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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the guide charge be higher or lower than the charge currently paid by groups who use the service, or will it be about the same?

Mrs. Roe: Charges vary and, because they are private arrangements between hon. Members and others, they are no concern of mine. I have heard that the charge will be slightly higher, but there is nothing to prevent hon. Members from making arrangements with the people with whom they have arrangements at present, on behalf of their constituents and others. Those arrangements will not be changed in any way. The guide service will be an additional facility.

The arrangements that we propose differ from those in operation in any other Parliament in the world. However, our inquiries show that no two Parliaments operate exactly the same system. Arrangements vary greatly, from strictly required pre-bookings to a policy that amounts to little more than "turn up at any time".

Most Parliaments seem to have guided tours, rather than the auto-guides originally proposed by the Committee, and even then there are differences. In Canada, for example, tours are paid for by the taxpayer, and the guides are members of staff of the Canadian Parliament. In Austria, the tour guides are employees of an outside agency, and visitors pay their admission charge of approximately £2 at a reception desk inside the entrance to the Parliament building.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): Is the hon. Lady aware that the Association of Professional Tourist Guides in Britain, which is affiliated to the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, has strongly welcomed the proposal? It gives the first opportunity for professional guides, trained outside Parliament, to show their skills within Parliament.

Mrs. Roe: I am sure that hon. Members are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that additional information.

Due to the simpler arrangements being proposed, we are looking at an operation that, although cheaper, still is not cheap. Paragraph 29 of the report states that we could be looking at a bottom-line figure of some £138,000--an amount that has not been allowed for in the 2000-01 estimates. However, should the House of Commons and the House of Lords approve the report, I can confirm that it will not be necessary for a supplementary estimate to be put before the House because it will be able to draw upon its central reserve, which is designed to cover matters such as this.

One important way in which the House could recoup some of its outlay is by the sale of gifts and souvenirs. Merchandising is discussed in paragraphs 21 to 25 of the report. The House will have noted that we had misgivings about the consultants' proposal for letting the contract for merchandising. We consider that before any final decision is taken, the views of the experts must be sought. I refer of course to the two refreshment departments, the Catering

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Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner), and the Lords refreshment sub-committee.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Is my hon. Friend aware that some of us--perhaps only a minority--believe that a widening of the merchandising franchise to enable more and more people to purchase goods from the House of Commons and the House of Lords devalues such items? They are not quite the rarities that they used to be, and are not so well received, because far more people get them than when Members of Parliament were the main purchasers.

Mrs. Roe: My hon. Friend must know that this matter is in the hands of the Catering Committee, not the Administration Committee. However, we believed it important to consult those who serve on those Committees in both the Lords and the Commons to obtain their views on how best to proceed with merchandising. I am sure that his point will be brought to the attention of the relevant Committee chairman.

We must ensure that we obtain the best possible deal for our constituents--the United Kingdom taxpayers. That will be best achieved by the two refreshment departments providing the gifts and souvenirs, rather than an outside company, particularly as the reopening this summer will be purely experimental.

The Committee thought it only right to sound a note of caution about the new proposals. That is set out in paragraph 15. Perhaps our greatest concern was that as there will not be a set charge, as previously proposed, unscrupulous tour operators may see the Line of Route tours as an opportunity to rip off the visitor and charge considerably in excess of the forecast charge per visitor of £2.50 each for participants in an English-language group or £2.86 each in a foreign-language group. No doubt the House authorities will keep a close eye on that, perhaps using spot checks to ascertain how much individuals are being charged. We felt that we should bring that matter to the House's attention. I must stress that our proposals are experimental and can be reviewed at the end of the experiment.

I hope that the House will accept the report. Some hon. Members prefer last year's report and feel that our original proposals were the best way in which to proceed.

Mr. Forth: No.

Mrs. Roe: I assure my right hon. Friend that some Members feel that way. I accept that others may feel uneasy about handing over the guiding of tours of Parliament to an outside agency, but I urge them to give our proposals a chance. Summer reopening would be a trial, and I acknowledge that there are ifs and buts around our proposals. If any mistake is made, or if visitors are being exploited by tour operators, we shall reconsider matters and put them right before the House is asked to make summer reopening an annual event. The House will make the final decision. The matter will come before us again when the experiment is over. In the hope that it will be supported, I commend the report to the House.

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10.51 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): Opening the House of Commons and the House of Lords this summer would be an experiment. This is a House matter, and the Government have no view. No party Whip is being applied. There are many differences of view across the political parties, and we have heard some of them already. When the matter was debated on 26 May last year, there were serious differences of opinion. Since then, the Select Committee on Administration has reflected further and produced new proposals. A great deal of effort has been made over a fairly long time, and I am grateful for the Committee's work.

It is absolutely right that there should be greater public access to an important and historic building that is a symbol across the world. I still get a thrill when I walk through Westminster Hall, soaking up the atmosphere. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) outlined how the new proposals differ from the previous proposals, but the rights of Members of both Houses must be protected, and the parliamentary works programme must go forward as planned.

The proposal is experimental, suggesting a trial only during summer 2000. The Committee was clear on that point. Paragraph 32 of the report states that:

Lessons will be learned from the experiment, and the House will wish to consider whether summer opening can become permanent or whether there might be possibilities of extending public access at other times of the year.

I strongly support the Committee's report, but will highlight a few proposals. First, if the motion is agreed, the relevant Committees in the other place will consider the matter, and the other place will be asked to agree to a parallel motion. Secondly, as with the previous scheme, some input will be required from the public purse, mainly for security costs. The financial contribution will depend on take-up. That is a matter that the Committee has discussed and considered in detail. There could be an annual operating deficit of £232,000--of which the Commons' share would be £138,000. The House needs to bear that in mind when considering the matter.

As has been pointed out, merchandising must be considered. The sale of souvenirs will help to defray the costs. However, we must ensure that those souvenirs are appropriate and that they reflect suitably on the character of the House and of Parliament. The Committee recommended further discussion of that point.

Whatever the souvenirs that people take away, they will also take away important insights into the work of Parliament, and vivid memories and recollections of the building. Without doubt, this place affects and infects people. I shall support the trial opening. I hope that, in due course, it can be further extended.

10.56 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I welcome the work of the Administration Committee and the introductory remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe). I am conscious that, on the previous two occasions when the Committee submitted recommendations to the House--on vellum and on the Line of Route--the House rejected them. I hope that it will be third time lucky.

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I was happy with the original proposals, for which I voted on 26 May. Those included a charging structure, which meant that both Houses would recover their costs over five years, based on an average payment per visitor of £5.17, including VAT. That would have enabled the House to meet the other claims on its budget over a five-year period, without having to make provision for reopening the Line of Route.

The new report, which reflects the views of the House in that earlier vote and has overcome the fears of some critics, does not put the proposal in a five-year time frame. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne said, she recommends a trial this summer, followed by a review. I understand the reasons for that, but appendix B of the report shows an annual operating deficit of between £200 and £230,000, because the average charge per visitor has fallen to between £2.50 and £2.80, leaving a subsidy per visitor of £2.80.

On top of that, there are start-up costs--£400,000 in the earlier report. Although the second report knocks out some of those costs, I cannot find in it an estimate of the revised start-up costs. That will be of interest to the House of Commons Commission. There will be budgetary implications. At a time when we are urging financial discipline on other public bodies, we should exercise it ourselves.

The principle that visitors should pay, which I support, has been retained, although it is presented not as an admission fee, but as an apportioned share of the costs of a guide. I prefer the original proposals, but I am happy to support the ones before us.

I wish to raise a few points. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne tell us where the new visitors' office--referred to in paragraph 13--will be?

In the original proposals, the House was, in effect, a retailer; we controlled the purchase price and dealt with the visitors. We are now moving into wholesale mode--somebody else will retail the package. The result could be that visitors would pay the fees to which the House objected last May, but the House would not receive the proceeds. The House could find that the retailer has creamed off the difference. My hon. Friend touched on that point. One needs to keep an eye out to ensure that there is no abuse. I hope that, if we discover abuses and that someone else is creaming off the surplus that should go to the House, we shall reconsider the matter with a view to recouping such surpluses.

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