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Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Is not it fair to ask the guides to police the system for us?

Sir George Young: I am not sure that even the guides will know how much visitors are paying to tour organisers.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: They can ask.

Sir George Young: Indeed. However, my response to the hon. Gentleman's question is no, it would not be fair to the ask the guides, in addition to their other responsibilities, to police the system.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Is there not a risk that, by contracting out this new guide system, which will be based in a booking office in the garden of the Victoria

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Tower--at the other end of the Palace--we might drive up the cost of tours with the current guides of the House, for which Members of Parliament pay? My right hon. Friend appears to believe entirely in market forces in respect of current services and provisions in the Palace of Westminster. Am I right?

Sir George Young: In a word--no. I see no reason why the contractual arrangements between Members and guides should be affected. I see them carrying on in the same way.

My final question to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne is whether Members need to pre-empt all tours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings in September. I leave that question in her mind, but is the demand from Members such that other groups cannot be allowed to visit at those times? Perhaps the matter will be kept under review.

Subject to the answers to those questions, I shall--this is free-vote territory--support the proposals in the Lobby.

11 pm

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): In the previous debate on this subject I might have played a major part in defeating the proposal that was before us then. However, it is not my intention to vote against the motion tonight. The Committee has addressed the points that were made in the previous debate and tried to come up with a proposal that deals with some of the issues raised.

I cannot pretend that the proposal is a perfectly satisfactory conclusion, but it is an improvement. We underestimate the symbolism of Parliament not only in this country, but in the whole world. In the second world war, people from throughout the Commonwealth and from nations that lost their freedom looked upon Parliament as a symbol. People should have access to the building so that they can understand the Westminster parliamentary heritage.

I still to some extent hold the view that free access should be available to people from all over the world. However, I accept the point of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) that the proposal will produce additional access and will not replace any existing arrangements. It will give us an additional 41 days when members of the public will be able to gain access to the building. In that sense the proposal is an improvement, and a commitment has been made to consider how it has worked later in the year.

Although, in theory, I would like people to be able to turn up and visit the Line of Route, I understand why there must be regulation. Those who accompany the groups from our constituencies know the pressure points in the Prince's Chamber and elsewhere. People wait to see the Woolsack, the Lord Chancellor's Chair and the Throne in the other place and they sometimes have to queue. We also face difficulties in this Chamber when everyone wants to see where Black Rod bangs the door. There must be a sensible flow of people through those pressure points, so I understand the need for controls.

I hope that we shall make forms available, so that people can tell us how they think the system has worked. That would be useful. We could ask people to tell us anonymously how much they had paid for their tour. That would provide us with a check on what they pay the tour

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organisers. If the hon. Lady has not already thought of that point, she might consider doing something along those lines.

I accept what my hon. Friend the Minister said about retailing and merchandising quality souvenirs. We do not want people to buy the tat that they can buy at a cheap market anywhere in the country. We want them to be able to buy good quality stuff that befits the Palace of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. That is extremely important.

I dismiss, however, the point about security and the £230,000 deficit. I accept that there will be a cost to the public purse, but when we consider what it costs to run this building and Parliament as a whole, £230,000, or any capital cost of setting up the scheme, is chicken-feed. We must enable the people of this country, particularly young people, to see their Parliament, where legislation is made.

We must be a symbol to people from the Commonwealth and other nations, some of which fought, lost their independence or were occupied for a period. In this new millennium we want to send out the message that this place is important, and that it stands for something and will continue to do so. We ought to enable as many people as possible to see this place, so I shall be supporting the motion.

11.6 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I had the pleasure of not only moving the amendment on 26 May but, unusually in this Parliament, of winning a vote. The vote was against the Front Benches, because although they voted in a personal capacity, the Leader of the House and her Conservative shadow voted for the proposals, and it was Back Benchers who voted against them. I was pleased to be able to defeat the establishment.

The vote was not only on the practicalities of the proposals; there was a principle involved. As the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) has just said, a number of Members felt strongly that the way in which we were being asked to proceed would commit us to a course of action not for one year but, as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) pointed out, for five years.

That programme had all the hallmarks of something that would expand because the up-front investment would be so great that it would not be viable or economically sound if it were not extended into other parts of the year, into weekends and even possibly weekdays. The fear that Members would not be able to let our constituents come to see our Parliament at work in the long term was behind that vote.

I pay tribute not only to the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and her Committee but to the Department of the Serjeant at Arms. They have worked hard to try to take on board all the concerns expressed by Members in the former debate. I particularly draw hon. Members' attention to paragraphs 13 to 16 of the report--if they have not read them already--which set out in succinct detail the variants on the previous report. Those paragraphs contain improvements and, importantly, set out the three features that are not now part of the proposals.

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First, the scheme does not involve an admission charge per se. Secondly, there will be no booth--no ticketing regime with an elaborate new building in the Victoria Tower Gardens. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) can rest assured that there will not be an excrescence on the parliamentary building at that end of the Palace.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there will still be personal guides. We shall not have those terrible audio machines that go wrong and are not adaptable. Most other attractions in London have now discarded them as not being up to the standard required for a location such as this.

Hon. Members felt that the proposals made in May were the thin end of a very big wedge, and that is why they turned them down by a large majority. On that basis, these proposals are a great improvement on the originals. However, there are concerns, and it would be wrong to let the moment pass without putting them on record. I hope that these considerations will be carefully monitored during the year.

First, the numbers have been dragged out of a hat. I know that the Committee has had expert advice, but the proposed numbers are considerable, and it will be difficult to get them through the House in a comparatively short working day. Secondly, those who already take parties around are concerned about provision for smaller groups, which could be uneconomic under the proposals unless they are amalgamated with bigger groups, but there might then be a problem with different languages.

The costs are set out in some detail, but as hon. Members have already said, they are still rather tentative. That, perhaps, is an additional reason for having only a one-year programme.

Several hon. Members have referred to the possibility that contracting out may lead to profiteering. I think that the hon. Member for Broxbourne is right when she says that we must try to monitor the scheme very carefully. The hon. Member for Burnley is right also when he says that feedback from those who are experiencing the new regime will be the best way of ascertaining whether they are getting good value for money and whether we are offering good value for money.

Finally, and most importantly, there are the efforts that have been made to make the scheme a one-off special and to have a trial period during this particular year. I do not dare mention the M word in the proximity of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). However, as there is a special exhibition in this building during the year, I think that we will find that visitors will come through during the summer who will want to see it. They will want also to see the working parts of this working building. In the circumstances, I think that a trial period with no long-term commitment is the right way forward.

On the whole, that is the way in which the House works. We experiment, evolve and improve, and we also review. I hope that in addition we shall get feedback from those most concerned. That seems the proper way forward, and I congratulate the Committee on greatly improved proposals.


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