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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

Question agreed to.

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Line of Route

10.30 pm

Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne): I beg to move,

I have to admit to a distinct feeling of deja vu as I move a motion to approve an Administration Committee report on the Line of Route. On 26 May last year, the House was unable to approve the Committee's original proposals, and we were asked to come forward with an alternative framework.

I am grateful for the determination shown by my colleagues on the Committee, by the former Serjeant at Arms and the director of finance and administration and their staff, and by the consultants. That has enabled us to advance our new proposals--assuming that this House and the other place agree to them--in time for a re-opening this year.

As the House may have heard, Mr. Walker, the director of finance, has been ill and recently underwent a major operation. May I take this opportunity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to express to him the Committee's best wishes for a speedy and a complete recovery? [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I thank the Leader of the House for making time available for this debate.

I have to advise the House that there is a printing error in the report that could cause confusion. In paragraph 27, the correct financial year is 2000-01.

In drafting our new proposals, the Committee took on board comments made during the debate last year, especially those made by the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). We have listened to the concerns that have been raised, and I hope that hon. Members will agree that we have acted accordingly in response to the wish expressed by the House.

Bearing in mind that any tour of the Palace has to be of a suitable and dignified nature, the Committee has produced proposals that we consider are as limited--and involve as small an investment--as possible. I shall be brief, as time is short and I do not wish to deprive Members of an opportunity to speak. I wish to highlight a few points, particularly those about which the House expressed most concern last year.

As we say in the report, in the previous debate,

provided that it was done on an experimental basis. The House objected to introducing an admission charge to visit the Palace. We do not now propose such a charge. Visitors will still have to pay--

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Oh!

Mrs. Roe: I accept that some right hon. and hon. Members may say that I am being pedantic, but there is a crucial difference. Visitors will be paying not to visit the Houses of Parliament, but for the services of a guide.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): One of the things that troubles a number of hon. Members

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is that it is hard to see why members of the public should have to make a prior arrangement to come here at a particular time. It is difficult to see why, as with cathedrals and many other public places, they should not simply come to this place as and when they choose during the recess. Why on earth should they have a guide? I, for one, much prefer to go around public places by myself.

Mrs. Roe: Members of the public can come to the House of Commons through their Member of Parliament, as now. They do not need to have a guide. In fact, their Member of Parliament can obtain tickets for them and they can come through the House in the usual way without a guide. Obviously, Members of Parliament can show people round the House themselves, or get a member of staff or spouse to do it for them. However, it was assumed by the Committee that most people who visited during the summer recess would be tourists, and we expected that they would prefer to have a guide. That is why that facility will be available. After we had considered the approach taken by other historic places of interest in London--Buckingham palace, for example--we felt that the proposals were the best way to cope with the numbers that we anticipated would wish to see the Palace. If we have timed and booked visits, there will be no confusion and no difficulty for hon. Members.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): I echo my hon. Friend's comments about the Committee, which struggled with the issues that the House gave us to consider. [Interruption.] Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) would do me the courtesy of listening to my remarks. With the present arrangements, we have a Line of Route because it is right to have some management and supervision--for safety and security reasons--of visitors to the Palace of Westminster. The necessity for some supervision, security and safety means that people should not be allowed to wander unaided around this important building.

Mrs. Roe: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments, which I endorse. The Palace is not a museum with treasures in glass cases or areas cordoned off. It is a workplace, and it is therefore important that groups of visitors are properly supervised. The security arrangements are also important.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Will the hon. Lady make it clear that during August and September it will still be possible for a Member of Parliament or a member of staff to take round a small group without making any payment?

Mrs. Roe: I confirm that that will be the case, as it is now. In August, that facility is available on Wednesday and Thursday mornings and in September, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. On those mornings, Members of Parliament will not be inhibited in any way from taking constituents, friends or whoever they like around the House, because nothing has changed. The new proposals are for an additional facility and I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will feel that we have listened to what they said when we put the issue to the House before.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): In the 1960s, there was a free Line of Route. I realise that interest in

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Parliament has increased since then, but the proposals will not break entirely new ground and I wonder what arrangements were made in those days. I remember taking the Line of Route from the Victoria tower when the House was not sitting and that the guide was free, although I might have tagged on to another party that had paid.

What comparisons have been made with other Parliaments, such as the French National Assembly, the Bundestag and the Congress of the United States of America? Visits to the White House--I know it is not a legislature--are free--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to continue on those lines.

Mrs. Roe: I am afraid that I did not visit the House in the 1960s but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that it was the murder of Airey Neave and the consequent security issues that caused the Line of Route visits to be stopped. I do not know the exact arrangements that were made, but I will let him know. I imagine that Members of Parliament could do then what they can do now and that that would have been free. I will come to the arrangements made in other countries later, but in general they are all different. I said that there would be no admission charge, and that is the situation at present. Many people already pay a modest charge--to the doorkeepers, to blue badge guides or to the education unit--to take part in tours along the Line of Route.

I cannot stress too strongly that nothing in our proposals will affect the arrangements that apply during the summer or when the House is sitting. Summer reopening will be an additional facility. It is designed to appeal mainly to those who might be termed casual visitors: tourists who come to London. The proposed arrangements will not affect hon. Members' existing rights of access or the autumn visits programme.

Some hon. Members were concerned, rightly, that a summer opening could affect the annual parliamentary works programme. I hope that the House will be reassured that the Committee was advised--by the director of parliamentary works--that the works plan for summer 2000 can be carried out without significant obstruction to the line of route.

The House will be interested to note that the planned works include repairs to the rail around the Throne in the other place, laser cleaning of the stonework in the passage between the Central Lobby and the Members' Lobby, and the replacement of some acoustic tiles. My personal view is that these works may enhance a visit, rather than detract from it. Visitors will be able to see some of the essential repair work that has to be carried out from time to time in the Palace. In any case, many people enjoy watching others at work. That is why there are often spy holes in the hoardings around building sites.

The nuts and bolts of the proposed operation are set out in detail in paragraphs 17 to 20 of the report. I shall not detain the House by rehearsing them at length now. However, to make a visit to Parliament as enjoyable and efficient as possible, it will be necessary for visitors to book timed tickets and a guide in advance of their visit. The operational day will be divided into a series of admissions slots, with a limit on the numbers admitted in

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each slot. The proposal is that five groups, each of 20 visitors plus a guide, would be admitted at 15-minute intervals.

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