HC Deb 28 January 1954 vol 522 cc1969-73
The Minister of Works (Sir David Eccles)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the action to be taken on a number of the recommendations in the first report of the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), which is examining the accommodation of this House.

The House will be grateful for the advice of the Committee, and will I hope, welcome a decision that my Department shall, as an interim measure and as soon as convenient to hon. Members, undertake the following improvements:

  1. (1) A retiring room for lady Members will be provided in the room off the Speaker's corridor now used by the Speaker's trainbearer. The House will be grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your help in this matter. The work will be put in hand at once.
  2. (2) The kitchen and servery of the Commons Dining Room will be re arranged. By bringing the kitchen on to the principal floor it is expected that operating expenses will be reduced and that better and warmer meals will be served. The welfare arrangements for the staff will also be improved. Plans will be worked out with the Kitchen Committee. Work will start in the Summer Recess.
  3. (3) The Committee lift is the only lift which is still old-fashioned and slow. As soon as convenient it will be modernised.
  4. (4) The Strangers' Cafeteria will be replanned so that there are about 30 more seats.
  5. (5) The Strangers' Bar will be made smaller and a separate snack bar installed where light refreshments can be obtained by Members only. This will allow the Tea Room to be restored to its original use as a place where only teas are served.
  6. (6) Five or more telephones for the use of Members will be provided in or near the Members' corridor.
  7. 1970
  8. (7) The ventilation of the book store and offices next to the Lobby Office has already been improved.
  9. (8) The First Aid Room will have running water.
Some of the minor work can be done while the House is in Session, or during the Easter Recess. The larger schemes will, it is hoped, be completed in the Summer Recess. The cost of these improvements will be about £40,000 and a Supplementary Estimate will be presented to the House in due course.

Mr. Stokes

I should like to say, in the first place, how grateful I am sure the whole House will be for the prompt action which the Government have taken. On behalf of the Select Committee I express thanks for the very willing co-operation that has been given to us by everybody, even when they have disagreed with what we wanted to do. The Minister of Works will realise, of course, that this is only a first instalment and that there are other important recommendations, which, incidentally, will not cost very much, but which, we hope, will be implemented from time to time.

I should like to emphasise one point about the cost of the expected alterations. It is that wherever possible, and where it does not cause unnecessary delay, competitive tenders should be invited. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance on that point. The Committee sincerely believes that the changes will prove to be a benefit to everybody, and, while any change always inconveniences somebody, the Committee hopes that those who feel that they will be really inconvenienced will wait to see what happens in the event.

Sir D. Eccles

I am glad to give the assurance about competitive tendering.

Major Legge-Bourke

Is it proposed to discuss this matter in the House? I ask because mention of £40,000 has come as a shock to some of us on this side of the House as there are many things on which some of us feel this money could be spent before spending a sum of this kind on this proposal.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that there will be a Supplementary Estimate on this matter and, if so, that answers the question.

Mr. J. Hudson

While expressing pleasure at all the proposals, and particularly the proposal with regard to the Strangers' Bar, may I ask whether it is proposed that the Tea Room should revert in future to its original use, thus excluding the off-licence trade which has largely developed in the sale of alcoholic liquor?

Sir D. Eccles

I understood that hon. Members wished the Tea Room to revert to its use for serving tea because they found some of the smells there objectionable. We shall have to see how these improvements meet their wishes.

Mr. Baldwin

While thanking my right hon. Friend for the proposed alterations, may I ask whether he will consider finding better facilities for Members to keep their personal papers? At present, our lockers are much too small to contain our correspondence and it would help us a great deal, indeed, much more than the suggested alterations, if we had better facilities of that kind.

Sir D. Eccles

I will look into the question of lockers.

Mr. Rankin

I realise that the Minister is dealing with the convenience of hon. Members, but will he consider that when Members' visitors come to the House there is a lack of facilities for drinking water? Is he aware that this causes particular hardship during the summer, when we have parties of schoolchildren visiting us? After an hour or so touring the House they are very thirsty and facilities for obtaining drinking water are somewhat scarce.

Sir D. Eccles

Perhaps the Committee would consider whether they would like extra drinking water to be supplied.

Sir J. Crowder

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the old-fashioned lifts are more reliable than new ones which have been installed? The latest new one breaks down about once a week and some of us prefer the old type. Will he take particular care about what type of lifts he instals next time?

Mr. Warbey

Will the Minister bear in mind that many hon. Members use the Tea Room for hot meals because they cannot afford the twice daily service in the Dining Room? Will he see that provisions are made for a cafeteria or "help yourself" type of service for Members in future arrangements?

Sir D. Eccles

That is the point of the alterations on the Terrace floor.

Mr. Summers

Will the Minister test for himself the terrible ordeal which any hon. Member has to undergo when trying to write in the Library on the tables alongside the windows facing the river? Cannot something be done in the Library and in the Dining Room to exclude draughts?

Sir D. Eccles

I have noticed that.

Mr. H. A. Price

What action is proposed to be taken on the Committee's recommendation about the provision of desks?

Miss Ward

None, I hope.

Sir D. Eccles

This is a very awkward proposal, because we cannot see any way in which we can find room accessible to the Chamber where these desks could be placed. From my investigations so far, I am afraid that I have to say that the difficulties are insurmountable.

Mr. Gough

While looking into the question regarding the windows at the level of the Library, will my right hon. Friend also look into the question of those on the Committee floor?

Sir D. Eccles

I will.

Mr. Pannell

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the recommendation made by his hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price) about the provision of desks as the greatest interest was provoked in the questionnaire sent out by the Select Committee? More than 500 hon. Members, asked for some sort of accommodation of that nature. Bearing in mind the very exhaustive consideration which the Select Committee collectively gave to this decision, will the right hon. Gentleman hesitate before he pushes his individual opinion against the collective opinion which carries so much weight?

Sir D. Eccles

I would not dare to push my individual opinion on any of these points, but I have to consider the practical difficulties of finding sufficient space and 500 desks would take up very much room. So far, we cannot see where they could be put within easy access of this Chamber.

Mr. Stokes

May I put this to the right hon. Gentleman? The questionnaire in relation to the subject was circulated after the publication of the Report. There have been certain investigations made and I think there is a solution. I think that by consultation we can find a solution which will be satisfactory to everyone.

Miss Ward

I do not want a desk.