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House of Commons

Friday 2 December 1988

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Settle-Carlisle Railway

9.34 am

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : I wish to present a petition bearing 2,049 signatures, sent to me, and collected, by Messrs Ian and David Rodham of Middleton in my constituency, and from David Marsden in Beeston--not a few yards away--which was in my constituency. The petition makes the point--which worries a lot of people, as we have learnt this week --that the Settle-Carlisle railway must be preserved and maintained. It is essential to the transport system from Leeds to Scotland. It is important for freight and for the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy the scenery in that remarkable part of the world, crossing over into Westmoreland. I humbly present the petition.

To lie upon the Table.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : I wish to present a petition signed by 2,000 constituents of Berwick-upon-Tweed and elsewhere in the same terms as that presented by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). It seeks the continuation, as part of the national railway network, of the Settle-Carlisle railway, which is an important part of our engineering heritage and a necessary part of the railway system.

I strongly support the petition. I would not wish to see the line go the way of the famous Waverley line in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), who is here beside me. I present the petition with my full support.

To lie upon the Table.

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Parliamentary Accommodation

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. Neubert.]

[Proposed subject for debate : First Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) of Session 1987-88 (HC 561) on New Parliamentary Building (Phase 2) : The Next Steps. Relevant documents : Second Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) of Session 1986-87 (HC 378) on New Parliamentary Building (Phase 2) ; Casson Conder Partnership, Phase 2 Parliamentary Buildings Design Study (January 1987) ; Property Services Agency, New Parliamentary Building Phase 2 Alternative Strategy (February 1988).]

9.36 am

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : This morning's debate provides an opportunity for the House to consider the recommendations made in the first report by last Session's Services Committee on what is generally known as phase 2 of the new parliamentary buildings ; that is to say, the site bounded by Bridge street, Cannon row, Derby gate and the Victoria embankment.

Although I am Chairman of the Services Committee, I am not a member of the New Buildings Sub-Committee, and rely on my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) to keep me informed. This report is really the work of the New Buildings Sub-Committee, and I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and his colleagues for their splendid work. Our thanks, too, are due to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) and his officials in the Property Services Agency, and to Casson Conder's project team, who have produced the two valuable design strategies before us today. It is the intention of my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to wind up the debate today--subject to catching your eye, Mr. Speaker--and respond to any detailed comments or questions which arise during the course of this debate.

Parliamentary accommodation has long been felt to be

unsatisfactory. The Palace was first said to be overcrowded in 1852, the year of its opening. I know that, almost 140 years later, this is still the case.

Most Members have their own horror stories, but the plain facts and figures on overcrowding are contained in the the report before us today. In short, about 500 Back Benchers have access to only 150 single rooms. To some extent this overcrowding has been brought about by improvements in our other circumstances. The increasing office costs allowances of recent years have meant that Members have been able to employ more secretarial and research staff, all of whom add to the pressure on accommodation. Moreover, the increase in the Short money for the Opposition parties has already, quite naturally, enabled them to take on more staff to help them with their work. I understand, though, that it has simply not been possible to accommodate them near the Chamber.

The 1987 Services Committee report recommended that by 1995 every Member should have a room of their own, if they wanted one. The building work which is currently under way, and the proposed building under consideration today, should go some way towards this.

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It may be of help to the House if I summarise the general background to the Committee's report and the present activity. Over the past 30 years, many abortive schemes have been put forward for the Bridge street site. In 1960, the then Minister of Public Building and Works, now Lord Glendevon, announced that the Government had decided to apply for designation of the Bridge street site for parliamentary development. Prophetically, he added :

"As the House knows, this is bound to take a bit of time." The House devoted much of its time and effort during the 1970s to discussing plans for an entirely new building, but the scheme eventually foundered owing to lack of money.

In 1978, however, the president of the Royal Academy, Sir Hugh Casson, and his firm, Casson Conder and Partners, were commissioned by the Department of the Environment, on behalf of the House, to conduct a further study into the Bridge street site. The objective was to retain and restore what was of quality, and replace the rest to a coherent design. In his report, Sir Hugh recommended that the most practical approach would be a phased development extending over a period of years. As a first stage, which came to be known as phase 1, he proposed the development of the area bounded by Parliament street, Derby gate, Cannon row and Bridge street.

As hon. Members will be aware, work on that phase is well under way and is broadly on schedule for completion in time for occupation at the end of the summer recess in 1990. When finished, it will provide accommodation for the research and public information activities of the Library, residential accommodation for the Serjeant at Arms and four other Officers of the House, all of whom presently live in the Palace. There will be offices for 60 Members and 100 Members' secretaries, as well as refreshment facilities and a parliamentary bookshop. Moreover, nearly 30 further rooms for Members become available in the Palace as a result of the transfer of Library and residential accommodation to the phase 1 site.

The temporary refurbishment for parliamentary use of the former Cannon row police station is taking place concurrently with phase 1 development, and is due for completion by summer of next year. Unfortunately, there have been delays to the scheme, caused most recently, I understand, by the listing of the building by Westminster council, but, when finished, it will provide office space for 41 Members' secretaries and about 20 research assistants, in addition to space for PSA and Crown Suppliers staff.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Am I to interpret that as criticism of Westminster council's decision to list the building?

Mr. Wakeham : Absolutely not. The hon. Gentleman was quite right to bring that matter to my attention if it sounded in that way. It certainly was not meant to be a criticism.

These developments will still leave about 100 Members without a room of their own. Thus, the report recommends that provision should be made in phase 2 for at least 100 Members' offices, together with additional space for Members' staff.

The most pressing task before the House today is to consider the design strategy for phase 2. The Casson

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Conder partnership has produced a design study for the site, and the PSA has put together an alternative strategy. The two are not in fact mutually exclusive, nor is the House being invited to approve or reject either strategy in toto. Elements of one could be combined with elements of the other.

There are common proposals in the two strategies. Both involve the rebuilding of Palace Chambers. That is unsurprising, as only the ground and first floors remain after the rest was demolished to relieve pressure on the supports holding the building over the underground railway. Both strategies adopt a refurbishment approach to Norman Shaw South and Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street, because those buildings are listed.

Perhaps I should say at this stage that the word "refurbishment" does not just mean a lick of paint. Rather, it would involve restoring the original fine features of the building, both internally and externally, while bringing it up to modern office standards. So there would be as high a quality of finish and furnishings, and of the environment, in terms of heating, daylight, and so on, as if it were a completely new building.

However, there are some differences between the proposals. The Casson Conder proposals would raft over the underground railway at an early stage. The principal advantage of that would be a reduction in noise, and perhaps a better visual environment. But, on the down side, it would add about a year to the project timetable, in addition to the extra time needed to negotiate on air rights with London Regional Transport. The Committee believes that it is more important to press ahead with the first stages of phase 2, the rebuilding of Palace Chambers, and the refurbishment of Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street. A raft could, if necessary, be added later.

The second difference in the proposals is over St. Stephen's House, which Casson Conder would rebuild and the PSA refurbish. No final decisions are needed on that just yet, as that stage of the project is some years away.

Mr. Dalyell : The right hon. Gentleman said that a raft can be added later. May we have some idea of the extra costs of doing it in double phase rather than in single phase? Would it not be significantly cheaper to do it all at once, or am I wrong?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Chairman of the Committee and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who will wind up the debate, know considerably more about the detail than I do, and have taken note of the point. We hope to answer that question in the course of the debate.

The third difference is that Casson Conder propose to move the underground station entrance to the corner of Bridge street and Cannon row ; the PSA would leave it where it is. As moving the entrance would add substantially to the planning and construction time, the Committee feels that no change should be made.

For the sake of clarity during today's debate, it would be helpful if hon. Members could address at least their main remarks to phase 2. It is important that the momentum of the new building project is maintained. To do that, it would be helpful today to have the House's broad approval of the Services Committee's report and of its recommendations in paragraph 29 on the best way to make progress. Although the debate is, of course, on the Adjournment, it would be my intention, if the mood of the

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House is largely in favour of making progress with this scheme, to table in the next few days a motion to approve the Committee's report, which I hope would then be taken formally one evening.

In brief, the recommendations of the Committee are to start work on phase 2 by carrying out preliminary design work on Palace Chambers, Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street, and a feasibility study on a secure Bridge street subway to link the new buildings with the Palace. The PSA is ready to appoint an architect to carry out those studies, but nothing of substance can be done until the House's wishes are known.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the subway, will he clarify one point that puzzled me on reading the report? Is the subway intended to serve all the buildings on the other side of the road? I speak as a new tenant and exile in Norman Shaw North. Accommodation there is extremely good, but access is unsatisfactory. Will the remit to the PSA include linking it by some kind of shuttle, as in the United States Congress? In the meantime, will the PSA consider subdividing the existing tunnel to provide slightly cleaner and more secure access for hon. Members?

Mr. Wakeham : The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first question is yes. It is thought that it could be made to service all buildings on that side of the street. I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman's other points will be taken into account by the Committee and by my hon. Friend. Obviously, practical possibilities will be looked at.

Mr. Dalyell : Paragraph 29 of the first report, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, uses the words

"while bearing in mind the possibility of using part of the building for broadcasters' accommodation."

Have the Government any view on broadcasters' accommodation?

Mr. Wakeham : The Government have no special views on broadcasters' accommodation, and they are quite happy to consider any recommendations by the New Building Sub-Committee. We are entirely content with the report, as I am seeking to show.

The Government's intention, if the House approves the report, is to make the necessary money available for these studies, and for the subsequent detailed design study of Palace Chambers. Further work beyond that is several years away, and decisions on finance will be made at the appropriate time. At the moment, the costs of the phase 2 proposals range from £47 million for the PSA proposals--that is, making no allowance for a raft, rebuilding St. Stephen's or moving the station entrance--to £70 million for the complete Casson Conder proposals.

Before I close, I should like to comment on the general principles of phase 2. It is a longer rather than a shorter-term solution to our accommodation problems. All the buildings on the site, except Palace Chambers, are already occupied. Therefore, it follows that all work will need to be carried out in stages, with staff being decanted into completed buildings from buildings yet to be refurbished. Significant accommodation gains will thus come later rather than earlier in the development.

I hardly need remind the House of the importance of the site that we are discussing. It is close to one of the most famous and beautiful Victorian buildings in the world, and the Committee's 1987 report emphasised that.

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"it would be most unfortunate if an insensitive and utilitarian building design were to be adopted on grounds of speed and economy". But we should not be too extravagent either. When making up their minds on the proposed expenditure, hon. Members will no doubt bear in mind that this must be a question of competing priorities and that the expenditure, if agreed, would necessarily reduce public funds available for other purposes.

Mr. Dalyell : I do not quite understand from a reading of the documents how much excavation is still involved. Should not the House set some example to archaeologists who throughout London are deploring the way in which some possibly very important sites are being excavated by bulldozers?

Have the Government thought about their obligations towards archaeologists? This work could be very expensive, because it is time-consuming and uses expensive equipment. Anybody who talks about doing archaeological work had better understand that it creates financial problems for contractors. What thought has been given to what may be a most important site in terms of the history of London?

Mr. Wakeham : I am advised that we had an archaeological report on phase 1. The Government will be sympathetic to any recommendation made by the New Building Sub-Committee. It is for the Committee to consider what is necessary. The way forward recommended by the Services Committee would give us a gracious scheme of a fitting standard for our parliamentary purposes without making undue demands on the public purse. I hope that the House will welcome these recommendations.

9.52 am

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : I thank the Government for making time available to debate this report which was prepared by the New Building Sub- Committee which I have the honour to chair. It is five years since the House last debated the new building project ; given the level of interest and anxiety among hon. Members about their accommodation, that is far too long an interval. I am sure that the House will have taken note of what the Lord President said about a debate within the next few weeks if the House approves this report. The Lord President has concisely summarised the contents of our report, and I shall not seek to cover the same ground. Instead, I shall concentrate on some matters of special concern. Before doing that, I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, John Silkin, who became a member, and was Chairman, of the New Building Sub-Committee from 14 January 1981. I am sure that the House would like to place on record its appreciation for the services that he rendered to the House and especially to the Committee. All hon. Members have cause to be grateful to John Silkin for the work that he did on the Services Committee and for his enthusiastic commitment to the new building project. His successors will need to be equally enthusiastic and committed if phase 2 is to be a success. I should like to thank my fellow members of the Committee and the clerk for their able help and assistance during the 12 months that I have been in the Chair.

We all know and appreciate that there is a crying need for extra accommodation and better facilities for Members. I am not sure what the Lord President meant by

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his obscure reference to Brent. Perhaps he could explain it to me afterwards. Many hon. Members work in impossibly cramped and squalid conditions. As the Lord President said, about 500 Back Benchers have access to only 150 single rooms. In our report, we say that many hon. Members sharing rooms have only 60 sq ft of space each. We compare that to the 250 sq ft that comparatively junior officials in the Civil Service can expect.

The building in which we work is an architectural masterpiece, but it was designed for the part-time gentlemen MPs of the 19th century, who took a very relaxed view of their political duties. It was not designed for modern Members who quite reasonably require staff, space and facilities to cope with the burden of constituency work and the sheer hard slog of parliamentary duties. For some years I was well aware of the problems about accommodation, but it was not until I was appointed to the post of allocating accommodation to Opposition Members that I realised that the problem would be solved only when Members from all parties forced the Government to take more than a cursory interest in the early completion of the proposals that are before the House.

Mr. Dalyell : Does my hon. Friend know of a more thankless task in the whole Palace of Westminster than allocating accommodation to Opposition Members?

Mr. Powell : A more thankless task in this Parliament is that of the Government Whips who allocate accommodation for Conservative Members. That is because they have considerably more Members than the Opposition. The allocation of accommodation is a difficult responsibility, given the problems of Members about their work load. It is essential that we have no more slippages, no more excuses for pushing dates further and further ahead. We want action to advance completion dates and a sincere promise to ensure that hon. Members are accommodated. Even the Prime Minister should be told to give her customary stamp of approval.

When I tour the buildings looking for rooms that might have been overlooked or rooms that might be unused, or when a new Member is allocated a room and moved from the desks in the Cloisters, I inevitably look into the Oratory in the centre of the Cloisters. I do not know how many hon. Members have walked down there and looked into the Oratory. There are four hon. Members there with four desks and four filing cabinets and all their books and papers. They are cramped in a historical room where the death warrant of Charles I was signed. We might conclude that that is an unusual place and ideal for a new Member who could get a great deal of publicity when he is allocated a desk there. That is the only condition under which new Members will accept a desk there.

Four hon. Members, representing 250,000 constituents, should not be asked to work in such accommodation. Some elder statemen might say that, when they were elected, they had to wait years for a desk. I have not been elected all that long, but I had to wait four years for a desk. Together with 12 other Members, I squatted in rooms above the Chamber ; we were told every week by the Serjeant at Arms that we had no right there because it was a writing room for Members and that we should not be using the desks. Nobody slept on the desks but we used to

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leave most of our documents there, and at least we had a desk to write on. As I am not going back all that many years and as I am not an elder statesman, it is clear that we have not progressed very far over the years with the allocation of desks.

We are nearing the 21st century and advancing into modern technology. We have young and enthusiastic Members who have been educated and trained in modern techniques, and we must ensure that facilities are made available for them so that they can house their computers and other advanced office machinery. Let us keep the Oratory for signing historical documents. It is no use increasing secretarial allowances so that Members can employ more trained staff unless we provide them with the basic necessities of an office and a desk. It is of little use to increase Short money for the Opposition unless that is coupled with the allocation of accommodation for staff.

It is of grave concern that the Government announce major programmes of legislation, adequately backed by increased spending from the Prime Minister's office down to that of the most junior Minister, yet give little if any consideration to providing the Opposition with increased accommodation for the extra staff that they need to deal with the extra work load that major Bills involve. I hope that some consideration will be given to this urgent matter. Yesterday, there was a tremendous attendance of Members from all parties at a retirement farewell gathering for one of the staff. I place on record my wholehearted appreciation for the help that was afforded to me over the years by Miss Frampton. There is no doubt that she will be missed. Her knowledge of every desk in all areas throughout the Palace was formidable. I am sure that the House would like to join me in expressing our best wishes to her for a long and happy retirement.

Like many other hon. Members, I could record in great length and detail tales of actions taken by some to acquire desks and rooms for themselves, only to find eventually that they have to be evicted. I do not wish to delay the House with those tales. After the 1987 general election, the allocation of accommodation proved to be a tremendous problem. With only one exception from the Opposition's point of view, all other problems were eventually overcome, if not entirely satisfactorily, with all Members being allocated a desk. Undoubtedly this was due mainly to the tolerance and understanding of the Serjeant at Arms and his staff. I am sure that all hon. Members appreciate the help afforded them in 1987 after the June election, when so many had left the House and so many new hon. Members had been elected.

The House must surely appreciate that the lack of accommodation is not merely a minor inconvenience to a few hon. Members. Instead it is a major curb on the effectiveness of Parliament. I bustled into the office of the Lord President only this week and witnessed the activities that were taking place in such a cramped area. If it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to have reasonable accommodation in which to exercise his duties on behalf of the House, what hope is there for others, including Back-Bench Members? It is high time that we improved accommodation at all levels.

In the report we set targets for the provision of extra accommodation. We recommend that by 1995 every hon. Member should have a room of his own, if that is what he or she wants. We suggest that a minimum standard of 50 sq ft of working space should be provided for each Member's personal secretary. We say that that standard

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should be introduced as soon as phase 1 is ready for occupation in 1990. We recommend that high priority should be given to the provision of between 20,000 and 36,000 sq ft net for additional office space for Members' staff.

It is one thing to set targets, but quite another to achieve them. The history of parliamentary building projects is not encouraging. I am acutely aware that the prospect of a new building on the Bridge street site was first announced to the House more than a quarter of a century ago, yet we are now talking tentatively about the completion date for phase 1. I cannot respond in detail to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but if we cannot complete phase 1--we want to couple phases 1 and 2--our grandchildren, if they become Members of this place, will be asking when they are to have new accommodation. I am sure that the Minister will respond to that issue in more detail.

It is difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that successive Governments have paid only lip service to the need for improved accommodation. A further problem is that responsibility for design and construction rests with the Property Services Agency, which is not the most dynamic of public bodies, especially if Ministers do not exert the necessary political will to keep it up to scratch. A recent example of repeated delays in the conduct of parliamentary building projects will prove my point. It is an example that has been a source of irritation to myself and my colleagues on the Sub-Committee for the past 12 months. The old police station at Cannon row is being temporarily refurbished for parliamentary use. This will provide a limited number of extra desks for Members' staff, which will be a modest but useful gain. The original completion date was late 1987. That slipped to mid-1988. It slipped again to the spring of 1989. We were told last summer that that was an unrealistic target. I hope that we shall be told today what the latest estimate is.

The Cannon row refurbishment is a small-scale project. If temporary refurbishment can take twice as long as was first estimated--during the period when cities of skyscrapers have been built in docklands--will work on the parliamentary site proceed at a snail's pace? We have a right to expect that phase 2 will be conducted with much greater urgency. I hope that the conversion project is an extreme example.

Progress has been made over the past five years. For example, phase 1 will provide considerable extra accommodation. There will be offices for 60 Members and 100 Members' secretaries. There will be catering facilities and a bookshop. We have been told by the Lord President that phase 1 is broadly on schedule for completion in time for occupation in October 1990, but I am a little suspicious of "broadly". I hope that he will confirm that there will be no slippage that will put the target date in danger.

When the Cannon row project and phase 1 are completed, much accommodation within the Palace will become vacant. The Library alone will vacate 21 rooms. Other staff of the House will move out of the Palace. The Sub- Committee is concerned that funds should be made available and plans drawn up so that the vacated rooms can be converted without delay. As we state in the report, it would be unacceptable if prime accommodation within the Palace were to lie idle for any long period because lack of funds for conversion. Perhaps the Minister can reassure us that attention is being paid to that recommendation.

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Our overriding concern on phase 2 is that we should, as far as humanly possible, be able to proceed with construction work as soon as phase 1 is complete. That is why the Sub-Committee decided earlier this year, when considering the proposals from the Property Services Agency's consultants Casson Conder Partnership and from the PSA itself, to pursue a compromise approach. That is set out in the report and has been outlined by the Leader of the House. We have accepted that the underground station entrance should not be moved as Casson Conder wanted. We have deferred a decision on whether St. Stephen's house should be rebuilt or refurbished, and we have recommended that a deck over the underground, which would result in much improved working conditions for those who use the offices around the southern inner court, should not be built in the first stage of phase 2 but may be built later.

I must make it clear that I and my colleagues regard that compromise approach as the minimum that the House is likely to find acceptable. If the House accepts those elements of scaling down of the scheme prepared by the consultants--I accept that it may be necessary to do that--we have a right to expect in return that the proposals for phase 2 are proceeded with without delay and with ministerial guarantees on appropriate funding at every stage. I hope that the Minister will provide us with guarantees at the end of the debate. Perhaps he will also be able to assure us that the quality of accommodation that will be provided under phase 1 and 2 will be up to the standards that Ministers have recently provided for themselves and their civil servants further down Whitehall in Richmond terrace. Phase 2 will have to proceed in stages, as so much of the site is already occupied. The logical place to begin is Palace Chambers, which is not only unoccupied but largely demolished and, in its present state, is a considerable eyesore. Fundamental decisions on the future of Palace Chambers will have to be taken within 12 months. Those include decisions on the use to which the building will be put, the choice of an architect--on which I trust that the Sub-Committee will be consulted in due course--and the preparation by the Sub-Committee of a detailed design brief.

The report makes specific proposals about the preliminary studies that need to be carried out by the Property Services Agency. Those proposals are in paragraph 29 of the report. We made a great effort to take evidence and agree on the report before the summer recess, so that essential preliminary work might begin during that recess. I understand that Treasury Ministers gave their approval in July for such studies to go ahead before the present debate. I was therefore disquieted to learn that after all that effort, no work was put in hand. Five valuable months have been wasted, either because of indolence in the Minister's office or because of bureaucratic time- wasting by the PSA. The Minister owes us an explanation for the latest delay and an assurance that the studies will now proceed immediately.

The studies outlined in paragraph 29 of the report include not only detailed work on Palace Chambers, but an examination of the uses to which Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street could be put to pave the way for the next stage of phase 2. We also call for a feasibility study on a subway link between phase 1 and the Palace of Westminster. That is something that successive Services Committee reports have highlighted as a priority. The need for a proper

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dedicated link with the new building will become urgent when phase 1 is opened in 1990. It follows that planning must start now and that necessary financial provision must be made in the advance budget. I want to make three further points on phase 2. First, I want to sound a note of caution. Precisely because so much of the site is already occupied, the overall accommodation gains will not be enormous. We shall have to decant--I do not like that word, but we are using it now-- people from one building to another to allow work to proceed. The gains will accrue later rather than earlier during work on phase 2, although we intend that a further 100 Members' offices will be provided by phase 2. I should mislead the House if I claimed that those offices will be made available in the first stage of phase 2. That is all the more reason to make the fastest progress that we can on phase 2, unhampered by Treasury penny-pinching.

My second point concerns the appearance of the building. The rebuilt facade on Bridge street will be of particular importance because it will face towards the Palace of Westminster and it will be seen by literally millions of tourists and visitors every year. It is at least as sensitive a site as the precincts of St. Paul's cathedral, which recently received some publicity. I think that the House will wish to be reassured that the New Building Sub-Committee has no intention of angering the heir to the throne by permitting the building of a monstrous carbuncle on the site. In our report, we suggest a restrained classical style which is dignified but does not seek to distract attention from the Palace opposite.

My third point is about the timetable. The Property Services Agency has been coy in giving us estimates about how long each stage of phase 2 is likely to take. The House will expect the Minister to give us precise information on that today. I have made a number of criticisms about the Government and the PSA and I ask the Minister to reply on several important points. I am sure that officials in the Box have taken careful notes.

I shall end on a more positive note. We should miss a great opportunity if we considered phase 2 merely as a way of providing new office space and refurbishing or reconstructing a few buildings. Together, phases 1 and 2 will provide us with a capacious, internally linked complex of buildings for parliamentary use within easy striking distance of the Chamber. Almost all decisions on the uses to which phase 1 buildings will be put have been taken, but that is not the case with phase 2. That means that we now have a chance to consider what facilities should be provided in phase 2, over and above basic office provision.

The New Building Sub-Committee and the Accommodation and Administration Sub -Committee have agreed to co-operate in a joint inquiry into the long-term need for the improvement of parliamentary facilities generally. We intend to consult widely within the House--initially, perhaps, by means of a request for submissions publicised through the all-party Whip and later by other means. All manner of additional facilities have been suggested by hon. Members already. They include a swimming pool, a day nursery, a ladies' hairdresser, cash dispensing machines, a badminton court and rooms for Members' families. No doubt many more suggestions will be made, some practical and others less so. It will be our job to

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assess the level of demand in the House for particular facilities that we do not enjoy at present, and to allocate priorities. We shall take account especially of the need to offer the support of facilities that might be taken as standard by the end of the century when the new building complex will be in full operation. We shall report to the House on that in due course.

10.19 am

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), the Chairman of our Sub-Committee, and to congratulate him on an extremely effective and wide-ranging speech. I associate myself with almost everything that he said, and I am sure that every other member of the Sub-Committee will feel as I do. It is a pity that more are not here today. That should not be regarded as a lack of interest but as underlining the needs that we are talking about. If Members had better facilities they could transact business from their offices which at present they must transact in their constituencies. I hope that the people in my constituency who expected me to be with them this morning will acquit me of discourtesy, just as I hope the House will if I disappear shortly after speaking in an attempt to catch up with what I should be doing in my constituency.

It is a long time since I spoke in the House on a new building. In 1973, on the only occasion on which I won a ballot for a private Member's motion, I decided that we should discuss the Spence-Webster building. The proposal then before us was for an enormous bronze glass and steel structure that would have dwarfed much of the Palace, would have been completely incongruous and out of scale and would have been a blot upon this part of London's landscape. It certainly would not have won an award from the Prince of Wales.

I was one of those who believed strongly that the site was so sensitive and this building so historic and beautiful that it would be wrong, merely to give Members luxury accommodation, to build something like the Spence- Webster building. I strongly opposed the proposal, and I was glad that we were successful. I was even more glad when Sir Hugh Casson, to whom tribute has properly been paid by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and by the hon. Member for Ogmore, came up with the scheme for phase 1 which is now, happily, very much under way. May I say to my right hon. Friend, whose interest in and strong support for the scheme cannot be in doubt, that we hope that "broadly" means on target.

Mr. Dalyell : As the hon. Gentleman knows, I admire him for all the work that he has done on this subject. I understood the Leader of the House to say that the Casson proposals were half, but not quite, exclusive of the other proposals. I should be interested, because I respect him greatly, to hear the hon. Gentleman's views on the Casson proposal. Is he wholly in favour of it?

Mr. Cormack : Perhaps I may deal with that in a moment. This morning I am speaking in support of the recommendations of the Services Committee and the New Building Sub-Committee. I believe that we have got it about right.

I paid tribute to the innovative work of Sir Hugh Casson and his partners in coming to the rescue of Parliament. When we had abandoned the Spence- Webster

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building for all sorts of reasons--aesthetic and financial--we still had a problem. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has described the problem in graphic terms many times. I shall never forget his account of prowling the corridors of Westminster looking for accommodation and coming upon a man pressing his trousers in an enormous subterranean room somewhere in the House of Lords. But that is not entirely apposite to this debate.

Sir Hugh Casson and his partners created a sensitive scheme that would use the facades, and where possible more than the facades, of buildings that were already listed or deserved to be listed. The scheme would not be out of scale and would not commit the heinous sin of so much modern architecture of being ill-mannered to the buildings that surround it. Sir Hugh and his partners performed a signal service in that regard.

We cannot allow to come out of this debate the suggestion that this is a group of parliamentarians intent on personal extravagance. One occasionally reads comments about Members wanting to look after themselves. It is amazing how many people believe that we do not pay for our own food here, and how many believe that we have some mysterious expense account and that when we entertain them to lunch it is paid for by the taxpayer. In fact, we pay for it, and cannot even claim it against tax.

We are talking about giving our constituents a better service. I entered the House in 1970 and for some time shared a room with seven other Members, including the former Labour Chief Whip, now Lord Cocks. We were of different parties. We were extremely friendly and got on well together, but how could either of us hold a detailed telephone conversation on a confidential matter sitting three or four feet away from each other? It was impossible. If a Member is to look after his constituents properly, he must have soundproof, decent--not lavish--personal accommodation.

During the long recess, I had the honour to be a member of the British delegation that attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in Canberra. We held our meetings in the new Australian Parliament building. It is a magnificent building, and Australian Members of Parliament have been looked after in a way that touches on the extravagant. I looked at their suites of offices with more than a little envy. We propose nothing like that here. At the end of the day, be it 1995 or a little later--I hope that it will not be later--the Members of the British Parliament will not have accommodation that begins to equal in opulence the accommodation that is provided for Members of the United States Congress or Senate or the Australian Federal Parliament. We should remind ourselves that those legislatures meet far less frequently than we do. That is another point that people should take into account. We at Westminster meet for far longer periods than almost any other legislature.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : That is because there is too much legislaton.

Mr. Cormack : That is one of my hobby horses, but I shall not disturb the all-party accord and my lavish praise of the Government by talking about the excessive amount of legislation in the Queen's Speech. That would be to enter a slightly discordant note, which is not what we are about this morning. Every Government, of whichever party, have broken their pledge to cut legislation. For

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many years, we have been kept here five days a week for 36, 37 or even 38 weeks. Members of Parliament may sometimes rightly be accused of lack of judgment, bad behaviour and all the other things of which we are guilty, but few of us could be accused of slacking. Most hon. Members, irrespective of party, try to give a good service to their constituents. Most Members are here because they have a vocation for public service. Although that might sound a little prissy and pompous, it is true. Many hon. Members gave up far better renumerated occupations outside to come here.

It is monstrous that many of the able new Members who came here last year will not have individual rooms until 1995. Not only are they being frustrated in many of their personal ambitions, but their constituents are being deprived. It is important to get those things on the record in a debate like this.

We enjoy an enormous privilege in being able to work within this historic Parliament and I have always been among the forefront of those who criticise vociferously any suggestion that we should abandon this place and move out. However, we must remember that this building was created, as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) reminded us, in a different age for a different type of Member representing a different type of constituency. The building was created before the age of universal suffrage when there was not the relationship between a Member and his constituents that exists now or the variety of jobs that a Member is now expected to do for those constituents. One does not have to go to the extremes of Lord Palmerston who, in order to represent Newport, had to promise never to go near the place.

In the 19th century, when the building was opened, Members would pay irregular and infrequent visits to their constituencies. Those knights of the shires who resided in the counties came and went, but they did not come and go with enormous boxes of letters imploring them to help with housing and pension cases and all the other things that Members are asked about today.

We should also remember that the building was opened long before the age of the telephone. I believe that it was well into this century before a telephone appeared in this Palace. We must also remind ourselves of those facts when we consider the needs of the modern Member.

No modern Member can conceivably perform a proper job and serve his or her constituents in the fullest way without reasonable accommodation. I am fortunate to have had a room for some years and I pay tribute to my colleagues who exist in the Cloisters with just a desk or those who share a room. It is even unsatisfactory to share a room with one Member. For some years I shared a room with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) when he was the hon. Member for Petersfield. We were the closest of friends and we got on extremely well together. However, we found it so impossible to do our work that we worked out a rota : I had the room for certain hours of the day and he had it at other times. That was not satisfactory.

We should not be in two minds about this. It is important that phase 1 is on time. It is absolutely vital that there should be no slippage. It is crucial that phase 2 should be proceeded with and that the momentum, as my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said, should be maintained. No Government should be allowed to get away again with the argument that this is excessive

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