Finances of the House of Commons

Backbench Business – in the House of Commons at 2:51 pm on 11th November 2014.

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Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee 2:51 pm, 11th November 2014

I beg to move,

That this House
notes the First Report of the Finance and Services Committee, HC 757, and the draft medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons as set out in the Appendix to the Report;
and endorses the intention of the Finance and Services Committee to recommend to the House of Commons Commission a House of Commons: Administration Estimate for 2015-16 in line with the financial remit set by the House of Commons Commission.

I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving me this opportunity again to present the financial plan for the House of Commons. This is the third occasion on which the Finance and Services Committee has sought such a debate. It provides an opportunity for Members to have their say on the House’s finances and the services provided for them.

In my judgment, these debates have increased transparency. They have allowed Members to question the finances and the services that come from them. They have enabled not only questions to be asked but amendments to be made to the plans. All of that has led to a greater ownership by Members of the plans. During this Parliament, the Finance and Services Committee has been working to improve governance, including promoting better oversight of the Members estimate by Member bodies and a new Standing Order on motions with financial consequences for the House, as well as its reports and these debates.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

We should all strive to save money, but will my right hon. Friend nevertheless point out in his speech that some economies available to business are not available to the running of this place? In particular, will he refer the House to paragraph 26 on page 10?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point, one that informed the very beginning of our first debate. Above all else, our job as a Parliament is to scrutinise Government, to legislate and to work for our constituents. The application of resource must be for that purpose. The savings we make, or the efficiency with which we undertake that operation, come as a consequence; they do not drive the way in which we seek to do our business. The overall point my right hon. Friend makes is absolutely taken and I will allude to it at various points during my remarks. I pay tribute to the fact that he has raised the point now and to his excellent contribution to the Committee.

I thank the director of finance and the other House staff for their positive engagement with the Committee, and for all their work and assistance in helping us to prepare the report and our advice to the Commission on the estimate. The finance team, led by the finance director, has undertaken very considerable improvements, including to the accounting system, management accounts, budgeting processes, management accounts and procurement systems. All are helping us to be more efficient and to get better outcomes both in terms of the costs of services and, importantly, what they deliver for us.

May I also use this moment to pay tribute to all the staff who serve us throughout the House service in all areas? I truly think, having now engaged with them for the best part of four years, that had I had such a staff in private life, I would have considered it a privilege to have had them working with me. I think they can be proud of everything that they do for us and we should be very grateful for it.

The Commission is required, under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, to lay an estimate each year seeking the House’s approval to fund administration services. These include the maintenance of the estate, security, the Clerks and the Library staff who advise us, and all the other staff who look after us so well: Hansard; the printing of papers and reports; education, visitor and outreach services; and IT systems. The role of the Finance and Services Committee is to work with the management of the House to prepare a draft estimate for the Commission to consider in December.

The Committee also monitors—this is a new task we have taken on recently—the Members estimate, which funds the Treasury contribution to the parliamentary contributory pension fund, Short money and Members’ ICT equipment. However, the role of the Finance and Services Committee does not extend to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority or Members’ pay and allowances, which are dealt with separately.

I am pleased to report that the savings target, which we set in 2010, has been achieved—although there are one or two loose ends currently being tidied up in the savings programme. The House is not bound by the Government’s spending plans. As I said to my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight, it is absolutely correct that we have the appropriate resource to undertake our work of scrutiny of Government and as legislators. None the less, it is important that we do so while taking account of the world we live in. The Commission therefore decided, before the 2010 election, that the House needed to reflect what was going on in the wider public sector and to ensure best value for the taxpayer. The Commission committed itself to a reduction in the administration estimate of at least 17% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15. That meant setting a budget of £210 million for 2014-15 compared to a baseline of £231 million for 2010-11.

In December 2013, the Commission agreed an administration estimate for 2014-15 of £201.3 million. However, because of transfers between votes—most notably the merger of the House staff pension scheme into the civil service scheme and other exceptional factors—some adjustments are required to compare that figure with the target of £210 million. However, allowing for all of those factors—details are in the Committee's report—the estimate laid for 2014-15 is some £2 million below the target set in 2010. Part of that is due to a change of culture that has taken place within management and staff, and the fact that we now recognise that resource, once allocated, does not belong to a department and where not required can be returned rather than being spent to preserve the budget. I commend them for that change.

The Commission also decided that savings should be achieved, through detailed analysis of services and how they were delivered, to arrive at something better—not simply cheaper. For example, changes have been introduced in the way in which Select Committee evidence is submitted, processed and published. Less Select Committee evidence is being physically printed. That has not only reduced printing costs, but has allowed a reorganisation of staff in the Committee Office that has provided increased resources for priority areas within the Select Committee work stream.

Members will also be aware that the system for providing them with written answers has recently changed. In the past, written answers were walked across Whitehall in multiple copies—sometimes 500 to 600 answers a day in the Commons alone—and Members mostly received their answers only the following day when they were published in Hansard. They are now delivered electronically. Not only do Members receive their written answers by e-mail as soon as the answer is submitted by a Government Department, but the House will be saving nearly £800,000 every year in printing and related costs.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

The changes to written questions are a vast improvement. In many cases under the old system, the press received the answer before the Member.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

I concur with my right hon. Friend. It is a saving that has made life better for us, which is our objective.

Major savings have been made through reducing the amount of printing undertaken. For example, some lightly used publications are now only available online and most Committees have agreed to distribute papers electronically. The House is aiming for a “digital first” approach, and the Committee expects this to be a source of further financial savings in the coming years.

As someone who spent his professional life in the hospitality industry before entering this place, it gives me particular pleasure to report that significant progress has been made in the past few years in reducing the net cost of catering. My right hon. Friend referred earlier to paragraph 26, which relates to catering, and I fully accept that because of the hours we work and the way we need to be serviced, it is not possible to make the same profit as if we were a fully operational food and beverage operation, but that should not stop us seeking to be as effective as possible in the delivery of the service.

In 2009-10, at the end of the last Parliament, the net cost of catering and retail services was £5.7 million. In the current financial year, at an equivalent point in the electoral cycle, it is forecast to be £2.7 million. That exceeds the target set of reducing the net cost to under £3 million by 2015. I particularly compliment my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Chairman of the Administration Committee, and his Committee on all the work they have done in this area. The savings have been achieved by good old-fashioned sound management of costs and by benchmarking, and it has been achieved at a time when the House has moved to being a living wage employer and has got rid of zero-hours contracts. The staff and the unions, as well as the management, should be applauded for their help in that.

I never expected to see it in my lifetime, but we are now making great progress in working together with the other place. Under a joint procurement process, procurement for the House of Lords, the House of Commons and Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology is all operated by one dedicated service that must produce savings for all three.

The report also considers the prospects for the next four years. In June, the Commission agreed that forward plans for up to 2018-19 should be based on an assumption that the budget for core activities is flat in real terms—that, taking account of Government pay policy and the target for consumer prices inflation, the expenditure envelope for the administration estimate is assumed to increase by 1% in 2015-16 and by 2% thereafter. I stress that this is a working assumption, not a target; actual budgets will be set annually, and clearly it will be for our successor Parliament to decide what it wishes to do, but this establishes a good working base from which the management can proceed.

Even on that relatively generous assumption, it is projected that further savings will be required in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. The House service will continue to look for opportunities to make further efficiencies and ensure value for money in the delivery of services through a continuous improvement process that focuses on making services more effective by improving their quality, increasing productivity, cutting costs—or, in the best of all worlds, all three. That most often takes the form of process reviews that engage staff in a continuous review of their work and harness their own creativity to solve problems. There are numerous examples of this, but the goal is to make small savings in time and effort, while maintaining or improving services.

In setting the financial remit, the Commission agreed that some new activities could be undertaken without necessarily having to be financed from within the existing budget. The two main areas are, first, scrutiny and related functions—the Committee received a bid from Chamber and Committee Services regarding Select Committees that we were minded to advise the Commission to accept—and, secondly, the resource consequences of major building refurbishment.

The Commission is keen to deliver a resolution of the House passed in 2007 that there should be dedicated space for education visitors. Construction has now started on a new education centre in Victoria Tower gardens that will accommodate 100,000 children a year, as opposed to the 45,000 we can currently accommodate. In addition, the facility will reduce pinch points, such as the Portcullis House entrance, and release the Macmillan room for other uses. It is due to open, we hope, in 2015.

Following the Wright Committee report at the end of the last Parliament, Select Committees have been one of the success stories of the Parliament, and the Liaison Committee is keen that this success be built on. As I just mentioned, the Finance and Services Committee is recommending a modest increase of £900,000 in the resources available to Select Committees, either in the form of additional staff or by providing additional budget. The Committee is also due to consider a bid from the Library that would enable it to provide more research support.

Members will be aware that the two Houses need to decide how the backlog of work required on this building is to be tackled—a project known as the restoration and renewal programme for the Palace of Westminster. R and R will be a major infrastructure programme that will not start in earnest until after 2020—well beyond the time frame of the budgets we are considering today. An independent options appraisal has been commissioned and is due to be published shortly after the election. Current thinking is that the two Houses might be asked to take a decision on their preferred option in spring 2016.

In the meantime, other buildings we occupy, including 1 Canon Row, the Norman Shaw buildings and 1 Parliament street, require significant refurbishment. This work will not only tackle the day-to-day problems that many colleagues have encountered—leaking toilets, rodents and other problems—but optimise the accommodation we occupy outside the Palace and complete that work before R and R begins. I warn hon. Members, therefore, that in the next Parliament many colleagues and staff will need to move offices as work on the various buildings proceeds. Office moves by House staff to facilitate this process and to co-locate Committee and Library staff have already begun.

Although much of the refurbishment work is capital spending, it can result in quite large accounting changes, largely because heritage and security issues mean that the value of refurbishment is not fully reflected in an increase in the book value of the buildings and that therefore a charge needs to be made. The Commission’s remit does not require the substantial notional charges or other resource consequences of the building work, such as decant space, to be met from within the core budget.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

Given that the northern estate refurbishment project is likely to cost about £500 million and, on these capital budgets, is not likely to start in earnest until the end of next year, does my right hon. Friend think there is a danger that this big refurbishment project, the specifications for which are not yet even fully known, could run into the period when we will want to start the R and R project and that therefore the decant space, let alone the budget, might not be available?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

My hon. Friend has highlighted a clear and obvious red risk to the R and R programme. The management are well aware of the risks, and discussions are already taking place about how they can be mitigated, but I know from the conversations he and I have had with Facilities staff that the critical nature of completing the northern estate prior to commencing R and R has been fully taken on board. The fact that they have taken it on board does not mean that they will make it happen, but if we have not at least understood the risks, we cannot take the mitigating action. At this stage, that is the best answer I can give.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

The full extent of the project is not yet known—for example, we do not know whether there will be a broadcasting studio in the new refurbishment—so does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now urgent that this work be undertaken so that we at least have a project on which proper quotes can be obtained? The delivery mechanism is not even known yet, and time is beginning to creep on for this very big project.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

I understand that the Commission has reviewed the paper and that the initial decisions that needed to be taken to start that work have all been taken. As my hon. Friend knows, the decant space, which would have been one of the biggest blocks, has been acquired and is being fitted out and made available. My understanding is that work properly to scope the project is now under way. Clearly, in order to ensure the best value for the money spent, the work undertaken in scoping the project will reveal whether or not overall savings are available. At the moment, the budget is at its maximum because, quite properly, it has all the contingencies that could be put in. One hopes that proper scoping, including the point my hon. Friend raised, will lead to a tighter budget going forward and the work being completed on time. As he and I both know, however, public procurement is littered with projects for which aspirations were expressed that were not met. Hopefully, we have all learned lessons from that and will make sure that we deliver on time and on budget.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

For the benefit of those of us who are not entirely familiar with the Commons accounting procedures—I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said about the R and R costs; because it has not yet been agreed whether we will decant at all, those costs have not been included—could he say what, if any, costs in the preparatory period have been accounted for in the tables set out?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

Obviously, the cost of the options appraisal that is currently going through is, in part, being paid for out of the current estimate and might well be paid for in part from a future estimate, but it is in the budget and properly accounted for. I believe that we are talking about a total of around £7 million. If I am wrong, I am sure I will get inspiration in due course and come back to it. I might even read my vast file and come up with the figure before the end of the debate.

It has been said that spending £7 million on working out what needs to be done is a great deal of money. All my experience of working in the private sector on the refurbishment of large buildings and all I have observed from big projects such as nuclear decommissioning is that the more professional money spent in advance in scoping a project, so that it is really understood, the more effective the actual spend. I suggest that every pound spent now on working out what the problems are is at least a pound spent going forward. If I am wrong, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.

In closing, I would like to commend again the professionalism of the House service and all those who work for us, and the tremendous improvements that have taken place in management systems and how things have been done over the years that I have been involved in the Finance and Services Committee, the Audit Committee and other bodies. This is the last occasion during this Parliament on which we will discuss the finances of the House. In commending the motion to the House, and in addition to the tributes I have paid on behalf of the House as a whole, I would like to express my personal gratitude for the support and help that I have received from the team, many of whom are watching us today. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to see this process through. The fact that there are in attendance fewer hon. Members than those who put their names down to speak today does not indicate any disinterest in the process, but is perhaps a reflection of the fact that we now publicise the plan so well that they do not feel it necessary to be present to suggest amendments to what we have put before them.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way to me a last time. He will be glad that he has given way this time because I would like to commend him for the way in which he has chaired our Committee so professionally. I have been a member of it for many years, and I think that the chairing of it in this Session has been outstanding.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

I am very grateful, and that will do as a peroration. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 3:14 pm, 11th November 2014

I would like to add my name to that tribute to the Member with the most poetically named constituency, let me put it that way— John Thurso—who has worked tirelessly on behalf of all of us and all the staff. I would also like to join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all the staff who service this House.

I want to raise an issue that I have raised with the right hon. Gentleman before—specifically about the security staff. There are about 300 of them who service this House and provide us with excellent security services overall. Appendix 1 to the Finance and Services Committee report refers to the policy context, stating:

“There are a number of significant policy matters and events on the horizon that may have a bearing on the budget.”

Included in that list is the

“Renewal of the security arrangements in 2015”.

About 250 of these 300 security staff are members of the trade union, PCS, and I chair the PCS parliamentary group—a cross-party group that takes an interest in the policies of the union, with a particular interest in the staff who work here.

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross will know the history. The contract expires at the end of March next year, so its future will need to be decided. There were discussions about whether the Metropolitan police would be allocated that contract and indeed about whether they were interested in having it renewed. There was a proposal to give the work on the House’s three main entrances to a private company. I met Mr Paul Martin to discuss that matter, and I found him to be nothing but helpful when he informed us as much as he could about the options available to him. My understanding, as far as can be discerned, is that the Met is not keen on continuing the contract, so the options are privatisation, part-privatisation or bringing the staff in-house. The staff very clearly want to be brought in-house.

Prior to or during the summer it was argued that it would be impractical to split the security arrangements so that the three gates were given to a private company, with the rest of the security arrangements being handled by other staff employed either by the Met or directly or by another company. Even the Met argued that we need a fully integrated service rather than have it divided in this way. I share that view. When will a decision about this matter be made? Is it forthcoming? The staff want to know what their futures will be and they favour maximum security. As I say, if the Met is not going to continue the contract, they want to be brought in-house. If there are concerns about rushing to a decision, there is also the option of extending the existing contract for a number of years.

My personal view is that I would be very worried and anxious about bringing in a private company to operate this contract, certainly if the work were to be divided up in that way. The last thing I want, frankly, is G4S or something like it to be responsible for security here, particularly during a period of heightened security risk, as we have all acknowledged, and particularly as we move towards a general election that, to say the least, will see significant changes taking place in the political climate.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I presume that when the hon. Gentleman refers to security, he is not implying that outside contractors would be armed. We would still require the Metropolitan police to have an armed facility beside them. I presume he is not suggesting that we could sub-contract that aspect.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

The proposal was for the privatisation of the three main entrances and all the security aspects of running them—basically, the search facility. I think that the Met had come to the conclusion themselves that disaggregating the security service in that way would make it very difficult to manage the whole arrangements. Where we have seen those sorts of disaggregations of security services, we have seen breakdowns in communication, leading to reduced security, putting people at risk. In a heightened period of security—

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman was talking specifically about one section of those who were in the House to help facilitate it. He was answering an intervention, but I remind all hon. Members that we do not discuss security issues on the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman started out in order, but was tempted down a more complex route about the security of the House. I know that he wants to return to his substantive point.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

It is very easy to be tempted in the House, especially by Bob Stewart. Let me return to the point. It is important for a decision to be made now so that staff can know what their futures will be. I suggest that the Committee should ensure that the security arrangements remain with the Metropolitan police unless they do not wish that, in which case staff should be employed in-house. That would enable us to maximise the security arrangements of the House during the coming potentially difficult period.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee 3:20 pm, 11th November 2014

I shall concentrate on the savings programme, and on section 3 of the report.

The biggest challenge in 2010, when the members of the present Administration Committee were appointed, was the target that the Committee had been set to cut the deficit in catering and retail from £5.9 million to

£3 million by the end of the current Parliament. If my figure varies from that of my right hon. Friend John Thurso, it is because it relates to both catering and retail. As my right hon. Friend said, we hope to achieve a lower figure than the £3 million target, which I think is reasonably to the credit of everyone who has been involved in trying to achieve it.

The Committee’s approach has been not just to rely on price increases, but to consider prudent cost-cutting and, more importantly, to increase demand. We resisted a move to separate retail from catering so that we could maintain like-for-like comparison, but we did agree on a separation of management, which has had a very beneficial effect. I shall say more about that later.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Because I have the pleasure of serving under the right hon. Gentleman’s chairmanship, I understand what he means when he talks about the catering and retail subsidy. For the benefit of those who do not have that pleasure, will he confirm that our retail outlets have never been subsidised?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Yes, absolutely. It was purely for budgeting purposes that the two were linked.

We faced a number of obstacles. For instance, there had been a 10% across-the-board hike in prices before our Committee and, indeed, the Finance and Services Committee, had taken office, and that had an initially bad effect on footfall.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the problems arose from the fact that decisions were made by the House of Commons Commission when it was under full complement? Does he hope, as I certainly do, that in the next Parliament the Commission will not make any potentially difficult or controversial decisions until it has a full complement of members and Back Benchers on both sides of the House are represented on it?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

I certainly agree that that would be desirable. We have tried to anticipate circumstances in which the last price review will outlive the current Parliament, so that there will be some cover while the time is taken to reconstitute Committees which may be subject to the deliberations of the Governance Committee and which may consequently take a different form.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority introduced a subsistence allowance of £15, which I think has had a malign effect on the propensity of Members to use the facilities of the House. Some told their electorates beforehand that they would not claim it, while others simply do not feel comfortable about claiming it while they are away from home on parliamentary business. That has, to an extent, reduced the uptake of facilities, especially in the Members’ Dining Room. I found IPSA’s rule that the allowance would be available only if the House’s business continued beyond 7.30 pm very difficult to understand, but IPSA has stuck to it firmly, despite all my efforts to persuade it otherwise. It seems to me that whether the House sits until 7.29 or 7.31, the fact remains that many Members who are distant from their homes will have to eat away from home. Many Members now do not eat on the estate, which has had several bad effects.

I cannot be certain whether that led to the vote to change the House’s Tuesday sitting hours, although a significant number of Members voted for the change. I have counted them out, as it were. There is a pattern which suggests that if they were no longer deemed by IPSA to qualify for help from the taxpayer for the maintenance of another dwelling close to Westminster, they would prefer to leave earlier rather than returning to, in some instances, fairly distant parts of London late at night. That has led to a disappearance of Members and a weakening of the collegiate nature of the House which I remember from the past.

The Administration Committee has tried to come up with an offer featuring the widest possible variety and appeal in order to sustain demand. However, if Members, staff and other passholders are not using our facilities for whatever reason, the Committee’s policy is to let others do so, on the strict understanding that that does not interfere with the prime purpose of the business of the House. We have encouraged third-party commercial hire; we have introduced room-hire fees, not uncontroversially; and tomorrow and the next day, members of the public will be allowed to book lunch in the Members’ Dining Room for the first time. Once that had been advertised, it was a sell-out. We shall await the subsequent report, and then consider whether the same might be done during parliamentary recesses.

The figures that my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and I have given are not recognised by the media. We are constantly told that the catering and retail deficit is what it was at the start of the current Parliament, rather than what it has become since we have been introducing our new policies. Sometimes it has been rounded up to more than £6 million, and on one occasion the deficit carried by the House of Lords was included in our figures. A continual wish to denigrate does not help us to give credit to all the people who have worked so hard to be responsible, for the reasons that my right hon. Friend explained.

The media suggest that this is all about 650 Members of Parliament advantaging themselves. However, there are 13,000 passholders on the estate, many of whom earn much less than Members of Parliament, and the catering service is aimed at everyone who has legitimate cause to be here. As I have said, the deficit has been halved. I hope that that will be recognised, and that we will make continuous efforts to achieve further savings and improvements. I pay tribute to the director of catering services, Richard Tapner-Evans, and to the whole of his team for the way in which they have responded to change while maintaining, in my view, very high quality and the reputation of the House’s catering.

On the retail side, I think that we have seen nothing short of a revolution. When I was first elected to this House, the only branded products that were available were whisky and cigarettes. For many of us, to give a bottle of whisky on every occasion when we were asked to contribute a prize was too expensive, and even in those days we did not really think of giving cigarettes. Now we have a fine and expanding range of quality gifts and souvenirs. Across the House revenue is up 11% in the July-September quarter compared with the equivalent period last year. The new Jubilee shop opened on schedule in July. The whole area around it has been refurbished, and sales are strong. The only niggle I have is that signage to the facility should be sufficiently prominent, and we have engaged in a lively debate with English Heritage about the nature of the signage we can have to attract the eye, and I hope we are winning on that one.

The Houses of Parliament shop on the corner of Bridge street now trades on Saturdays. It is unbelievable that it did not trade on Saturdays before. It now has more engaging window displays. Clearly that outlet is directed more to tourists and general visitors to London, and, frankly, how anyone ever thought tourists were coming to London specifically to hunt down a biography of Stanley Baldwin or Ramsay MacDonald is beyond me. The gifts and souvenirs that are in there now have made all the difference in the world to the trade that is done there. In August of this year alone sales were around 40% higher than in August last year.

The Members’ shop on the Terrace has seen an increase in the value of transactions as more product lines are introduced, some of which are exclusive to that shop. The summer fair in July in Westminster Hall built on the success of last year’s Christmas fair, and the Christmas fair itself will be repeated on 2 December upcoming, with 60 new product lines available.

In the matter of encaustic tiles, I owe the House an apology—[Interruption]—and not least my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight. I was asked by him about encaustic tiles and the possibility of selling the ones that have been retrieved, and I am afraid I gave a very inaccurate answer on that occasion. I am glad to say that that has been triumphantly overcome, however, in that the tiles that have come out whole and satisfactorily have been marketed. They are in a splendid box with a certificate of authenticity signed by me and my opposite number in the other place, Lord Sewel. We have already sold about 100 of them, with, I hope, more to go.

Finally on the retail side, I would like to compliment Diana Christou, who was appointed as director of retail. She has brought great experience and imagination to her work and she and her whole team are to be complimented on what has been achieved.

Our other experimental activity is the introduction of filming within the Palace. This is seen by many as a remarkable location and we tested the water with the film “Suffragette”, which, of course, did have a distinct connection with this place. On the basis of that experience, we are continuing to consider other filming proposals on a case-by-case basis, but we do see great possibilities.

On tours and visitors and bringing more people into the Palace, which has an impact on the bottom line, I can tell the House that since 1 April we have welcomed 127,000 paying visitors to the Houses of Parliament, 84,000 of them over the summer recess. The House was awarded the accolade of best guided tour at the group leisure awards 2014 and a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor.

In the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions annual benchmarking exercise the House came fourth out of 80 attractions for overall level of enjoyment. Also rated as excellent were staff helpfulness and friendliness and the guided tour and audio guide.

Commercial tours have expanded in range and availability. An extra hour has been added to the length of the commercial tour day. Audio guided tours have been introduced, including a family tour. The art and architecture tours continue to be popular and will be expanded in 2015. The tactile tours for blind and visually impaired visitors are also popular and are offered once a month.

In the light of the popularity of guided and audio tours of the rest of the Palace, it may be worth visiting sooner rather than later the issue of charging for tours of the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben. That issue was highlighted in the House a couple of years ago, and recently 254 e-mail requests were received within the first five minutes of opening for bookings for visits to the Elizabeth Tower, meaning that places were filled within the first two minutes. Expectation from the public has shot up, and it is an expectation we are now having the greatest difficulty in meeting.

Work also continues to establish a logical visitor route, or to make the one we have comprehensible. That is coded language for saying we do the thing the wrong way round. No other tour brings the visitor in at the exit, walks them through to the start and then walks them back again. This is adding to the congestion of the Palace, which was never designed for that number of visitors. The situation at the pinch-points becomes exaggerated, of course, with those numbers going through. This is totally inefficient and unreasonable, and we must consider how we can provide the best possible experience for visitors.

I am grateful to the House for listening to this very concentrated description of what the Administration Committee has been trying to do in its contribution to the overall savings programme. Our overall rationale has been that the Palace of Westminster is a working building—the heart of our democracy—but that it also happens to be an iconic architectural masterpiece. Referring back to something my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, with the restoration and renewal project to be faced up to in the next Parliament, it is crucial that we save this building. We will be criticised very strongly if we fail to ensure that this symbol of our Parliament and our democracy is maintained to the highest level, to see through another 100 or 150 years.

I have the honour of chairing the Administration Committee, and I want to thank in passing all those who help us most closely in our work. We are a working building and also a visitor attraction and we consider them to be complementary roles. We have been determined in all we have sought to do to preserve the essential purpose of this place, while promoting access to the public, who take great pride in this building and what it means. I have seen the emotion of many people who have come here for the first time in their lives, sometimes in their elderly years, and it is clearly a great experience for them. I do not regard it as in any way cheapening this Palace for it to be more welcoming to visitors, and I know Mr Speaker is anxious that we should make sure that that welcome is warm, while, of course, guarding our security. These are difficult issues to reconcile at times, but the Committee has the interests of this Parliament and this Palace at the very forefront of its considerations, while at the same time trying to ensure that we are responsible in governing its finances and the facilities it contains.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee 3:38 pm, 11th November 2014

May I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the House and to the Chair of the Finance and Services Committee, John Thurso, for not being here for the start of his speech? I was otherwise detained. I must also apologise as I will have to leave just before 4 o’clock to chair a Select Committee. As a member of the Finance and Services Committee, however, I want to say a few words to the House on this annual occasion when we explain what we have been doing with the House’s finances during the previous Session, and present the financial plan for the years ahead and the estimates for next year.

I join other Members in thanking the Chair of the Committee for his able and outstanding leadership over not only the last Session but the whole Parliament, as he has brought us together to make some often difficult decisions. As has rightly been said, the fact that there are so few Members here today with complaints to make—and certainly none who want to suggest amendments—demonstrates that we have just about got the decisions right. The remit we were given at the beginning of the Parliament was challenging, in that we had to make 17% cuts in real terms over the course of this Parliament. Our first criterion was that we had to make those cuts without affecting the ability of Members to do their job, and I think that we have achieved our aim. I have not heard Members saying that their job is now more difficult to do because of the cuts. I think we have managed this programme in a proper way.

These expenditure reductions are larger than those being attempted in virtually any other central Government Department during the same period, although perhaps not so large as those that some local councils are having to deal with. In making the reductions, we have also tried to ensure that this building is no less welcoming to visitors, and in particular to our constituents when they come to see how Parliament operates. I think we have achieved that as well. Having listened to the speech from Sir Alan Haselhurst, I think we should give credit to the Administration Committee for its work on making this place even more welcoming to visitors, who now have more opportunities to buy when they come here and who also have a greater variety of things to do. That is certainly commendable.

We are now working on the launch of the new education centre, which is welcome. It is important that visitors can come in here to see how Parliament operates and to look at this magnificent building even when we are not sitting, but it is even more important when those visitors are children who are coming here to get an educational experience and to see how Parliament operates and learn about the workings of our democracy. That is something that we have achieved despite the expenditure reductions.

Some of us would say that the replacement of mountains of paper by our iPads has resulted in an improvement in our working conditions. We have achieved a lot of the reductions that we were aiming for through major cuts in our printing budget. Not every hon. Member shares the view that iPads represent an improvement, but for many they have certainly introduced a more efficient way of working.

I also want to give credit to the Clerk who has just retired, and to the management team, for their efforts in advising the Finance and Services Committee by giving us all the options, alternatives and information to help us to make the right decisions and recommendations to the Commission. Our thanks should extend beyond the Officers of the House who give us advice directly. I am thinking of the work of the catering staff, particularly over the past few years. They have made major alterations to their working arrangements—to accommodate the changes in sitting hours, among other things—while maintaining their professionalism and continuing to provide the excellent service that we have come to expect from them. I should put on record that we in the parliamentary football club will shortly be playing our annual game against the parliamentary chefs. This is one of the ways in which Parliament comes together. It shows that we have a genuine working relationship and that we can enjoy such activities together.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ensure that his team does not disable our chefs.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee

I shall have a special word with our referee, Dermot Gallagher, to ensure that all our activities are conducted properly, and I shall pass on the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns. Perhaps he would like to come and increase the crowd numbers on that occasion? He would certainly be most welcome; his arrival would probably double the number standing on the touchline.

My hon. Friend John McDonnell has mentioned our security staff. They have experienced a lot of concerns in recent years, not least the uncertainty over their future employment. I am talking not about the police but about the other security staff here. They were unsure whether they were going to be outsourced, whether they were going to stay with the Met or whether they were going to be brought in house. They do an excellent job for us. I understand that discussions are now taking place and that there is a possibility that they might well be brought in house. That is certainly what they want; they make no secret of that. It would give them the certainty and security to enable them to carry on giving us that excellent service. My thanks are widened to include all the staff who work for us. They enable us to act as a Parliament in an efficient and effective way, as well as opening up the building to visitors.

We have done reasonably well during this Parliament, but there will be major challenges in the next one. We have decided on a budget that simply keeps pace with inflation, but we are looking for continuous improvement. The capital challenges on the northern estate and the restoration and renewal project are absolutely massive, and they will be a major focal point for the next Parliament.

It is right that we should consider how we can improve not only our day-to-day working but our scrutiny of the Executive, which is an important role for Parliament. I therefore welcome the budget that has been made available for Select Committees when they can show that extra expenditure in a particular area would enable them to do a better job—whether by commissioning extra research or whatever—of holding the Executive to account. That is another small improvement that we are embarking on in the next Parliament, and I welcome it.

I am delighted to associate myself with the motion on the Order Paper, and I am sure that it will go through unanimously. That in itself is a tribute to the work of the Chair, the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and I thank him and his Committee for the advice they have given to the Commission over the course of this Parliament.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 3:46 pm, 11th November 2014

It is a pleasure to respond to this relatively brief debate on behalf of the Opposition. I should like to begin by paying tribute to John Thurso for the way in which he chairs the Finance and Services Committee, as well as for his service in representing the smaller parties on the House of Commons Commission. That is not always the most glamorous of postings, and it is sometimes a thankless one, but it is critical none the less.

I should like to offer the House the apologies of the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend Ms Eagle, for her absence from the debate. She and the Leader of the House are giving evidence this afternoon to the governance review. The irony that they are not here to take part in the debate on the finance relating to governance will not be lost on us.

We welcome the progress that is being made on the savings programme. The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has already highlighted a number of savings relating to printing. I must confess that I am double-hatting here today, in that I also have the pleasure of serving under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Haselhurst on the Administration Committee. One of the savings of which we are most proud—it was one that we proposed, and it was accepted—has been the ending of the printing of the leather-bound volumes of Hansard. We have saved the taxpayer more than £1 million a year—it is important to remember that we are talking about taxpayers’ money—by ending the slightly archaic ritual of printing 150 leather-bound volumes of Hansard every fortnight. They were probably just filling up attic space in hon. Members’ properties. Indeed, in some cases, they might even have been holding up the houses.

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross also referred to the catering subsidy, which has been reduced by 47% over the past year. There are 15,000 people working on this site across the two Houses, many of whom are in low-paid jobs, and it is right that we, as a good employer, should provide subsidised canteen facilities. Equally, we recognise that, in this financial climate, we have a responsibility to reduce those costs wherever possible. We therefore welcome the 47% reduction that has been achieved in the first six months of this year. I think that the hon. Gentleman referred to a figure of £2.7 million. My understanding was that the figure for the first six months was £1.2 million, which was £360,000 better than the target. Can he confirm—or perhaps get inspiration that will allow him to confirm—that he is confident we can achieve that £2.7 million target for the year?

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned restoration and renewal, rightly saying that financial planning is crucial. I suppose I am wearing a third hat because, again like the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, I am a member of the Members advisory group that is assisting in the preparation for restoration and renewal. We believe it is right that we learn from not only mistakes made by other Parliaments, but good practice. Our Parliament is not unique; this is not the only Victorian-era building that requires substantial overall, and Parliaments around the world are facing similar challenges. Our colleagues in Canada, Austria and Finland are going through this process, and others will. Therefore, as the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, it is right that we get the planning right now, as we do not want to see a Holyrood debacle in future years. So we fully support the work being done in that area.

My hon. Friend John McDonnell touched on the security contract. Obviously, I am not going to talk about the specifics, for the reasons that have been outlined by Madam Deputy Speaker. I observe only that we are paying about £30 million a year to the Metropolitan police for that contract, whereas the French National Assembly does not pay a penny for the security support it receives. I hope that the Serjeant at Arms and the director of security will seek to ensure that the taxpayer is not picking up an excessive cost for whoever gets the contract in future years—I am sure that will be the case.

The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden talked about the catering budget, and I will not repeat what he said. May I just echo his remarks about the progress that has been made, on not only obtaining greater income, but reducing our costs? I understand that we have finally hit the critical point where our staff-to-sales ratio has fallen below 100%—I believe it is now 88%, which is a step in the right direction. Labour Members were disappointed in one way that the European Union (Referendum) Bill died, because in the previous Session the Smoking Room was very popular among Conservative MPs on Thursday evenings before the debates on that Bill. I believe I am right in saying that we are now not likely to see as many Conservative MPs propping up the catering outlets on a Thursday evening. The Opposition also welcome the work being done on the diversification of retail opportunities, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. There were some recent discussions about extending further the range of products available, with some talk about having Deputy Speaker whiskies or beers. Apparently, that is popular elsewhere, but I could not comment on which would be the most popular Deputy Speaker brand.

The Opposition agree with the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, the Chair of the Committee, that we should seek to make relevant external hire opportunities available, but we are also clear that we do not wish to see charities being priced out of using the facilities. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have long supported local charities and good causes, and we think it is vital that the House balances the desire to bring in greater revenue through third party hires with the protection of smaller charities. We concur with the Committee on Standards that there should be no political fundraising on the premises. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that whatever external opportunities are provided, political fundraising will not be considered.

My hon. Friend Mr Betts made an important point about staff relationships, and we agree with it; we wish to see greater progress being made on diversity and equality of staffing. The current Speaker and the House of Commons Commission have made progress on that, but it is important that that work continues. My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, in particular, has been championing the cause for some time.

I also want to thank the House staff for their work. A number of staff members have been praised already, so I will not repeat their names, but I wish to add four to the list on behalf of the Opposition: David Natzler, our acting Clerk, who is continuing the good work of his predecessor; John Borley, our director general of facilities, who manages a complex and challenging team; and it is only right that we pay tribute to two Clerks, Helen Wood, on the Administration Committee, and Bob Twigger, who not only clerked the Finance and Services Committee, but has the pleasure of being secretary to the House of Commons Commission—a double treat for him, no doubt!

One thing that my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey raised last year, on which we are frustrated not to see more progress, is bicameral services. The Opposition appreciate that that is not entirely the fault of those on the Treasury Bench, as some of the responsibility—the culpability—does lie at the other end of the corridor. However, we already see a number of shared services on security, broadcasting and IT, so we feel it is ludicrous that we run two separate catering services and Library services. As the Administration Committee and the House of Commons Commission have said, real progress needs to be made. One hopes that with a new Clerk in post at this end of the building, a new Leader of the House at the other end and indeed a new Leader of the House—of course, temporarily—at this end, we will see in the last six months real dialogue on bringing things together. That is where there are some real opportunities for savings to be made. Obviously, I am also disappointed that the House of Lords does not have the equivalent savings programme in place. It is a credit to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as one of the members of the Finance and Services Committee, that that Committee has driven savings across the board. We would, however, like to see the House of Lords take up more of its share of this programme.

We welcome the neutral financial remit, as has been set out already, and the fact that it does not set a particular spending path beyond 2015-16 that would fetter an incoming Commission. We entirely concur on the importance of Select Committees and scrutinising the work of the Government, and we welcome the extra funds that are being made available. Although we fully support the proposals for the e-petitions system and the new partnership across Government and the House of Commons, we are slightly concerned about the possibility for spending to rise. I hope the Deputy Leader of the House will confirm whether the Government believe that the overall cost of e-petitions and the Select Committee concerned should not add an additional burden to the Select Committee budget.

We entirely concur with the points made about the education centre, which we believe is an important contribution to fostering a higher level of political engagement among young people across the country. The recent referendum in Scotland demonstrates that when we find the right issue, we can engage young people. The education centre has our full support and we wish it full speed.

Let me close by setting out one important point. It is vital not only that Members have opportunities, through continual professional development, to improve our skill sets, but that the senior management team have the appropriate financial skill sets. My hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House has made it clear that we believe that the senior management team, including the chief executive—this is without prejudging what the Select Committee under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Mr Straw may decide upon—must have appropriate financial skills. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will echo that in his response.

This afternoon’s debate has been useful. I look forward to the last 177 days before the general election, and we look forward to continuing to make progress on delivering not just parliamentary scrutiny, but good value for the taxpayer at the same time.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 3:59 pm, 11th November 2014

This debate has been slightly more entertaining that I had expected. I thought that, like a financial report, it was going to be quite dry, but we have had some entertaining illustrations of the activities that the different Committees are undertaking to realise savings.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in what has now become an annual debate on the House of Commons’ financial plan and draft estimates. In doing so, I should first mention my right hon. Friend John Thurso. At the risk of making him blush under his beard, I join the tributes that have been paid to him and his Committee for the work that they do in scrutinising the financial management of the House and in advising the House of Commons Commission, which is ultimately responsible for running the House.

Like other Members, I wish to pay tribute to the staff of the House, who support the Committee, the Commission and the Members in the activities that they undertake. I also thank my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst for the role that he plays. He quite rightly pointed out that the finances of this place are not always as they seem, or at least as the press would like to present them. He reflected on the fact that there was a time when the gift shop here was little more than a duty free, selling only whiskey and cigarettes. As someone who has been running a Christmas card competition for reception, year 1, year 2 and year 3 students for the past 17 years, I am pleased that there are now more gifts on offer, as whiskey and cigarettes are clearly not appropriate prizes.

My right hon. Friend also referred to the availability of tiles in the gift shop. I am currently decorating my bathroom at home, so I wish that I had known that earlier—although at £150 a shot, I suspect that we would have had to stick to IKEA as we had originally intended. He quite rightly pointed out—many Members will have seen this—that the House is being used for the first time for the filming of “Suffragette”. He also referred to the fact that the House is a highly rated tourist attraction. I regret to say that he did not mention that our debates in this place are part of that attraction. Perhaps this debate is one that people who have been to visit today will remember for years to come.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

I hope that my right hon. Friend is not egging us on to think of charging people for going into the Public Gallery.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I will leave that to my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross to address. Perhaps he will have had some thoughts on that.

Let me finish my comments on the contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. I certainly agree that our investment in this place needs not only to reflect its heritage status but to ensure that the Palace of Westminster is both accessible and visitor friendly in a way that it is not at the moment.

I wish to comment briefly on the comments made by Thomas Docherty. I congratulate him on his triple-hatted role. I am familiar with the concept of wearing more than one hat. He highlighted the savings we have made from ending the production of leather-bound books of Hansard. That was an appropriate thing to do, especially as it was at the taxpayers’ expense.

On the reconstruction and renovation works that will be undertaken fairly soon, the hon. Gentleman is right that planning them appropriately is essential. I do not like to think of myself as a professional politician, although I am not sure at what point one becomes one and leaves behind one’s previous career. Before being elected to this place, I was a project manager in the IT industry. One thing that must be done before embarking on a project is to work out what one wants to achieve and get from it. Members asked whether our plans for the House included a TV studio. Clearly, we need to establish that well in advance of any renovation work, rather than considering it as an afterthought, as the costs would start to ramp up significantly.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the importance of diversity in staff, with which I entirely agree. He said that the House of Commons and the House of Lords should be actively considering bicameral services. It would be strange if we as a Government and Opposition called on local authorities to integrate their services to cut down costs if it were not something that we were prepared to consider in this place. I join him in praising the education centre.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the importance of senior managers getting the appropriate training, which I support. He concluded by referring to the e-petition system. I concur with his view that that is something that should not come at substantial extra cost. There may be a slight additional cost, as that inevitably happens in a transition period, but, fundamentally, we already have in place the technology and that should be the basis of the system. Any additional costs should be very limited. If, as part of the system, a petitions Committee is set up, it should not be an additional Committee but an alternative to one of the existing Committees in the

House. I will not speculate on which, but that may be an appropriate way of dealing with any additional costs that might derive from having a petitions Committee.

It is right to recall the achievements of the House management in successfully delivering the savings programme, which saw a reduction in the administration estimate of 17% from £231 million in 2010-11 to £210 million in 2014-15. That reduction is in line with those that have been made right across Whitehall. Although that reduction has inevitably led to some changes, we have not seen any significant diminution in the services and support provided to Members of the House.

I welcome the fact that, although the saving programme has now come to an end, there is no sense of the job being done and now we can get back to normal. That would not reflect the reality of the financial situation, the need for further deficit reduction and the financial discipline in the wider public sector. The Committee’s report outlines the establishment of a continuous improvement approach being promoted by the Cabinet Office to ensure that the House continues to achieve value for money in the services it provides. I also welcome the bicameral nature of that approach. The potential for achieving savings by the two Houses working together should be fully explored.

The Committee notes improvements in financial discipline and internal control. Further improvements in financial performance will require a sharpening of managerial leadership skills right across the House. That is an area on which attention is rightly being paid, and it is a factor that might play into the current review of the governance of the House. I would also like to apologise on behalf of the Leader of the House for his being unable to attend this debate, which is for the same reason that the shadow Leader of the House is not here.

The House will also want to note the potential, outlined in the report, for further savings or income generation. The ICT strategy has not delivered the anticipated savings in 2014-15, and the expansion of commercial activities has not progressed at the pace originally envisaged. Those matters are being taken forward.

The House will also want to note the increase in resources that the Committee has agreed in respect of the budget for Select Committees, following a bid by the Liaison Committee. The extra £854,000 per annum from 2015-16 will enable Committees to have more staff and to commission more research. I think that is a good example of the core functions of the House being enhanced in a climate of overall savings being pursued.

With regard to the medium-term financial plan, we should be conscious of the need identified by the plan for a further £3 million to be found in each financial year from 2016-17 to 2018-19 and that there are major refurbishments in Norman Shaw North to be carried out. Beyond that, there are still decisions to be taken on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, which will involve substantial expenditure however it is carried out.

Finally, turning to the Members estimate, hon. Members will note that the forecast expenditure is set to come down slightly, from £41 million in 2015-16 to £40 million in 2018-19, after the substantial exercise of providing new IT equipment for all MPs after the next election. The successful provision of IT and other resources for new MPs will go a long way towards giving them confidence in the management and governance of the House.

I conclude by again congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross on his Committee’s work, as set out in its report, and on the constructive way in which it continues to support the work of the Commission and the other administrative Committees of the House.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee 4:10 pm, 11th November 2014

I am most grateful to all Members who have taken part in the debate. It has been quite wide-ranging and had its light-hearted moments, but it has also been very serious, and I think that it does us credit to have discussed our affairs in that way. I will attempt to answer the questions that have been put directly to me, but if for any reason I miss one, I will certainly write to the hon. Member concerned.

John McDonnell asked about security. I have in my brief, in huge, red, block capitals, the words, “You’re not allowed to talk about security in the Chamber”, so I will not. However, I will say that obviously our security is of paramount importance, and so too is value for money. I observe that many places similar to ours get that best security and best value from an in-House security force. I have no idea what the House might do, but I am sure that it will be based on the best evidence externally.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I do not want to tempt the hon. Gentleman any further, but can he indicate what the time scale is for decision making on that?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

Proposals on the principles of the way forward, rather than the detail, have been received and will be put to the Commission and the House Committee of the Lords at their next meetings. If the proposals are agreed to in principle, the detailed work will take place, but I would not anticipate any particular changes until well into next year. I hope that answer is sufficient for the hon. Gentleman. The director of security would probably give him a fuller briefing, if he would like to take him up on that.

I thank my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst for his full account of the work of the Administration Committee. One of the features of this Parliament has been the Administration Committee and the Finance and Services Committee finding a very good way of working together, with the Administration Committee taking the lead on the services and the Finance and Services Committee taking the lead on the financial implications of that. I am most grateful for his contribution.

The shadow Deputy Leader of the House, or deputy shadow Leader of the House—I am not sure which way around it is—Thomas Docherty, asked a number of substantial questions. The first was where I got the figure of £2.7 million from. The answer is page 10 of the report, which states:

“In the current financial year, at an equivalent point in the electoral cycle, it is forecast to be £2.7 million.”

However, he is absolutely right to ask, as always, because the update is that the like-for-like total net cost for catering services was £1.2 million in the first six months of 2014-15, against £2.25 million in the equivalent period of 2013-14, a reduction of £1.5 million, or 47%. Certainly, that being £360,000 better than budget, it is to be hoped that that will be carried through to the end of the year. I hope that is a reasonable answer. I will write to him about the first question he asked during my speech, but I direct him to annex D on page 32 in relation to the costs of restoration and renewal.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned charities. I absolutely agree that charities should not be penalised. That is part of the policies that have been adopted, and I see no chance of their being changed.

With regard to raising funds from those who come to watch us in this Chamber, there has never been any suggestion, ever, that money be paid by our constituents and the public to view the legislative process, Select Committee hearings, or any other part of our work—and nor should there be. There is a very distinct difference between people coming as members of the public to engage with the political process and those who come as tourists and pay for the privilege. The two are absolutely not linked.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

We entirely agree about the difference between tourism and watching the democratic process, but will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Commission supports the position of the Standards and Privileges Committee and the Opposition that political fundraising should not be allowed on the premises?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

Indeed; I was about to come to that. It is in the purview of the Administration Committee, principally, but I am fairly certain that the policy is rigid and there is no known attempt to change it.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of bicameral services. It is of course worth remembering that the other place is a sovereign House, and therefore, in all we do, we negotiate with it, but cannot force it. This is not a matter for those on the Treasury Bench; it is a matter for the two Houses to reach a conclusion on. The reasonableness that their lordships demonstrated in so rapidly agreeing to a common procurement service bodes well for the future. Certainly, in any sane world, the whole Palace would be run as one, and I am sure that one day we will get there.

This has been a good debate, and I commend all Members who have taken part in it.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes the First Report of the Finance and Services Committee, HC 757, and the draft medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons as set out in the Appendix to the Report; and endorses the intention of the Finance and Services Committee to recommend to the House of Commons Commission a House of Commons: Administration Estimate for 2015-16 in line with the financial remit set by the House of Commons Commission.