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Bob Spink: I do not see why the House should accept this nonsense. We need to link the changes to security recommended in the report with a comprehensive and cohesive security review. We should not tackle the problems in a piecemeal fashion, as we appear to be doing tonight.
We need better visitor facilities, especially toilets. I personally welcome the giving up of Room W5 to provide more ladies' toilets. Guests arriving here after travelling a long way on coachesperhaps from Thurrock, from Castle Point or even from Dundee, Eastreally need toilet facilities, particularly the ladies. I see no reason why we should not seek to provide them.
The report mentions increasing the lighting levels in Westminster Hall. Mr. Deputy Speaker, during the time of your predecessor, Thomas Hungerford, who is generally recognised as the first Speaker to be so called around 1390, William Rufus' original roof caved in. It was replaced by the beautiful and unique hammerbeam roof, which we still admire today. As I walk through Westminster Hall after this debate, I shall look up at that roof and enjoy the experience very much. It was built of great oaks taken from the then King's hunting ground in Thundersley wood in my constituency. Indeed, it created a clearing in those very woods in which my house was built.
Seriously, however, the current gentle and sympathetic lighting is subtle and evocative: some even find it ghostly. It is certainly mood enhancing, especially late at night. I do not want that atmosphere to be destroyed by modernisation philistines. The bottom line is that we must do nothing to compromise the heritage of this beautiful, wonderful and historic building.
I imagine that the lighting many hundreds of years ago was even more subtle, emotional and
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atmospheric than it is today. I do not want the present effect to be destroyed by increased levels of lighting of which we have no knowledge at present. The bottom line is that we must do nothing to compromise the wonderful heritage and history of this building.
The Benfleet historical society is due to visit this place next week, and the following week I shall be welcoming a group from Hadleigh. They want to see the true, beautiful Palace of Westminster in all its historic glory. They do not want to visit Disneyland.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): We have had a very comprehensive debate. I remind the House that it has been the second half of the discussion: we had nearly an hour on 22 April and we have spent nearly three and a half hours on the matter this evening. All the points that have been made have been pertinent to the report.
On behalf of the House, I thank the Committees that produced this report and their Chairmen, the hon. Members for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway). I also thank the Chairman of the Broadcasting Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper), who contributed to the debate. We all owe them thanks.
The Government strongly support the report, which has been compiled by the Domestic Committees of the House. In essence, there are three arguments against the proposals. The first has to do with security. I repeat what I said on 22 April, which was underlined again tonight: the primary purpose of the proposal is to improve access for visitors. I believe that the change would be put in hand irrespective of security considerations. However, if those security considerations can be made more convenient for visitors, I urge the House to accept the move.
Secondly, it has been said that we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke and that the House will be committed to further expenditure and development. On 22 April, I said that the Government believe, as do I, that those further developments are to be welcomed. However, as the Chairmen of the Committees said, this proposal is not a commitment to stage 2. When the House asks the Domestic Committees to undertake detailed work, it should give them a bit of trust. It is for the Committees to go into detail, probe and ask questions and I believe that they have done that.
Finally, I think that the main thrust of the arguments against the proposal is based on a fear of change. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has said that he fears that the House is turning into a theme park. I put it to him that his proposals would turn it into a museum. In the modern age, it is right and proper for us improve the facilities and the welcome that we extend to the 400,000 people who wish to visit. I suspect that more people would want to come
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here as a result. The welcome that we give people at the moment is frankly risible. People are asked to stand outside in the rain and cold, treated like strangers.
Mr. Gale: The debate is open-ended, so there is no haste. However, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Given his concern about visitors to the House, will he contemplate the fact that most of the visitors for whom the proposed facilities will be designed are likely to be from overseas? The visitors whom hon. Members would like to invite are our constituents, but they are denied access on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. That is because the House now sits at times that render it impossible for them to be present.
Mr. Woolas: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but we are not debating sitting hours. The debate on 22 April made reference to the improvements that are proposed by other hon. Members on how best to allow constituents to visit the Palace of Westminster.
Mr. Woolas: No, I wish to finish on this point. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) made a point about overseas visitors. I would have thought that Members of Parliament would see this building not only as a prime heritage site for the United Kingdom but as a prime world heritage site. The overseas visitors to this place, which is a symbol of democracy around the world, should be welcomed warmly and we should provide access for them. On that basis alone, I recommend the reports to the House.
Question put, That the Question be now put:
The House divided: Ayes 161, Noes 35.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Question just decided was, That the Question be now put. But, ironically, as I understand it, that will not happen. Is it possible, with the Government's agreement, for us to proceed now to vote on the main Question? To do otherwise makes nonsense of the Houseare all here and all ready to vote, yet we cannot because of some silly rules.
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