Select Committee on Administration First Report


The Administration Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. On 18 January 2000[6] the House approved the First Report from the Administration Committee on revised proposals for re-opening the Line of Route during summer,[7] and thereby gave its agreement that the Line of Route be re-opened, on a trial basis, to the general public during the Summer Adjournment 2000. With the subsequent approval by the House of Lords of parallel proposals put forward by its Administration and Works Sub-Committee, the authorities of both Houses were able to start making definite arrangements for a summer re-opening.

2. During the debate on 18 January, the Chairman of the Committee stated that when the experiment of the summer re-opening in 2000 was evaluated the matter would again be put before the House.[8] This Report has been prepared in order to meet that undertaking, and is designed to highlight for the House the main points contained in the Appendices.[9]

3. It is worth recalling that the Houses' authorities had to work within a framework of three criteria:

    —  the Palace of Westminster is primarily a place of work, and public access to it must not impinge upon that work;

    —  visiting arrangements during the recess must not constrain either the Parliamentary works programme, or the ability of either House to sit at any time it may be necessary to do so; and

    —  current rights of Members of both Houses and of the Parliamentary Education Unit, to sponsor visits must be maintained.[10]

The Committee re-iterates that these criteria are fundamental; should the House agree to further re-openings of the Line of Route, then the House authorities will need to continue to operate within such a framework.

4. The Committee recommended that a summer opening should:

    —  extend for 7 weeks during August and September 2000, opening between the hours of 9.30 am and 5.30 pm daily, six days per week, excluding Sundays and the summer Bank Holiday—a total of 41 days;

    —  be co-ordinated through a new Visitors Office located within the Palace of Westminster;

    —  require all visitors to be in groups and escorted by a guide of a standard at least equal to that of a Blue Badge Guide with a Palace of Westminster endorsement;

    —  adopt an advance booking system with timed tickets to control visitor numbers and help facilitate the pre-booking of guides;

    —  restrict the effective cost of admission to a flat rate group booking/administration fee and guide charge to be levied by the booking/guide management contractor;

    —  allow for non-English speaking and special interest groups to be guided through the provision of suitably qualified guides; and

    —  generate a contribution towards operating costs through merchandising and the sale of guidebooks.[11]

5. In the event, it was necessary to reduce the operating period to 35 days (Monday 7 August to Saturday 16 September) by postponing the opening by a week as the House of Lords rose for summer later than had been anticipated.


6. When the Committee came to review the results of the trial re-opening, it was assisted in its deliberations by reports prepared by the Visitor Manager[12] and by the Director of Catering Services.[13] The House will wish to note that, during the summer re-opening, 40,577 ticketed visitors[14] undertook tours along the Line of Route. Ticket revenues amounted to £119,991 and merchandising revenues of £138,551 were generated; total revenues, therefore, amounted to £258,542.[15]

7. The cost of sales items came to £227,239,[16] giving a gross operating profit of £31,303. Set against this was a figure of £240,914 for operating costs, resulting in a deficit of £209,611[17]—of which the Commons "share" is £125,767.

8. In its 1999-2000 Report the Committee reported that, based on a "worse-case scenario", the House should bear in mind a possible net annual operating deficit of £232,000, with a final cost to the Commons of £138,000.[18]

9. As can be seen from the figure above, although the final cost was somewhat better than the most pessimistic estimate, it is clear that it was prudent to prepare figures, and to present them to the House, based on a 60 per cent take-up.


10. During the debate on 18 January, Mr Peter L Pike suggested that visitors be asked their opinions on what they thought of the tours.[19] This suggestion was acted upon by the House authorities who commissioned a survey, conducted by the University of Greenwich, with the following terms of reference:

    —  to explore the profile of visitors;

    —  to examine visitors' expectations, perceptions and experiences;

    —  to assess visitor satisfaction with services offered;

    —  to gain feedback about views on admission charges and value for money;

    —  to assess the effectiveness of the ticketing process; and

    —  to gather information on promotional and marketing effectiveness.

11. The key findings from the survey are appended to this Report;[20] the full results from the survey are available for inspection in the House of Commons Library.[21]

12. The Committee was pleased to note that visitors were generally very satisfied with the overall length and content of the tour; 91 per cent were unable to single out anything that they had not enjoyed. In a verbal rating of their overall experience, 95 per cent of respondents rated the tour as "very good" and a further 4 per cent as "fairly good".[22] As reported to the Committee by the Visitor Manager, over 2,400 visitors have written urging both Houses to continue with the tours.

13. There was similar positive feedback from visitors concerning satisfaction level with the Blue Badge Guides. Some visitors commended individual guides in their comments, but as over 90 per cent of respondents rated the guides as "very good", it would seem that the guides, as a group, delivered high quality tours.[23]

14. The Committee concludes that, based on responses by visitors, the Line of Route tours during summer 2000 were a considerable success in terms of value for money and the quality of both the tours themselves and of the guides. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Line of Route should again be re-opened during the Summer Adjournment 2001, and that Blue Badge Guides again be engaged for the tours. The Committee considers that, as further work is still needed before it can recommend a permanent re-opening, a 2001 opening should be seen as a further trial.

15. The Committee has agreed that for a re-opening in 2001 the budget should not exceed the £232,000 that was, in effect, approved by the House in January 2000; the House authorities have therefore been advised that this amount is finite, and that the lessons learnt from the 2000 re-opening would have to be translated into action without any increase in funds.

16. The Committee accepts that this does present a challenge to the House authorities. Whilst the Committee agrees that no funds in excess of the 2000 level should be provided, it is anxious that a more high profile advertising campaign is mounted (see paragraph 18 below). The onus is on the House authorities to identify savings in order to offset this increased expenditure. The Committee considers that the House authorities should actively pursue the possibility of "higher productivity"— eg, longer admission hours and/or larger groups of visitors.


17. One disappointing aspect of the tours was that they appeared to attract a very narrow visitor profile. United Kingdom residents accounted for 78 per cent of visitors—the majority of these coming from London and the South East. Overseas visitors came mainly from the United States of America, Australia and mainland Europe; 94 per cent of visitors were of white/European ethnic origin and defined as ABC1.[24]

18. The Committee considers that the visitor base must be widened, and therefore a larger distribution and marketing network is required across the United Kingdom, as is a more high profile campaign in order to alert overseas visitors. The House of Lords has agreed already that the Line of Route should be re-opened during the 2001 Summer Adjournment. We hope, therefore, that the House will agree to our proposals at an early opportunity to enable the Visitor Manager to launch an effective campaign.


19. When the House debated the Committee's Report on 18 January, it was stated that the likely cost of a guide would be in the region of £2.50-£3.00;[25] those figures were quoted in good faith on the basis of the facts available at that time. However, the Chairman of the Committee subsequently advised the House that:

    "Following negotiations between the authorities of both Houses and organisations able to carry out the booking and guiding arrangements, it has been established that two separate companies will be required for these functions. The result of having to divide these services means that a minimal charge of £3.50, to cover the guide fees and ticketing arrangements, will have to be made.[26]"

20. The Committee was naturally disappointed that an increase in the proposed charge was necessary, but considered that the tours still represented good value for money. It was, therefore, encouraging that the ticket price received very positive feedback from visitors, as did the principle of charging—85 per cent of respondents described the price as "good value for money"; 67 per cent of visitors were content that the Houses of Parliament charged a fee; and 66 per cent felt that the charge should reflect the costs involved in providing the tours[27]

21. The Committee considers that, should the House agree to a re-opening in summer 2001, then a charge would again need to be made for the services of a guide; it does not consider that, for 2001, there should be an increase in the price charged in 2000, and therefore recommends that visitors be again charged £3.50. The House will wish to note that this amount would cover the ticketing charge as well as the services of a guide.


22. The Committee has been considering also the route taken by visitors. Amongst comments made by visitors was that the tour might be expanded to include, for example, Committee Rooms, the Terrace, the Great Clock Tower and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. These are interesting ideas, that have much to commend them. However, there would be staffing and security implications, and the Committee considers that both Houses should strive to perfect a visit along the "traditional" Line of Route before attempting any expansion to it. Moreover, some of the additional places proposed would not be accessible by disabled persons who would, therefore, not be able to participate in a full tour.

23. The Committee therefore recommends that for a summer re-opening in 2001, tours should again follow the route currently taken by visitors between 9.30 am and 12 noon, provided neither House is sitting, ie:

    Norman Porch—Queen's Robing Room—Royal Gallery—Prince's Chamber—Chamber of the House of Lords—Peers' Lobby and Corridor—Central Lobby—Commons' Corridor and Lobby—Chamber of the House of Commons—return to Central Lobby—St Stephen's Hall—Westminster Hall—leaving by New Palace Yard.

24. Since summer 2000 there has, of course, been an important addition to the Parliamentary Estate—Portcullis House. Portcullis House is an "open" building already, in that members of the public may attend meetings of Select Committees or other meetings held there, and Members and staff may accompany visitors to the Refreshment Department outlets in the courtyard and even to Members' offices. Nevertheless, the Committee did consider adding the building to Line of Route tours.

25. However as with, for example, Committee Rooms in the Palace, there would be important staffing and security implications; visitors would have to be escorted from the North Door of Westminster Hall through the colonnade and into the courtyard of Portcullis House either by the escalators or the disabled persons' lift. More tour guides would need to be employed as, inevitably, tours would take longer to complete.

26. The Committee concludes, therefore, that Portcullis House should not, at this time, be added to the Line of Route tours during the Summer Adjournment; it does, however, consider that the House should encourage greater "casual" access to the building and therefore recommends that the Portcullis House courtyard, its Committee Corridor floor and one or two Committee Rooms be open, at no charge to visitors, during the annual London Open House weekend.

27. The House will wish to note that the Committee intends to keep under review the matter of including additional rooms and/or areas to the Line of Route tours.


28. One problem that has been identified was the purchasing of tickets. In particular, the original arrangements meant that prospective visitors had to buy tickets at least 5 days in advance; tickets had to be purchased from Ticketmaster either by telephone or through the internet; tickets could be bought only by using a credit card; and, by arrangment with the British Tourist Authority (BTA), pre-booked tickets had to be collected from the British Travel Centre (in Lower Regent Street).

29. As the Visitor Manager states in his report:

30. To overcome some of these difficulties, in mid-August, at the request of the then Speaker, a facility to buy tickets on the day was introduced by one of the Westminster Hall shop tills being dedicated to ticket sales. Over 4,200 tickets, that would otherwise not have been sold, were sold in this way.[29]

31. The Committee considers that the arrangements for the purchase and collection of tickets were less than satisfactory; the Serjeant at Arms has, therefore, been requested to identify an appropriate location in, or near, the Palace where tickets for Line of Route tours can be obtained. In addition, tickets should be more widely available across the United Kingdom. The pre-requisite of having to order by credit card should also be abandoned, and visitors should be able to purchase tickets from the "on-site" box offices.


32. The areas with which visitors expressed the most dissatisfaction were the refreshment and toilet facilities. The Greenwich Survey found:

33. The House will wish to note that action will be taken to improve the signage directing visitors to the toilets which will again be located in Star Chamber Court.

34. There is, unfortunately, no possibility of providing refreshment facilities for a summer re-opening in 2001. The only appropriate venue would be the Westminster Hall Cafeteria—and during the summer this will be being renovated in order to transform it into a Visitor Centre due to open towards the end of the year.


35. As the Committee stated in its 1999-2000 Report:

36. The Committee is conscious that its remit does not extend to merchandising, but as the sale of gifts and souvenirs is relevant to the wider issue, it does wish to make some brief comments.

37. In the report prepared for the Committee by the Director of Catering Services it is stated, inter alia, that:

    —  the product range should be reduced to no more than 50 lines, and more products should be developed in the selling price range of £3.00 to £5.00; and

    —  without the financial contribution from visitors to the Millennium Exhibition, the commercial viability of the merchandising operation for the Summer Line of Route is doubtful unless the average spend per visitor can be radically improved. Marketing of the Summer Line of Route should be specifically targeted to change the current visitor profile to higher spend sectors.[32]

The Committee concurs with both these conclusions.

38. The Committee was particularly interested to note that almost 40 per cent of income was generated by sales of the top 20 best selling items (as defined by revenue contributions) and that only 9 of these items were priced at more than £5.00.[33]

39. Similarly, only 5 of the top 20 items (defined by number of transactions) were priced at more than £3.00, with only 2 being priced at more than £5.00.[34]

40. In her report, the Director of Catering Services states that:

    "Whilst there was no single group of products that failed to sell, it was apparent that many customers were not aware of the significance of the work of Pugin in the interiors of the Palace of Westminster. Consequently, the "Pugin" range of merchandise, which is extremely popular with customers of the main House of Commons Souvenir Shop, fared less well with the visitors to the Summer Line of Route.

    Four different designs of mug figure in the list of top twenty products by revenue contribution. Collectively, this was easily the best selling group of products, with combined sales of almost 2000 mugs yielding income of over £13,000. Of these, the best selling line was not driven by price, but was a mug that bears the crowned portcullis logo. The portcullis is obviously a very strong "brand image" and souvenirs in the neutral white and gold colour scheme used for this range of products tended to outsell both the green of the House of Commons and the red of the House of Lords."[35]

41. These findings lead the Committee to what is, it hopes, a logical conclusion. People on Line of Route tours seem to want to purchase what might be best termed souvenirs, whereas visitors accompanying Members seem to prefer to buy gifts. The fact that lines badged with the crowned portcullis outsold both "Commons" and "Lords" individual products would seem to indicate that visitors are more interested in Parliament, rather than in either House separately.

42. Thus, there appears to the Committee to be a need for three discrete sets of products—a "Houses of Parliament/Palace of Westminster" range of souvenirs, and separate ranges of "Commons" and "Lords" gifts.

43. This solution could meet also the concern expressed by Mr Nicholas Winterton during the debate on 18 January, when he stated:

    "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."[36]

44. The Committee considers that to have separate ranges of gifts and souvenirs could mean that the gifts retain their "prestiege" status.

45. As stated earlier, the Committee acknowledges that it has no remit in such matters, but does wish to draw its conclusions to the Refreshment Departments, and to the relevant Committees, of both Houses for their consideration.


46. In conclusion, the Committee wishes to remind the House that a summer re-opening in 2001 will be, as was the 2000 re-opening, an extra facility; it will not replace any existing facilities.

47. As the Committee stated in its 1999 Report:

48. During the debate on 18 January, it was stated that:

    "If any mistake is made...[the Committee] shall reconsider matters and put them right before the House is asked to make summer re-opening an annual event. The House will make the final decision."[39]

49. The Committee would, based on the mandate given to it by the House, be entitled to ask the House to make the summer re-opening an annual event. It does not, however, (as stated already in paragraph 14) wish to be that definite yet; the Committee considers that all wrinkles should be ironed out before a summer re-opening is made permanent.

50. The Committee, therefore, seeks the approval of the House to extend the trial summer re-opening of the Line of Route for a further year; the House will wish to note that, as stated in paragraph 18, the House of Lords has approved already a summer re-opening in 2001.

6  Official Report, 18 January 2000, Cols. 801-817. Back

7  First Report from the Administration Committee, Session 1999-2000, Revised framework for re-opening the Line of Route during the Summer Adjournment, HC(1999-2000)98. Back

8  Official Report, 18 January 2000, op cit, Col. 805. Back

9  Appendices 1-3; reports prepared by the Visitor Manager and by the Director of Catering Services and key findings from the University of Greenwich's Visitor Satisfaction Survey. Back

10  First Report from the Administration Committee, Session 1999-2000, op cit, para. 8. Back

11  ibid, para. 13. Back

12  Appendix 1. Back

13  Appendix 2. Back

14  Carers were not charged for tickets. Back

15  Appendix 1, p.13. Back

16  Not all the stock ordered for the summer re-opening was sold. Back

17  Appendix 1,p.13. Back

18  First Report from the Administration Committee, Session 1999-2000, op cit, para. 29. Back

19  Official Report, 18 January 2000, op cit, Cols. 808-809. Back

20  Appendix 3. Back

21  Houses of Parliament-Visitor Satisfaction Survey, conducted by the University of Greenwich Business School's Heritage, Arts and Tourism Group, August-September 2000. Back

22  Appendix 3, Expectations, Experiences and SatisfactionBack

23  Visitor Satisfaction Survey, p. 27. Back

24  Appendix 3, p.32. Back

25  Official Report, 18 January 2000, op cit, Col. 805. Back

26  Official Report, 25 May 2000, Col. 612W. Back

27  Appendix 3, p.33 Back

28  Appendix 1, pp.10-12. Back

29  ibidBack

30  Visitor Satisfaction Survey, op cit,. p. 27. Back

31  First Report from the Administration Committee, Session 1999-2000, op cit, para. 21. Back

32  Appendix 2, p.19 Back

33  ibid, p. 25. Back

34  ibid. Back

35  ibid, p. 27. Back

36  Official Report, 18 January 2000, op cit, Col. 805. Back

37  On Wednesdays and Thursdays in August, and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in September, Members and Officers of the House may personally escort, or pay a guide to escort on their behalf, groups of up to 16 around the Line of Route. Permanent staff may personally escort groups of up to 4 people. Back

38  First Report from the Administration Committee, Session 1999-2000, op cit, para. 16. Back

39  Official Report, 18 January 2000, op cit, Col. 805. Back

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