House of Commons Commission Twenty-Seventh Annual Report

Maintaining the heritage of buildings, objects and documents


166. The House of Commons occupies a diverse range of buildings, including part of the Palace of Westminster, a Grade 1 listed building situated in a World Heritage Site; Portcullis House; and listed buildings such as 1 Parliament Street, 1 Derby Gate and the two Norman Shaw buildings. Barry's distinctive design of the Palace of Westminster is augmented by Pugin's work on the interiors and furnishings. Estimates of the values of the House's assets must now be regularly prepared and published to fulfil the requirements of resource accounting. The total fixed assets of the House were valued at some £993 million at 31 March 2004. The House's share of the Palace of Westminster accounted for the majority of this sum.

167. The House is charged with preserving and maintaining these assets while, at the same time, providing the modern office facilities needed by Members and staff. Similarly, the Parliamentary Archives preserves original acts of Parliament from the fifteenth century onwards, and other historical documents, but also must tackle the modern concepts of freedom of information and electronic records management. The sections below describe how the House met these challenges in 2004/05.

Parliamentary estate

168. The parliamentary estate is managed by the Parliamentary Estates Directorate on behalf of the two Houses, and maintenance services are provided by the Parliamentary Works Services Directorate. The House of Commons element of the estates budget in 2004/05 was £34 million, of which £20 million was for new works and maintenance. Some examples of recent works are described below.

Palace of Westminster Committee Rooms

169. Sixteen Committee Rooms on the main Committee Corridor in the Palace of Westminster have been restored and equipped with modern facilities. The work started with Committee Room 14 in 1998 and was completed with Committee Rooms 11, 12 and 13 during the summer of 2004. The scheme entailed installing air conditioning, sound insulation, and modern microphone systems for audibility and broadcasting, and the restoration of interior decorations and furnishings. In addition, portrait paintings of Prime Ministers have been hung on the Committee Corridor and in the Committee Rooms in a chronological sequence (see paragraph 178).

Floor tiles

170. Many parts of the Palace of Westminster are floored with Victorian encaustic tiles. Decades of wear and tear now make restoration appropriate, particularly in heavily trafficked areas. After some years of development, replacement tiles have been commissioned from a Staffordshire firm. The first new tiles were laid in St Stephen's Hall in 2004.

Members' Library

171. During the 2004 summer recess the Members' Library rooms on the Palace river front were fitted with protective glazing; a new computer network was installed; painted ceilings were conserved; cooling was installed; and other maintenance work was carried out.

Courtyard stone restoration

172. The external stone restoration in Commons Court and Commons Inner Court was completed in 2004. More important than the obvious removal of grime is the cutting out of decayed stone and its replacement with new carved limestone, quarried from Clipsham, Rutland.

173. The timetable for the courtyard stone restoration programme is dictated by periods when courtyards are not needed to give access for other works and can be occupied by stone restoration contractors. Thus the current modernisation of the Lords Refreshment Department prevents access for stone restoration in Peers' Court to complete the chain of courtyards on the central roadway. The next courtyard to be cleaned and restored will therefore be Cloister Court, which is centrally situated and surrounded by Members' facilities. Arrangements are being made to offer temporary relocation to those likely to be affected by the work.


174. The threat of terrorism remains a significant concern which requires the co-operation and vigilance of Members and of all those employed on the parliamentary estate.

175. The Houses of Parliament have a joint contract with the Metropolitan Police to provide the police and security officers who are responsible for providing security services throughout the estate. The contract is managed by the Serjeant at Arms and Black Rod and is intended to dovetail with the plans and facilities provided by the Metropolitan Police throughout the capital. The police contingent is headed by a Chief Superintendent who performs the role of Head of Security in conformity with the Houses' requirements and guidance.

176. A review of security in the Houses of Parliament was carried out in 2004 by a joint team from the Metropolitan Police and the Security Services. It made recommendations relating to the security pass system, vehicle access to the parliamentary estate, the security of the Chambers of both Houses, and a number of other issues. Following the review, the appointment of a Parliamentary Security Co-ordinator was made jointly by Mr Speaker and the Lord Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords. One of his primary roles is to manage the consideration and implementation of the review's recommendations under the general oversight of an enlarged Joint Committee on Security, working closely with the Head of Security, the Serjeant at Arms and Black Rod.

Works of art

177. There are around 7,500 items in the art collections of both Houses. The House of Commons collection includes portraits and sculptures of Prime Ministers and other prominent parliamentarians, topographical views of Parliament, cycles of historical narrative paintings and political caricatures. Much of the collection is displayed in the areas of the House most frequently visited by members of the public such as Committee Rooms and the Committee Corridor and locations on the visitor tour route. The Curator and his staff are responsible for managing all aspects of the collection, including the annual programmes of conservation, documentation and art-handling, research, administration of works of art on loan, and offering advice on acquisitions. They work closely with the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art which considers policy for the collection and advises the Speaker on matters relating to works of art. Expenditure of that part of the House of Commons: Administration Estimate for the acquisition of new works of art is delegated to the Committee.

178. Over the last year, there has been a major re-hang of works in the Committee Rooms on the Committee Corridor. This is part of the long-term project to display works of art associated with the Prime Minister after whom each Committee Room is now named. Accordingly many large format paintings relating to the ministries of each Prime Minister have been moved to these Rooms. The display has been further strengthened with the paintings of William Pitt addressing the House of Commons by Karl Anton Hickel and Gladstone's cabinet by Cato Dickenson, both generously loaned by the National Portrait Gallery, which have been hung in Committee Rooms 6 and 14 respectively.

179. The Committee has made some significant acquisitions during the year including a portrait of Stanhope by Van Dies. It also purchased a watercolour of Parliament Square attributed at sale to AC Pugin, the father of AWN Pugin, and subsequently confirmed to have been by the artist. In addition to its work on the historical collection, the Advisory Committee has acquired a number of portraits by highly regarded contemporary artists. These include portraits of Michael Foot by Robert Lenkiewicz, Iain Duncan Smith by Paul Benney, and David Blunkett by Lorna Wadsworth, the latter a previous nominee for the BP National Portrait award. These portraits hang as part of the contemporary collection on the first floor of Portcullis House, which is accessible to the public.

180. The Committee has also added to the House's collection of busts. Notable acquisitions this year include a portrait bust of John Major by Neale Andrew and a bust of Manny Shinwell by Oscar Nemon. The Committee was very grateful to accept into the Collection from the Nemon family a number of preparatory works by Oscar Nemon for his sculptures of Churchill and Macmillan, together with related archive material. These pieces were exhibited in Portcullis House for three months. The exhibition was one of a number of popular in-house exhibitions mounted by the Curator and his staff in Portcullis House over the last year. Others included an exhibition of works from the Collection to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Benjamin Disraeli.

181. During 2004/05 a firm of consultants was engaged to carry out a review of the Curator's Office and the skills and resources currently available to it. In particular, the consultants were asked to consider the development of policy relating to the management of the collections; and likely future trends in acquisitions and commissions, exhibitions, and other proposals for developing and using the collections. The consultants' recommendations are currently being considered by the Clerks of both Houses.


Parliamentary Archives

182. The Parliamentary Archives (the House of Lords Record Office) is responsible for developing and implementing records management policy and practices for both Houses of Parliament. Both Houses have adopted a common policy on records management and are committed to the maintenance and improvement of effective records management processes. This supports efficient access to information and enables Parliament to comply with the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

183. During 2001, both Houses agreed the use of a common classification scheme for all parliamentary records in order to improve the retrieval and sharing of information across departments. This scheme has now been implemented for paper records in most offices. The majority of staff involved with the creation of records have attended training in the use of the scheme and in basic good practice for records management. An online records management tutorial is now available for refresher training. A short presentation on records management is also routinely included in the induction programme for new staff.

184. Work is in progress on the development of the parliamentary records disposal practice. This is linked to the functional classifications in the parliamentary classification scheme and identifies how and when records created by parliamentary staff should be disposed - that is, destroyed after a stated time or transferred to the Parliamentary Archives for permanent preservation. The disposal practice has been finalised for eight of the 28 classifications and is in progress for four others.

185. The Parliamentary Archives launched its web catalogue, Portcullis, in December 2004. This catalogue contains descriptions of the Archives' several million records, and is the result of a five-year project to automate access to the records of Parliament. Portcullis is available online at

Conservation and digitisation

186. Maintaining the House's core collections of parliamentary papers and other official documents, and ensuring public access to their contents by preparing printed and online indexes, is a key responsibility for the Library. The Library has continued to preserve and, where appropriate, conserve these important areas of its stock. Conventional conservation is, however, both expensive and labour-intensive, with the added disadvantage that it makes the volumes more difficult to use and does nothing to provide wider access to their contents.

A project to create online catalogue records for approximately 30,000 titles where there are currently only card index records was completed in 2004/05, some seven months ahead of schedule.

187. Towards the end of 2004/05 approval was received for a project to begin the digitisation of Hansard back to 1803, and work will begin in 2005/06. The project is being coordinated with other digitisation initiatives, including those relating to the Private Acts (see paragraph 61) and the Parliamentary Archives catalogue (see paragraph 185) and with work in this area led by the History of Parliament Trust (see below).

History of Parliament
188. The History of Parliament is a major academic project to create a scholarly reference work describing the Members, constituencies and activities of the Parliament of England and the United Kingdom. The published History now covers a total of 281 years of parliamentary history in 28 volumes. The most recent set of volumes, covering the House of Commons from 1690 to 1715, was published in 2002 and has been widely acclaimed. Work continues on further sections of the History dealing with the Commons from 1422 to 1504, 1604 to 1660 and 1820 to 1832, and on the Lords from 1660 to 1832. The project is governed by a Trust, chaired by Sir Patrick Cormack FSA MP, and composed mainly of Members and staff of both Houses. It employs 30 staff and in 2004/05 received grant-in-aid of £1.2 million from the House of Commons: Administration Estimate, and almost £0.3 million from the House of Lords Estimate.

189. The History's aims and objectives are contained in its annual Plan, which is published on its website, and reviewed by the Commission (most recently in March 2005). The Plan indicates the projected publication dates of each of the sections under preparation. The next two sections, 1820-32 and 1604-29, are expected to be published in 2009 and 2010 respectively, although the History is working to improve on these dates wherever this is possible and consistent with the maintenance of its high scholarly standards. The Plan also sets out how the History plans to engage with its existing audiences (in particular, Parliament, academics and family historians) and to build new audiences for its work, especially within schools and colleges. In pursuit of the latter aim, the History offered in 2004 a prize for the best essay on a range of subjects relating to British political and parliamentary history by a school or college student; it has also been discussing the creation of learning packages for schools based on its work. The History continues to work with its partner, the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London, on building a digital library of historical resources, including the early journals of the two Houses, and has helped to promote the discussion of the digitisation of a wide range of historical parliamentary sources.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 4 July 2005