select Committees that scrutinise and come up with such proposals. They will not degrade

Parliament; they will consider each opportunity on its own merits. That is the safeguard we have now. The Administration Committee has to consider every request to film in this place or do something extraordinary with it, and it does so very carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow has every opportunity to come along to the Administration Committee—all the sittings are in public—and make representations if he feels, as he said he did, that creating such opportunities will take Parliament in a direction that he feels uncomfortable with. We have plenty of safeguards in the current structures for arriving at such decisions, so I think he is worrying unnecessarily and, if he does not mind my saying so, rather over-egging the pudding.

Having had the privilege of serving under my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden on the Administration Committee for two years—I am no longer a member—I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow that in our right hon. Friend we have a Chairman of great wisdom who is very balanced and has a huge regard for this place. He would not do anything to turn this place into a Disneyland or a theme park, or any of the other extraordinary allegations that my hon. Friend made.

I would also like to speak in support of amendment (a) tabled by my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie—under whose chairmanship I have also had the great honour and privilege of serving—on the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Like many other colleagues, I arrived in this place as somebody who had studied humanities. I had little experience in science and technology, yet so much of my work as a Member of Parliament relies on a broad, but sometimes quite detailed, understanding of science and technology and how they inform our decisions in this place. I think we all agree that we want to be evidence-based policy makers, which is why the excellent work that POST does in producing POST notes to inform our work is so important. Being on the board and reading those notes enables me to do my job of representing my constituents so much better than if POST did not exist.

I hope, therefore, that some of the assurances that we have heard this afternoon about continued investment in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology are borne out, because if anything we do not spend enough on POST or supporting the Select Committee on Science and Technology in its work with scientists and those involved in technology outside Parliament to bring all that expertise and knowledge to bear on the important work we do as legislators.

I very much hope that we will not have to divide the House this afternoon on amendment (a), and that in the wind-ups we will hear a clear reassurance, on behalf of the Commission, that POST’s budget will not be cut.