Backbench Business — House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:50 pm on 8th November 2012.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons 2:50 pm, 8th November 2012

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I do so on behalf of the Government to make clear our support for the work the House is doing to ensure it meets the necessary savings in the broader context. Mr Betts and the shadow Leader of the House made that clear, too, recognising the need for financial savings right across the public services. As Leader of the House and on behalf of the Government, I also want to reflect on how the House can best achieve those savings.

I would like to say a few words of thanks to the Backbench Business Committee, not least for scheduling this debate, and I congratulate John Thurso on securing it and on the manner in which he introduced it and, as others have said, guided so well the discussion and work to this point. The way in which the Backbench Business Committee has opened up debates in this

House has been positive, enabling us, as in this debate, to have a similar impact on House administration. It is not only for us, but for members of the House service and the public more generally, to see how this House is managed and administered in order to deliver something that is not only effective but value for money.

We welcome the level of savings entered into by the House of Commons Commission. Clearly, 17% reductions by 2014-15 relative to 2010-11 are broadly in line with savings across the 2010 spending review, which identified that, other than for protected areas of expenditure, departmental budgets would on average decrease by 19% over four years.

It is important to recognise that this is not the beginning of the process; it is the next stage of it. The House of Commons Administration has already made considerable progress in achieving savings, as Members have said, through voluntary exits, discontinuing printing of documents and improving contract management. We can now see examples of how, as the Commission agreed at the outset, savings should be achieved through detailed analysis of services, and delivered to arrive at something better, not just cheaper. From the Finance and Services Committee report we can see the emergence of more such opportunities, not least if we look at the ICT strategy in the table on page 15. There is clear evidence of how that might make a considerable difference, not just on print to web, but as the Committee’s Chairman said, in relation to such things as cloud computing. That can make a big difference not only in how we access our responsibilities more effectively but by enabling us to rethink the way in which the physical estate is managed in order that we may deliver our responsibilities.

Innovation has to come, too, in respect of visitors to this building, their access and facilities. The Administration Committee set out how to achieve that in its first report of this Session. It was a very good basis on which to proceed. It is not the subject of the report before us, but the income generation associated with it is an integral part of the process of achieving the medium-term financial plan.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend Robert Halfon. Many Members have illustrated that the risks and concerns that he raised would not be valid on the basis of the way in which the Administration Committee is proceeding. I say gently to my hon. Friend that he underestimates the importance to all of us, and to our constituents, of opportunities for access. We can provide access individually as Members, as Jim Fitzpatrick has so famously done, but I meet so many constituents who have visited this place without my knowing they had done so. It matters to them that they can access their Houses of Parliament, because so much of their history is here. That is true not just for the people of this country, but for those of many other countries around the world.

I particularly echo the point rightly made by the shadow Leader of the House that as we develop visitor access and facilities, it allows us to boost the opportunities for educational access. Progress has been made, but we all know we want to do more. If we could one day be confident that we could arrive at a position whereby at one point in their educational experience, every young person in this country had had access to their Houses of Parliament on at least one occasion, it would be a dramatic thing to have achieved. We are, however, an order of magnitude away from where we need to be to make that happen.

Mr Winnick raised major issues about the repair and renewal of the House. Part of what we are doing in the medium-term financial plan and in achieving savings will help us better to understand what the shape of repair and renewal for the future will look like. Today and for the foreseeable future, however, we are not yet in a position to make decisions about any of those options, other than to have made clear—for this House and the other place—that we do not want the building of a new Houses of Parliament somewhere else, separate from this place. Much more work needs to be done on the question of how we can sustain this House in the long term before we can look at the options ahead of us.