Select Committee on Administration First Report


16. When the Committee first considered the proposals to re-open the Line of Route at its meeting on 16 June 1998, considerable concern was expressed at the initial indication of the development and the annual running costs. On the basis of the assumptions in the consultant's report about the likely number of visitors and the amounts they might spend on souvenirs, latest figures indicate that the start-up costs will amount to nearly £400,000, and there will be net annual operating costs of some £300,000 - 60 per cent of which would be the House of Commons' share. Even with charging visitors for admission at the level set out in paragraph 23 below, the House would still need to make a net provision in each of the years 1999-2000 to 2002-2003, before the break-even point was reached. Financial provision has been made in the Estimate for a cost of up to £146,000 in 1999-2000, but formal provision has yet to be made for subsequent years.

17. It should be noted that, if the House decided not to charge for admission, the Commons' share of the costs for a summer opening programme, commencing in August 2000, would amount to about £500,000 in Financial Year 2000-2001, and some £350,000 per year thereafter. Sums of this order have not yet been provided for in the PES forecasts.

18. It was clear to the Committee that, without some form of charging, the entire burden of cost would fall on the UK taxpayer. After much deliberation, and only with great reluctance, the Committee concluded therefore that charging would represent the better option; in that way only the estimated 147,000 UK citizens and overseas visitors[2] who actually took part in the summer opening programme would have to pay towards the upkeep of the Palace and other costs associated with a re-opening.

19. The Committee appreciates the deeply held views of Members of both Houses that access to the Palace should be free of charge, a point made to us not only by members of the Lords Sub-Committee, but expressed also by Members of this House in Early Day Motion 145 (Charges for visitors to the Palace of Westminster). Indeed, as it is now Government policy that institutions such as the Tate Gallery, the National Gallery and the British Museum should not charge an entrance fee, and following the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that children would be allowed free entrance to national museums and galleries from 1 April 1999, it might be seen as inconsistent to charge for entrance to Parliament.

20. However, the Houses of Parliament are neither a museum nor an art gallery; they are a working legislature, and the Committee considers it important to stress that admission charges would apply only during the 8 or so weeks of the Summer Adjournment and would only serve to recover the incremental costs of the summer opening programme over a 5-year period. For over 42 weeks of the year therefore, visitors would still be able to participate in tours of the Palace of Westminster, meet their constituency MP or Members of the House of Lords, listen to debates in both Chambers when either or both Houses are sitting, and attend meetings of Standing and Select Committees free of charge. Even during the Summer Adjournment, Members of both Houses would continue to be able to bring in their guests. It is not, nor has it ever been, proposed that members of the public should be charged to see the Houses of Parliament "at work".

21. The Committee also wishes to emphasise that the Autumn Visits Programme (AVP), run by the Parliamentary Education Unit, would not be affected by these proposals. Slots would be reserved in the summer opening programme ticket allocation to allow the AVP to continue to operate on a personally guided basis, as at present. Schools taking part in the AVP would, as now, be charged simply to cover the cost of the guided tour which they receive as part of the programme,[3] (which would be "dovetailed" into the audio-guided public visits).

22. The Committee therefore recommends that, in order that the two Houses might recover all capital and running costs within five years, visitors should be charged at an appropriate rate. The admission charge would include a colour information leaflet and the use of an audioguide.

23. The relevant authorities of both Houses and the consultants continue to monitor the possible capital and running costs. There is clearly scope for the figures which were presented to us to be refined, and everything possible should be done to reduce expenditure over the coming months. If this expenditure were to remain at the level as set out above, the Committee estimates that, in order for the House to recover its costs within the specified timescale, admission charges would need to be set at the following rates:


Adult group (minimum of 20 persons)—£6.25 each

Senior Citizens/Students/UK unemployed—£4.00

Senior Citizen/Student/UK unemployed groups—£3.75 each


Family group (2 adults and up to 3 children)—£14.00

Autumn Visits Programme participants—no incremental cost

24. We wish to draw to the attention of the House that the Business Plan suggests that less than half the visitors would, in fact, pay the full adult ticket price. The majority of visitors would qualify for a discounted rate and the average ticket receipt per visitor, based on the above tariff, would be £5.17 inclusive of VAT.

2  Experience at Westminster Abbey suggests that ultimately some 75-80 per cent of visitors would be from overseas. Back

3  The current charge is £24 per group of 16 students. Back

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Prepared 26 April 1999