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Column 318In theory, the Bill covers the proposals relating to simplified planning zones in Scotland. Will the Under-Secretary confirm, however--as there have been no inquiries about the provisions in that regard--that those provisions will not be affected either? The Minister who opened the debate said that clauses 1 and 3 would have the same underlying objective and effect--clause 1 in England and Wales, and clause 3 in Scotland. If that is so, will the Under-Secretary explain the different language used in the two clauses? Clause 1 refers to the entire administrative cost of the inquiry being recovered, but clause 3, which applies to Scotland, refers only to the Secretary of State for Scotland having regard to the general staff costs and overheads, and to general administration costs. According to the notes on clauses, the full cost to the Scottish Office will be recovered, but I should like the Minister to explain the difference in the language, and tell us whether that difference implies any difference in the application of the clauses to the respective countries involved.
Paragraph 94 of the notes on clauses states that some Scottish local authorities have asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to repay the sums that he collected illegally from them. In his introductory remarks, the Minister said that that was not so. I should be grateful if the Scottish Office Minister would clarify the position: have any Scottish local authorities asked for that money to be repaid? If so, which authorities were they? If any authorities were to make such a request, what response would they receive from the Scottish Office? If the money was repaid, what would be outcome if the Bill were enacted? Would they be required to pay the money back to the Secretary of State for Scotland?
Clause 4 requires Scottish local authorities to repay to the Secretary of State for Scotland any sums that have been returned to them by the Secretary of State. It appears that, unlike for England and Wales, there is no provision in clauses 3 or 4 for recovery in Scotland of that sum as a civil debt. If it was necessary to give the Secretary of State for Scotland the power to recover money from Scottish local authorities, why has it not been considered necessary to give him the means to recover it? Why is there no civil procedure for the Secretary of State for Scotland to recover that money, as there is in England and Wales? If he wants the money back, how will he set about getting it?
The Bill's origins lie in a House of Lords ruling, which I suppose was within the context of English law. Has that ruling any force in Scotland? Is it likely to be tested in the Scottish courts? More important, if the ruling were contested by a Scottish local authority, how would that affect the Scottish provisions of the Bill? Would the clauses be suspended while that case was tested in the Scottish courts, and if the Bill's Scottish provisions were suspended would the provisions of the whole Bill be suspended? I should be grateful if the Minister could make that clear.
The Bill confirms that since 1968 successive Labour and Tory Governments have acted illegally. The point is not to try to lay blame and say whether a Labour or a Tory Government were originally at fault. The reality is that Governments of both parties have made charges to local authorities for which there was no statutory provision.
Column 319The Government have been in power for almost 16 years and would have carried on making illegal charges to local authorities without the intervention of Birmingham city council, to which the whole country is indebted. Will the Minister confirm that if local authorities had acted in a fashion similar to that of successive Governments they would not have received the same sympathetic treatment? Would they have been allowed to keep or reclaim the money that they had collected illegally? Would they have had the benefit of retrospective legislation? The answers to the questions are obvious. Local authorities would not have been allowed to get any money back, nor would they have been given the benefit of retrospective legislation.
Why do not the Government simply accept that central Government have made a mistake, that they should pay the price for that mistake and that they should repay to local government the moneys that they collected from them illegally?
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East spoke of the dangerous precedent that has been established in that respect. It seems that local government payments in Scotland, England and Wales can be legitimised by subsequent legislation. That means that retrospective local government legislation is now an acceptable way of handling that. If that is so, the Government are establishing a dangerous precedent.
My hon. Friends have promised the Government a bare-knuckle fight in Committee and on Report. I accept that the Bill has much less serious implications for Scotland than it has for England and Wales, but my hon. Friends may be assured that they will have the support of every Scottish Labour Member in that fight with the Government. 5.53 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart): The Opposition reply to this interesting debate was openewith considerable rhetorical flourish by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). I agree with the analysis of the Bill by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). It is correct to say that for 21 years successive Governments have been working on a certain assumption, as have local authorities north and south of the border.
As hon. Members have recognised, everyone was acting in perfectly good faith until the matter was challenged in the courts by Birmingham city council. I tell Birmingham Members that I certainly make no criticism of Birmingham city council for doing that: it had the right to do so. As a consequence of its action and as a result of the Government responding quickly and decisively, an area of considerable doubt will be clarified.
I confirm the reference by the hon. Member for Leicester, East to consultations with local authority associations before the Bill goes into Committee. I understand that that is a matter for discussion through the usual channels. The hon. Members for Leicester, East and for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) and other hon. Members mentioned the scope of costs to be recovered by the inspectorate. I reassure the House that there is no intention of increasing the costs to be recovered from planning authorities. In England, the amounts recovered will be the inspector's salary, travel and subsistence costs and the
Column 320inspectorate's administrative support costs. Those sums will be specified at a composite daily rate in regulations to be made under powers in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) spoke about costs being incurred when an inquiry did not take place. That applies when a planning authority starts the process of a inquiry and then decides not to have one. The other detailed point was made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East, who said that the respective provisions north and south of the border differ. They differ not in intent or objective, but because the travel and subsistence costs of reporters in Scotland are paid under a different Scottish planning Act that does not apply south of the border.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) spoke about the local authorities charter. In England and Wales, the Planning Inspectorate will begin to offer a service agreement to each authority after a draft agreement has been discussed with local authority associations. That will specify a certain level of service that the inspectorate will aim to achieve.
My hon. Friend also made a number of points about the effect of the planning system in the south-east and the south-west of England. He said that he thought that I would be circumspect in responding to those points in my speech. He is correct. I propose to be extremely circumspect and will just say that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford), has listened carefully to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members who have rightly used the opportunity to make some more general comments on the planning system.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams said that Ministers receive promotion based on the number and length of Bills that they introduce. I was sorry to hear that because I have no intention of introducing any Bills during this Session. I humbly say to my hon. Friend that the Bill is a short one of only five clauses. The hon. Members for Leicester, East and for Newbury and my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams and others raised the issue of local or central payments. All hon. Members have received from the Royal Town Planning Institute a briefing that puts the case for local payment, and therefore local control, very clearly and decisively. Interestingly, as the hon. Member for Perry Barr confirmed, Birmingham city council, which raised the legal action, is questioning not that principle but simply the legislative basis for payment.
Mr. Vaz: Will the Minister enlighten the House on the question of interest payments from the date that the money was given back to local authorities during the last year to the date when it might be repayable if the Bill is passed? Who will be responsible for those payments? Will local authorities have to give back the interest for that short period or will they be allowed to keep it?
Column 321that it must repay the money to the Government following enactment of the Bill. I am concerned with that short period.
Mr. Stewart: I am genuinely trying to help the hon. Gentleman. My understanding is that where the interest has been repaid on sums repaid, the amount of that interest will be recoverable by the inspectorate if the Bill becomes law. I hope that that makes the matter clear to the hon. Gentleman. If, on reading Hansard , I find that I have not made the position clear, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.] --and to the hon. Member for Perry Barr, who is showing an interest.
Mr. Rooker: I refer to my original intervention in the speech of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I understand that some interest has been repaid. Will the Scottish Office Minister now say that the actual cash sum of the original principal plus the interest is the only money to be repaid? In other words, will he say that no one will claim that interest is due on that actual cash sum for the period between the payments?
Mr. Stewart: That is correct. There will be no additional financial burden on a local authority as a result of the Bill. The hon. Member for Dundee, East asked me a number of detailed questions about the Scottish provisions. In answer to his first question, he was right to say that they relate only to local plans and simplified planning zones or inquiries in Scotland. That is because, in Scotland, examinations in public into structure plan proposals are carried out on behalf of the Secretary of State--who therefore pays the whole cost--and not on behalf of local authorities. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that there have been no inquiries in Scotland in relation to simplified planning zones.
On the hon. Gentleman's third question, the matter has not been tested in the courts in Scotland. He asked what
Column 322would happen if it were tested before the Bill becomes law. I cannot anticipate the result of any court action, but I can reassure him, I hope, by saying that I do not believe that any local authority is anticipating taking court action--for the obvious reason that the Bill will make the position very clear in the reasonably near future.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about outstanding accounts. In Scotland, the total is £104,000. He asked me about the local authorities involved, which are West Lothian, Kilmarnock and Loudoun, Perth and Kinross and Moray.
I hope that in replying to this short debate I have been able to reassure the House on the perfectly legitimate points that have been raised. I hope that there will not be a bare-knuckle fight in Committee and thereafter on this Bill. Instead, I hope that we can look forward to a constructive discussion of what I believe the House generally has agreed is a necessary Bill. I commend it to the House. Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Queen's recommendation having been signified--
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [19 December],
That for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Town and Country Planning (Costs of Inquiries etc.) Bill it is expedient to authorise--
(a) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of-- (i) any administrative expenses incurred by a Minister of the Crown in consequence of the Act; and
(ii) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other Act; and
(b) the making of payments into the Consolidated Fund.-- [Mr. Burns.]
Question agreed to .
[Relevant documents: Part of the Minutes of Proceedings of the Administration Committee on 1 March and 26 April 1994 (Extracts from House of Commons Paper No. 374 of Session 1993 94) and the Report on potential demand for child care facilities published by the House of Commons Commission.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Burns.]
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The purpose of this debate, which the Leader of the House has arranged at the request of the House of Commons Commission, is to sound out the views of hon. Members on child care provision for hon. Members, their staff and staff of the House. I hope that it will be helpful if I briefly set out the background to what has been a long-running issue, describe the options for a child care policy, and then leave it to other hon. Members to express their views.
Under the system introduced following the Ibbs report, the usual way in which new or extended services are provided to the House is for the relevant domestic Committee to make a recommendation. The Finance and Services Committee and the Commission then consider the merits and costs of the proposal. As I said during oral questions on 24 October, that route has not been followed in this case because the relevant Committee--the Administration Committee--did not agree to support the provision of such a service.
That decision occurred after the Committee had supervised a survey of demand at the request of the Commission. The survey, by RSL Ltd., has now been made available to the House on our authority and it provides some useful material for this debate. I shall discuss the results of the survey in a moment, but first I want to identify the different groups of people whom we need to consider in forming any policy on child care provision.
I should say here that the Chairman of the Administration Committee, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), intended to take part in this debate, but has been prevented from doing so because he has had to return to Scotland for the funeral of a close relative.
Under the 1978 Act, the Commission is the employer of House staff, currently some 1,300 in number. The Commission's financial responsibilities in employment matters are limited to the provision of facilities for that group of people. However, it is well aware that the issue of child care is of equal concern to hon. Members and the staff whom they employ--of whom some 1,600 are now paid by the Fees Office. A significant number of Members' staff work not here, but in the constituencies. Although the financial implications of providing any child care service for Members and their staff are not the direct responsibility of the Commission, we feel that it would be better to have an agreed general policy that would include them. I come now to the options for a child care policy and to the survey of demand. There are three main options--an in-house nursery established on the parliamentary estate or nearby and run by the House itself or on its
Column 324behalf; the provision of places in an outside nursery, probably run as a joint venture with another body; or direct financial assistance to parents to help them in providing their own child care. The third option, using child care vouchers, is already used in the other place, as well as in the National Audit Office and many other organisations.
The first option of an in-house nursery was the main basis for the original planning in the late 1980s. However, the former Services Committee soon encountered a major difficulty. The Accommodation and Works Committee advised that no space on the parliamentary estate would be available for any nursery until after the completion of the phase 2 building, which is now envisaged for 1999. In theory, existing space could be reallocated, but the location provided would need to be suitable, with sufficient play space, toilets and other accommodation.
The Commission's view is that we must meet the standards which other nursery providers are required by statute to meet, and those are fairly exacting. Those difficulties led the Services Committee and its successor, the Administration Committee, to investigate a second option--that of taking some places in a nursery set up in conjunction with Whitehall Departments. One particular scheme was identified in Vincent square, but was turned down by the Administration Committee last year as inappropriate because of the lack of flexibility--only six places were initially available--despite a considerable requirement of capital and running costs.
I come now to the third option of child care vouchers. Such a scheme would provide a subsidy towards the cost of child care arranged by the parents. The House of Lords uses such a scheme for its staff, although it is not available to Peers and I do not know what the demand would be if it were. As I made clear at the outset, the House of Commons Commission has direct responsibility only for staff of the House. Therefore, if this option were to be chosen, whether it was extended to Members and their staff would depend on whether the House resolved that there should be additional funding for that purpose or whether, in the absence of additional funding, Members were willing to devote part of their existing office costs allowances to providing child care vouchers for their staff. They are, of course, free to do that now, although I recognise that some hon. Members, like me, are finding some difficulty in meeting their existing office costs obligations out of their allowances. I should add that a claim for a voucher scheme has now been made by the trade unions representing House of Commons staff. In the other place, eligible staff receive a voucher worth £6 per day worked, per family, and the Commons unions are seeking similar treatment. Unlike workplace nursery places, the subsidy is a taxable benefit and it would be worth about £4.50 after tax to most staff. I have moved several amendments to Finance Bills in Committee on behalf of my party to try to widen the tax relief so that it would extend to vouchers and to other forms of child care, but we have not been successful so far.
Those are the three options on which a survey of potential demand was carried out early this year. Questionnaires were sent to 4,220 people, including hon. Members, their staff, staff of the House and others. There was a 28 per cent. response rate, which is not unusual for such studies. The findings show no clear-cut preference
Column 325between an in-house facility and people making their own child care arrangements using vouchers, although the former was marginally preferred.
The Commission has already made known its view in terms of its responsibility to House staff. It has said that, if a viable scheme for child care help can be devised, it would want it to go ahead. As a good employer, the Commission is aware of the arguments for assistance with child care. I know that many House staff make intricate and often expensive arrangements to have their children cared for, as was shown in evidence taken by the Select Committee on Employment in June 1994, where a number of hon. Members and House staff from various Departments gave detailed and clear evidence about the arrangements that they had to make. Any scheme would undoubtedly help in the recruitment and retention of staff. No less important, the introduction of a child care scheme would also firmly underline the House's commitment to a policy of equal opportunity.
In deciding its policy, the Commission needs to take account of the practical possibilities and the cost. An in-house nursery, assuming that we could find suitable space for it in the near future, would be expensive both to the House and to parents, and might not provide value for money. For example, if parents received a 50 per cent. subsidy, in line with civil service practice, parental contributions could still be as high as £75 per child per week. A joint venture scheme would involve similar costs per child. It would also be hard to predict the number of places needed. Finding a suitable location will undoubtedly be a problem, as the Commission's discussions with the relevant Committee have illustrated.
There are other drawbacks to an in-house or joint venture scheme. Opening hours would have to be either very long, adding to the cost, or unsuitable for parents who work late hours. In some cases, young children would have to be brought to Westminster by public transport in the rush hour. The demand in recesses would be difficult to predict. On-site facilities, however, would benefit some staff and could be opened to other groups who work in the building and are covered by the survey, such as the police, postal staff and press. There is also value in the House setting an example to employers in the provision of a workplace nursery. We might, however, be able to help more people at lower cost through a voucher scheme, which could also cover hon. Members' staff who work in the constituencies. We have received representations on that point.
The Commission wishes the matter to be resolved as it has been under discussion for an unreasonably long time. We look to hon. Members for their views on whether a workplace nursery or a voucher system is preferable, on whether vouchers represent an interim solution until the provision of on- site facilities, and on any other consideration that we should bear in mind before reaching a decision.
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East): This debate on the provision of child care in the House of Commons and on the provision of such a facility generally has both a symbolic and practical importance. By the mid-1980s, 24 per cent. of women with children under the age of five
Column 326were working; by 1991, however, 45 per cent. of such women were at work. There is a national child care gap of 400,000 places. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, the House of Commons should set an example. Both business and industry increasingly recognise the need for child care provision and its importance to working mothers and fathers--and I stress fathers. I was speaking earlier to a Conservative Member who said that he would have liked to be here for the debate but that he was looking after his little boy and there was no child care provision. Obviously, therefore, some hon. Members need such provision and they are not necessarily women.
Fifteen years ago, long before I came to this House, I raised the issue with an hon. Member and was told that the House of Commons did not need child care facilities because there were not many women Members. He said that most of them were past child-bearing age, so the problem did not exist. I pointed out there and then that hundreds of women worked in the House of Commons as researchers, secretaries, librarians, catering workers, cleaning staff and ancillary workers. He looked very surprised. It is all too easy for hon. Members to think that they are the only people here who have needs. We are talking about many people who make the operation of this Chamber possible.
The Labour party is taking positive steps to encourage more women to come to this place and I understand that the Conservative party has a target of 50 per cent. women candidates for the next election. It is in the interests of the political parties and of democracy that we have more women Members of Parliament.
I and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) are the joint chairs of the parliamentary Labour party women's group. Since April 1992, it has considered child care and the attitude to children in the House and it has found some interesting facts. First, there is a family room in the House. When we asked whether it was possible for children to use the family room, we were told that it was for the wives of hon. Members and that children would disturb them.
Secondly, we found that there was a rifle range. I found it extraordinary that it was acceptable for the House to have a rifle range but not a creche. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), who was the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson on women's issues, visited the rifle range and met the officers of the rifle club, who were somewhat alarmed at our asking to see it as they suspected that we were on our child care campaign. They assured us that one woman hon. Member was a member of the rifle club and they were a bit put out when we rightly guessed who it was--the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). We pointed out to the officers that we were not trying to stop their fun but trying to make the point that if it was all right to find room for people to take potshots at targets it should also be all right to find room for children.
My hon. Friends the Members for Peckham (Ms Harman) and for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) once tried to arrange for their children to visit them during a half-term holiday. They were told that they could not provide their own food and would have to pay for food that was provided. They were also told that there would be a charge for the room. Just trying to arrange to see their own children was a great effort.
Column 327I understand that, since 1989, Government Departments have been able to use existing budgets to subsidise child care. That is important in the House, where many staff are paid considerably less than hon. Members. We should think about the way in which costs would impact on people on lower pay. In 1992, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) visited the Ministry of Defence creche. In the culture of the MOD, many military people in their working life rarely have much contact with children. The fact that the MOD has a creche is to its credit. It is interesting to see buggies and wellington boots in the MOD foyer. If a creche can be provided in the MOD, I do not understand why it is impossible for us to have such a facility here. Clearly, the MOD venture is an unqualified success. Parliament should follow that example. I believe that the report, which has been quoted extensively, shows that a majority support an in-house facility rather than vouchers. Having spoken to people in the House who have parental
responsibilities, I suspect that an in-house facility is what they would most prefer. The Parliamentary Nursery Campaign Committee issued a statement today. Its press officer said that the survey showed that there was a clear demand from hon. Members and their staff and House of Commons workers. As has been said, the survey was carried out by an independent research company. The press officer said:
"A day nursery would be of considerable benefit to mothers and fathers who work in the mother of Parliaments. It would alleviate the isolation of children from their parents who work long hours. But it would also be in the public interest. A day nursery would help to reduce staff absenteeism and unnecessary staff turnover and consequent loss of expertise and experience. Given the growing demand on Members of Parliament this should help to improve their ability to represent the interests of their constituents".
We have come a long way since 30 October 1979 when Mr. Patrick Jenkin, then a Secretary of State, said on the "Man Alive" programme on BBC television:
"If the good Lord had intended us to have equal rights to go out to work, He wouldn't have created man and woman."
I am pleased to say that such statements are not heard so often now.
I commend the House of Commons Commission for carrying out the survey and I pay tribute to hon. Members who have served on the Committee in the past and have made the survey a reality. I hope that we shall have an in-house creche of which we can be proud well before the next general election so that the increasing numbers of women who come here will know that the job is commensurate with a family life and so that women outside this place will be encouraged to think about a parliamentary career because they will see that they will not have to abandon their children.
Column 328Palace of Westminster. I am surprised that we are having this brief debate at all, bearing in mind that the Accommodation Committee has addressed this problem on four occasions. On each occasion it reached the decision that there should not be a creche within the Palace of Westminster. What is the time of the Accommodation Committee used for if its decisions are overridden, or attempted to be overridden, again and again by the House?
There are at least five reasons why I agree wholeheartedly with the Accommodation Committee's decisions. I have been in the House for a very long time and, over the years, I have learnt that room here is at a premium. For many years I had only a tiny office, and many hon. Members still have very poor accommodation. We should recognise that, even when the new building in Bridge street is finished, we shall still be in the same position, with enormous competition for the available room.
Our work load gets inexorably heavier and most hon. Members need much more space than ever before for their filing cabinets, computers and papers. When I first came to the House, only a few of us had an office at all. Many of us used to work at a desk in one of the Lobbies. Some hon. Members will remember those days. Now we have more burdens than we had then and we could not possibly manage with a desk in a corridor. Many of us still share rooms which are far too small. It is extraordinary to suggest that there is some wide open space that could be used for a creche or creches--that is what we will need.
Mrs. Currie: The same arguments were used about the establishment of the House of Commons gymnasium. It now has 600 members, including 60 hon. Members. It is an extremely useful and invaluable service for the entire community that works here. Is my hon. Friend recommending that it should be shut because we do not have enough space?
Dame Jill Knight: Of course not. What a stupid suggestion. There is a great deal of difference between the need of hon. Members who work long hours in this place to have exercise, and the extra-curricular activity of bringing in all their children. It is a totally different matter.
In spite of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), I shall develop my argument and point out that this is not only an issue for Members of Parliament. Library staff are constantly asking for more space, which they need, as do our secretaries and many other staff here. We do not have enough room for good working conditions now, and it is useless for my hon. Friend to suggest that we have so much room that space can be made available for many other purposes. I do not know where an extra room for a creche or creches would come from.
I love children, but I do not think that their place is here. We are talking not about older children but about babies and toddlers who would need many nurses and minders. Their presence here would be noisy, costly and continuous. Hon. Members must understand that we could not close the creche for the summer or Easter holidays. If we opened a creche, it would have to be open all the time that children need to be cared for.
Column 329The number of children who would have to be catered for would be far bigger than anyone has so far recognised. We are talking not only about the children of hon. Members. I am happy to see far more women Members than we have ever had before--
We are talking about the children of secretaries, Library staff, attendants, cleaners, kitchen staff and Post Office staff. There are many other offices, such as the Rediffusion office, the cook's office and many more. This morning I took the precaution of finding out how many female staff work in this place.
Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen): The hon. Lady mentioned the large number of staff, other than hon. Members, who work in the House and might wish to make use of this facility. Does she accept that many of those staff work during the recesses as well?
Dame Jill Knight: That is exactly my point. The hon. Lady must understand that the recesses are used for intensive work in the Palace of Westminster. It would not be possible to close a creche during the summer months, so when would there be an opportunity to carry out all the necessary building work and refurbishment? To judge from what she said, the hon. Lady seems to recognise that, once open, a creche could not be closed simply because the House was not sitting.
Does the hon. Lady wish to come back on that point? Does she contest it? We are talking not about a creche for the days, weeks and months when the House sits, but about a permanent creche all year round.
Ms Anderson: I agree that we are talking about a permanent facility. My point was that there would be no need to close it during the recess, because plenty of people would still be using it. I do not see why a creche would have to be closed in order for building and refurbishment to be carried out in the rest of the Palace.
Ms Anderson: The hon. Lady said that I am relatively inexperienced in respect of the House. She may not be aware that I worked in the House for almost 20 years as a secretary before I became a Member of Parliament, and therefore have a great deal of experience of its workings.
Column 330Dame Jill Knight: If my hon. Friend thinks that there is not a scrap of difference, why is she not a secretary rather than a Member of Parliament?
My point, which I am sure that many hon. Members understand, is that we are talking not about a short-term facility which is open only when the House sits. We are talking about an extension of the House that would have to be available the whole year round. I took the precaution of finding out how many female members of staff would be eligible to use creche facilities. I found that there are 1,395. Even if only half of them--it might be more, but I was unable to find out the exact number this morning--are of child- bearing age, there could be nearly 1,000 children to be cared for.