Select Committee on Administration First Report


The Administration Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. The summer of 2001 saw the second trial re-opening of the Houses of Parliament to the public on the Line of Route, a tour on a predetermined route through the building. The principle of re-opening the Palace of Westminster to the public during the summer adjournment was first suggested by our predecessor Administration Committee in 1999.[5] The House approved the Committee's second Report on the subject, Revised framework for re-opening the Line of Route during the summer adjournment,[6] in January 2000,[7] and the Line of Route was opened to the general public that summer for the first time since the 1970s.

2. The experience of the summer 2000 opening is discussed in much greater detail in our predecessor Committee's Report on The trial summer re-opening of the Line of Route.[8] That Report evaluated the success of the first trial opening, concluding that the tours were a "considerable success" and recommending a further trial re-opening, with some modifications, in 2001.[9] The House agreed to this second trial on 26 February 2001,[10] and the Line of Route opened to visitors again this summer.

3. Tours of the Line of Route are undertaken in groups accompanied by qualified Blue Badge guides, and take in most of the principal rooms of the Palace. Tours are available in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian,[11] and take approximately 75 minutes. This year's tours operated under three criteria that had been established by the Committee, and agreed by the House, for the previous year:

  • that 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 might be necessary to do so

  • current rights of Members of both Houses and of the Parliamentary Education Unit to sponsor visits must be maintained.[12]

4. The cost of admission to the Line of Route was restricted to an administration fee and guide charge, amounting to £3.50 per visitor, with no concessions.[13] All remaining costs were borne by the Houses upon their budgets, but the net annual deficit was not to exceed £232,000 (of which not more than 60 per cent, or £138,000, would fall to the House of Commons).[14]

5. We believe the opening of the 2001 Line of Route was a success:

  • the tours attracted 86,284 visitors, a 110 per cent increase on the 2000 opening[15]

  • per cent of visitors surveyed said that the tours had exceeded their expectations[16]

  • the operation kept within the target deficit agreed for both Houses.[17]

In this Report we analyse the experience of running the Line of Route in 2001 and make recommendations to the House for future years. We have been in informal contact with our counterparts in the House of Lords, the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, about our recommendations.

6. We should like to place on record our thanks to the many staff of both Houses of Parliament, both permanent and temporary, as well as the Blue Badge guides and the security force, without whose hard work the tours could not have been run. We have been assisted by the report of the Visitor Manager, which we append, as well as the advice of House staff.


7. The tours were offered to the public between Monday 6 August and Saturday 29 September 2001. No tours were run on 14 September, when Parliament was recalled to debate the terrorist attacks on the US.[18]

8. We are pleased to report that the total number of visitors to the Line of Route more than doubled in 2001, with 86,284 visitors compared to 40,577 in 2000. This amounted to over 80 per cent take-up of the theoretical tour capacity (of 3,000 visitors per full day). Westminster Hall and Portcullis House attracted a further 12,500 visitors free of charge over the Open House Weekend on 23 and 23 September. Despite the crisis in the tourism industry and the effects of the tragic events of September 11, the fact that the Line of Route managed to exceed the challenging target of 85,000 visitors made in the 2001 business plan (set at a time when it was assumed that market conditions would remain stable) is, we believe, a mark of exceptional success.


9. In 2000, the University of Greenwich conducted a survey of visitor profile and satisfaction; as there was no budget for such research this year we have had to rely on the completion of visitor comment cards and comments in the visitors' book.[19] This naturally means that responders were self-selected; but the response rate was relatively high, with more than 8 per cent of visitors making comments. The usual rate at visitor attractions is, we understand, between 2 and 5 per cent.[20]

10. Our predecessor Committee was disappointed by the "very narrow" visitor profile for the Line of Route opening in 2000, with 78 per cent of visitors being UK residents, largely from London and the south east.[21] It recommended that a higher profile campaign was necessary, both in the UK and abroad, to alert and attract potential visitors. The increased marketing campaign in 2001 was aided by the House's early decision on the trial in February, giving an extra two months of preparation compared with the 2000 opening. Although the decision came too late for the Line of Route to be included in many tourist publications, other marketing strategies were used, including brochure distribution, direct mailshots, television coverage and advertising.[22] The total cost of marketing and public relations for the summer opening was £36,106. This is a modest budget, but we do not propose an increase: with a greater than 80 per cent take-up of available spaces on the tours, more intense marketing could create unfulfillable expectations.

11. Analysis of the visitor comments as well as the observations of the staff, sales breakdowns from Ticketmaster and the take-up of the foreign language tours, led the Visitor Manager to conclude that at least 50 per cent of visitors came from overseas, and that there had been a significant increase in the number of UK visitors from outside the south east.[23]

12. Visitor reaction was again extremely favourable, with 95 per cent of those commenting stating that the tours had greatly exceeded their expectations. We have seen a number of the comments cards and selections from the visitors' book and were impressed by the enthusiasm of the visitors for the tours. The Blue Badge guides received special praise. Where there was criticism, it was largely of the ticketing system[24] and other visitor facilities[25]; but the vast majority of comments were positive. The Visitor Manager told us that these were "in all probability, unrivalled by any other attraction in this country".[26]

13. On the grounds of visitor satisfaction we believe the 2001 opening can be judged a success. Over the last two summers the tours have contributed to the understanding and awareness of the UK Houses of Parliament amongst the British public and those abroad, as well as allowing large numbers of people—who would otherwise have been unable—to view the Palace and its treasures. The summer opening contributes to the achievement of the House of Commons Commission's aim to improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the information and access provided by the House to those outside Parliament. As a result, we recommend that the summer opening of the Line of Route become a permanent feature, subject to the criteria we outline in this Report.


14. We recommend that the three criteria already agreed by the House govern the permanent operation of the summer Line of Route:

  • that 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 might be necessary to do so

  • current rights of Members of both Houses and of the Parliamentary Education Unit to sponsor visits must be maintained.

15. In addition, we recommend a fourth criterion: that any arrangements should not impede the application of appropriately high levels of security within the Palace of Westminster and its precincts. The security of those who work in and visit the Palace must not be jeopardised.

16. Currently the operation of the summer Line of Route is overseen by a Steering Group which includes representatives of the Commons Serjeant at Arms Department, the Lords Department of the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, the Information Office and Parliamentary Education Unit, the Refreshment Departments and Works Departments of both Houses, the temporary Visitor Manager and the Chief Superintendent of Police. We recommend that the Line of Route Steering Group undertake a feasibility and cost/benefit study into the establishment of a permanent Visitor Management Office to run the summer Line of Route tours.

17. Such a study could consider whether a permanent office could, in addition, assist with the operation of Members' Line of Route tours. We stress that we are committed to maintaining current rights of Members in this respect, but there may be a case for streamlining the system for booking permits and guides. We would expect any recommendations to come back to this Committee for consideration.

5. COSTS[27]

18. Ticket revenue for the summer opening amounted to £224,680; the merchandising operation[28] generated £100,343, giving a total revenue of £325,023.[29] The costs of sales items—including merchandise, Blue Badge guide fees and Ticketmaster fees—came to £282,811, giving a gross operating profit (before operational costs of £241,573) of £42,212. The resulting net deficit was £199,361. The Commons share, 60 per cent of this cost, is £119,616.

19. In last year's Report our predecessor Committee gave a figure of £6.26 as the notional "subsidy per visitor" by the Houses of Parliament.[30] In 2001, this notional figure was reduced to £2.31.

20. The net deficit in 2001 was lower than the planned deficit limit of £230,000 and that of the 2000 opening, which was £209,611. This was due largely to the increased ticket revenues as well as savings made on merchandising overheads and staffing costs. Over the two trial openings of the Line of Route, the House authorities have planned and performed successfully on the basis of the operating deficit agreed by both Houses, which as our predecessor Committee acknowledged was a challenging target.[31] We now believe it is time to revisit the concept underlying the financing of the summer Line of Route.

21. We appreciate that there are differing opinions on the funding of the summer opening. Many Members of the House strongly believe that access to the Houses of Parliament ought to be free for all at all times; others, with equal passion, do not wish to see the costs of opening in the summer fall to the UK taxpayer. This dilemma was addressed by our predecessor Committee, which initially (after much deliberation, and with reluctance) recommended that the ticket price be set to recoup the costs of opening the Line of Route over a five year period.[32] That option was rejected by the House.[33] The Committee returned to the House with its second Report, which explored alternative proposals and recommended that the re-opening "restrict the effective cost of admission to a flat rate group booking/ administration fee and guide charge",[34] with remaining costs limited to a net annual operating deficit of £232,000 met through the relevant House Votes. This criterion has governed both the 2000 and 2001 summer openings.

22. We recommend that the system of an agreed deficit, funded by the UK taxpayer through the House of Commons Vote, be discontinued. Ticket prices for visitors should be set at a level to recoup the cost of running the summer opening.

23. We stress that a charge would be made only for visitors taking a guided tour of the Line of Route during the summer adjournment. We are committed to the principle of free democratic access to the Houses of Parliament and remind the House that our constituents would still be able freely to visit both Houses at work:

  • to listen to debates of both Houses

  • to attend meetings of standing and select committees

  • to meet their constituency MP or Members of the House of Lords

  • to participate in Members' and Peers' sponsored Line of Route tours

  • to participate in activities arranged for schools by the Parliamentary Education Unit

  • to attend meetings sponsored by Members and Peers

  • to take part in lobbies of either House.

In addition, visitors would be able to visit the Palace as guests of Members during the summer adjournment, as well as free of charge during London Open House Weekend, if the Speaker accepts our recommendation below.[35]

24. We do not believe that charging a realistic price for summer tours of the Palace encroaches upon on the rights of the public to visit Parliament as a democratic institution. Rather, it means that members of the UK public will not subsidise, as they do at present, 85,000 or more visitors, from the UK and overseas,[36] to the Line of Route each year.

25. A business case for any 2002 opening is currently being developed, and the House authorities will continue to monitor it and ensure that expenditure is kept as low as possible, allowing for reasonable investment in facilities. We have estimated the potential costs of opening in 2002, based on this year's actual costs, some additional operational costs already identified[37] and allowing for an operational surplus of £25,000 for reinvestment (which includes potential merchandising revenue). If 85 per cent take-up of tours is again achieved for a similar opening period, and one in three visitors is eligible for a concessionary ticket (child, student, or unwaged), we estimate that admission charges would have to be set at the following rates:

    Family ticket (2 adults + 2 children)—£16
    Surcharge for foreign language tours—£2
    Carers and children under 5—free.

We expect that these charges would be held for the 2003 opening, and possibly beyond. We suggest that the House authorities explore means of accepting payment in euros as well as sterling.

26. The 2000 and 2001 ticket price of £3.50 was, as was noted during the debate on our predecessor's last Report, "the best deal in town"[38]—because each visitor was subsidised by the taxpayer. The Visitor Manager has told us that in his professional judgement the ticket price could be increased "without causing resentment amongst visitors".[39] We have studied charging policies for other visitor attractions both in London and further afield and note that a £7 adult admission price would bring the Houses of Parliament just below the price for tours of the British Museum, St Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey.[40]


27. The purpose of selling gifts and souvenirs to visitors at the end of the Line of Route is twofold: to "claw back" some of the costs of the summer opening;[41] and to fulfil visitor expectations and strengthen the Line of Route's "brand image". Should the House agree our recommendations on ticket pricing, revenues from merchandising could be ploughed into improvements in the infrastructure and facilities of the Line of Route.

28. Lessons learned from the merchandising operation in 2000 were put into effect this year. The number of souvenir lines for sale was reduced from 124 to 47 in 2001. Prices ranged from 10 pence for a postcard to £33.50 for a pair of crystal whisky tumblers, but the range offered was concentrated at the lower spend market. Despite the changes, sales did not reach projected targets, with 21 per cent of visitors using the shop and spending on average £5.46—representing an average spend per visitor of £1.16 rather than the projected £2.25. The total net contribution (after VAT and costs) from the merchandising operation was £10,133, a significant improvement on 2000.

29. We note the remark of the manager of the Line of Route shop that "in general the product mix was popular".[42] However, he also noted "distinct gaps" in the product line, including generic Parliamentary souvenirs (as opposed to specifically Commons or Lords items), pictures and replicas of symbolic features of the Palace. As our predecessor Committee pointed out last year, visitors to the summer Line of Route are a different market, with expectations different from those of Members, House staff and their guests.[43] While the range of products offered to summer visitors is largely drawn from the range already available to Parliament, it is likely that optimum sales will not be achieved.

30. The current approach has the benefit of minimising the financial risk of unsold stock, because it can be sold through existing souvenir outlets. We suggest that the Line of Route Steering Group be charged with investigating the potential for increasing sales without increasing the risk to the Houses of Parliament (and hence the taxpayer).

31. This might involve employing a retail consultant from the visitor attraction industry or contracting out the development of a new souvenir range. We consider that the products sold will inevitably reflect on Parliament, and are concerned to ensure that only appropriately prestigious (though not necessarily expensive) and quality goods are available. We would expect the Steering Group to consult the appropriate Committees of both Houses before introducing new stock.


32. The ticketing facilities were the greatest cause of complaint amongst visitors in 2001, with 16 per cent saying that they had difficulties with the ticketing and associated queuing and sales systems. During the 2000 opening, tickets were initially only available in advance by telephone or on the internet. Pre-booked tickets then had to be picked up from the British Travel Centre in Regent Street. In mid-August 2000 a small facility to buy tickets on the day from the shop in Westminster Hall was introduced at the request of the Speaker. This year, at the recommendation of our predecessor Committee, a temporary ticket office was established in the Palace, the facility to book through Ticketmaster being retained.

33. In some respects this office, located in Westminster Hall, was a success, selling 59 per cent of all tickets. However, its interim nature meant that there were several problems associated with it, which should not be repeated:

  • visitors had to pass through security clearance at St Stephen's entrance in order to access the ticket office; they then had to leave the precincts and pass through another checkpoint at Black Rod's Garden before starting the tour, causing confusion and frustration

  • there were only two ticket sales points, too few for the demand on many days, causing lengthy queueing for some visitors

  • there was no separate facility for collecting pre-booked tickets

  • refunds at the ticket office were complicated and difficult to administer.

34. We recommend that options for the permanent siting of a ticket office be reviewed by the Steering Group. An ideal location would be sited nearby, but outside, the secure perimeter of the Houses of Parliament. We understand that such a facility may not be available in time for a 2002 opening, but expect any temporary solution adopted for next year to learn from the problems encountered this year.

35. Just over 1 per cent of visitors who commented on the tours were critical of the visitor facilities. In the case of the temporary toilets this criticism was valid, as there were too few female toilets and their cleanliness was not always of the highest standard. We are confident that there will be considerable improvement when the new Visitor Centre is opened, in time for a 2002 summer opening.


36. Tours in 2000 and 2001 followed this route:

    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.

37. We have considered potential additions to the route, particularly in the light of the successful opening of Portcullis House on September 22 and 23. Any addition of rooms or areas would affect the length of tours and required number of guides, and hence the costs of running the summer opening,[44] though these problems would not be insurmountable. However we regret that, for security reasons, we are currently unable to recommend the opening of additional rooms or buildings during the summer opening. We expect the Steering Group, in consultation with the appropriate security experts, to keep this matter under review and to inform us of additions to the tour. For the time being, we recommend that Portcullis House be open to the public once again during the annual London Open House weekend.

38. Given that we have recommended that the House accept once more the criterion that the summer opening should not constrain the Parliamentary works programme, we must inform the House that this will inevitably mean that in some years the whole of the Line of Route will not be accessible. We expect that the Visitor Management team and the Parliamentary Estates and Works Services of both Houses will work together to minimise such disruption, but we recommend that the Steering Group be empowered to authorise such temporary changes in the route as may from time to time be necessary.


39. We submit our Report to the House for its consideration. We appreciate that any decision to implement our recommendations would be dependent upon consideration in the House of Lords.

First Report, Session 1998-99, Proposal to re-open the Line of Route during the summer adjournment, HC394. Administration Committee Reports referred to in this Report can be accessed on the internet at Back

6  First Report, 1999-2000, HC98 Back

7  Official Report, 18 January 2000, cols. 801-817. The Official Report ('Hansard') can be accessed on the internet at Back

8  First Report, 2000-01, The Trial Summer Re-opening of the Line of Route, HC213 Back

9  ibid, para 14 Back

10  Official Report, 26 February 2001, cols. 668-683 Back

11  Foreign language tours were available daily at 1415. Back

12  First Report, 2000-01, para 3 Back

13  Carers and children under 2 were admitted free. Back

14  First Report, 2000-01, para 15 Back

15  See paras 7-8 Back

16  See paras 9-13 Back

17  See paras 18-20 Back

18  Refunds were given to those who had pre-booked. Further refunds were given to a small number of visitors whose tour arrangements were disrupted by a fire evacuation on 15 September. Back

19  Six thousand comment cards were completed (of which 4,000 were analysed) and there were 1,000 comments in the visitors' book. Back

20  Appendix, section 1.5 Back

21  First Report, 2000-01, para 17 Back

22  Appendix, section 6 Back

23  Appendix, section 1.6 Back

24  See paras 32-34  Back

25  See para 35 Back

26  Appendix, section 1.9 Back

27  All figures quoted are net of VAT. Back

28  See paras 27-31 Back

29  Less VAT and ticket refunds. Back

30  That is, dividing the total deficit (the contribution by Parliament) by the number of visitors. Back

31  First Report 2000-01, para 16 Back

32  First Report, 1998-99, para 18 Back

33  Official Report, 26 May 1999, cols 382-410 Back

34  First Report, 1999-2000, para 13 Back

35  See para 37 Back

36  This year's experience is that at least 50 per cent of visitors were from overseas; the experience of Westminster Abbey suggests that this could ultimately rise to 75-80 per cent. Back

37  Currently commercially confidential Back

38  Official Report, 26 February 2001, col 674 Back

39  Appendix, section 1.11 Back

40  Guided tours: British Museum £8; St Paul's Cathedral £2.50 + £5 entrance fee; Westminster Abbey £3 + £6 entrance fee [source: London Tourist Board]. See also Appendix section 8 Back

41   First Report, 2000-01, para 35 Back

42  Appendix section 7.4 Back

43  First Report, 2000-01, para 41 Back

44  An initial analysis suggests that including Portcullis House might increase overall operational costs by 20-25 per cent. Back

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Prepared 11 December 2001