Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons First Report


Letter from the Chairman of the Administration Committee to the then Chairman

of the Committee

Thank you for your letter of 8 July, seeking the Administration Committee's views on the Government's proposals for reforming the Parliamentary calendar. On behalf of the Committee, I would make the following comments concerning those matters within our responsibility.

With reference to the Line of Route, as you will know, the Chamber has to be closed for searching no later than one hour before the House sits, and Thursday morning sittings will, therefore, mean no visitors will be able to see the Chamber, Division Lobbies and Members' Lobby except on Monday and Tuesday mornings. If the proposed Thursday morning sittings were introduced, we would have to close the Chamber by 10.30 am. I understand that very few visitors arrive sharp on 9.30 am and, therefore, they would not reach the Commons end of the Palace before it was necessary to close it off; the Committee considers that this would be particularly harsh on the constituents of those colleagues who represent seats outside London, who might have to leave home at a very early hour, or even stay the preceding night in London, to ensure that they arrive at the House in time to take part in the tour. I understand also that the implementation of the Jopling proposals reduced the opportunities for the public to visit the House by 25%, and that Thursday morning sittings would further reduce such opportunities by a similar figure.

The introduction of a non-sitting constituency week during school half-term would not, I believe, necessarily have an adverse effect on school parties visiting the Palace, as I understand that most schools tend to visit during term time. However, for those parties which do visit during half-term, there presumably will be less opportunity for them to meet "their" MP, which could be disappointing for those children who had hoped to see him or her.

Finally, Standing Committees sitting during weeks when the Chamber is not, could have severe implications for the Parliamentary Works Programme. Although the Accommodation and Works and the Catering Committees will be better placed to express a fuller view on this, there are certain ramifications for this Committee. For example, Select Committee Rooms have to be used to decant Members and staff whilst their offices are refurbished - this summer seven such rooms will be needed. If more Select Committees wished to meet than there are Select Committee Rooms to accommodate them, currently they are able to use a Standing Committee Room - however, if Standing Committees were meeting also, there could be considerable pressure on the Rooms not used for decanting purposes.

I hope that these brief comments are helpful.

22 July 1998

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