UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1556 i

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Administration Committee

Visitor Access and Facilities in the House of Commons

Monday 17 October 2011

John Pullinger

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 37

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Administration Committee

on Monday 17 October 2011

Members present:

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Chair)

Rosie Cooper

Thomas Docherty

Mr Mark Francois

Nigel Mills

Tessa Munt

Mr John Spellar

Mr Shailesh Vara

Mr Dave Watts

Mike Weatherley

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witness: John Pullinger, Director General, Information Services, House of Commons, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair : Thank you very much indeed for your paper , Mr Pullinger, and for coming to see us this afternoon. Would you like to make an opening statement, please?

John Pullinger: Yes, just a few words, if I may, Sir Alan. You will be talking to members of our outstanding visitor services team at a later date, but I would like to start by paying tribute to them and their achievement in 2011 of winning two UK Best Visitor Attraction awards. I do that because providing a successful welcome to visitors in this place requires a unique ability to recognise, first, that this is a place of work for Members and staff; secondly, that new expenditure of public money is rightly challenged very hard; thirdly, that we have unusually onerous security requirements; and fourthly, that this Grade I listed World Heritage Site building needs to be maintained and protected.

The challenge for us and for your inquiry is to turn these challenges into opportunities. Your review of catering has shown the way. For example, if we can get visitors to use the facilities here when they are not needed by members and staff, costs can be reduced rather than increased. Saturday opening, which we have been doing for the last year, has shown that the cost of security can be covered through visitor charges. If, as a result, more security lanes can be kept open, hopefully queues and frustration at security points can be minimised. In addition, it may be possible for Parliament to learn from many other cultural and heritage organisations around the country, and establish the means for surplus income to be directed towards the protection of the Palace of Westminster for the long term.

In my note I have highlighted seven priorities that I believe would serve to meet the expectations of both Houses to improve the welcome we give to visitors and ensure that those special challenges are met. That is all I would like to say at this point. I will be happy to take those seven items in turn or take questions if you wish.

Q2 Mr Spellar: I have two areas that I would like to address. Firstly, in your points A to G, you talked about the pressure on Cromwell Green. When we went down to Cromwell Green, frankly, it was a very badly organised facility. There are two camera points. Initially, we thought the real choke point was the one camera point, but in fact there are two cameras; they are just not being operated. So you have long queues of people. The staff are by no means running that system through the monitors or with the cameras at full capacity. It is going to be difficult to go to the House and argue for additional facilities when we are not using the capacity that we already have. We went down there three or four months ago, in July, and we were very clear about that, but there does not seem to be much evidence that there has been an improvement.

John Pullinger: That building was designed to have three security points running, and if three security points are running at full capacity, on the original design we could have got 1,000 people through in an hour. That is an awful lot of people and likely to meet pretty much any requirements we have seen. The original design was drawn up before the 7 July bombings in 2005, and as a result of that event we have had to increase the level of security checks people go through, which has roughly halved the capacity. Our current estimate is that 500 people can get through there in an hour if all lanes are open.

When we have busy times, which typically tend to be Tuesdays and Wednesdays for obvious reasons, we quite often substantially exceed 500, even with all three lanes open. We end up with queues up the ramp, as we did on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, for example. Therefore, even with all three lanes open there is clearly a problem with capacity at busy times. The three lanes are not always open, and that is primarily down to the fact that it costs a lot of money to keep one of those lanes open with security officers. It is the job of the Serjeant at Arms to manage the police contract to ensure that we match supply with demand and keep the costs down.

Generally speaking, I think they are pretty aware of when the crunch times are-when lobbies are coming-and will staff it up to match, but it does not always work. The reason why not all the security lanes are open all the time is to manage the cost of that police contract.

Q3 Mr Spellar: When we were there, there was a queue stretching, again, up the ramp, and very limited use was being made of the lanes. It is a real question as to who is running that in real time. Nobody seemed to be running it in order to speed it up.

John Pullinger: The management of that contract is such that the police have the operational responsibility for it and the Serjeant at Arms runs the contract. The aim is to get best value for the House out of it.

Q4 Mr Spellar: Yes, but best value cannot be that we have all sorts of arguments taking place about how long groups of visitors are having to wait, and all of the inconvenience to visitors. If lots of times when we go by we see that there are long queues, then clearly this is not being run well, especially if, when you get to the front of the queue-we went round the side when we went down there to inspect it-they are probably working at around onethird to one-half of capacity. That cannot be proper use of a facility that should be designed to get people into the building.

John Pullinger: On that occasion it does not seem as if best use was being made of it. The judgment on each day is based on the expected number of people coming through and balancing the need to get people through without queuing against the cost of having the lanes open. On a normal day when we can balance that, I am saying that we can manage up to 500 people an hour, but even with the thing working at full capacity, that is often not enough. On Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday afternoons there can be as many as 800 people trying to get in, and that is when the queue backs right the way up to the ramp and over into the car park, which it did on a couple of occasions last week.

Q5 Chair : Could I just follow that up? Do I understand from what you say that it is not so much the physical constraints that have halved the original projected capacity, but a change in the level of security being applied?

John Pullinger: Yes, that is my understanding.

Q6 Chair: I do not know whether it is right to pursue this in an open session or whether there are implications in discussing it, but is the risk assessment immutable from the point of view of bringing people in? Are we facing a permanent downgrading of capacity because of serious security concerns or is there scope for looking at that? Is this a question that we have to pursue with the Serjeant or someone to see whether or not it could be eased slightly to improve throughput?

John Pullinger: The Serjeant would be able to give you better advice than I can, but my understanding is that the level of security threat is continually being reappraised and it changes. It has certainly changed, on occasion, since 2005, but the big tightening came at that point, which was just after the current building had been commissioned and was under construction. We had a facility that would have been enough to get people through with the security regime before 2005 and has not been sufficient since. That is not to say there are not tweaks that are possible, but I am sure that the Serjeant’s department will act on whatever security advice they are given; they are going to want to follow that advice very clearly.

Q7 Chair : Was no thought then given, because of the need to change the security level, to doing something more to restore what we all expected the original throughput to be?

John Pullinger: I am sure we will come on to it in questions. There is the further examination of Black Rod’s Garden as the second biggest potential area of entry and, at the northern end of the Estate, whether more capacity could be created in Portcullis House. That discussion has been carrying on since 2005.

Rosie Cooper: That is a quick discussion then.

Q8 Tessa Munt: In light of what you have just said, the Speaker made an announcement about an hour and a quarter ago in which he suggested that changes would be made about bags carried by people who wished to visit Committee Rooms, in the light of the instance in the last session. I wondered what your observations are on that. My main question is about paragraph nine, which refers to disabled access. It says, "A report on physical access arrangements in conformity with the Disability Discrimination Act has been compiled and followed up." I would like you to comment on that, but will you talk about what the Speaker said first, of which I assume you are aware.

John Pullinger: Yes. There is a review each time there is an incident, and that review leads to recommendations as to how we manage the threat we perceive. There are continuing assessments by the Serjeant at Arms at all times, and something like that is a tightening. The level of tightness we adopt depends on the threat assessed, which also is dependent on what has happened. The particular issue around that Select Committee hearing has caused us to look again at how we check people as they are coming into the building. Those checks will in turn influence how long it takes to get people through the various security points. On occasion, there is a need for tightening; on other occasions there is a relaxation. It depends on the advice we get.

Q9 Tessa Munt: It struck me that the Speaker was making a pretty comprehensive case for people not taking bags into Committee Rooms. I may have misheard, but I just wonder how that is going to be facilitated. When we visited that entrance there did not even seem to be space for people to store their coats in a secure way and that sort of thing. It was fairly chaotic, in my view, with pretty ad hoc arrangements. I just wonder how we envisage holding off perhaps 100, 150, 350 or 400 bags from going into Committee Rooms if people wish to join a public session.

John Pullinger: That is going to be challenging and it is slightly easier at Portcullis House than it is at Cromwell Green, but none of these facilities was designed for that at the time. They were designed with a particular regime in mind, and we are having to deal with changes. We will have to deal with them and that will be a conversation between the Department of Facilities and the Serjeant at Arms to make sure we have a secure place for people to put things if they are not allowed to take them into Committee Rooms.

Q10 Tessa Munt: Thank you. Can I ask you to move to the issue of access?

John Pullinger: Yes. The disabled access review-we had a report in January 2010 that comprehensively looked at our compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act. It came up with a range of recommendations, and the examples I have are: to improve signage; to improve the training of staff; and to look very carefully at the entirety of the route for wheelchair users, for example simple things like door closes-some of the doors in this building are very heavy and difficult for people. But probably the most significant thing as far as I could see from that was to build in to our regular maintenance programme an assessment that we were going to be compliant and we could improve our compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act as we went forward. I have highlighted some other things in here such as easy read leaflets and so on, but this clearly is an issue that, as Parliament, we have to take very seriously and make sure we are operating best practice rather than just compliance. But it is jolly difficult in a building like this.

Q11 Tessa Munt: I was present at a debate last week in Westminster Hall that was attended by a large number of people who are wheelchair users, and it was disastrous, frankly. Lisa Nandy, who is the Member for Wigan, has raised a point of order this afternoon about exactly that. People who wish to access the Chambers, including Westminster Hall, and any other Committee Room, should be treated as people. They should have equal access; we should not be discriminating one from another. What was happening in that particular setting was embarrassing, frankly. I was not sure there was any point in your A to G that dealt with the fact we have not quite got a grip on access for everybody to certain parts of the House. I suppose I would like to see a point H saying maybe we need to revisit the issue of access, because clearly the report implies it has all been dealt with and it is done-followed up and sorted. Clearly it has not.

John Pullinger: I think your point is entirely fair. That could absolutely correctly be at point H on the report. I reported the action we took at the time of the last review, which was in 2009, when we did commission this report, and I can make it available to the Committee if you wish. It seems entirely appropriate that we look at it again, particularly in the light of that particular example, which clearly did not show us in the greatest light. I am conscious from the comments we get from not just wheelchair users but other people who do not have the same level of access-

Q12 Tessa Munt: Is there a suggestion scheme when one leaves the building at any point? Are there suggestion sheets?

John Pullinger: We do collect information from people as they go through.

Q13 Tessa Munt: We do? How do we do that?

John Pullinger: I am just trying to think where it is now in Westminster Hall-we have moved it around-but when people come to the end of their tour in Westminster Hall there is an opportunity to leave suggestions with a staff member.

Tessa Munt: Sorry, I do not just mean people who do the formal tour; I mean people who use the facilities of the building generally.

John Pullinger: I will make sure you have the right information on that when you have some of my staff with you next week, but I do not think there is a formal process to collect information systematically in the way you have described, but clearly there could be.

Tessa Munt: It might be helpful, thank you.

Chair : I can inform the Committee that I had a letter about three days ago that will be circulated in due course as written evidence from somebody dealing entirely with the disabled access. It is difficult in this building; when there are one or two wheelchair users for the tours, we struggle manfully to ensure that can all be accommodated very decently. We can accommodate large lobbies in Westminster Hall, but in January or February that would not be particularly easy. Actually, all points of the building are quite difficult; hopefully there is something we can do, but in some cases there is not a lot we can do, which is a problem, simply because of the way the building has been constructed.

Q14 Mr Watts: Mr Pullinger, can I just follow up John Spellar’s point? It seems to me that, at a time when finances are very tight, it is very difficult to justify spending more money on the Palace of Westminster unless you are absolutely certain there is no alternative. It seems to me what we should do is start from a position which I think the Committee recommended, which was to look to see how you could improve throughput within the existing system. I take on board the fact that you have reduced it from 1,000 at peak time to 500 because of security measures, but I am not sure what security measures have been stepped up to reduce the level of throughput by half. I am not sure whether this is the right venue to ask those questions-in public-but there does seem to me a case for reviewing the security levels to see whether they could be improved.

We have heard already that the Speaker is looking at banning people from bringing bags into Committee rooms. That may well have a massive impact on the way you take people through. If they are not taking bags through, those bags do not have to be scanned, and if those bags do not have to be scanned, perhaps people could just go through the normal scanner. That will speed the process up.

Thirdly I would ask whether there is any scope for dividing the sorts of visitors coming in. As I understand it, everyone visitor who is a nonpass holder, goes through the same system. Is there some scope for people accompanied, for example, by a Member of Parliament or a senior member of staff to be taken to a different system from the one we have to release pressure? I am looking for whether that sort of thing is ongoing and whether people are actually doing that. Quite frankly, it is hard to see how anyone can go with a recommendation to expand the existing facilities until we have all the answers to those questions and know whether we can get more out of the ones we have.

John Pullinger: There are three questions here. On the assessment of the security requirements that has led to the change in throughput now, I do not know the precise answer, but I am sure that the Serjeant at Arms could provide you with a note if you wish. I am recalling my understanding of the situation as it happened in 2005, and I am sure they could give you chapter and verse on that.

On the second point regarding bags, you are right that if bags are being dropped off it is going to change the logistics. It is a handling point as to how long it takes to get someone through. I would be surprised if there is a magic answer, but we need to do an assessment of that. This is clearly very recent news; it has come out of the review that has just been published now and we need to explore what it does. I would not like to say whether it will help one way or the other yet.

In terms of the alternative route people can take, the ramp going into the Cromwell Green Entrance has two lanes at the moment. The second lane is designed to be a fast track lane for priority visitors, which is essentially people such as witnesses to Committees, who have a timed reason to be here and are on parliamentary business. The job of the people at the top of the ramp is to ensure that those people go through the fast track, particularly when there is a significant queue on the ramp. In practice, I am sure that you, as most Members will be, are very acutely aware of when the pressure points come. It is possible to bring people in through the Portcullis House entrance, through Black Rod’s Garden Entrance or through the Peers’ Entrance to get the pass. The critical thing is that we all need to get someone through the system so they have a photo pass on them, and if they are challenged in the building it is clear that they have gone through security. There are a limited number of places to do that, but Cromwell Green is not the only one. Certainly, if it is a Tuesday afternoon and I have a guest coming I would advise them, unless there is a big Committee sitting, to go to Portcullis House, because generally the queues are shorter.

Q15 Mr Watts: Could their passes be processed before they arrived? I am talking about priority visitors.

John Pullinger: The main purpose of the pass is to prove that you have been through the scanner. You get your pass once you have been scanned as having been accepted. Our main form of security is the perimeter security you get by people going through the scanners.

Q16 Mr Watts: The point about this is whether we should look at the categories and the security procedures in different ways. I would have thought that someone who is coming to be a Select Committee witness is a very low security risk. You could process their application when it is quiet. They could arrive with their pass and go through Black Rod’s Garden Entrance rather than the traditional entrance. I am talking about other people as well-different groups could be processed in different ways to take the pressure off the point where the general public are coming in.

John Pullinger: Yes, you certainly could do that. The large volumes of people coming through tend not to be in that category. Those people who are in that category clearly are extremely frustrated if they are caught, but the large volumes tend to be for things like banqueting, which inevitably clusters around certain times of the day when events are starting. If you have large numbers of members of the public wishing to attend particular Committee hearings or lobbies, none of that would be solved by this. You would certainly make it easier for particular categories of people, particularly Select Committee guests, but for most purposes it should be possible, using the fast-track facility, for those people to go straight to the front of the queue and straight through the scanner without any waiting-passes done-and through. I am not sure whether the preprinting of the pass would work from a security point of view, because those people still would not have gone through the scanner.

Q17 Mr Watts: A very final question: when you indicate that it is all being looked at, when do you expect that report on all the options for increasing throughput to be available?

John Pullinger: What I said was that the Serjeant at Arms is continually reviewing the security requirements of scanning people and how to get people through quickly.

Mr Watts: So there is no-

John Pullinger: Nothing has been commissioned specifically on this at the moment.

Mr Watts: Okay, so this is the point: when we saw what was going on we made certain recommendations, and from that nothing is happening. There is no final date that has been put in place for coming back and saying, "We’ve looked at all these issues. This is what you can do; this is what you cannot do." The Committee is not going to get that response unless we ask for it separately.

Q18 Chair : We have not got that far yet. We have to decide what it is we believe should be done. Some of these questions are verging too much on the security issue, which we are going to have to tackle, but when the Serjeant is with us. The Serjeant is coming on 7 or 21 November. I think that will be the time to pursue some of these matters. I think there is a tension between what you are trying to achieve in your Department-in terms of generating business and ensuring that the people who come here are welcome and given a good deal-and certain other parts of the building, where there is a very restrictive attitude that security is paramount, which is absolutely right, but there is almost an unwillingness to compromise to meet the purposes that you are trying to pursue. Do you sense that? I am not asking you to be disloyal, but is it a fact that we have a misfit at the moment between trying to bring more people in to experience Parliament, this great building, and the fact that at the moment we do not have the maximum facilities for admitting them?

John Pullinger: The way I would put it is that the House’s desire to improve the welcome to visitors in reasonably large numbers is relatively recent. It has only been a very serious ambition over the last 10 years. In the past it has happened; Members have always wanted to welcome their constituents, bring them in and give them tours, but the idea of making this a visitor attraction, for want of a better term, is something new. Until 10 years ago, visiting has effectively been an adjunct to the Member’s role. So everything has really been designed around Members taking responsibility for their own visitors. That change is a result of the evolution of the role of Members and of the House’s wish to be much more welcoming to the public as a separate, distinct ambition. The consequence is that the visitors’ service fits in a series of cracks in a system that has been designed around security of the building, maintenance of the building and the fact this is fundamentally a working building rather than a place for people to visit.

All that has made it very challenging, but the thing I really do sense is changing-and I hinted at it in my opening remarks-is one of the ways in which we are now thinking about how to work with visitors. I do highlight what came out of your catering review. There is the potential in visitors to bring extra money into the system. So extra money into the catering facilities provides a better service for visitors, but it also helps cover overheads for Members. Extra money from visitors helps us keep extra lanes open on the security system, for example, as we have been doing on Saturdays, so that everybody benefits from that. I think what has changed is that there is a much stronger willingness in this Parliament to think of charging visitors for things and therefore improving facilities not just for the visitor but for Members and people who work in this building. That is a change.

Q19 Mr Francois: Forgive me, Chairman, if I ask a question and have to nip off once I have heard the answer. I do not mean to be rude, but I put my hand up now. Is there any further update with regard to an education centre? The reason I ask is that all the slots for school tours organised by the Education Service go very quickly, within a morning of being advertised. You are then often bringing school parties up as if they were "normal visitors". Previously, you could meet them at Sovereign’s Entrance in a fairly orderly way, talk to them for a bit and let them go through. Now if you try to do that through Cromwell Green it just does not work, because it takes too long to get them through, the school parties get broken up, and it is a bit chaotic. If you want to meet them, you are reduced to taking a punt on how long you think it is going to take them to go round, and then you end up hanging around in Westminster Hall for 15 minutes or so trying to catch them all and corral them at the end to have a word with them, answer their questions and get them off to their coach. It is not a very efficient way of doing it, and you are trying to do your best. For several years I have been hearing we are going to have this education centre, and yet nothing ever seems to happen. Do you know where we are on that? Are there any wider points on how we improve the experience for young students who are coming to visit this place and MPs who want to meet with them when they do?

John Pullinger: I can certainly update you on where we are. Your predecessor Committee supported a proposal to create a dedicated space for school visitors that would allow us to accommodate 100,000 students in any one year, which would be quite sufficient to meet the current requirements of Members and a substantial improvement on where we are now. My guess is that even that would be oversubscribed, but this Committee recommended it and the House so resolved. It was put to the House and a resolution was made that we should seek to find such a space.

In the same inquiry that recommended we should find this space, there was also a proposal for a centre-I have all the floor plans here from this Committee’s inquiry in 2007. Detailed designs were drawn up for a building on Victoria Gardens and at an alternative site on Abingdon Green. As I recall, they were rejected primarily on the grounds of cost, so the task was given to the Parliamentary Estates Directorate to find a location within the current Estate. The most promising one was the area known as the Lower Secretaries’ Area under the Chamber because it is a relatively large contiguous space. It would minimise the amount of traipsing about that school groups would have to do, and there was a sense that it would be feasible.

Two things have scuppered that. The first is that most of that space is currently occupied by the staff of Members. There was a project linked with helping Members move out of windowless offices upstairs here; that has not gone forward and was shelved on grounds of cost.

Mr Francois: So I understand.

John Pullinger: The education centre was part of that chain of things. The second thing was the detailed feasibility study from an engineering point of view. It was realised that the structure underneath the Chamber could not take the works that were necessary. Clearly, you could not take any risks with the Chamber, so that proposition fell. Then we were tasked with finding alternative locations, and I came to the Committee a few months ago with a series of alternative rooms that would help improve space.

The one that found immediate favour was the Grand Committee Room on Mondays and Fridays, and we are now starting to use that. That will enable us to bring more school groups in, but we are forever on the lookout for other rooms that are unoccupied or underoccupied that we could use as a sensible place for you to meet school groups and for us to give them a good educational experience. As I indicate in the paper-item 12a on the list-doing something in Black Rod’s Garden area remains the most feasible option on the table, because it is very unlikely there will be a space inside the building that could be made available cost-effectively. The Parliamentary Estates Directorate is doing another feasibility study at the moment to see whether that is possible.

Q20 Mr Francois: I am just conscious that, as you say, the House resolved in 2007 this was something it wanted to do, and here we are a good four years on-lots of study and analysis-and there is still no firm plan. I just wonder how many more times we are going to go round in circles before there is a definitive plan for something to open on a given date.

John Pullinger: You are right, and the terms of reference of this Committee’s Inquiry are to help to break that logjam. I have described the way in which we have been baulked in doing so at the moment. My sense is that the desire in both Houses to make this happen is as strong as it was before. The initial impediment was cost, and I am sure that it remains a challenge-if not an even stronger one-now, so in looking at building options we will need to be extremely hard on ourselves about what is going to be cost-effective. The guidance from the Committee is going to be very important on that. It also has to be something that will not fall. There was a firm plan for the last one and it fell because the chain of moves of which this was part was deemed to be too expensive, so I think the financial difficulty is the biggest one.

The only extra observation I would put on the table is that at other buildings where people have wanted to create a visitor education facility they have looked at, as well as very nice high-quality options, what you might describe as temporary/low-cost options. A number of other heritage buildings, particularly National Trust properties, have some very attractive educational facilities built in a low-cost, timber, prefabricated way. We have not looked seriously at that before, and hopefully there is an opportunity in the current review to consider a way of meeting the requirement to create space without necessarily overengineering it.

Q21 Rosie Cooper: Given that passholders and Members have passed all the security restrictions and reviews that may be applied to them, can you explain to me why, for example, at Black Rod’s Garden, I am required to use my pass three times before I can get through? In the absence of common sense, why would anyone think that was good?

John Pullinger: I do not know the answer to that question. It occurs to me every time I go through it as well. The building at Black Rod’s Garden end is not an ideal place for people to come through and be security cleared. It is a very small space; it is in a building that is clearly not designed for this purpose, and I think the engineering requirement was to improve the capacity of that space as much as possible without a new building project. I can only think that, when they were looking at the flow of people coming through, there was a conclusion that to be sure people would not escape, for want of a better word, passholders would need to swipe as they come in and then as they go into the main part of the building. The second one is not too onerous; you are just going through. I could get you the detailed reasoning if you wish, but that was clearly a very short-term project that has made some improvement to Black Rod’s Garden Entrance but has done very little to meet the aspirations of this Committee.

Q22 Rosie Cooper: If you will forgive me, I think this probably goes to the heart of the problem in that you are using your pass three times within 12 or 14 feet probably-from one door to the other door. The kind of logic that goes into producing that kind of result is the reason we are having this discussion this afternoon. The absence of common sense just leaves me completely bewildered. I cannot understand it; you do not understand it; and yet somehow the powers that be have implemented it in this building. That is what I find so frustrating. We may pass or we may agree a certain line, but, by the time the Chinese whispers have finished, I could not recognise that I would ever condone a system where I would be required, having passed every security test that Parliament wants to establish, to use my pass three times in 12 or 14 feet. It is just crazy. Surely, that should have been realised by the people who were trying to do it. Did no one think, "This is a bit silly"?

Chair : This is not for John Pullinger. This is for the Serjeant when the Serjeant comes. That is security.

Rosie Cooper: Absolutely, but, on the throughput, even now Mr Pullinger has said it occurred to him. What have you done about it?

Chair : Rosie, I am sorry, this is not John Pullinger’s responsibility. If it is a responsibility, it is what is happening at the other end, which is very difficult. I think you are right to say that there has been a mismatch between the actual physical arrangements that exist at Black Rod’s Garden with the second line of entry and bringing visitors in on a large-scale basis, which Mr Pullinger is concerned about. Effectively, after a perfunctory trial, the opportunity of bringing in guests to reestablish the line of route at the southern end of the building is blocked for the moment. That is the bigger question that we have to examine, and the particular layout there is a matter for security and indeed the House of Lords to consider.

Q23 Rosie Cooper: May I just quickly finish? Referring to Tessa’s point about disability, not everybody with mobility problems, for example, is in a wheelchair, yet the route is lengthy, and I will just ask you to bear this in mind when you are feeding into the disability solution that we will hopefully come up with. Not everyone with mobility problems is in a wheelchair and not everyone can stand for a long time-half an hour or an hour in a queue-and we need to accommodate those people who just cannot do it. It is not that they do not want to wait there; they just cannot do it.

John Pullinger: I agree entirely, and each review that has been done has suggested that we should have a route that minimises the amount of travel for people. At the moment people have to travel twice the distance they really need to, and that is a difficulty for parents with small children, for elderly people, and people with all kinds of disabilities and impairments. I can only agree with you, but we are in the situation we are at the moment primarily because the main point of entry is at Cromwell Green, which is pretty much at capacity, and we cannot get large numbers of people through on any other part of the route.

Q24 Nigel Mills: I broadly agree with most of the points in your paper, John, but I have just a couple of questions. At least a couple of entrances are relatively underused: Parliament Street and Derby Gate. Is there any way of shuffling demand around to make better use of those? I would say the Portcullis House entrance is as congested at times as the other one, and trying to direct more people there is unlikely to be a happy experience on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Is there any plan to make better use of those two empty entrances?

John Pullinger: The first point to make is that any entrance in the northern part of the Estate, if it is about people getting to the Palace, is just going to exacerbate problems on the escalator. The real pinch point is the escalator, which is difficult to deal with. Of the entrances you mentioned, Derby Gate is quite difficult because you go in at Derby Gate, you have to go under the tunnel, up to Parliament Street and-back to Rosie Cooper’s point-you are increasing the amount of travel for people. It is also physically a difficult entrance; there is one rotating door that would be quite difficult to take out.

Parliament Street is potentially more promising, and you have the scanner there at the moment. Again, you have the problem of going through Parliament Street, with up and down steps, and the steps into Portcullis House are potentially quite challenging. But people increasingly use that entrance, because it has the scanning facilities. However, I would still say if we want to improve the entrances of that end of the Estate, improving the main Portcullis House entrance is the best option, because if people are congregating they can wait under cover. The original entrance was designed to enable us to put in extra security facilities there. You asked where we are with reviewing that. The main project on the books in the northern end of the Estate at the moment is to increase the number of people who can get through the Portcullis House entrance.

Q25 Nigel Mills: I certainly would not argue with that, and preferably there would be a door that is designed to be an exit only, rather than that horrible logjam you have of people trying to get out a door when someone is trying to get in-they both end up stuck. I think you have tried to fix that by making it a manual door rather than automatic.

John Pullinger: It has changed several times over the last few weeks, hasn’t it? I thought I might be asked this question. My understanding is that the Parliamentary Estates Directorate is bringing forward, by January, a proposal-a business case, in the language here-that will then help us see what is the most costeffective way of taking that particular project forward.

Q26 Nigel Mills: Your point E was about creating a centralised mechanism for room booking and tours to limit the amount of people trying to get in to the capacity. That sounds a bit of a challenge as to who wins if there is a big banqueting booking versus some big tours booked in. Is that going to be first come, first served? Is it going to be, "Well, the banqueting will make us a fortune. Sorry, your tour has now been cancelled"? I can see the logic of the system, but not how you would play off the competition.

John Pullinger: All I can say is that nobody wins at the moment. On a Tuesday afternoon, in particular, we are systematically inviting more people than it is physically ever going to be possible to get into the building. We know that, so that seems to me an avoidable problem. You are right that we are going to have to make some judgments about which groups should have priority, but, for practical purposes, if you invite more people to come to your event than get in, they do not get to your event, so you are not really very much the wiser. If people are waiting for three quarters of an hour, as they often are, to get into a banqueting event, either they have been told to come three quarters of an hour early, which is not very great, or they arrive three quarters of an hour late and miss half of it.

We are not far off some of the comments that were made earlier. It is a right hand and left hand question, but what this Committee could usefully do is think about the kinds of prioritisation mechanisms that might be acceptable to Members. As you say, on the banqueting side-you have looked at it from the catering point of view-we want to get more people coming in because that will raise more income. Similarly, if groups have events in Committee Rooms, they are events sponsored by you. I merely observe that, without a centralised mechanism, nobody wins at the moment at those times when more people are coming than we can get in.

Q27 Mr Spellar: The idea of the administration trying to decide which events can take place and who takes precedence is a nightmare scenario. Does a meeting on Sri Lanka take precedence over a reception for the West Midlands Fire Brigade? I think it is fraught with difficulty, and an issue that should be dealt with only as a last resort. There were a number of other areas that I was slightly concerned about. One was this central mechanism for tour bookings to alleviate congestion. That talked about official tours and unofficial groups. I do not know if that means that a Member of Parliament taking around half a dozen people is going to have to book a slot.

John Pullinger: It does not mean Members of Parliament taking around half a dozen people; it means Members of Parliament, or more often staff of Members of Parliament, bringing around large groups of people. There is a frequent problem that causes many complaints from Members. They go through the system and book a slot and then their guests are baulked because a large group of people have turned up and are hogging a particular point. That is something that officials, the tours, the visitor services find extremely difficult and very frustrating, because at the moment it is almost impossible to challenge those people. They have turned up with their coach and they are the guests of a Member. We have not found any way as officials of regulating that. It is a version of the other point. It is very hard for officials to do and they are genuinely areas where I would really welcome the views of the Committee as to how we can do it.

Q28 Mr Spellar: I understand that. Then we talk about the creation of a separate entity to manage income and talk about it as a charity. That would mean trustees and others, and it could reinvest its surplus in the twin objectives of protecting and preserving the historic fabric of Parliament and improving public understanding. Part of the discussion we have had is about generating income to maintain facilities for what is the core business here, which is providing a Parliament. Creating a separate entity to run that brings the great danger that it will run away with itself and move us away from what is actually the core business here; the others are desirable objectives, but are not our core business. If we create a charity, we have trustees, and we are under charity law-that has considerable downsides to it all.

It ties in with the final point, which is about Parliament Square . Again , it might seem desirable , but Trafalgar Square , for example, was improved by cutting off one side. Trafalgar Square is a permanent bottleneck in the centre of London ; it has huge effects on buses, for example, let alone all other vehicles. Taking out one side of Parliament Square could equally have a very significant effect. This city’s transport system does have to keep moving as well.

John Pullinger: Let me take those two in turn, if I may.

Chair : We are probably on the countdown at the moment.

John Pullinger: Okay, I shall take them quickly.

Mr Spellar: Mr Heath takes his time, you know.

John Pullinger: As part of our savings programme to look at how we can balance the budget over the next three years, we have been looking very hard at income generation. The advice we have received, which has been based on a range of other organisations, has been that we can increase the levels of income, or perhaps more accurately profit, from souvenirs, tours and so forth by several million pounds. However, we could probably double the amount we get if we created a charitable entity, which many other organisations have done.

The proposal in the paper to have the purposes of the charity related to the historic fabric of Parliament is precisely to avoid the kind of anxiety you have. Our prime purpose is the business of Parliament; our prime purpose is not to be a historic monument preservation body, so at the moment what happens is we have this building that we have to maintain because there is only us to do it, and the only way of getting the money for conservation projects is from the Exchequer. Probably the most relevant experience of other organisations to us is the Royal Collection; it cleared £12 million income in the last year-and this is the year before the Royal Wedding-that it was then able to put towards maintenance costs. We can do this without creating a separate entity, but the advice we have had is, if you do create a separate entity, you can generate more income that could be used for those effectively nonParliamentary purposes and would save us a cost that otherwise we would have to bear instead of doing what we really ought to be doing, which is focusing on running a Parliament.

Q29 Mr Spellar: How could we generate more income that way?

John Pullinger: There are two main reasons. The first one is that a charity has access to things like Gift Aid; it has access to grants from various bodies that we do not get-European grants, Lottery grants, all sorts of things-that are available for people who are maintaining heritage buildings. The second line is something that a number of bodies have done, which is to identify people who are very interested in the organisation they are trying to protect and introduce a National Trust-style membership scheme or a sponsorship scheme. The nearest example I can think of that is the philanthropist who put money into recreating the Armada paintings in the House of Lords. At the moment we do not have any systematic way of getting that. Organisations like the Royal Opera House, because they are run in a charitable way, have a development team. I have been told that each member of that team generates large amounts of income to help support the Royal Opera House, because there are people who want to support something like that. The proposition has been put to us that there are people who wish to support the maintenance of the fabric of this place. So that is the answer to your first question.

On the second question, clearly with any change to the Square the primary concern is going to be the traffic-what the consequence is going to be for everybody else. A number of studies have been done. This Committee reviewed the World Squares Project that would have followed on from the Trafalgar Square one, and I think that is a determinant. One of the reasons why it is very difficult to make this place welcoming for visitors is that the space immediately outside is extremely difficult. The question is: is there anything that could be done to make it better?

Mr Spellar: Yes, get rid of that encampment.

Q30 Thomas Docherty: Mr Pullinger, I will try and cram this all in if I can. First of all, just to pick up on Mr Spellar’s point about revenue, do you accept there is a danger-obviously, we have some wonderful members of the press, and one of them is sitting in the press gallery, so I will say that-that some of the press might see the charity status as "MPs avoid tax wheeze". Are you conscious of the public relations issues around using charitable status in order to avoid tax?

Secondly, on the issue about Westminster Hall and the doubling back of the line, I have had a couple of conversations with you on behalf of this Committee. Surely, the cheapest, most effective thing to do is to rejig the script, because there is, as you know, in my view no reason why-as it is the 900-year-old bit of the Palace and the bit where Parliament used to meet-the tour cannot begin in Westminster Hall and go up to Sovereign’s Gate, rather than this slightly ludicrous situation where you meet in Westminster Hall, traipse all the way up and all the way back down again. What discussions have you had with your counterpart in CRS about the facilities within Westminster Hall at the end of the tour, as we have discussed in our report, as regards a visitor centre like the one in Congress, Buckingham Palace or any other major tourist attraction of this nature?

Finally, going back to Mr Spellar’s point about the outside of the buildings, and I have seen Parliament’s thoughts on pedestrianisation, how far have you got with Transport for London in discussing those issues? I think, Mr Chairman, that covers the main points.

John Pullinger: I will answer each of those quickly. On the question of tax status, clearly there will be publicity about this and people will make various points.

Q31 Thomas Docherty: Do you think it will be good or bad publicity?

John Pullinger: It is very easy to get bad publicity here.

Thomas Docherty: We are MPs; we know about that.

John Pullinger: The primary motivation for this is, as part of the savings programme, to reduce the costs of Parliament. The positive point here is about reducing the cost of Parliament. Parliament is not a charitable purpose, but the maintenance of this Grade I listed World Heritage site is. I think we would have to make the argument that this, in the same way as any other historic monument, is worthy of support in whatever way we can. The short answer to your question is, yes, we have thought of that and it is something we would need to manage.

On rejigging the script, we could certainly re-jig the script, although there are fierce advocates for telling the story in either direction. That has not been resolved and could be resolved as part of the discussion of this Inquiry. But it is a lot more than rejigging the script. If we are taking people from the north and out to the south, we would have to create facilities at the southern end for exit. You have to have some toilet facilities, and anybody would say the shop should be at the southern end of the Estate, as people are leaving. So if you are to avoid the doubling back and you start at the north, you have to have better facilities at the south, and our discussion we had earlier about Black Rod’s Garden demonstrates we are a way away from doing that. You could do it, but that would be a consequence over and above changing the script.

On doing something in the Westminster Hall area, Sue Harrison and I are very actively discussing how we can do something with the shop, which is clearly in a bad position in St Stephen’s Entrance, and the Jubilee Café, and making better use of that combined facility.

Finally, on Transport for London, a study has been commissioned by the Parliamentary Estates Directorate to look and talk very specifically to the various other stakeholders in the area about the challenges of any improvements in this. That has not yet been published. The report you were mentioning was the one I mention in my paper by the Hansard Society, and that has involved discussions with people but not negotiations, if that distinction is helpful.

Q32 Thomas Docherty: I have seen a report from one of your Director General colleagues that shows how you would pedestrianise the outside of whatever that road is called, Mr Chairman, that runs between here and Westminster Abbey.

Chair : I think this is something that we need to look at in more detail. Members of John’s Department are coming next week, so we can pursue some of these matters specifically.

Q33 Thomas Docherty: Can I take you back just to the point about the congestion, again following on from Mr Spellar’s point? Am I right in thinking that you are saying that a Member taking around five or six guests does not cause congestion, but for argument’s sake, a Member taking 30 or 40 does. Are you suggesting that this is being delegated to a staff member who is taking around very large parties? Am I right in thinking that that was the point you were making about "unauthorised"?

John Pullinger: Yes.

Thomas Docherty: Typically, how often is that occurring?

John Pullinger: Often, is what I would say, but you will meet some of the visitor assistants next week and they will be able to tell you the impact on those people who have gone through the system. Just to emphasise, Members have the opportunity to bring in small numbers-six is the number that is in the Book-and this is not intended to impact on that, because small groups do not get in the way, but larger groups most certainly do.

Q34 Chair : May I just check one point with you before we close? It follows, does it not, logically that if one has a fast track and a slow track at Cromwell Green, we are reducing capacity still further because, if it is to work as a fast track, presumably we are trying to speed in fewer people, namely those who are coming in for a specific appointment or to give evidence to a Select Committee, and keep the bulk of people coming for tours in the slow lane? The overall capacity must be reduced further by that fact.

John Pullinger: The overall capacity is not reduced, because as people come down the fast lane they simply go to the front of the queue. The scanners are available to everybody, but as people are coming down, the people on the fast track will go straight to a scanner, so everyone else is held up, but only to that extent.

Q35 Chair : Therefore, would it not be helpful if we in fact segregated the fast track out completely and restored the black cabin that we used to have to the other side of St Stephen’s entrance, so that those people who were coming in in ones and twos or threes and fours for the purposes of attending a meeting, or as guests of Members, could be handled in that way? That would slightly increase the ability to handle the larger numbers coming in at Cromwell Green.

John Pullinger: Possibly. My guess is that there would be quite fierce resistance to putting another structure at the front of the building like that.

Q36 Chair : It is one that we have had before. I suspect the objection will be as much to do with cost and that no one will bother with the convenience of people trying to come into the building. I may be unfair, but that worries me. What I am trying to say is that if it would help your aims to get people better and faster into the building, would it not be a useful adjunct to restore that cabin so that we can segregate completely from Cromwell Green the people who are coming into the House for quite specialist reasons?

John Pullinger: On that narrow ground, yes it would, because you have more capacity so you get more people in, so I will answer "yes" to your question. I am just foreseeing formidable arguments against.

Q37 Chair : I am sure, but this is how we have to weigh those arguments as to whether they should be as formidable as that when our purposes are to try to help the public. Thank you very much indeed and I think we may want to see you again towards the end of the inquiry if that is possible.

John Pullinger: That will be fine.

Chair : We are looking forward to seeing your staff next week. Thank you very much indeed.

John Pullinger: Thank you.

Prepared 25th October 2011