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Column 979public expenditure. It is expenditure for the public, so that the public can be served better by those they send here regardless of party.
I would deplore it if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment in replying to this debate said that there was any doubt about meeting that modest 1995 target date. By the turn of this century, it should be an historic memory that Members of the British Parliament once had to exist in conditions of squalor, which would send most ordinary workers quite rightly yelling to the factory inspectorate, and which would cause strikes up and down the land if any private employer tried to insist that people with confidential and important work to do had to do it in the conditions that many of us have to endure.
I hope that we shall receive a good answer from the Minister. I hope that the answer tells us that the Government support, as my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council made plain, the Committee's report to the letter and are determined to support it fully in spirit. I am confident that we shall receive such a reply today. The time for delay has long passed.
When this building was created, it was created not only as a building for the British Parliament ; the aim was to create a building which would speak of and for Britain, which would help to tell the story of Britain and would exemplify in every last detail the very best of British craftsmanship. Although we sit in a Chamber that was built after the devastation of the war, we still sit in a beautifullly constructed and elegant Chamber. When we wander around the rest of the Palace, as we do so often, taking our constituents around they always remark on the brass work by Hardman of Birmingham, the wonderful stained glass and the incredibly beautiful carving in the House of Lords and elsewhere. They look with interest at the pictures which tell the history of Britain.
Obviously I am not suggesting that there should be any attempt across the road to replicate what we have here. That cannot happen. However, the spirit of what we have here should be reflected over there. I declare an interest because I have the honour to be Chairman of the House of Commons Works of Art Committee which has responsibility for the works of art in the building. We are constantly trying to conserve what we have and to add to it. Hon. Members will perhaps have admired the conservation of the murals in the Upper Waiting Hall. We do our work with a few thousand pounds : we do not even reach five figures. Recently we were able to unveil a bust of Ernest Bevin and we accepted the gift of a bust of Parnell. Throughout the Palace we want to see constant reminders of those who have helped to mould this place and create its history.
I have discussed these matters with my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore-- and in his capacity as chairman of the New Building Sub-Committee he is very much my hon. Friend. When we go across the road, the New Building Sub- Committee and the Works of Art Committee should work closely together. Just as it is important that the building should be sensitive to its surroundings, so its contents should be equal in interest, if not in intrinsic value to the contents of this place. I hope that we will be able to commission young contemporary artists just as our Victorian predecessors did.
Column 980I am not suggesting that we should subject Members to avant-garde work which they might find it difficult to understand, although that might not do them a great deal of harm occasionally. However, just as in this building the story of Britain is depicted, so perhaps in the new building Britain itself might be depicted. What better than to commission artists to paint landscapes of the various parts of the country or commission a series of living or recently deceased parliamentarians to compliment studies in this place? What better than to commission tapestry weavers? We can do all that within a relatively modest budget if we patronise young, living artists. There are many distinguished artists whom I am quite sure would be prepared to negotiate special terms for the honour of having their work displayed here, just as their Victorian predecessors did. I hope that we shall concern ourselves increasingly with the building and its contents so that it will be truly worthy of our Parliament and so Members in their individual offices can have the benefit of a little inspiration on their walls as well as a computer on their desks. All those things can be done and Members can be involved, perhaps by enlisting the support of colleges of art within their constituency, if we are imaginative.
Mr. Dalyell : When I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dick Crossman when he was Lord President, he wanted pictures for those marvellous offices at 70 Whitehall that the Lord President has, and I managed to fish out what was deemed suitable--the beautiful portrait of Halifax the Trimmer. Since then there has been a succession of pictures of admittedly second-class importance which had not seen the light of day for a long time. Should not some of them be taken out of storage and put in the new offices?
Mr. Cormack : I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments- -we are at one on that--but he will find that there have been many changes since those days. The Government picture collection under Dr. Wendy Baron has been extremely well managed. Many of the works that he speaks of have found their way on to the walls of embassies or consulates, and when I saw the store recently it was not very full. We have brought works of art from the store to the Palace and it is right that we should. We should also pay a thankful tribute to the National Portrait Gallery, which has been so generous with some of its surplus pictures and has allowed us the portraits that hang along the Committee Corridor. The interiors of phases 1 and 2 merit careful, detailed, sympathetic consideration and should show the beauty of 20th century Britain as this building speaks of 19th century Britain.
The hon. Member for Ogmore made a good point about the Oratory. I hope that we can free it by removing the desks and make it the small museum that it should be to one of the most historic events in British history. It is a sad event, which we may interpret differently, but a seminal occasion which should not be forgotten in a welter of papers and clutter of desks. It should be somewhere which parliamentarians can visit and to which, with appropriate arrangements, from time to time take small school parties. As the hon. Gentleman rightly reminded us, it was in the Oratory that the death warrant of Charles I was signed.
I have said enough to show my support for the Committee on which I am pleased to serve, my delight at
Column 981the Lord President's welcome acceptance of our recommendations and my expectation that my hon. Friend the Minister will not disappoint us when he replies. I hope that he will assure us that "broadly" means on target, that there will be no spurious financial considerations to deprive the public of the service that they have a right to expect from their Members of Parliament and that, as we move towards the completion of phases 1 and 2, we should give proper, detailed consideration to the contents of the building, just as our predecessors did to the contents of this one.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I strongly support the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) on many of his points, but particularly on two. First, for heaven's sake, this is not about the personal extravagance of Members of Parliament who want to build cushy facilities for themselves. All of us are a little sensitive about that. This morning we are talking about a decision for Britain, and I make no apology to anybody in my Linlithgow constituency for not being there while the House of Commons discusses this matter, because it concerns the prestige of Britain and her good name. Secondly, I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the possibilities for patronage of young British artists. That is of enormous importance and I hope that a great deal of trouble will be taken. I should like to hear from the Minister what the Government's thinking is on the patronage of young British artists.
I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) mentioned the work of John Silkin, especially as this week some of us attended the memorial for Sam Silkin at the Temple church. Those two brothers made remarkable, although different, contributions to the House of Commons over many years and it was fitting that my hon. Friend should pay that tribute. I was also glad that he paid tribute to Mary Frampton. She had many functions, including serving writs on distinguished trade union leaders. Apparently her formidable figure was the armed force in the House of Commons and doubtless she did the job better than anyone else could have done--not that I am in favour of serving writs on trade union leaders. She performed many other tasks of an unofficial nature. When I was presented with several jojoba plants for having spoken strongly in favour of ecology, I went to Mary Frampton to look after and water them before I could take them home to Scotland. Many other hon. Members have similar memories of her kindnesses. She was a distinguished and good servant of this House.
The work of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore may be unsung, but his colleagues should thank him and the Committee sincerely for doing what may be a thankless task but one which someone must do and which is important. We are grateful to him for the long hours he has spent on the issue.
My history in these matters was briefly touched on by the hon. Gentleman. Within weeks of coming here, bereft of accommodation, I had the effrontery to carry out a survey of the Palace of Westminster over three nights with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who at that time was not right hon. As a result I wrote a long article 2,500 words, for Architects Journal. No one took much notice of it until three weeks after its publication when the Daily Mirror discovered that I had
Column 982alluded to the fact that we had found a man in his underpants in 590 sq ft of prime space, pressing his trousers. The discovery was not to my political advantage because I was immediately tagged as the man who discovered the man pressing his trousers. I remember vividly two distinguished knights of the shires, Sir Henry Stodholme and Sir Otto Prior Palmer, pointing me out and saying, "That's the fellah who found the man pressing trousers in his underpants."
Fame comes in strange ways. The absurdity and yet the non-absurdity of that encounter reached the headlines. About a month later the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, passing me in the corridor looked up and said, "Dalyell, was he pressing his trousers to Royal Scots Grey standard?" The accommodation problem had even reached Downing street by then.
I should like to ask a series of specific questions. The first is prompted by that series of visits round the building a quarter of a century ago when I was critical of the House of Lords' space and accommodation.
Now I ask a reverse question. I am one of those who acknowledge that the House of Lords works extremely hard. There are more and more working peers. Some of their accommodation is very unsatisfactory. I do not suggest that the House of Lords has anything like a prior claim to the building that we are discussing, but is it intended, as a knock-on effect, that there should be rather better accommodation for working peers?
Secondly--I speak with feeling here, as it concerns the Library--I strongly register the opinion that as far as possible the Library should be concentrated in this building and that, where possible, those scholars--for such they are--who work in the Library should be allowed to work near us rather than in the proverbial outer Mongolia. I pay tribute to Dr. John Poole who has recently left the service of the Library. To many Members, Dr. Poole was an extremely able and helpful Library scholar. We have had cause over two decades or more to be grateful to him. He and his section were recently moved out of their position in the Library and sent over the road.
It is not right and proper to go into the reason whyDr. Poole retired from the Library service. I just register the point that it would have been very much better if the science section were accommodated in this building near to Members rather than over the road. Library accommodation is a priority. The Library staff should be near Members rather than over the road. Facilities that are consequential on the Library's needs should be made available over the road.
Thirdly, I hope that the Minister will say something about the nature of the competition. The documents do not make clear how the architects are to be chosen. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore said that the building is to be in a restrained, classical style. It will certainly be on a prestige site. Has the Department worked out how that is to be achieved and what the form of the competition is to be?
Fourthly, I foresee enormous difficulties over what is called "decanting." I refer to paragraph 28(ii) of the report, which says "(ii
(that decisions should be taken as part of a coherent strategy for the Phase 2 site as a whole. All buildings on the site, apart from Palace Chambers, are currently occupied by Members and officials of the House, or by broadcasters. It will therefore be necessary to proceed by means of a staged approach (as is accepted in both sets of proposals) in which
Column 983occupants of each building to be developed are "decanted" to other parts of the parliamentary estate to allow work to proceed." (
I have had recent constituency experience of the decanting of one general hospital, Bangour, to another site at Livingston. Decanting big areas of sophisticated work is very difficult. I am not saying that it is as difficult as decanting a hospital, but how much thought is being given to the mechanics of decanting? I foresee that a great number of my colleagues will be extremely vexed about the kind of things that might happen to them.
Fifthly, I do not see very much reference in the documents to the needs of the visitors that all hon. Members receive. For example, could not some provision be made for those who have to queue for a long time in rather cold conditions? Could not some cover be provided for those who have to queue outside when it is often wet and cold? I find it embarrassing to see people queueing to get into the Strangers' Gallery when the weather is wet and cold. Could not their needs and facilities for visitors in general be taken into account? Sixthly, what is to be done about the long-term fabric of the building? Any building has to be constructed taking into account its functional use and the long-term maintenance of its fabric. I hope that you will not rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I say publicly now that the day before yesterday, having endlessly raised with the authorities the stone rot of the Crypt, particularly around the font, I took my friend, Frank Bracewell--an expert from the Central region of Scotland--down to the Crypt chapel where he saw evidence of stone rot in the Welsh marble font that ought to be attended to. I throw that in, because it is not entirely irrelevant. I hope that something will be done about it. The general question that nevertheless remains is the quality of the fabric of the building.
Seventhly, hon. Members have cause to ask questions about exercise facilities. Over a quarter of a century ago I went, together with colleagues, to see the late Sir Paul Chambers about ICI Dyestuffs at Grangemouth. He said, "The trouble with MPs is that they are unfit. You get too portly and fat." That was true. I asked him what we should do about it. "Oh," he said, "you can have our squash courts." For over 20 years some hon. Members, from 8 to 10 o'clock in the mornings, have benefited greatly from the ICI squash courts. They have now been demolished. The squash players, of whom I ceased to be one last year, were then moved to the Civil Service building. Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, who is a regular squash player, told me last week that he thought that the courts are to be closed. He asked me where people would be able to play squash. It is not up to me to offer facilities to the Cabinet Secretary to play squash, but I am entitled to ask what sports facilities will be provided in the new building. If neither the Civil Service nor the ICI squash courts are available, could courts be made available to Members of Parliament within the foundations of the new building? That might not be too difficult.
The foundations bring me to the next issue that I raised in an intervention. What exactly is being done about the archaeology? The House of Commons has to set an example. We cannot lecture people in the City about not taking care of the archaeology of London, or Baynard castle, or whatever the issue of the day may be, if we do not
Column 984take care of it ourselves. It will be a pity if achaeological work is not carried out towards the end of Horseferry road. The site of the new building may be important in archaeological terms. What thought has the Department given to archaeology during the site investigations that are bound to take place?
Ninthly, I return to the question of accommodation for broadcasters. Any hon. Members who go to No. 1 Bridge street must see that those who work in Parliament as broadcasters do their job in completely unsatisfactory accommodation. No. 1 Bridge street is hot, stuffy and overcrowded. The report refers in various places to accommodation for broadcasters, but the detail is left in limbo. I am not trying to curry favour with broadcasters, but they are an essential part of the working of Parliament. They must be given proper working conditions--conditions that hon. Members are demanding and will continue to demand for constituents who work in factories. The same goes for IRN which has really pokey accommodation at the moment. It would be useful to hear exactly what is to be done. I am not asking for a palace, but for decent healthy conditions for the broadcasters.
Finally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) knows exactly what I am asking for, and we are on delicate ground, but will there be a little room set aside for a few instruments that our Prime Minister thinks are very good for other people? Will there perhaps be a polygraph room? Perhaps it could be called the polygraph room in the Cheltenham memorial suite, as that would be a good name for it. Perhaps the cabin could be called the Westland cabin. I make the point that people who ask for facilities for other people had better look at the mote in their own eye. On this occasion I shall leave it at that.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : First, I want to comment on one or two things I have heard during the debate. In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House quite properly urged us to address ourselves to phase 2 and to the details of the report, but I do not feel that we should debate in isolation the design of particular buildings as that might lead us to overlook the possibility of transferring things from here to that building. If we take that approach, we may well overlook the need to discuss the budget required for the contents of the building, as how we equip the new accommodation for hon. Members is absolutely vital.
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) said that he felt that Conservative Members have more difficulty with accommodation and made the observation that the more Members there are, the greater the accommodation problems. I wonder whether he was working up to a justification of what happened in Govan as being an accommodation manoeuvre. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) drew our attention to the fact that longer sessions are held here than anywhere else in the world. I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) that perhaps we legislate too much in this place.
However, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South did not draw the attention of the House to the fact that we meet for more days in the year and that we have longer days than other parliaments. If we had fewer days and fewer hours perhaps that would reduce
Column 985the pressure. Dare I suggest that we have the largest legislature in the democratic world. Some would say that if we had fewer Members that might help. Therefore it is not just a matter of buildings evermore.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) quite rightly observed that the prestige of Britain is at stake, but he did not tell us whether his discovery of gentlemen without trousers in the other place was better or worse than the recent discovery of young ladies in the basement, which a Labour Member had the pleasure of knowing something about.
While I freely admit that I have not been here very long, the views of newcomers are quite significant, particularly when the newcomers are full- time Members of Parliament who work here throughout the week and throughout the year. The shock of what I encountered in terms of accommodation is still very fresh in my mind. Unlike hon. Members who have been here for a while, I have not seen things get better, therefore I cannot fall back on thinking that it is not as bad as it was. I am still being asked by my constituents what are my first impressions. When I tell them about the working conditions, either they think that I am joking, or they are shocked to find that the person they elected to represent them is unable to do his job. I shall mention some of the things that shocked me as a new Member. Perhaps it might help the Sub-Committee when finalising its plans to know the issues which we hope they will attend to. The question of privacy which has already been mentioned is clearly first in my mind. Newcomers cannot have a confidential meeting anywhere except the draughty corner of a corridor, where we hope nobody will overhear. We cannot make telephone calls privately unless we are prepared to leave the office and risk being run down by the traffic to make a 10-minute journey to a telephone booth to call someone back and have a private conversation. Above all else, there is no chance of quiet thought so that we can gather our wits together when we need to come here and speak.
Although our personal conditions are inadequate and the shock that that caused is still clear in my mind, I was more shocked by the conditions under which I had to ask a secretary to work. The working space is not only communal with no privacy, but in most cases it is cramped beyond belief. One has to take one's life in one's hands as one negotiates an office without tripping over cables, and it is impossible to make oneself heard on the telephone because of the clatter of typewriters in the background. On many occasions it is quite impossible for a secretary to make anything remotely like a confidential telephone call on behalf of an hon. Member.
As a newcomer, perhaps because I am in Abbey gardens rather than in the Palace of Westminster, not only am I a long way away, and if I wish to collect papers from the Library it is a 20-minute journey if traffic is bad, but it is easy to be anything up to half a mile away from my staff. The report draws attention to the advent of electronic mail which would make it less important that staff are a long way away. I am still looking for the electronic mail that might help with that problem. I was also shocked that the technological revolution of which we are so proud in Britain seems to have passed Westminster by. It has been said that it took a long time for telephones to get here. With the exception of a fairly rudimentary service offered by the Post Office, the fax revolution has not even entered the portals of this House.
Mrs. Gorman : Unless hon. Members buy their own. Mr. Wilshire : Exactly. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay says that we should buy our own, but that clutters up the place with more telephone lines and makes life more difficult for everyone.
Most offices and large groups of people have effective paging systems. That does not seem to have reached us. I mean no disrespect to the Badge Messengers who do a magnificent job, but it would be far simpler to track us down by electronic paging than by walking miles to see whether we are here and can be given a message.
When I first arrived, I was pleased that the allowances were improving, but then I discovered that the allowances were a means of opting out of offering help with equipment. This is not a plea for something as well as allowances, it is almost a plea for equipment instead of allowances. By the time one has bought one's own typewriter and computer and realised that no one else has quite the same equipment, hon. Members we caused a remarkable amount of trouble. It takes me about half an hour to find a stationer's shop to track down a ribbon for my typewriter, because no one else seems to use the same model.
I was also shocked at the lack of recognition of our anti-social hours and unhealthy lifestyle. As a newcomer, I am regularly kept here for very long hours and find that if there is a running Whip it is quite impossible to get away even for a short time. Yet the concessions for trying to maintain family life, and the opportunity to buy necessities are virtually nil. If one is pinned down in this place, having broken one's toothbrush in the morning, and if the Whips do not smile sweetly at one, it is quite difficult to get out and find a shop that sells them.
As has also been mentioned, the lack of exercise facilities is staggering. Apart from the gym, the opportunities for exercise include the ability to exercise one's trigger finger in the rifle range or one's drinking arm in assorted bars. Beyond that, I fear that I am becoming ever less healthy as time goes by.
As others have said, the cynical will take speeches of this sort as a plea for plush surroundings and more perks for Members of Parliament. I do not intend now or in the future to apologise for saying these things. We should not apologise for asking for sensible working conditions. My constituents who learn the truth think that something needs to be done about it. They do not like huddles in the corridor, or me having to telephone them from a telephone booth down the corridor or finding that they cannot make themselves heard on the telephone to my secretary over the clatter. My family do not think it is unreasonable to ask for better working conditions, particularly when there is a running Whip and there is no place to meet them or eat with them because everywhere is overcrowded and overbooked. Similarly, because of the lack of exercise facilities, my doctor would not think it an unreasonable request if he knew how unfit I was becoming.
The vital parts of the report are paragraphs 28 and 29--"The Next Steps". Paragraph 28 rightly invites us to comment on three principles--keeping up the momentum of development, ensuring that the next phase is comprehensive and, as has been discussed already, the quality of the buildings. Paragraph 29 makes three correct calls for action--doing design work on Palace chambers, doing a study on the uses of Bridge street and looking at the feasibility studies for a subway.
Column 987The three principles in paragraph 28 are absolutely fine as far as they go. I suspect that it is the principle of keeping up momentum about which I feel most strongly. Phase 1 is, I hope, nearing completion and phase 2 has simply got to carry on immediately after, without any break. Until phase 2 is complete we shall not reach the key objective of obtaining a single room for every Member who wants one and secretaries' accommodation that is civilised and located near to the Members for whom they work and in which they can hear themselves think.
Even if the scheme is comprehensive, we shall end up with discussions about whether we have too much accommodation and are we overdoing it. Those of us in Abbey gardens and Dean's yard would say that if, mysteriously, there is too much accommodation in phase 2, or phase 3 if there is one, there is plenty of scope for giving up things that are too far away and unsuitable.
I hear what is said about the quality of the building and support the approach that we must do nothing that would upset the Prince of Wales. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the speed of completion of the project and the cost are relevant. I am not making a plea for quick, cheap and nasty building, but, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, we should not be too extravagant and should not lose sight of the fact that the speed of completion is an important issue as well as ensuring that the quality of the building is as it should be for such a sensitive site. The suggestions in paragraph 29 are fine as far as they go. However, they will not result in a single new facility. The calls for action do not include a detailed timetable for the work to start and finish. I hope that when the Sub-Committee considers this further it will extend the calls for action and add details of the new facilities and a strict timetable so that we all know where we are going. When focusing on the question of action, I should draw attention to the point about the use of Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street. To a certain extent, we could extend that discussion to the use of Palace chambers as well as the feasibility study there. There are some uses which were identified in the first report of the previous Session but which have not been mentioned this time. I draw my hon. Friend the Minister's attention to that and invite him to comment. There is mention of a book shop but I have not been here long enough to discover whether it is intended that it should carry stationery items so that we can save time and run our offices efficiently. I see no mention of whether the use of Bridge street could include some sort of small shop to supply us with the necessities of life. On both counts, I am not suggesting that we should try to run an in-house facility. I am sure that both those facilities would prove attractive to somebody who may wish to come in and run them for us.
There is one somewhat exotic point I would make about the use of the new accommodation. Perhaps, if there has to be a chess room in the Palace of Westminster we could transfer it to the new accommodation. During the time I have been here I have yet to see the existing chess room in use. In making some inquiries about the chess ladder fixed to the wall, I saw a list of people who I suspect have not been Members of the House for a long time. I saw the name of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) listed and when I asked him about it this morning he
Column 988expressed considerable surprise that his name should be on a chess ladder because he has never played chess in this place. If the chess room is moved to the new accommodation, it would free a room for something that is a matter of urgency. We should provide additional space so that hon. Members with spouses who wish to eat here on an ad hoc basis without being able to book can have a small amount of space used in much the same way as the Members' Dining Room. That would mean that if there was space one could obtain food and be with one's immediate family. Such accommodation is not available now unless one wants to go to the cafeteria and put one's food on a tray or book a table months in advance in one of the restaurants.
Similarly, in the new accommodation we must find space for exercise opportunities. My preferences, for what they are worth--I am sure that they will not be echoed by all hon. Members--are a swimming pool and squash courts. In case people outside feel that I am advocating the spending of public money on such things, I am sure that there would be private funds available to build a swimming pool and squash courts if the demand was there and they could charge for the use of them. It would not be a free facility but one that could be used within the confines of the Palace when we are kept here for long hours. My suggestions arise out of paragraph 15 of the report which refers back to the previous report, which contained a much longer list of suggestions. As well as talking about a subway from the new buildings to here, as a user of Abbey gardens, may I put in a plea to minimise the risk of by-elections caused by hon. Members trying to get from Abbey gardens being mown down by traffic. It is fine when there is a Division because the police ensure that we can cross the road. However, on other occasions we take our lives in our hands. The traffic whizzes around and motorcyclists seem to be oblivious to the lanes of traffic.
I stress again that fax machines should be urgently provided and a modern paging system should be introduced. In the previous report the Speaker's Court figured strongly, but this time it seems to have been overlooked. Will the Minister guarantee that the use of that accommodation will be included in phase 2?
In the past few days I have found myself speaking to broadcasters in the rain. The thought has occurred to me that it might be possible to allow journalists to use Westminster Hall for filming and carrying out interviews. I cannot believe that that would either cause security problems or disrupt other activities because, for most of the day, apart from having tourists, Westminster Hall is not used for any purpose. This is a useful opportunity to improve the broadcasting facilities of this place, without spending any money.
I hope that this report is approved rapidly, and that that rapid approval leads to immediate action. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House say earlier that he will provide time soon for the House to give its seal of approval to this report. When action is taken, hon. Members can look forward to being able to do their job properly, constituents can look forward to being treated properly and staff can look forward to having decent conditions in which to work. Family life might stand a chance here, and there will be fewer unhealthy Members of Parliament for our constituents to worry about. Rather than being apologetic for having a long list of conditions that I think should be
Column 989improved, I think that all my suggestions, and others that have been made this morning, have to be good news for all who work here, for all whom we represent and for the nation at large. Above all else, if our working conditions are civilised, it has to be good news for democracy.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), I am a new Member and I, too, was deeply shocked by what I found when I got here, despite having been told on numerous occasions how bad it would be. I thought that it must be exaggerated and that one could not run the nation's affairs in such a way. When I arrived here, like countless others, I found that I had no desk, no secretary, no typewriter and no telephone and that I had to make these arrangements ad hoc, in such corridors as I came across where telephones were free, and we were all competing. I found that I had to interview constituents in public, and it was to be many weeks before this state of affairs was put right. When it was put right, I found myself in a room with three other Members of Parliament. By common consent, as our work load increased throughout the year, we agreed that we would also let our research assistants and any additional secretaries whom we thought that we ought to employ share that room. As a result, it is rare that we hear ourselves think, and we never hear ourselves speak. Never a day goes by without one of us being asked by the others in the room to talk more quietly on the telephone. The lines never seem to work properly anyway, and it is extremely difficult to hear.
One of my hon. Friends in that room, to make up the deficiency of secretarial provision, does some of her own typing. That clatter, combined with the noise of many conversations going on at once and much work in progress, makes it extremely difficult to do an efficient job. I daily find that I am not giving my constituents the sort of service that I would wish to give them, and although they are extremely tolerant, I am sure that they do not appreciate the almost impossible conditions in which we have to work.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, I believe that one of the most essential things that we have to get right is the provision of space and facilities for our support staff, not just for ourselves. We can move to find telephones for private conversations if we have to, we can move to corridors for a bit more space, but we cannot reasonably expect our secretaries to cart their typewriters and heavy equipment around with them. It is essential that they have a stable, good and healthy working environment.
My secretary has to cope with sitting at one small desk with about 8 in of space behind her before she encroaches on to the space of another secretary. On that small desk, by the time that she has fitted in her word processor, her ever-overflowing in-tray and her telephone, there is hardly room for a biro, let alone a pile of work. That is not a satisfactory situation, yet little can be done about it because we are asking so many of our secretaries to put up with such conditions.
I have always thought that, instead of being allocated a desk, we should be allocated X amount of space for our support staff. We should be able to say that we will fill that space as we see fit. Some hon. Members may choose to fill
Column 990it with electronic equipment, others may choose to fill it with old-fashioned filing cabinets and one desk with one secretary. Other Members, who either make their meagre allowances stretch or who subsidise them from their own salaries--it should be put on the record that many of us have to do that--may wish to employ more than one member of staff and fill that space with two desks. At the moment, that flexibility is not permitted us. We are allowed one desk, it is laid down where we shall have it, often a long way from our offices, and that is where our secretaries are supposed to work.
I think that I heard that in the new building we are to be allowed 50 sq ft of space. The ideal by 1995 is that we should each have our own room and should be allowed, in addition, 50 sq ft for our clerical and secretarial staff. I have not done a square root since I did O-level maths, but I make that an area of approximately 7 ft by 7 ft. If that is the ideal standard towards which we are working, it will not be enough. One would be hard put to squash two desks into that space, or more than the two regulation filing cabinets. It should be added that we have to buy our own filing cabinets if we want more than the two regulation ones. That is not enough space, and if that is our ideal, we cannot be working towards a modern and efficient Parliament and a modern and efficient service for our constituents.
I am a full-time Member of Parliament. I do nothing outside the House, and I try to devote my working day to coping with an extremely large volume of correspondence from constituents in distress, and from constituents with strong views. Apart from the urgent cases, there is nearly always a delay in answering routine stuff, simply because there are not the facilities to do it as quickly and efficiently as I would have wished.
If we are seriously aiming at a secretarial work space of 7 ft by 7 ft, then we are aiming at future inefficiency, inadequacy and a complete mess as, more and more, we become full-time Members but do not have access to office space outside the House and, in general, have to make up facilities in the best way that we can. I would appreciate it if my hon. Friend the Minister would comment on that figure of 50 sq ft, which I think I heard correctly, and tell me what he thinks can be fitted into that miserable area that will help to service Members of Parliament adequately.
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said about the need for the facility of a small shop where we can buy necessities. I am sure that my cat would uphold that. I have often tried to buy a tin of cat food, but not being able to get out during the day, and leaving this place at 3 am when all the fish and chip shops are closed, I cannot even buy him a bit of fish. In general, it would be helpful if we had somewhere that we could purchase necessities.
I have another plea. Can we have a uniform database? Can Members of Parliament be told about systems that are consistent with that database, so that we could find for ourselves much of the information that we now ask the Library staff and our research assistants to provide? One of my major problems is that most of my research information comes to me at best second -hand and often third-hand, and I should like to be able to key in and do certain essential research myself. I could do that if we had a proper working system database. Finally, may I put in a plea, not only for somewhere to buy a toothbrush, a pair of tights or cat food, but for some
Column 991equality? There is an ever-growing number of ladies in this House and I hope that that number will continue to grow. Why, then, can we not have a unisex barber and hairdresser?
Miss Widdecombe : At least they have the opportunity to do so, whereas the lady, who has gone out in the rain to get to the television studios, arrives looking bedraggled and has no facilities where she can put that right.
I may make that point slightly frivolously, but I do not make frivolously the point about secretarial space : 7 ft by 7 ft is not enough. It is not ideal, and we should not accept it as the standard.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Like my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), I am also one of the new Members of Parliament. I am not deeply shocked about the facilities here, but I wonder about the way in which we allocate those facilities. Much of today's discussion is about the acute need for accommodation for Members of Parliament. When something is provided free at the point of consumption, as our office space is allocated, it does not surprise me that there is a considerable demand, not just from the point of view of Members, but from their staff. There was a time when Members' secretaries were generally accommodated outside this building, but when we start providing office space cheaply, or free, and telephones, it is inevitable that the demand for space within the building, or close to it, will build up. Anything that is free at the point of consumption generates an excessive demand. I should like the Minister to tell us the average cost of providing accommodation for Members and their secretaries and whether we might consider being allowed to spend that sum of money on accommodation and facilities outside this building. A number of hon. Members would prefer to have office space in other parts of the town, but, because of the temptation of "free" space, we all want to congregate around here. We might not need as much accommodation as we think we need, if we appreciated the cost of that accommodation, if that cost were negotiable and if we could have that money to spend elsewhere on accommodation. That could take the pressure off the apparently insatiable demand for accommodation here.
Part of our problem is that we cannot make up our minds what we are in this place. On the one hand, we are treated like self-employed people, providing our own equipment, such as filing cabinets. On the other hand, we behave as if we were employees of Her Majesty's Government. We now receive our salary on that basis, although that was not so some years ago, when Members
Column 992were treated as being self-employed from the point of view of salary. The Members at the time did a switch because it enhanced their pension prospects.
We are now neither one thing nor the other. We are not full employees, in which case we might have expected accommodation and facilities to be laid on, yet we are no longer self-employed. Although this matter is outside the scope of the debate, it would be a good idea to sort that out. We would not then be constantly whingeing about whether the Government should provide us with fax machines or bleepers, as if we were hospital doctors doing a ward round.
I am concerned that phase 2 has been given over to the Property Services Agency for its control and decision. That organisation has proved to be far from sensitive in matters of architecture. I think of the hideous structure in Marsham street, the Department of the Environment, and of the new Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, which is also far from delightful, with green fencing boards all around it. It adds nothing to the charm of Parliament square, yet that was also built under the control of the PSA.
Rather than limiting our scope to one set of architects, who are currently nominated by the PSA--the Casson Conder consortium--we should bring in outside architects to give us some ideas on how we might make the best use of the site. When we limit those decisions, we end up with scandals such as the one reported in last night's Evening Standard, under the heading "£50m web of bribery exposed," which said that PSA officers have been involved in allocating contracts to builders because of the limited scope of the way in which they tender for work. I put in a strong plea for the PSA not to have the main control over this development, both in the interests of a more imaginative scheme and in an attempt to reduce the opportunities for corruption.
When I was a Westminster city councillor, the council carried out some developments and was asked to put up certain sums of money for roofs. I have told this story before, but it is worth telling again. Our local officers, in co-operation with the accredited list of contractors, had accepted a price for those roofs of £140,000 each. This took place in my ward, so I took a great interest in it. In the end, the real cost of that work was about half that price, so we made a considerable saving of about a quarter of a million pounds. When such large sums of money are involved, we should get a wide range of estimates. The architects and quantity surveyors involved in the project should be brought in from outside the close, incestuous network normally used by the PSA.
Mr. Tony Banks : I am not sure whether Westminster council is a happy choice for examples of cost-cutting efficiency. After all, it sold its graveyards for 5p and is now trying to purchase them back compulsorily at a cost of £5.5 million. I do not think Westminster council can teach us about cost efficiency. Surely the hon. Lady must realise that the PSA scheme is cheaper than other schemes. Surely she wants a cheaper scheme rather than a more expensive scheme.
Column 993As for Westminster council, I take the hon. Gentleman's point to some extent--that, in considering such matters, bureaucracies often make awful mistakes. In the case of Westminster, the officers concerned have yet to resign. The councillor concerned has done the honourable thing and accepted responsibility.
Mrs. Gorman : I support my colleagues who are calling for an outside agency to handle the catering and the facilities which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone mentioned, are so essential for people who are tied up here all day. A little general store should be laid on. I note that there will be shops in the front of the new building and it is reasonable for whoever leases those shops--it is likely to be the Government, through the PSA--to dictate what those shops shall offer by way of services.
About 4,500 people work in or are associated with this building. During the day, people want to tidy themselves up for an evening meeting or a bit of shopping. It is disgraceful that we do not allow the private sector to provide us with the necessary facilities. I am not sure about the plea for recreation and exercise facilities. There is an enormous shooting gallery underneath the House of Lords. I do not know how many hunting, shooting and fishing people use that facility. I question the propriety of us extending that and calling for our own squash and swimming facilities.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) commented on the facilities in the ICI building and the squash courts there which are available for our use. When I was a Westminster city councillor, I remember that entire building being on offer for £5 million. We could then have taken over that superb ICI Millbank building--with its sports facilities--and it could have been used as accommodation for people working in Parliament. I remember writing to my Member of Parliament, who is still the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), suggesting that he refer that building to the PSA, but I got nowhere. The PSA is a little empire which, naturally enough, enjoys its own powers and ability to control a budget of about £2.5 billion, which is an awful lot of money. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State for the Environment is calling for a great deal more of accountability and openness from that organisation.
In calling for more facilities for ourselves, we should consider the costs. I certainly would like to know what it costs per capita to provide our facilities. Do we need to provide them all in-house? Is there a case for Members having a budget and buying the accommodation that they wish-- whether a small single office or a share in an office--and thereby creating a market for office facilities for Members? We would not then be restricted to using this area because what is on offer appears, at least at first sight, to be free. There is, also, the question of the delay involved. There is the slippage, as it is euphemistically known, of the Cannon row site. If the private sector had been doing that work for us, I would hope that we would have had strong penalty clauses which would make the concept of slippage alien. Slippage would result in the company losing profitability, which is a wonderful spur to get the job done on time. I believe that if the private sector had been
Column 994carrying out such a development, it would have completed it, in, perhaps, six months or a year at the very most. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when he considers who will get the work.
When I was a member of Westminster city council, there was an office block, accommodating 500 to 600 people, on the corner of Perkins rents--which is just beyond one of our Government buildings--that we delayed and delayed, mostly for silly political reasons. When we finally allowed it to go ahead, within six months it was occupied.
Delays are inevitably caused by a bureaucratic set-up like the PSA and the lack at present of open competition for the very design and facilities. We need to consider whether we need to keep adding facilities here, as opposed to giving Members the financial options of choosing where they work, which may not be in the confines of this building. I am one of those people who often feel completely claustrophobic when here in the evenings--I cannot wait to get out. A little office nearby that was not part of this building would certainly appeal to me. The shared office in Norman Shaw North, for which I do not pay rent, has a certain attraction. However, if I were able to use that financial allocation more flexibly, I may decide not to be actually attached to this building.
Again, I was a Westminster city councillor in the days of the T. Dan Smith scandals concerning the construction of large municipal developments in the north of England. The Redcliffe Maude report about that pointed out the dangers of the rather incestuous working relationship between local government departments and the councillors, with their ability to grant favours to friends and close associates. We should bear that in mind when we are considering how to allocate the development of the site opposite.
Nobody would deny that that site needs redevelopment. It is hideous ; it has been a disgrace and a scar on this historic area for far too long. There are those dirty, scruffy little shops with all their bits stuck out on the pavement and the ghastly, filthy Bridge street building. I do not know why the broadcasting authorities are allowed to occupy so much of that building. Do they pay us rent? Is it properly costed? I do not know why we should worry about providing facilities for them. Why do they not find their own facilities in or around the building?
I believe that we spend too much time--in the way that councils do--in deciding nit-picking details which are not the proper duty of parliamentarians. It reminds me of my time on Westminster city council, when we spent hours and hours deciding what colour to paint the council house doors. In a way, this exercise is similar. A private company would bring in outside experts to give them advice, and tell them to get on with it. It could be given a brief of the facilities required--such as the shops and the means by which we cross the road--and they would get on with it. Anything designed by a committee--I am sure that that includes the Services Committee--is more likely to turn out like a camel than a horse.