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Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The future of CISWO and related matters are for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, but, as I said to the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), I will do everything proper that I can to see that brass bands continue and flourish.
Mr. Sproat : Government support for tourism is channelled through the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board. Through the English tourist board, support is also made available to the 11 regional boards, including the Heart of England and East Midlands tourist boards.
Sir David Knox : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that overseas tourists should not confine their visits to London and that they should also visit the midlands ? Does he further agree that attractions such as Alton Towers and the fine scenery around it in my constituency compare with anything in London ?
Mr. Sproat : Yes, I happily agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of Alton Towers, which has the highest number of visitors of any tourist attraction in the country. I also agree about the importance of getting tourists out of London.
My hon. Friend will be comforted a little to know that spending on promotion in the west midlands has been some £400,000 in recent years and exactly the same amount has been spent in the east midlands, contributing about 240,000 jobs in the surrounding areas. I agree strongly with what he says.
16. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what grants have been made to sporting clubs for the coaching and incorporation of children of school age ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Sproat : The Sports Council provides support to sports clubs through its grants to various governing bodies of sport and is encouraging those bodies to focus their work on young people. The council also gives regional grants directly to clubs to assist them with junior sections.
Mr. Greenway : Does my hon. Friend agree that Conservative Members have always been keen supporters of team spirit, team work and team games because we know that that is the best way of handling the natural competitive instinctive in all children and adults as we go through life ? Will he do all that he can to encourage clubs of every kind--rugby, cricket, hockey and the rest--to include teams of young players so that, if they cannot be coached in schools, they can be coached in clubs ? Can we have teamwork between schools and clubs, which we do not have now ?
Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend makes a good point. Competitive games are valuable in teaching good sportsmanship, team spirit, dedication, losing gracefully and winning modestly. I shall do all that I can to inculcate that, both within governing bodies and between schools, governing bodies and clubs.
27. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission if he will make a statement about the level of funding made available to the National Audit Office to investigate the work of NHS trusts in 1993-94.
Mr. Hughes : May I take the matter a bit further ? Given the large number of NHS trusts, investigation is sometimes needed in time to influence the results of a decision. Will the right hon. Gentleman examine whether funds are available not just to carry out the investigation but to do so quickly, which is what is needed in the case of Philip Harris house at Guy's hospital ? If it is not used for the intended purpose, it will be a complete waste of £150 million of taxpayers' money.
Sir Peter Hordern : On the general point, the hon. Gentleman knows that hospital trusts are being investigated by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the report is expected in the autumn. On the particular point that he raises, the Comptroller and Auditor General is shortly to reply to his letter and I hope that the response will arrive soon.
28. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what funds have been made available by the Public Accounts Commission to the National Audit Office to investigate the work of local authority housing departments.
Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a pressing need for a further audit of local authority housing when, in Hackney, one local authority house in 11 is unlet and when, while it was under Labour control, large rent arrears in Brent reached 48 per cent?
Mr. Soley : Would not it be a good idea to investigate authorities such as Westminster, and Government Departments, which have between 10 and 20 per cent. of their housing stock empty ? Where those houses are sold on the private market, they depress the national economic recovery by depressing house prices. Is not there a strong case for investigating those public bodies--the Government and
Westminster--which have such a bad record on keeping houses empty for political purposes ?
Sir Peter Hordern : As the hon. Gentleman knows, local authorities are a matter for the Audit Commission. He is probably also aware that the National Audit Office frequently reports about housing matters to the Public Accounts Commission and the PAC makes reports thereon.
29. Dr. Howells : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what provision is to be made for the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine the performance of the new arts councils of England, Scotland and Wales.
Sir Peter Hordern : The draft financial memorandum for the new Arts Council for England provides that the statements of account will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. In Scotland and Wales, negotiations are under way to appoint the Comptroller and Auditor General as the auditor of the new arts councils. Under section 6 of the National Audit Act 1983, the Comptroller and Auditor General will also be able to carry out examinations into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which each of the councils has used its resources.
Dr. Howells : Will the Chairman communicate to the Comptroller and Auditor General the concern of many artists, writers and musicians that the regime of indecision and waste that has characterised so much of the work of the British Arts Council over the past 10 years is not replicated at regional level ? Precious taxpayers' money should end up with artists, writers and musicians, not with those who make lucrative careers out of administering the arts.
Sir Peter Hordern : I will certainly communicate that to the Comptroller and Auditor General. If the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to let me know whether there are specific matters that cause him concern, I shall refer those on, too.
30. Mr. Cohen : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission if he will liaise with Her Majesty's Government with a view to bringing forward proposals for a more effective audit of ongoing projects and activities of Government Departments and agencies.
Mr. Cohen : As the new quangos spend vast amounts of public money with precious little accountability, should not there be tough new internal and external audit arrangements and, at the very least, a report on Departments' current policies in respect of these quangos, which spend unduly large amounts of public money ?
Sir Peter Hordern : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the National Audit Office by long tradition never report on matters of policy, but do refer to matters when things have gone wrong--as they frequently have. Examinations of public corporations over the past 20 years have revealed many weaknesses and faults. Regrettably, the faults that the Comptroller and Auditor General is able to establish in present corporations are by no means unparalleled--they have gone on for a long time. I echo what the hon. Gentleman says, however, and I remind the House of what an excellent job the Comptroller and Auditor General does on these matters on behalf of the taxpayer and the House.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what new proposals he has for additional funding to change the use of rooms used for hospitality in the Palace of Westminster.
Mr. A.J. Beith (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission) : The Commission has received no proposals for additional funding for this purpose. I understand that the Catering Committee has no plans to reallocate the private dining rooms operated by the Refreshment Department.
Mr. Flynn : Would not it be beneficial for funds if the mean and spiteful proposal to ban journalists from the Terrace were replaced by a proposal to double the price of alcoholic beverages ? The money received could be used both to benefit the health of Members and journalists and to improve the wages paid to our staff. It could also be used to answer a letter that I sent to the Catering Committee on 13 October asking for improvements in our facilities, not for those who spend every day here, but for the groups of pensioners and children from our constituencies who come here once in a lifetime--so that we can offer them the simple hospitality of a cup of tea.
Mr. Beith : The hon. Gentleman has embraced a wide range of subjects in his supplementary question. The Catering Committee has made proposals to provide facilities in the visitors centre which could take over the
Column 635cafeteria off Westminster Hall, but those proposals depend on alternative facilities being provided to replace the lunch and other catering arrangements provided there now.
Staff wages in the House compare favourably with those in the private sector.
32. Mr. Jamieson : To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, if he will make financial provision available to improve facilities for disabled visitors to the House of Commons.
Mr. Beith : Following a report by an architect specialising in this subject, £250,000 was allocated for works in 1994-95. The Accommodation and Works Committee has approved an initial programme to improve facilities for disabled visitors and will examine further schemes contained in the report. Financial provision for future years has yet to be considered by the Finance and Services Committee and by the Commission.
Mr. Jamieson : Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that access for disabled people to the House of Commons is extremely limited ? Given the widespread cross-party support for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which is progressing through the House, would not it be ironic if the House itself remained so inaccessible to disabled people ? Will he ensure that proper funds are available to make the House a model of accessibility for disabled people ?
Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what funding is being made available for the provision of office accommodation for hon. Members.
Mr. Steen : There are more unoccupied bedrooms in the Palace of Westminster estate than there are in the Hilton hotel, Park lane. Of the 66 bedrooms in the Palace, only two thirds have been used in the past five years. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be better for those bedrooms to be converted into offices for hon. Members than to be left as bedrooms exclusively for the use of officials ?
Mr. Beith : There are not 66 bedrooms, but 66 beds for the use of staff who are required to work during late sittings. Some of the beds are in dormitories which the hon. Gentleman might find do not compare very favourably with the accommodation in the Hilton hotel. The House has made a number of provisions for offices for hon. Members, including additional accommodation at Millbank, and of course the completion of the accommodation in the new building will ensure that all hon. Members who want a single room can have one.
Mr. Maxton : Is not it becoming clear that however much money this place spends on trying to improve facilities for hon. Members, we can never provide on this site a modern, democratic Parliament ? Is not it time that the House of Commons Commission was given the job of examining the viability and cost of building a brand new Parliament outside London altogether ?
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Bearing in mind the fact that there are 19 bars in this establishment, is it really essential to take as another bar the Lady Members' Terrace Room, where lady Members have worked since 1945, from the days of Bessie Braddock ?
Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what plans he has to arrange for a Commons official to be in charge of the arrangements for visits from Members' constituencies.
Mr. Enright : Is not it time, therefore, that the Commission considered this question ? Increasingly, our constituents wish to come here to see what is happening and that is causing considerable difficulty for hon. Members. It is not that hon. Members are unwilling to undertake the work, but it is becoming increasingly complex to arrange such visits. A central arranging point would greatly assist our constituents' understanding of the democracy that we serve.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, if he is now in a position to make a statement on the provision of a day nursery in the Palace of Westminster.
Mr. Beith : The Commission has now received the report of the survey of demand which was carried out under the supervision of the Administration Committee and has asked that Committee to make a report to the House.
Mr. Barnes : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are 10 commercial organisations in the Palace of Westminster occupying 950 sq m and that the gymnasium covers 350 sq m ? In addition, we have just heard about 60 bedrooms. In view of all that, surely we can move much more quickly towards the provision of day nurseries than we have moved hitherto.
Mr. Beith : The Administration Committee has carried out a survey of the likely demand for a nursery and the Commission has made known its view, in terms of its responsibility for the staff of the House, that, if a viable scheme can be devised, it would want it to go ahead. The Commission has asked the Committee to make a report to the House.
37. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what representations he has received urging the provision of additional funds for providing facilities for visitors to the Palace of Westminster.
Mr. Banks : The right hon. Gentleman is clearly seized of the fact that there is considerable concern in all parts of the House about the appalling facilities that we provide for our visitors. We call them "Strangers", not visitors, and we keep them standing outside in the most inclement weather. We treat them abysmally. This legislature is probably the worst in Europe in its treatment of visitors. When will something be done about the lack of facilities ?
Mr. Beith : The hon. Gentleman must address his concern to the Committees that deal with these matters. Some of the problems about which he is concerned are addressed in the Catering Committee's report to which I referred earlier and which I expect to be debated in the House in due course.
38. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what funds have been made available to improve lavatory facilities for visitors to the Palace of Westminster ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Greenway : I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House welcome that news, as will visitors to the Palace of Westminster. Will the new lavatories be more obviously accessible to the public and be properly named
Mr. Skinner : If the Lord President had been present earlier, he would have heard one or two comments about there being so many quangos in Britain today for which the Government are no longer accountable. There are 7,700 of them and they cost about £1,000 million a week. It would not be a bad idea if a Minister were made responsible for answering questions on Fridays about quangos and the use of taxpayers' money. We would then be able to ask all the questions that we are not allowed to ask the rest of the week.
Mr. Steen : If we did sit all night one day a week, it would be possible to use some of the 66 beds mentioned earlier--two thirds of which have not been used for five years. Would not it be far wiser to convert those sleeping facilities into offices, so that hon. Members who are squashed together like sardines could enjoy better accommodation in the Palace of Westminster ?
Mr. Newton : I will not attempt to embroider the comments of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in response to a similar question earlier. My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has assiduously pursued his campaign and has already had some exchanges with the House authorities. I know that they are further considering some of his points. In my judgment, it is right that the matter should be given further consideration.
Mr. Tony Banks : Will the Lord President give an assurance that if we are compelled to use those bedrooms, none of us will be forced to share one with the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) to save on expenses ?
Mr. Newton : In the 1992-93 Session, the House sat 1,983 hours and 48 minutes over 240 sitting days--an average of eight hours and 16 minutes per day. The equivalent figures for the 1978-79 Session were 878 hours
Column 639and 20 minutes over 85 sitting days--a daily average of 10 hours and 20 minutes. In the 1964-65 Session, the House sat 1,592 hours and two minutes over 177 sitting days--an average of eight hours and 59 minutes per day.
Mr. Bruce : I thank my right hon. Friend for those interesting statistics. Does he agree that we should amend the way in which we deal with legislation ? Although much time is spent in debate on the Floor of the House and in Committee, we often exert little influence over the civil servants and Ministers who draft Bills. If we revised the way in which we tackle legislation, we might spend our time more productively.
Mr. Newton : I am sure that there might be ways in which the scrutiny of legislation can be improved, alongside a number of the improvements that have been made in recent years. Having been a Minister in various Departments, I can tell my hon. Friend that he should not
Column 640underestimate the effect that the probing of the House, both on the Floor and not least in Standing Committee, can have on Ministers and their officials.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Is the Leader of the House aware that nowadays, far from getting better scrutiny, more and more information is being hidden by Ministers, both by referring hon. Members to the heads of executive agencies and by saying that letters will be placed in the Library ? That is a reversal of the democratic position and one that is becoming extremely dangerous and all too common.
Mr. Newton : I do not accept for one moment the suggestion that because the information in some of these cases comes from the person principally concerned with the day-to-day administration of the service, without in any way altering the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the overall delivery of that service, there is any kind of concealment. Of course, answers are made available, in a way for which the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) pressed over a long period.
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