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19 Oct 2006 : Column 344WH—continued

Having made what I hope are constructive comments on the Commission’s report, I again thank the members of the Commission for their work and all
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members of staff who work for the Commission and the House as a whole for their hard work during the past year.

3.37 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Bercow, and add my thanks to those of other right hon. and hon. Members to the Commission, its Chair, its staff and particularly Sir Roger Sands and the Commission’s secretary. We are grateful for their work and that of the thousands of members of staff who enable us to do our job and enable democracy in this country to be a model for others.

I am particularly pleased that the report has developed some of the themes that were discussed last year and taken up some of the issues. That shows that the members of the Commission listen to hon. Members. It is clear from the tone of the discussion today that there is no complacency and that there is still much more to be done to ensure that both the building and its facilities are fit for purpose, not just for Members of Parliament but, as has rightly been stressed, for those who elect us and send us here, and who are entitled to enjoy the facilities as visitors.

I shall say no more than that, except to thank all who contributed to the report.

Nick Harvey: I want to respond to a few of the points that have been made. This debate has been useful and constructive and I welcome the tone of the comments that hon. Members have made, even when they have suggested areas where there is room for improvement. The Leader of the House gave an interesting history of the experience of MPs and of what constituents expect from their MPs. He rightly referred to the improvement in our outreach to the public and our work in trying to improve understanding of democratic institutions. I agree with his emphasis on that and I welcome the proposals that he will bring forward shortly for hon. Members to play a direct part in that process instead of everything being done by the House as an institution.

I welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) who talked about new Members bringing new perspectives. When I was a new Member in 1992 and a number of us had various grievances, I remember being egged on from behind by Tony Benn, who said, “Go on, go on, get your points in now. You’ll have turned native within a couple of years.” So it was that we did what we could to bring up our grievances.

Mr. Heath: And did my hon. Friend get his points in?

Nick Harvey: It would be fair to say that we made a little progress.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East talked about information and communications technology. While reading the recently published book about the previous leader of my party, I noticed that new members of our party last year had been absolutely
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irate at the slow progress in obtaining offices and ICT equipment. I am sure that their grievances were well founded, but progress last year was better than it has ever been. However, a great deal more can be done to improve matters for future intakes.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a wireless network, and I reassure him that there are the beginnings of such work. A wireless network is being pioneered in the atrium at Portcullis House, about which he made other remarks. It is envisaged that in the fullness of time, the network will spread further. His observations about the atrium were very interesting. They warrant further examination, but it is not possible to promise adequate seating for everybody who wants to eat there. The facilities are excellent, but its capacity is finite, and Members and staff must recognise that they can go to other outlets on the estate. Nevertheless, he is quite right: we have not yet fully exploited the area’s potential.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) made some positive remarks and a few suggestions about matters on which he wanted to see more work. The website is a work in progress, and I recognise that there is more work to be done. We are doing a great deal more on outreach, and the hon. Gentleman’s idea of a roadshow is under consideration. It certainly has not been ruled out. His plea for better signage on the first floor of Portcullis House was well made, and I confess that although I have an office on the third floor, I, too, get profoundly lost every time I go to the first floor. There is signage, but it may be too high-tech for some of us to derive the full benefit.

Mark Lazarowicz: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen the exhibition at Tate Modern, featuring slides from the fifth floor to the bottom, but we should put forward that suggestion, so that by such a system, Members on the high levels of Portcullis House might access the Chamber. Might that assist the hon. Gentleman in his third-floor eyrie?

Nick Harvey: It is an interesting idea. Hon. Members would have to up their life insurance premiums before they started down that track.

I shall have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman about cyclists’ access. I emphasise that security matters are not for the Commission, but for Mr. Speaker, who is advised by the Joint Security Committee. Nevertheless, the security measures make life more difficult for cyclists, but because of the security climate, it is not possible to locate any cycle parking facilities in the environs of the estate. House authorities have discussed the matter with City of Westminster authorities and the secure zone in Whitehall with Government Departments.

We have managed to put cycle racks outside 7 Millbank, and there is a proposal to extend them, but for the time being and in the current security climate, I see no likelihood of providing public cycle parking facilities any closer to the building than that. I rule out the possibility of any facilities within the estate. It has been considered, but it is no more acceptable in security terms for the public to cycle into the estate than it is for them to drive their motor cars into the estate, which is not allowed.

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Nigel Griffiths: Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has said, Members might want to know that the Leader of the House also takes that issue seriously. Next Wednesday, he is meeting an MP who has made such requests to discuss the matter. I am happy to ensure that details of the meeting are fed back to the Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz).

Nick Harvey: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s explanation, and I hope that it goes some way to answering the questions from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith.

Mark Lazarowicz: I make it clear that I am suggesting not that members of the public should be able to cycle freely into the secure cordon around the building, but that somewhere not too far away, it must be possible to provide a few—more than a few, I hope—cycle racks and a place that is secure for cyclists as well as for Parliament itself. There must be plenty of locations to consider, and I am a little concerned that whenever anyone suggests improving cycle provision in Westminster or around any other public building, someone always says, “There is a terrorist threat and a security threat, and we can’t do anything.” It sounds like an excuse to do nothing, although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not take that approach. Will he consider access if not in the estate, somewhere around the estate?

Nick Harvey: Again, in the current security climate, there is no question of having cycle parking facilities on the estate. We have taken steps to provide facilities outside 7 Millbank, but I take note of the hon. Gentleman’s points, and we hope that the discussions that the Leader of the House will have might facilitate some progress. I recognise the desirability of providing such facilities for visitors at a convenient location.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised several interesting points, and I reassure him that voting times were developed through dialogue with the Electoral Commission, and that its observations were taken on board. I am grateful for his observation that we are beginning to catch up on environmental matters. I take his point that there is a great deal more to do, but we are ahead of one or two Government Department targets, which is good. There certainly remains more to be done, however.

My hon. Friend made observations about the upcoming Braithwaite review, and I urge him to make direct representations to Sir Kevin Tebbit and his team. Sir Kevin will have an open door, and he is keen to hear from Members. My hon. Friend had some interesting points that he would be well advised to make directly. I do not have a ready answer to the question of delegated resource budgeting, but I shall find out what it means and how it will operate, and I shall get back to him.

My hon. Friend also asked whether we monitor the efficiency of the works programme. The Administration Estimate and Members Estimate Audit Committee monitors the programme, and the way in which we tender for contracts is in line with other public bodies and Government Departments. We attempt to achieve best practice. When queries have been raised about certain high-profile projects, we have asked the Committee to investigate. I take on board my hon. Friend’s observations about the Committee’s fairly concise report, and I shall refer the Committee to them for consideration.

I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for stepping in, and for his tribute to the work of the Commission and the House staff. I echo that. The House staff do a wonderful job in trying circumstances, and we are all grateful to them for their forbearance and professionalism.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twelve minutes to Four o’clock.

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