§ 3.53 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Lord John Hope)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the measures which Her Majesty's Government have under consideration to provide better accommodation and amenities for honourable Members and others who use the facilities of this House.This is the first time that the present House of Commons will have had a chance to express its views on the matter of its own accommodation and, in that respect, this is a starting point for the Government. I recall an undertaking that I gave to the hon. Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) on 1st March, when I said:The House will not be presented with a fait accompli of any sort."—[Official Report. 1st March, 1960; Vol. 618, c. 1004.]My right hon. Friend and I want to hear as many hon. Members as possible today, and I therefore intend to speak as briefly as is consistent with the presentation of the picture as it is at the moment and will be in the future.
To the question posed in the very general form: is there overcrowding anywhere in the House of Commons? There would, I believe, be an almost unanimous answer "Yes". It is when that question is broken down that it is not nearly so easy to find agreement. Most hon. Members would agree that those who help us as secretaries or as domestic staff are not all working in entirely satisfactory conditions. The Press, too, is sometimes thought to be short of space, although it has 28 rooms.
The hardest point on which to be certain is what, if anything, is wanted by hon. Members themselves. I am grateful for many helpful and interesting comments on this problem, through Questions in the House, correspondence, and conversation. With the help of my architects, and of other professional staff in my Ministry, I have tried to consider possible ways of solving those parts of the problem that seem to worry some hon. Members most. The House will bear in mind that improvements all along the scale have been constantly made throughout the years in response to the demands of hon. Members.
I will deal, first, with domestic staff. As the House knows, any questions raised 1523 by the staff are put to the Kitchen Committee, and the Chairman of that Committee gets into touch with the Serjeant at Anns. At present, there is little doubt that the most pressing need— which was alluded to by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) in a recent Parliamentary Question—is for a waitresses' rest room.
I have discussed this with the Serjeant at Arms. Two possible solutions have already been examined, but have proved unworkable; the second one largely because of fire risk. But the Serjeant at Arms intends to find an answer, and I hope that before very long I shall be able to announce to the House what we can do in this direction. It is certainly something to which we must find an answer. It is not right that the waitresses, who give us such unselfish service through all hours, should be unreasonably uncomfortable.
I turn, now, to the question of accommodation for hon. Members' secretaries. At present, there is space for 124— excluding Ashworths, with their two rooms and 12 secretaries. The figure of 124 is made up as follows—I thought that I would give the House these details, as I know that this is a very burning topic. In Westminster Hall Annexe there are four rooms—A, B, C and D—in which there are the following numbers: A, 19; B. 16; C, 8; D, 17. In the room above the Members' Lobby there is space for 40 secretaries and in Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard—the new accommodation— there are three rooms with eight secretaries in each. That makes a total of 124.
The provision of these new rooms in Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard has, for the present, eliminated the waiting-list for secretaries' desks, and I believe that these new rooms are greatly appreciated. We have had messages from hon. Members, and from the secretaries concerned, saying how much they appreciate them. I am very glad of that, and in this connection I am sure that the House would like me to remember my predecessor, who was very anxious that this provision should be proceeded with.
The rooms are very nice indeed, and those hon. Members who have not seen them would find—even though they may not be personally interested—a five-minute visit to see what has been done 1524 very worth while. Another advantage of the rooms is that we have been able to get rid of the very unsatisfactory temporary rooms in St. Stephen's, as they are now no longer needed.
I believe that, for the greater part of the day—not the whole of it—there is not what could fairly be described as intolerable congestion in the secretaries' rooms. I am sure that what there is could be alleviated if some hon. Members would use the dictating rooms instead of going into the secretaries' rooms to dictate, and if they would also forbear to clutter up these rooms with their own luggage, in some cases, and with a mass of what looks like long unwanted papers. If hon. Members who use these rooms would look to these two points and remove a few suitcases, and so on, I think that it would help.
Nevertheless, the relative position of the secretaries' rooms and Members' rooms is far from ideal and that is a point that exercises almost every hon. Member who uses a secretary. It is on that point that I hope the suggestions which I have to make to the House a little later will be thought to be of help.
On the question of accommodation for hon. Members themselves, I have had very many suggestions made to me from both sides of the House, varying from suggestions to do a very great deal to other suggestions to do nothing at all. It has been suggested by some that what is wanted is a large office block for Members. Others believe that the pressing need is for individual desk space for those who want it. Others, again, have said that what is wanted most—some hon. Members think what is wanted only—is filing cabinets. I should like to deal, first, with the question of an office block, and then with the question of filing cabinets, and come, thirdly, to the question of individual desk space.
No doubt, there are different views about the desirability of having an office block, which would have to be a large building, if it is to be a real office block, with offices shut off from each other, and so on. There cannot fail to be. I know that there is a strong feeling on both sides of the House, though I am not suggesting that it is unanimous, that to do this would change the essential character of the House, and not for the better. [An HON. MEMBER: "It would 1525 destroy it."] That is a matter of opinion, but I know it is a feeling that is held.
The position about filing space is that—
Mr. Wedgwood Bean (Bristol, South-East)
Is that all the Minister proposes to say about the office block?
§ Lord John Hope
It is all I am going to say about it at this moment What I want to do, if the hon. Member will allow me, is to make my own speech in my own way and then to say—and I believe that the House would welcome it, at least as a start—what is to be done. That is the real point. I am trying to deal with it all, and to be short at the same time.
So far as filing cabinets are concerned, the position there is not satisfactory. In the Upper Committee Corridor, there is filing space in 67 desks, and at Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard, for 40. I do not myself think that filing space in desks is at all a satisfactory substitute for filing cabinets. The number of filing cabinets in the secretaries' rooms in the House is 80, and at Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard there are 40. Then there are filing cupboards in the secretaries' room—41 of them. As a first measure to meet this situation, 25 new filing cabinets have been ordered. I do not know whether they are all there, but certainly some are in the Cloisters, awaiting allocation.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
Does the Minister realise that that means that, in the Upper Committee Rooms, it will be not one filing cabinet per hon. Member, but one section of a filing cabinet with some luck, for a Member?
§ Lord John Hope
I quite see that, and that is the sort of point that I am anxious to hear about in the debate. I hope that the hon. Member may be lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, but I hope I will not be interrupted too much, because I want hon. Members to have the opportunity of making their suggestions in their own speeches.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
The Minister has mentioned 80 and 40 filing cabinets. To what did the figure of 40 relate?
§ Lord John Hope
The 40 are at Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard.
On the question of individual desk space, here I feel that the most promising progress can be made quickly. The House will recall that a plebiscite was undertaken by the Stokes Committee, and that the answers to that plebiscite showed that out of the 489 Members who replied 295 said that they would like a desk allocated to them.
§ Lord John Hope
Could this be done, and, if so, where? I believe that it can be done, and I want to describe to the House how and where.
Under the roof, over Committee rooms Nos. 1 to 6, and then from No. 14 along to the Committee offices and over small and immediately adjacent areas, we could find 19,000 square feet of usable space. If we were to occupy that space entirely with desks, we could provide space for 300 new desks. There are, however, 80 desks available for allocation elsewhere in the House. Supposing that we were to go for a smaller number than 300, we could, for instance, partition off a section and use it for secretaries and others, and there we would get the pattern, which I know so many hon. Members want to see, of working space for hon. Members and their secretaries next to each other.
If we could do that, and if the House would like it, it would be a very great help. What form of desk arrangement should be adopted is a matter on which the House could express its views. There could be desks in a big room, or in cubicles, in the pattern such as we see in many offices elsewhere—semi-private rooms—but it could be done. The cost of the roof scheme would work out at £13 per square foot, which is cheaper than, for instance, renting in Central London. It would probably take about three years, because we would have to plan it—unless the House was willing to work in very noisy conditions—so that the House was not disturbed while on its business. It would not take more than three years to plan and complete.
§ Lord John Hope
Three hundred, if we filled it up with desks. It might be less, but it could be about 300.
When speaking of cubicles, I am thinking of the sort of thing which one sees in offices with partitions round three sides of the space, or something of that sort. That might cut down the number from 300, but I think that we should get very near to it. As an alternative suggestion to that, we could have 200 and have another room for the secretaries next door, in which we could accommodate quite a number of secretaries. If we were to do that, without disturbing the comfort of the House, it would take about three years and cost £13 per square foot, which would compare favourably with what one pays today in rent in Central London. The total cost would be about £250,000.
This scheme would have the advantage of involving no alteration at all in the external appearance of the Palace from the river front and very little from the courtyards. In fact if one went into the right courtyard and looked up one might see a small upward extension of the wall, but it would have no effect on the aesthetic appeal of the House from any angle. That is a possibility which can become a reality, if the House wants it, in the time which I have stated. That period would be at the outside, and I could do it quicker if the House were prepared to put up with all the banging and knocking about in the meantime.
There are longer-term possibilities. There is the possibility of completing or half-completing the original Barry scheme. Full completion would mean shutting off New Palace Yard entirely. That would block out most if not all, of the view of Westminster Hall, which I think the House would feel to be a pity, and it would certainly alter the view of the Clock Tower very much, but physically it could be done. The full scheme would cost about £5 million. If one wing were built rather than the two, the cost would be over £1 million.
Another long-term possibility lies in a project about which I want to tell the House, connected with the area beyond Bridge Street. The Government have decided to apply for designation for Government development of the area bounded by Bridge Street, Whitehall, New Scotland Yard and the Embank- 1528 ment. Application has been made for designation. As the House knows, that is bound to take a bit of time, a few years, because there must be compliance with the normal processes of designation in terms of the local authority, and so on.
I do not want to speculate in too much detail—it would be wrong to do it— about what we in the House might find useful there. From what I have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House, I believe that hon. Members, on the whole, would feel that it was not a good thing for Members to have to go over to Bridge Street, because over the road is just that much further away. Where I feel this might come in useful to us is in this context: it might be a very useful way in which we could accommodate people who now occupy rooms in the premises of the House of Commons but who need not be on the spot and within the precincts to do their work.
I am sure from what I have been able to see already that there is a very promising field to be explored in that direction, and I propose to do it at once. I very much hope that in this task of freeing room space which is not needed by (he present occupants I may count on the full support of the Opposition as well as of my own party.
How far and how soon one can act in this context depends on how soon one can find alternative accommodation. That is why I mentioned this in connection with the rather long-term, but, nevertheless, definite possibilities of building over Bridge Street. If I am lucky, and can do something about this long before then, nobody will be happier than I, but I must not give the House the misleading impression that it will be very easy to find accommodation very quickly for those people who must work close to us, but need not work within the premises.
I am sure that hon. Members will find many other points of detail to discuss, and my right hon. Friend and I will listen with great interest and care to everything that is said. I am now examining the question of ventilation in the Smoking Room and other parts of the House, a point which several hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised with me. I believe that we can help considerably in that direction.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the very interesting project in Bridge Street? Does this mean that the Government would take over all the property on the other side of the road, or would they have to wait until the leases fell in?
§ Lord John Hope
The request for designation means that we want it designated as available for the Government to take over the whole thing, to plan on it and build on it for Government purposes.
§ Lord John Hope
As soon as the rules are complied with as far as the L.C.C. is concerned.
Any of the measures, short-term or long-term, which I have outlined could physically be undertaken within the constitutional framework in which the House carries on its business. Perhaps I might remind hon. Members what that framework is. When the House is in session, authority for the accommodation of the House of Commons rests with Mr. Speaker, through the Serjeant at Arms, and it is only when the House is not in session that authority rests with the Lord Great Chamberlain.
I realise, of course, that the Opposition's Amendment raises a point of importance and significance, and I am sure that we shall hear it discussed during the debate, but the Government do not feel able to accept it, because, whatever may be said about it in theory, the present system works in practice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] As Minister of Works. I have found no tendency to obstruction from the authorities of the House in any way.
I therefore thought that I could best serve the House on this occasion by concentrating on the practical possibilities, as I see them as Minister of Works, ready to carry out what I am required to carry out.
§ Lord John Hope
I am talking about the House of Commons. We are debating the accommodation of the House of Commons. It is not within my province to say what I think about accommodation in another place, any more than I can say what I think about places outside the Palace altogether. It has nothing to do with the House of Commons.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:recognising that the accommodation, facilities, and amenities available to honourable Members, the staff of the House and the Press are at present entirely inadequate to enable them to discharge their public duties as efficiently as they would desire, believes that the time has come to implement the proposal of the Select Committee on House of Commons Accommodation, 1953–54, for the establishment of a unified control of the Palace of Westminster under this House; and is, therefore, of the opinion that a House of Commons Commission should be appointed forthwith with the powers and duties proposed in the Select Committee Report, including the consideration of the machinery required to establish such unified control.I want to begin by assuring the Minister that he will have the full backing of this side of the House in so far as he fights vigorously for the rights of Members of the House of Commons. Certainly, we have no desire to make party points of any kind in this debate or over this matter.
Having said that, however, I must add, within the context of those remarks.that I think the House has seldom listened to a more inadequate speech from a Minister. As the right hon. Gentleman himself said, this is the first occasion on which this Parliament has debated the question of accommodation, and we do so at a time when there is mounting feeling on both sides of the House that we are being treated very shabbily by the country and by ourselves in the provision which is made for us here.
Yet all we have had from the Government this afternoon is a Motion which is practically meaningless. I should not have thought that there could be a more vacuous and inconclusive Motion than one which asks us to "take note" of measures which the Government "have under consideration". We naturally assumed that the Minister would supply 1531 the substance of the measures that the Government have under consideration, but apparently that is not to be. Apparently, all the Government have under consideration is a sort of rag-bag of alternatives. The Minister says to us, "You can discuss the matter and then we will see."
Two points of principle arise here. First and foremost, we on this side believe that this is not a matter for the Government at all. It is not for the Government to have certain proposals under consideration. It is for this House to have certain proposals under consideration. Secondly, the Minister has made the best case for the Amendment that could be made by anyone in the House. First, he says, "Give us a blank cheque."
§ Mrs. Castle
I have hardly started. If a point of substance arises, I will give way.
We are asked, first, to give the Government a blank cheque and then we are left without any indication as to how the desires of Members can be made known to the Government. As none of us, when the debate began, was aware of what ideas the Government had in mind—-we have been presented with a series of very complicated technical alternatives—it is impossible to carry out anything like a proper analysis today of those alternatives.
How are we to make our desires known? What machinery does the Minister propose for keeping hon. Members, who are, after all, the people who ought to decide, in close touch with the processes of carrying out some of these alternatives? How are we to make our views known—in a succession of desultory speeches which are bound to be ill-informed in detail? The Minister himself is not particularly well informed.
Therefore, by the very nature of the Minister's speech, we come to the kernel of our Amendment, namely, our belief that an alternative body ought to be established which we, in accordance with the Stokes Report, call a House of Commons Commission, which should have the job of continuous review of these problems and decide upon them in the 1532 name of this House. It will not do for the Minister to dismiss a serious proposal like this, which was made unanimously by an all-party Select Committee of this House, and just say, "We do not think very much about it, because we believe that the present system works all right in practice."
The right hon. Gentleman said that he always gets on very well with the various authorities, but, with respect to him, he is a very new Minister and he has not had much time to test whether, if he wanted to make radical changes, the present arrangements would stand in his way. A very much better authority for us to pay attention to on this matter was the late Dick Stokes, who, after all, was also a Minister of Works and who, for two years, had exhaustively examined this problem.
This is what he told the House in July, 1954, when it was debating the Stokes Committee's Report:The reason why I, with a little experience as Minister of Works, press for unified control is that nowhere, in my experience, are there more vested interests than there are in the Palace of Westminster. They all conflict with one another, and nobody really has the say. There is no better organisation than exists here at present for passing the buck. It does not matter what one recommends; somebody can always do one down, because there is no real top decision-making authority which can correlate and is strong enough to decide between the requirements of Members of this House and the requirement of another place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1954; Vol. 530, c. 1643.]Therefore, in making the brief footnote to his speech that everything in the garden at present is lovely, it would appear that the right hon. Gentleman had adapted his experience to his brief rather than his brief to his experience.
It is not a question of whether the right hon. Gentleman gets on all right with the Lord Great Chamberlain. That is not a very difficult thing to do. I get on with him all right. He is a very charming man. The real question is whether we, as back bench Members, get on well with the Minister. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is nothing personal in that because he, too, is a very charming man. But he is here as the spokesman of the Executive. What is more, he is here as the spokesman of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is to present his Budget next Monday. The Minister may be able to arrange things 1533 with the Lord Great Chamberlain to his own satisfaction, but the question is whether he is arranging things to our satisfaction and not merely to the satisfaction of the Government. That is the point at which we start to approach this matter.
We believe that the time has come for this House to have a radical change in its attitude to the problem of accommodation. We are not asking for public money merely to improve the amenities of hon. Members; we would not be justified in doing that. This Palace is not a club in which we want to install a few more armchairs in which we can have a comfortable snooze. This Palace is a very important workshop, and in approaching the question of accommodation we ask for the elbow room, equipment and tools to do the job of work that a modern Member of Parliament ought to do.
That job, as we all know, is becoming increasingly complex and increasingly taxes our time and energies. If we are to do our job, which is to secure the proper functioning of Parliament as the watchdog of the interests of the people we represent, there must be a very big change in our attitude, not only to the accommodation but to the services that we need. There is a danger that the House of Commons may be losing some of its prestige because we are setting our sights too low and respecting ourselves too little in the sense of the importance we attach to our job and to the tools which enable us to do it. If we do not think that our work is important enough to merit the very best tools available, no one else will think that our work is important, either.
The House ought to take note of the increasing comment made in many different quarters accusing us of not asking for enough and of being content with inadequate facilities, because this becomes a first-class excuse for a lazier lief than we would otherwise be justified in having.
In this connection, I quote the recent pamphlet by Dr. Bernard Crick, lecturer in political science at the London School of Economics, who produced a searching pamphlet on the reform of Parliament. He said quite bluntly that he believed that Parliament was ceasing to be an efficient critic of the Executive, not 1534 because the public was being "let down by the sort of man who comes to Parliament", but because it was let down by "the use which is made of whoever comes".
Dr. Crick challenges us by saying that Parliament "has fallen hideously behind the times, both in its procedures and in the facilities which it extends to Members". We have recently had a bit of a flare up from one or two hon. Members opposite, who began to complain that we were not adequately scrutinising the vast expenditure of public money. No doubt, they will agree with Dr. Crick about our procedures. Will they also agree with him about the lack of facilities? I hope that those hon. Members opposite who have been expressing alarm about the efficiency of the House as a watchdog of the public interest will go into the Lobby with us in support of our Amendment, or persuade the Government to accept it.
Comparing the existing facilities of the House with what, on any reasonable standard, they ought to be, we find that the gap is so fantastic that the public does not begin to understand the difficulties in which we have to work. If we are to have a fundamental review of this problem of the accommodation and services of Parliament we must begin by asking ourselves what it is with which we ought to be trying to provide hon. Members. That must be our starting point in examining all the various alternatives put before us.
One of our answers must be that we ought to begin by equipping a Member of Parliament with the same working facilities which a businessman has, and the minimum for any businessman worthy of his job is an office, a desk, a telephone. a filing cabinet, and a secretary. It is not so much to ask and it is the measure of how we have become conditioned by the medieval monstrosities of this place that the suggestion that we should ask for an office to ourselves is dismissed as the wildest dream. The present position about those items is fantastic.
The right hon. Gentleman thought that when the new desks had been provided in Old Palace Yard, across the road, the present waiting list for secretaries' accommodation would be met.
§ Lord John Hope
I did not say that. What I said was that it had, in fact, been 1535 met. Curiously enough, there is not a waiting list at the moment. I do not attach much importance to that, but I tell the hon. Lady because it completes the picture.
§ Mrs. Castle
I was going on to say that the right hon. Gentleman said that it disposed of the waiting list, but he is overlooking that only a minority of hon. Members can afford to have their own secretaries. That does not mean to say that they should not have secretaries, or do not need secretaries. We cannot on any long-term basis, I hope, dismiss this question of secretarial accommodation on the assumption that the present number of Members who can afford secretaries is satisfactory.
Indeed, when the 120 desks for secretaries have been provided in this Palace, only about one-quarter of the back bench Members of the House of Commons will have secretarial facilities of their own within the Palace. As we know, even that has been achieved only by the most gross overcrowding. So far as I could understand the right hon. Gentleman's statement, his provision for those additional secretarial facilities will not fundamentally cure what he admitted were unsatisfactory overcrowded conditions among the secretaries who are suffering standards well below the minimum laid down in the Gowers Report.
§ Lord John Hope
I am not sure that it will not cure it. If I can produce accommodation for, say, 100 secretaries, or slightly fewer, under the roof, that will make a big difference to the comfort of the rest. It is bound to do so.
§ Mrs. Castle
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is right, but I am a little intrigued by this "under the roof" business. I have done some peering about under the roof of the House in my researches since I took an interest in this matter on behalf of the Opposition. I was told that it was very difficult, or very expensive, for all sorts of reasons, satisfactorily to adapt that part of the building. I do not know. This is one of the things about which we are arguing in the dark to that extent. However, leaving that aside, I very much hope that that will be the case.
As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Stokes Committee found a very 1536 large unsatisfied demand for desks and we would all very warmly welcome any changes or alterations in the House which might end that problem once and for all. However, I repeat that it is essential when all those alternatives are considered and applied, that hon. Members themselves should have a channel through which their wishes could be made known, a channel of continuing consultation on the lines we suggest.
The right hon. Gentleman did not deal with telephones. I remember that when my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), at Question Time recently, suggested that we ought to have one telephone per desk, the right hon. Gentleman said that my hon. Friend was rather over-egging the pudding. I do not know whether that is still his view. I can tell him, on behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House, that the present provision of telephones is so inadequate that I should think that we waste as much time in that respect as over anything else. We are tired of having to put papers down in the middle of preparing speeches, or answering letters and having to go to the telephone, leaving our papers behind and probably finding that someone has put his papers on top of ours by the time we come back again. One telephone to a desk is not an extravagant request for active Members.
I assume that when this desk accommodation is made available, more filing cabinet accommodation will be included with it. The Minister is very fond of quoting the fact that in addition to 80 filing cabinets, at present shared among about 500 back bench Members in the Palace of Westminster, there are what he likes to call pedestal desks, 67 of them, of which he is very proud because they have room for papers. I remind him that those desks are the lowest form of desk life in the Civil Service and that he is not being as munificent as all that with his pedestal desks.
The right hon. Gentleman said nothing whatsoever about the other services and facilities which are equally important to Members. One of our prior duties is the answering of letters from our constituents and we need somewhere properly to do that and to file replies. But that is only part of our work and responsibility.
An enormous amount of our time is spent in carrying the lessons which we 1537 have learned from our constituents on to the Floor of the House in the form of Questions and speeches, and here we come up against the very great inadequacy of the services that enable us to do this effectively. The noble Lord has not mentioned the Library. I do not know whether he considers it satisfactory. All I can say is that the Stokes Committee reported that the Library was… unsuited to the constant use now made of it.It is true that some of the congestion there would be relieved if we could have individual desks for hon. Members elsewhere so that they did not have to use the desks in the Library as what the noble Lord has called "writing places".
The Stokes Committee suggested that there should be fundamental improvements in our Library service and it suggested that…full use by Members of the Library as an open shelf library can only be made when all the shelves are readily accessible.It was for that reason that the Committee recommended the provision of galleries in all the Library rooms. That was an example of an all-party Select Committee making, after serious investigation, a request which got lost in the present channels of administration of this Palace. They got lost very largely on the ground of expense. The pilot scheme introduced in the Oriel Room, in 1955, has proved to be an unqualified success.
Incidentally, the Stokes Committee, when talking of the cost on the basis of an estimate put in by the Ministry of Works, suggested that competitive tenders should be sought. I do not believe that that has ever been done. This is just another example of a proposal not having been followed through because we have no machinery for following it through.
None of us denies that the librarians of the House give us, within the limits of their establishment and their accommodation, the most willing and helpful service. I want to pay a tribute to them. I bother them as much as anybody else in the House, I have been met with unfailing courtesy and willingness and nothing I say is intended to be a disparagement of them, but I seriously suggest that the time has come to have a quite different approach to the kind of 1538 research and briefing facilities which the modern Member should have.
Are we not setting our sights too low? Day in, day out we come here at Question Time and fire Questions at Ministers, at considerable public cost. I know because I run up as big a bill doing this as anybody in the House. A considerable amount of that money is wasted, because the Minister has resources for getting under the net which we have not got for following him under it. This is about the truth of it. It is all very well to have a parade about our great Question Hour. It may satisfy our egos, but are we doing the job of harrying the Executive, as it is our public duty to do? Are we able to track down an evasive Minister?
There are 24 main administrative Departments in Whitehall which we have to pursue at Question Time and in speeches. Every one of them has a huge library and huge research staff working overtime to give the Minister the wherewithal to pull the wool over our eyes. If any Minister wants to pull the wool over our eyes—and what Minister does not?—it is as easy for him to do it as taking pennies out of a blind man's hat.
The Board of Trade has a staff of 50 in its library and half a million books, periodicals, copies of Acts, and the rest, whilst we have in the Library four research workers—two statisticians and two non-statistical research workers—working night and day to dig up the little bits of information that we have apologetically to bother them about. But how can we do our job of scrutinising the Executive, with its massed phalanx of the Government's armoury against the pathetic provisions that we have in the House?
Let us look at what is done for the Senators and Congressmen of the United States. There is a legislative reference service there for the 534 Senators and Congressmen. This service has a staff of 190 highly qualified people, subject specialists, on the one hand, backed by professional reference librarians, on the other. This service has among its duties to advise and assist Committees inthe analysis, appraisal and evaluation of legislative proposalsand if any Committee of Congress needs expert advisers this legislative reference service provides them. It is also at the disposal of individual Senators and 1539 Congressmen, and in 1958 it handled no fewer than 56,000 requests for information.
I do not suggest that we should necessarily model ourselves on the Congress of the United States. We might not want to go to that extreme, but do we have to go to the other extreme? I suggest that the expert help available to hon. Members today is grossly inadequate, that the establishment in certain Departments should be increased, and that the range of services should be extended.
I should like to give the House one example of how we expect hon. Members to do their work with one hand tied behind their backs. The Stokes Committee wished to include in its Report a draft Bill to give legislative effect to some of its proposals and it had to place on record its regret thatthe assistance of a Parliamentary counsel was not made available to them for this purpose.Well, really! When are we going to start to respect the time of the busy people whom we ask to do this work with so little help?
Evidence was given to the Stokes Committee that certain Committees, and particularly the Committee on Estimates, ought to have available to it the services of various experts in an advisory capacity. Chartered accountants were given as one example. But, oh dear, this created a terrific stir and, of course, it has not been done. There is no follow-through machinery by which hon. Members who put forward these ideas can get them carried into effect. I can suggest dozens of ways in which the services at our disposal could be improved.
Why cannot we have translators available in the Library? There are many foreign documents of direct relevance to matters which we discuss on the Floor of the House. I have a bundle which I want translated. It is not that the staff of the Library are not willing and able to do this work. They are not numerous enough and they have not the time. We who want documents translated have to get it done outside and pay for it out of our own pockets before we can use documents of importance in our debates on foreign affairs, for 1540 example. Why cannot we also have abstractors to do the gutting of documents which we ought to read and which we have no time to read? These are the sort of senses in which we ought to be thinking about the problems of the House.
There are other ways, of course, in which we fail. We fail as employers in the House, and I am glad that the noble Lord said that he intended to try to find an additional rest room for the waitresses. He gave that assurance in answer to a Question the other day. Here again, I do not blame the Manager of the Refreshment Department, or the Kitchen Committee. They do not like having to accommodate their staff in one rest room.
Has the noble Lord looked into the conditions in which our cafeteria staff work? They are even worse. We have 35 female staff and cleaners sharing 29 lockers in one small room. Some of them have to "double up". They have this tiny room in which to change and to rest and also to store their mops, buckets, brushes and brooms. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] It is a scandal that we should complacently accept this situation.
Then there are some of our servants in the House for whom we would wish to see 'better provision. I would, in passing, make reference also to the conditions under which the Press has to do its work. We often criticise the Press, and complain that reports of our proceedings are not as reverent as they might be. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that there are 94 members of the Press, crammed into seven tiny rooms at the back of the Press Gallery, working in even worse overcrowded conditions than Members themselves are suffering on the Upper Committee Corridor.
There is only one way out of this situation. That is for us to think big and to start to get a measure of the challenge that is before us today. This brings me directly on to the central theme of our Amendment. As I have said, various alternatives are put before us. Through what medium are we to examine those alternatives, weigh op the pros and cons and come to a decision? We cannot do it in a general debate in the House.
The way in which we have tried to deal with the accommodation problem in the 1541 past was ludicrous—by setting up a Select Committee once every ten years or so. The Stokes Committee went to a lot of trouble and a number of hon. Members worked themselves to the bone on it, like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House. [Laughter.] Well, it has taken my hon. Friend six years to recover.
Of course, that Committee got us some small improvements, but they are very inadequate. We can now have a cup of tea in the Tea Room without having it accompanied by the smell of kippers— that is something. We have had 36 more desks provided in six years. There is a new rest room for the kitchen staff.
We have the new lady Members' retiring room which, for reasons which I do not intend to dilate upon this afternoon, is nicknamed "Barbara's Castle", and we have even got—triumph of triumphs —running water in the first-aid room. No one can say that there is never any progress in the Palace of Westminster!
But what have we not got? We have not got fundamental improvements in the Library, or extensive building operations, not even a desk per Member, not even the 295 Members' requests for desks met. We have not had all sorts of detailed proposals carried out. Above all, we have not got that proper control over our own affairs which became the central demand of the Stokes Committee Report.
Is it not ridiculous that we should have to set up a Select Committee every six to ten years to get an extra annunciator in the Tea Room? Cannot we have some less laborious machinery than that? And when the Committee reported what happened? After these hon. Members had worked for two years, so hard and conscientiously, we had two and a half hours' debate on their report in Committee of Supply. Because it was on Committee of Supply the Committee was even hamstrung in discussing its very fundamental recommendation for the setting up of a House of Commons Commission, because that would have involved legislation.
After a few minute changes the darkness fell again—a darkness in which all were left groping, and we shall be left groping again if the Minister of Works has his way. That is why the Stokes 1542 Committee made, as the central point of its theme, the need for the setting up of a House of Commons Commission—not a Sessional Committee, but a Commission authoritatively established which would govern our affairs through the whole lifetime of Parliament and, in fact, carry on until a new Parliament was appointed and a new Commission might have to be set up.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
When the hon. Lady refers to a House of Commons Commission, does she mean literally for that portion of the accommodation allocated to the House of Commons, or is she referring to a Palace of Westminster Commission?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am coming to that. I intend to deal with it in some detail, because I am putting this proposal very seriously for the consideration of Members of the House.
I repeat that the recommendation was unanimous. Indeed, I would point out to the House that the present Minister of Housing and Local Government was a member of that Committee and supported that recommendation. I hope that he will support it in the Division Lobby tonight. After all, this is not a party matter—it is a House of Commons matter—and I ask the Leader of the House to allow his hon. Friends a free run so that they can establish a little bit of their own freedom and claims for a change, and perhaps he will allow the Minister of Housing and Local Government to vote according to his own convictions on this matter today. There were many respected Members of this Committee; indeed, one of them has now been elevated to another place, Lord McCorquodale, so we have an ally for the proposal there.
What is the objection to the present position? Dick Stokes pointed out quite clearly, and his Committee pointed out, that at present the control of the Palace is delegated to various authorities and this, said the Report… tends to frustrate or delay desirable changes.I think that the House is well aware of the present confusion of responsibility. It was summed up very well in the Report of the Joint Committee on Accommodation, in the Palace of Westminster, in 1944–45, when it said: 1543The Palace of Westminster is a Royal Palace in the charge of the Lord Great Chamberlain, and he allocates the accommodation in it by Warrant to the different users, who make their own detailed distributions of the rooms which are available. For the House of Lords this is done by the Lord Great Chamberlain through his Secretary (who is also the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod). For the House of Commons it is done on behalf of the Speaker (a) by the Serjeant at Arms in respect of the Officers of the House, of the Kitchen and Refreshment Rooms, the Press, etc., and (b) by the Ministry of Works in respect of Ministers' Rooms. When Parliament is not sitting the Palace reverts to the custody of the Lord Great Chamberlain.The Lord Great Chamberlain himself gave evidence to the Stokes Committee. I think that evidence was very significant. He said:My first duty is to the Sovereign, who appoints me. My next duty is to look after the Palace of Westminster. After that, I consider it my duty to do all I can for the Members of both Houses of Parliament. I cannot say that I can always do very much, because I have no money. I have to ask the Ministry of Works for a grant.Our objection to this system is twofold. The first objection is one of principle. We think it quite wrong for the premier legislature of the world to be deprived of control over its own affairs. It really is wrong. The present situation may be picturesque, but it really is not, I suggest, in keeping with the modern mood and modern ideas.
Our second objection is a practical one. The reason is that it gives us at present no machinery at all for the continuing review of the changing needs of the users of the Palace to which the Committee referred. It gives us no say in the allocation of accommodation between the different users, because the delegation of the duty of allocation to the Serjeant at Arms means, of course, that we cannot ask Questions about it in the House. Surely it is wrong to deprive us of the right of control over our own affairs? The present situation gives us no means of reviewing the size and nature of the establishment in the House, or of the services which we get from it.
Our biggest objection is that the present system strengthens the hands of the Executive against the back bench Member, and that is why it is fundamentally wrong. As the Lord Great Chamberlain said, he does not dispose of the money. He has not the money 1544 to alter the fabric of this House, or even to maintain it or to improve it in any way. That comes from the Ministry of Works, and one of the things to which the Stokes Committee most strongly objected was the present procedure for drawing up the Estimates which govern expenditure upon this House and upon its services.
As Dick Stokes pointed out, the Serjeant at Arms prepares a list of requirements "in consultation with the appropriate authorities of the House" and not with the House itself. When these Estimates have been prepared by the Serjeant at Arms, they are handed to the Minister of Works who weeds them out, lets drop those which he thinks are not particularly important, or for which he ought not to ask the Government at the moment, and hands them on to the Treasury. The Treasury weeds them out further in the light of other considerations and then they come to the House as part of the Civil Estimates, and the Whips are put on to drive them through.
This means that it is finally within the say of the Government what facilities are given to hon. Members with which to fight the Government. Do not the Government think that this is an undemocratic state of affairs? That is why the Stokes Committee recommended the setting up of a Commission which would, first and foremost, take over the powers of the existing Commissioners set up under the House of Commons Offices Acts, 1812 to 1849. Those Commissioners are responsible for the terms of service, pay and pensions of all officers and officials in this House. I understand that it is largely a defunct body. It has only a nominal control, which is a good thing because all its members, under Mr. Speaker, are Ministers. That, again, is a bad principle.
So the Stokes Committee recommended the setting up of a House of Commons Commission, with a changed composition but with the powers of the existing Commissioners. It would, of course, be under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker. The Stokes Committee recommended that in addition to certain obvious Members who should be on it, such as the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, or his deputy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or some other Treasury Minister, and the Minister of Works, there 1545 should be back benchers representing both sides of the House, one of those back benchers being appointed by Mr. Speaker as vice-chairman, who could be answerable to the House for all the responsibilities which came within the purview of the Commission.
The prime duty of such a body would be to prepare the Estimates. This would mean that it would go into all the considerations I have mentioned from a House of Commons point of view, deciding what we needed and had a right to ask for to enable us to do our job properly. Those Estimates would then go to the Treasury with the authority of this all-party body. In addition, this House of Commons Commission would advise Mr. Speaker on the allocation of accommodation, Library facilities, kitchen facilities, and so on, and would appoint sub-committees to do the detailed work. It would make an annual report to the House on the amenities and facilities just before the Estimates were submitted, so that we would be informed and could have a proper and intelligent discussion of those Estimates.
Now I come to the query of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew). The Stokes Committee realised that this should be only the first step towards what it wanted to see here, namely, the unified control of this Palace. Owing to its terms of reference, the Stokes Committee was not able to work out the constitutional implications. It suggested, therefore, that suitable steps should be taken to this end after the Commission had been set up.
There are various forms that a unified control might take. It might take the form of a joint body of Members of the House of Commons and members of another place, or we might decide, on consideration, that the House of Commons Commission might adopt the rôle of the Lord Great Chamberlain and delegate to another place the control of its own section of the Palace, just as at present the Lord Great Chamberlain delegates to us control of our section of the Palace. This would be a matter we could discuss; it is the principle that we are urging here today. Once we had decided on the machinery appropriate for the unified control of this Palace, it would be possible for us to request Her 1546 Majesty to hand the administration of her Palace over to the body on which we had agreed.
I suggest to hon. Members on all sides of the House that this is the modern and sensible form of administration for this Palace. If we are ever to get satisfactory arrangements to equip hon. Members, we must adopt a modern approach so that we have the modern machinery with which to do our work. Given a modern approach, there are so many things we could do, even within this neo-Gothic monstrosity in which we have to work. For instance, why cannot we introduce office efficiency methods?
I will end by making one practical suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. Why cannot we have a central remote control dictation system in the House? It would be perfectly possible and it would not cost very much. I have made some tentative inquiries. All we would need would be one room equipped with the necessary number of control sets, say 20, supervised by 20 girls, who could cope with the dictation needs of about 200 Members of Parliament dictating on and off during the day, possibly more.
This central dictation room could be connected to our existing telephone wiring facilities without much additional expense. All we would have to do would be to go into a telephone booth in the House, either one of the existing ones or additional ones provided specially for the purpose, lift the receiver and ask the operator to connect us with central dictation. We could then dictate an urgent letter, and while the intake machine was taking it down the girl supervising the machine could be transcribing from the other machine in the control set letters previously dictated. In that way, we could have a continuous flow of efficient office output for a very little expense; and think of the relief this would give hon. Members in terms of time and expense. Why do we not try modern ideas such as that? Why not hire a few machines and give them a pilot run?
I suggest to the House that if we are to measure up to the challenge facing our Parliament today we must tackle some of our problems in quite a different spirit from that shown by the Minister this afternoon. I conclude by quoting some words of his late Majesty King 1547 George V, when he opened the new County Hall:A public authority meanly housed is a public authority meanly esteemed.I would alter that to read a House of Commons which meanly esteems its own work will be meanly esteemed by the public it seeks to serve. Therefore, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as the modern party in this House we ask the House today to give us a modern Parliament.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Butcher (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) concluded her speech with a quotation. I agree with the spirit of that, in that an authority which is meanly housed is a meanly esteemed authority, but I found very little indeed in her preceding observations which would commend the Amendment to this House.
My purpose in rising this afternoon is not to be controversial in any way but, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, to put before Members of this House some of the accommodation problems facing that Committee, which is perhaps the most non-party of all committees of the House, in the hope that some of the suggestions may commend themselves to this House now and others may be considered on a later occasion.
First, I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his assistance and help, and also to the officers of his Department working in this old building, which, incidentally, I do not regard as being an architectural monstrosity in any way. They are in the impossible position of people in an overcrowded car park who must move 15 cars in order to get one out.
The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn took up the matter—and I was very grateful to her for making the point—of accommodation provided for the waitresses down in the Kitchen Department. It really is terrible. The officers of my right hon. Friend's Department have been working on it, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support. I am also glad that she mentioned the cleaners. One may look at the waitresses' accommodation and think it is awful, but if one looks at the cleaners' accommodation one thinks that the waitresses are almost luxuriously housed.
1548 That is not the only difficulty from which the Kitchen Committee is suffering. I should like to take the House on a tour of the accommodation now ultilised by the Kitchen Committee. I have no authority to speak on behalf of the Committee as such, or of its members, but I am sure that very few of them would find themselves in disagreement with my remarks.
One of the greatest difficulties we have is in providing proper services for the secretaries and other people who use what is known as the Strangers' Cafeteria. That room is always under the heaviest pressure. The conditions behind the small servery make it extremely tiring on the staff. The limited amount of seating accommodation makes it extremely difficult to provide a proper service and maintain orderly, cleanly and hygienic conditions.
I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has that matter under his close consideration, but it is impossible to do much more in the existing room because the room is not big enough. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend say how desirous it is to get out of this Palace people who must be near us but need not be in the same building. If we were to work on that as a main principle over the next period of years, we could do an enormous amount to ease conditions and assist Members all round. Perhaps he would consider how far he would go in this way at the far end of this room. I suggest that we should extend into the accommodation to which I have referred at what, I think, is the north end of the Cafeteria.
Between the Strangers' Cafeteria and the Members' Cafeteria is what is called the servery. I hope no Member will try to go in there, because there is no more room in it for another human body. In that small space is done the washing up and all the cooking—quite contrary to the modern practices of hygiene for two quite busy places of refreshment. The Ministry of Works is conscious of this and is eager to do all it can, but it is impossible to get a quart into a pint pot.
I now refer to the private Dining Rooms on the Terrace Floor, because, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, I am always in trouble over these rooms 1549 in one way or another. Some people seem to have the mistaken idea that the Refreshment Department is out canvassing for business at all costs, that we desire to let these rooms be used for commercial purposes. That is not so. There are only two rooms there suitable for parties of any size. One of the difficulties facing the Manager and the Department as a whole is to make sure that Members who want properly to use these rooms for social occasions can do so without lengthy booking ahead.
Although I have been Chairman of the Committee for only a short time, I believe that an additional dining room there is of real urgency and need. As the hon. Lady is an exponent of modernity and change, I wonder whether I could carry her with me in the proposal I now make? The only room on the Terrace level not occupied by the kitchen department is the Lady Members' Room. I wonder whether she would be agreeable to vacating that room, with her friends and colleagues, and going somewhere else so that the whole of the Terrace Floor could be made available to the kitchen department?
§ Mrs. Castle
It is just that sort of problem which some continuing body could discuss. It is absurd for vested interests to dig their heels in and demand that the status quo goes on for ever. But there is no machinery for us to discuss this.
§ Sir H. Butcher
I am trying to make a quite non-controversial speech. We do want more accommodation there. I believe that we can only get it inside this building at someone else's expense. The arrangement which exists at present may not be perfect, but it is perhaps about as right as any other arrangement we can come to. We are working in a building which is too small and old fashioned for our needs.
One of the principles of accommodation in this building is to make sure that every piece of it is used to maximum efficiency. I wonder whether Members —I am quite sure that some older Members do—know to what I am referring when I mention the old accommodation used by the Serjeant at Arms near the Bright Statue. At the moment, it is used as a kind of additional reading room, tucked away round the corner. It is used and appreciated by respected Members of this House, but I feel that 1550 perhaps this is one of the rooms which is least used and makes one of the smallest contributions to the comfort and convenience of Members.
Perhaps Members, if they think there is any merit in my suggestion, might feel that that room could well be used by Members to entertain guests instead of having to take them to the lower floor, along the long passages and into the Harcourt Room. The Harcourt Room could then become available for additional catering service and perhaps be kept for important gatherings, such as the visits of important political personages or for when ambassadors dine with us. I believe seriously that this accommodation, the old Serjeant at Arms accommodation, is perhaps the least used accommodation in the whole building.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
As one of those who has used that accommodation from the beginning, if we were to take that room away from hon. Members who like it we should only have more overcrowding in the Library. We have to consider this among other things. The alteration in that room made a considerable contribution to the comfort of Members in this place. I should hope to do everything I could for the staff, but I sometimes think that the more we do for the staff the worse we make it for Members.
§ Sir H. Butcher
I do not disagree with the hon. Member. If that room were diverted from its present use, more hardship would fall on Members who have been accustomed to using it. But at the moment, because of the underemployment of the room, in my opinion some disadvantage falls on the vast majority of Members throughout the building. It is for the House and the Ministry to decide on these things. My view is on one side. The hon. Member knows very well that he could take another point of view, but there is much that can be solved. Having dealt with these matters which affect the Refreshment Department, I will, if I may, turn for a few moments to broader issues.
I really feel that despite the difficulties which we all in a way suffer because of the antiquity, if I may use the word, of this building—its age—nevertheless, the way in which the accommodation is handled at the present time represents a 1551 really fine job of planning, smooth working and co-ordination between various departments. The courtesy and kindness shown by the Lord Great Chamberlain to those who have to deal with him on many matters of accommodation is really exceptional, and I would not like my thanks to go unrecorded.
The real answer is, of course, that this building is not big enough for its present use. Since it was put up, Parliament has changed in its conception, in the number of people employed in the building, in the number of days on which it meets, in the amount of secretarial assistance which Members feel they need, in the claims made upon Members as a result of the enlarged electorate, and, of course, because in a Welfare State Members are regarded much more as the one buffer between the individual and the Department.
That being so, I was not very happy to hear my right hon. Friend suggest that all could be well if we put a few more secretaries up in the roof and had a kind of large open dictating room for Members. I thought that that was a very poor view to take, and I also thought that my right hon. Friend was not holding it too seriously when he followed up afterwards with the news that the building on the other side of the road had been designated. It is good to know that that accommodation, bounded by Bridge Street, Whitehall, New Scotland Yard and the Embankment, has been designated for office and Governmental use. However, I am bound to say that I think that my right hon. Friend has created a great challenge for himself in this matter, because this area of London is being redeveloped.
I ask my right hon. Friend not to regard this as a long-term project but to put on his hat and walk down Victoria Street. He should start at the one end of the street where the Legal and General Insurance Company is developing a big new office building. That project is not going to take the long years which my right hon. Friend was envisaging. It is a nice stroll past the Army and Navy where more development is going on. New buildings are being pushed ahead by private enterprise at extreme speed. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend would wish to be left behind in 1552 this matter and let it be thought the Government Departments cannot move as fast as private enterprise.
The need for additional accommodation in the House is very great indeed, and in my view the problem cannot be solved by establishing committees. The wrangling and fighting that would go on in committees of that kind would be appalling. Indeed, the moment I suggested that one room should be changed in its user, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) immediately felt that I was saying how important the room was. That is the kind of problem that any committee would be up against all the time.
We must have more space, much more space. I believe that a new building, especially on the site suggested, will help enormously to improve the efficiency of these services. I think it right that Members should have the accommodation for secretaries and that there should be much better conditions for the staff.
I cannot agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn that we should be able to come here and ask for any document, be it in Rumanian, Hindustani or any other language, and have it translated at someone else's expense. But I agree with her that we must be more modern in our approach.
I expect that my right hon. Friend will get some idea of the time taken for the development of building in the West End. He should discuss the matter with the property developers and get some idea of how long it would take from the time the project was first started to the time which the floors were occupied. He should then deduct two or three months from that time because Government Departments should be able to move with greater efficiency and speed than private people who have to consider tax matters. If the Government were to do that we should then have our new building up before Parliament went to the electorate again.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I join with the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher) in his final plea for action, and since the Minister announced that he was going to conduct himself like a suggestion box, I hope that he will take note of what 1553 his hon. Friend has said. Quite frankly, neither the right hon. Gentleman's plans nor the speed with which he intends to implement them are satisfactory to the House. I think that this will be echoed by all who speak in this non-party debate.
I hope that we shall not allow the debate to become just a discussion about details of accommodation—how many square feet of line are necessary, and so on. What we are discussing is nothing less than the operation of Parliament in the modern world, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) for opening the debate in the way she did and for raising it to its proper level of discussion.
At this time, we in this country need a strong Government and a strong Parliament, and I have never believed that the two are incompatible. I think that the House of Commons is greatly mistaken if it thinks that it can only be effective by trying to become the Government of the day through Committees. The House of Commons does its job well when it directs a barrage of informed criticism and questioning against the Government of the day. This has nothing to do with the Labour Party or the Conservative Party, with the Left or the Right, or with the Government or the Opposition. It is something to do with the relations between the Executive and the Legislature. What we are discussing is whether it is possible to make the Legislature more efficient.
My own view of the work of Members today is that it is made very difficult by two factors, both of them relatively new. One is the enormous complexity of modern political life. I do not believe that political decisions are very difficult things. What is difficult is to know what the practical alternatives are, and in order to know what they are we must have the basic material available to us. This is something that the Minister has through his officials and through his own Department but which is denied to the average Member.
After all, our work in the House of Commons is not just a matter of keeping abreast with our constituency correspondence. It has been said of hon. Members that we are now welfare officers. That is quite right; we are 1554 always available to follow up points that arise in our constituencies and which require further action by the Government. But much of our welfare work is routine work in the sense that the letters come in and are dealt with, and only on the occasion when the Minister's reply is unsatisfactory does it call for political action. When I see Members in the Library writing by hand to Ministers it always seems to me to be a scandal, not to the Member but to the public, because it is public time which is being wasted.
The second problem, of course, is the pressures under which we work in the modern age. The power of the modern pressure groups in this country is increasingly being achieved by persuasion. People do not any longer use the big stick to get their way. They employ the public relations officer and the research agencies. Like every hon. Member, I am bombarded with statistics and glossy publications designed to convince me that I want to adopt a particular attitude towards the roads lobby, towards the licensed trade or this or that. I do not object to them bringing pressure or seeking to bring pressure on me, because that is their job as the pressure group. But it is my job to have the equipment behind me to assess whether their claims are just, whether their figures are acourate and whether what they ask is in the public interest. It is only in Parliament that people are represented as people—as consumers. We are the only representatives of the nation as a whole. That is why it is vital that we should be able to do our job properly.
What has been said is quite right. We must forget the past and think out this problem afresh from the beginning. The first thing that a Member of Parliament needs is an office so that he may be able to get on with the job and not become burdened by the routine work. I was in Washington last summer and I went over the Legislative Reference Service, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has referred, and I was given a copy of a little booklet which is given to every Congressman on election. One passage states:Each Member is entitled to be furnished, through the Clerk of the House, certain approved types of electrical or mechanical office equipment not exceeding a total cost of"—1555 approximately £1,000—such as addressing machines; automatic typewriters; electric typewriters; recording machines for dictating and transcribing; and duplicating machines.The very fact that when I read that passage it should cause a titter in the House is an indication of the extent to which we have fallen down on our job of becoming an efficient Parliament.
What irritates me is that Members of Parliament have the right not to have a secretory; that a Member of Parliament with family responsibilities should be given the alternative of writing his own letters and not getting a secretary to help him. What Government office would advertise a post and say, "The salary will be £1,000 if you agree to have a secretary, but if you do your own letters you will get £2,000"? Yet that is our alternative. We are allowed to operate below a proper degree of efficiency because the House has never modernised itself.
There are various little irritations and difficulties which I have tried to take up. The other day I asked whether we could not have a messenger service so that I could circulate Members free if, for example, I thought that an item of business was coming up which was important. I was told that I could write to only six Members and have the letters delivered by the House. I once asked whether we could not have the personal call system which is in use in hospitals— a tiny receiver with a little buzzer for each doctor. If a message comes in, he can put the instrument to his ear and receive incoming telephone calls. The right hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who was Minister of Works at the time, replied that he doubted whether Members wanted to be available for incoming calls.
§ Mr. Benn
That "Hear, hear" from the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) is an indication of his assessment of his responsibilities as a Member of Parliament and of nothing else.
In my opinion—I say this without flattery—the best back bencher in the House of Commons is the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). He is 1556 the most effective back bencher in the sense that he puts the Government "on the spot". The hon. Member would, however, be the first to admit that he has a big office behind him to do it. Nobody need imagine that he sits up all night calculating the percentage of the Purchase Tax for every one of his Questions. He is backed by a department. I choose as my example somebody from the other side of the House to show that this is not a party question.
What we need is a new office block. We want the Minister of Works to go down in history, not as the man who "designated" Bridge Street—that is no great claim to fame—but as the man who gave Parliament the equipment it needed to do the job. That can only be done by building an office block.
The second thing we want is control of our own destinies. This is a high constitutional principle. It is not simply a trifling matter of whether we like the Lord Great Chamberlain. My solution is that we should nationalise the Lord Great Chamberlain. I will explain exactly what I mean. The alternatives today are either to take the power away from the Lord Great Chamberlain or else to take over the Lord Great Chamberlain.
When I look at the history of the country, I see many precedents for taking over the high offices of the State, removing them from their feudal or ancient heritage and putting them under popular control. The Lord High Admiral was taken and put into commission as the Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty. The Lord President of the Council was taken over and put under the control of the majority party of the day.
Let us take over the Lord Great Chamberlain and abolish the Minister of Works. That is what I want to do, the more so after hearing the right hon. Gentleman's speech today. Let us have one office. The Lord Great Chamberlain can be appointed with the other Ministers of the day and be made responsible to this House when he comes to administer the Palace of Westminster.
§ Mr. Benn
If the right hon. Gentleman were Lord Great Chamberlain, at 1557 least it would be a change. After his speech today, any change would be welcome.
We are discussing something fundamental: that is, the modernisation of our system of Government. There is a terrible danger that we shall look back all the time at the ancient traditions of Parliament and forget our modern requirements and allow ourselves to slip behind. I sometimes wonder at what stage the Beefeaters realised they were no longer men of war but were objects of curiosity to the tourist. What sort of man was the commander of the Beefeaters when this subtle change took place? I believe that he was somebody rather like the Minister of Works. Long after the Beefeaters had become an object of curiosity, he still firmly believed that they were really defending the Tower of London against all comers.
I appeal particularly to the younger Members, on both sides, who are not prepared to put up with inadequate facilities. Unless we get together and make this a Legislative revolt against the Executive, I seriously believe that there is no hope for this Parliamentary system.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and disagreed with all of it. My views on the question of accommodation are quite straightforward. I do not want any change whatever. In fact, I am delighted with the House and the Palace of Westminster. If I did not like it, I should leave it. I have never found the accommodation too small or too crowded.
If this matter is looked at in some detail, there is always plenty of room in the Dining Room, the Smoking Room is adequate, the Library is very large and we are served very well by all the staff in those departments. At least, that is my view. All Ministers have rooms and there is plenty of space for Members on the lower floors and in the areas above the two Division Lobbies. I do not want a room for myself and I do not want a telephone. I detest that instrument enough already and I shall certainly take what steps I can to prevent one being foisted on me.
1558 It should be remembered that Parliament is in operation for only six or seven months each year and that hon. Members are not here every morning or at week-ends. I like the House and its surroundings as they are. We should meet here to enact legislation and to discuss great or small questions of the day. It must not be thought of as an office or business house. Our traditions are extremely good and I see no reason to copy the American pattern or any other Parliament. I would deplore any attempt to do so.
In my view, a lot of this "fussation" about accommodation is an agitation from those on the Left wing. They want to put their fingers in the till and to inflate themselves at the public expense.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Does the hon. Member appreciate that the whole gravamen of our charge is contained in a unanimous Report of a Select Committee whose members included a distinguished Member from his own side of the House as well as Front Benchers? It was a unanimous Report and, therefore, this idea of a tilt at the Left wing is nonsense.
§ Mr. Hutchison
I disagree with the Report. Any idea of expanding the accommodation and inflating ourselves should be resisted.
I gave one major pledge at the General Election. It was that I would oppose unnecessary public expenditure. I intend to abide by that, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works will not launch out on costly alterations, and that anything he does will be of a minor nature, such as an extra room or two for the waitresses or the secretaries.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
It was not very easy to hear everything said by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison), but I gather that whatever anybody else was in favour of, he was "agin it". I therefore find it difficult to follow his speech, but whatever I say I shall be answering points that he made.
Before I deal in detail with the physical conditions under which hon. Members have to work, I should like to refer briefly to one or two other matters which concern Members of Parliament. 1559 It is strange that this Mother of Parliaments, which has been the model for so many other Parliaments throughout the world, should treat its hon. Members with such contempt. From the point of view of pay, pensions, accommodation and amenities we are much worse placed than the members of other Legislatures.
I do not want to change this debate to one dealing with pay and pensions, but they should be mentioned because they are part of the symptoms which produce the appalling conditions under which we work. People say that if we make the job of a Member of Parliament too attractive we shall draw in the wrong sort of people. I have two answers to that. First, if those who use that argument mean it, then it is an insult to the members of other Legislatures throughout the world. Secondly, a man does not come here merely because he thinks that he would like to do so. He first has to convince some party that he would make a good candidate. If he is selected, he then has to convince the electorate that he is worth sending here. One does not come here merely because one feels that one would like to. I cannot see that we should do our job less efficiently if we were less worried about what was to happen to our dependants if anything happened to us.
I think that everyone who has listened to the Minister this afternoon will agree that one of the troubles about all these problems is that we are dependent on the Ministers. I do not want to go into great detail about that, but at times they tend to forgetthe base degrees by which they did ascend.If they need help in solving these problems, a number of us would be willing to give them the benefit of our advice, not only today but on other occasions.
Before I come to the question of the physical accommodation, reference ought to be made to railway travel. How long will this farce continue whereby every time a Member of Parliament makes a journey to his constituency or to his home he has to fill in a form and get a ticket? Why cannot hon. Members be given a pass, as happens with members of other Legislatures? I should hate to get out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I shall deal with this matter as one of the amenities.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the directors of the old railway companies still have a gold pass and do not fill in forms? They can travel anywhere on a gold pass.
§ Sir D. Glover
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that because we have to fill in these forms we need a large transport office which takes up accommodation in the House?
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not need any help about keeping in order.
Why cannot hon. Members be given a pass the same as is given to members of other Legislatures? Does anybody seriously think that we would take railway journeys all over the country merely for the pleasure of sitting in a train? I get more travelling than I want, and I am very happy to remain at home.
The treatment that is given to London hon. Members does not concern me personally, but the niggardly treatment which they receive is indicative of our attitude towards hon. Members of this House. They have a pass for their daily travel between their homes and Westminster, but whenever there is an Adjournment of the House or a Recess they have to hand in their passes. Really!
§ Mr. Blackburn
I accept that. Many of my colleagues come to the House of Commons and to London on Parliamentary and constituency business during Adjournments and Recesses. It is intolerable that they should be subjected to such an indignity.
Let me now deal with the physical conditions under which hon. Members work. The Minister got one thing right this afternoon. He realised that there were two aspects of this problem, long-term and short-term. In the long term, unless we build, and build fairly extensively, there will be no hope of providing adequate facilities and good conditions for Members of Parliament. I hope that the Minister will take the advice of his hon. Friend the Chairman 1561 of the Kitchen Committee and try to get a move on with whatever building is to be done.
Everybody was pleased to hear the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee speak, but while he argued against our Amendment he proved our case. Nobody could have made out a stronger case for the need for setting up some new organisations to deal with the problems of this House than did the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee. It is not a question whether the Lord Great Chamberlain is a charming man or not. It is whether the present set-up is the best that we can have.
There is a long-term and a short-term problem. The short-term problem is whether we are making the best use of the accommodation that we have at the present time. I want to go further than the Stokes Committee was able to go. The first thing that the House must do is to petition the Queen to place the control of this Palace of Westminster in the hands of the elected representatives. I feel confident that there will not be the slightest objection on the part of Her Majesty to do that. Control should be in the hands of the elected representatives. We should then set up a House of Commons Commission on the lines, and with the powers, suggested by the Stokes Committee. We could then cooperate with the House Committee, which, I understand, the other place has at the present time. Unless we are prepared to do that, I do not think that we shall ever be able to make the necessary changes which we want. We have to make certain that whatever accommodation there is in this Palace is put to the best use.
It is not only hon. Members who are concerned about this. There are the members of the Press, the Kitchen Committee and the civil servants who give such valuable service. Let us consider first the Press. I have seen their accommodation. I admit that it will not be easy to improve their accommodation because they have to be so near to the Chamber, but improvements could be made. I believe that if we set up a House of Commons Commission, by consultation between that Commission and representatives of the Press valuable improvements could be made. Improve- 1562 ments have been made in the accommodation for the kitchen staff and certain other staffs since the time of the Stokes Committee, but there is still a great deal to be done, as was proved conclusively this afternoon by the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee.
I now turn to the situation of Members of Parliament themselves. There is accommodation in this Palace which is not being used at the moment. There are two flats above Mr. Speaker's house. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of the fact, but one of those flats used to be lived in by Mr. Speaker Morrison's son. The flats are now empty, and we should see if we can find some way of gaining access to those excellent rooms without encroaching upon the private apartments of Mr. Speaker. There is another suite of rooms at Terrace level. Why should we not use all the accommodation which is available?
§ Lord John Hope
The hon. Member has referred to sets of rooms in Mr. Speaker's house. I do not think that he was suggesting that Mr. Speaker Morrison's son used some extraneous flat. I am sure he did not mean that, but it sounded like it from what he said.
§ Mr. Blackburn
The main accommodation of the present Mr. Speaker is on one floor. The flats above are not being used, and if some way could be found of getting to those higher rooms without encroaching upon Mr. Speaker's private apartments, they could be put to very valuable use.
I do not think that their Lordships will be very pleased with my next suggestion. When we consider the number of Lords who attend the Palace of Westminster and compare it with the 630 Members of the House of Commons, we realise that their Lordships have a disproportionate amount of the accommodation available in the Palace of Westminster. We should be able to take over some of their accommodation. If they need further room I suggest that the Law Offices should be moved to some convenient spot nearby. That would provide their Lordships with further accommodation. I do not see why the Law Offices should be in this building any more than the Home Office should.
1563 I suggest that there should be a little more fraternising between the two Houses. Both Houses might make use of the same facilities. The Houses of Parliament would become a little more democratic in that way. At the moment, we are still class-conscious. Lords walk on a red carpet; areas where Ministers' feet may tread are covered with green carpet, and for those areas where only back benchers may walk the carpet is brown. I do not mind, so long as there is some kind of carpet, but this is a reminder of what the outlook was at one time.
There should be more interchanging between the two Houses. I do not see why their Lordships should not use our Library and we use theirs. On the morning when some of us went round the Palace of Westminster, looking at some of the accommodation, we left the Commons Library absolutely crowded with Members of Parliament answering their correspondence. When we came to the Lords Library, which is about the same size as ours—it has four big rooms, as ours has—there was only one Lord, sitting by the fireplace. I did not go near enough to him to know whether he was sleeping, but he was certainly not working.
I do not see why Members of both Houses should not be able to use both Libraries. We want to provide additional shelves for books. Why should we not keep copies of Lords HANSARD in the House of Lords Library and Commons HANSARD in our Library? Why should we have to keep two sets in both places? If we wanted to read a House of Lords Report we could go to the House of Lords Library, and vice versa.
The Lords Guest Room might be turned over to the House of Commons as an additional writing room. As I have said, any additional accommodation the Lords might require could be provided by getting rid of the Law Offices. If their Lordships will only consider this problem from our point of view they will have to admit that they have a disproportionate amount of the available accommodation.
I see no reason why we should not make alterations in our own Library. Additional shelves could be set at right angles, making alcoves. This would be 1564 a far better arrangement from the point of view of the accessibility of books, and also for the Members who have to work there. I realise that these are points which could be brought out in discussion with any commission that was set up.
The Minister said something about filing cabinets. In a letter which the Minister wrote to me as a result of a supplementary question that I put to him, he said that he had looked into the question of filing cabinets and had found there were none for individual Members. He went on to say:I have therefore discussed the matter with the Serjeant at Arms and, as a start, we hope to install shortly a number of filing cabinets for Members in part of Cloister Court.With all respect to the Minister, and expressing my gratitude to him for trying to be helpful, I would ask him what use filing cabinets in Cloister Court would be to Members of Parliament. If a Member is to have a filing cabinet he wants it to be fairly near the place in which he works. He does not want to be faced with the prospect of a five-minutes' walk every time he needs to refer to a letter. This is another question which could be discussed by Members of Parliament before a commission. I could suggest one or two places where I could have a filing cabinet, if the Minister would agree. I should have to talk of him privately about that.
All the matters to which I have referred depend upon the setting up of a House of Commons Commission—as our Amendment suggests—which can take over the control of the Palace. The Leader of the House is not here at the moment, but I would ask the Government to let the House of Commons have an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the matter. I hope that they will not put the Whips on and say, "We will pass a breath-taking Motion, ' That this House takes note of the Measures which the Government have under consideration.'" Let them give the House of Commons an opportunity of expressing an opinion whether it thinks the setting up of a Commission is right. Even if the Government decide eventually not to do anything about it, for Heaven's sake let hon. Members have a free vote and an opportunity of expressing an opinion.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir Hamilton Kerr (Cambridge)
I hope that the hon. Member for Staly-bridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) will forgive me if I do not follow him down the red carpet of the House of Lords or by air, sea or rail on journeys to other parts of the world. This debate, like his speech, has been brief, temperate and constructive. I could not help recalling the comment of Admiral Byrd, the great United States and Arctic explorer, who spoke with full experience of the horrors of cold, and snow and frost and ice—"You have only one place in the world where the temperature is colder inside than out and that is in an English country house." That was belied by the temperature in this House on previous discussions on its amenities.
When we discuss this question today we must realise that the arrangement of Parliament and the comfort of hon. Members has always produced the warmest and most acrimonious feelings, almost as fierce as discussions on local government boundaries. Sir Kenneth Clark, in his admirable book on the Gothic revival, said that, when Sir Charles Barry was entrusted with the rebuilding of the Palace in 1834, the admirers of the classic style foamed and jibbered with fury at the choice of a Gothic reconstruction. They wanted some of the beautiful, graceful and reposeful lines suggested by Sir William Chambers in Somerset House. They could not understand why the Gothic style had been chosen.
It is amusing to recall that they suggested that the bishops of the House were deliberately plotting to turn Members of Parliament into monks. Shades of the Whips' office. It was also said that visitors coming into Parliament Square would mistake the House of Commons for the Abbey and would be horrified to find not a quiet minute of contemplation at the tomb of Henry VII at Poet's Corner but would find themselves harassed by Division bells and the sound of the heavy breathing of Members of Parliament rushing to cast their votes.
Various hon. Members have referred this afternoon to the Congress of the United States. I would submit with respect that conditions in the Congress 1566 are entirely different. I believe that each member of the House of Representatives has about 350,000 voters and that a Senator is responsible with his colleague for the care and welfare of an entire State of the Union.
Let us concentrate for a moment on the short-term issue. Let one argue in this way. Let us see what improvements we can effect within the existing limits of the Palace of Westminster, and let us see how the present system works. I speak from experience because I have a Division bell of my own. Unless a Member is in very good training indeed, I warn hon. Members against the rush and helter-skelter of the Division bell from outside limits. The policemen, certainly those at the St. Stephen's entrance, are the most terrible sadists. Knowing that one has four minutes or more to spare they say, "Hurry, Sir, you have only another half minute." I think they hope to see hon. Members really expire or being sick in St. Stephen's Hall. I say that we are better situated if we are working inside the actual confines of the Palace.
With regard to the Lord Great Chamberlain, I would only say that it seems to me that at the moment the House of Commons, through you, Mr. Speaker, can at any time make its wishes and opinions felt and that the Lord Great Chamberlain, who is in fact responsible for the Palace only during the recesses of Parliament, cannot be an effective impediment to such wishes.
There are four brief points which I wish to make. I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works referred first to the care of the Secretaries. I think that they are badly treated in this House. I consider that their accommodation is not adequate. In fact, I do not know how some hon. Members manage to concentrate on their work and do their dictation in the noise which prevails in some of the secretarial rooms. To me, at any rate, it makes the sound of an attack by flying bombs seem like the buzzing of a gentle bee. I was glad also that the question of desks was mentioned. I was surprised to hear that there are only about 76 desks in the Palace at present. I think that the number of desks should be greatly increased. One hon. Member—I cannot remember who it was—mentioned armchairs. I do 1567 not know what other hon. Members feel, but I often walk through the reading rooms glaring with thwarted rage and, I admit, social envy at hon. Members who have been lucky enough to find a seat in one of the armchairs. I have counted them and I find there are about 24.
When the Division bell rings it is like some ghastly game of musical chairs. One dashes along corridors elbowing one's way past other hon. Members, and possibly making enemies for life, in the vain hope of being able to return and find an empty chair in the Library. So I make a plea for extra armchairs.
I now come to the Smoking Room. I remember saying to a previous Chief Patronage Secretary, "Why cannot you make the Smoking Room like a club room with nice oil paintings suitably lit, with lamps at the tables and with those terrible glaring overhead lights turned out, certainly during all-night sittings? They make one feel one is being interrogated by O.G.P.U. agents in the Lubianka Prison." His reply was, "Enough, enough, not another word from you. If we make the Smoking Room any more comfortable we shall never get you back benchers out of it." I do not believe that to be true. I think that the chief Opposition Whip would agree that if hon. Members were more comfortable they would be far more likely to follow the behest of the Whips than otherwise.
I am one of those political Rip Van Winkles who can remember the previous Chamber. Other hon. Members who can remember it will recall that the air came through the floor through a grating, purified, it was said, by being passed through cotton wool. But it plunged into one's lungs all the heat and dirt and other disagreeable things. In fact, if one sat in that Chamber for an hour vainly trying to catch the eye of your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, one finished in a sort of chloroformed haze. I never have many ideas in my brain, but if one sat in the old Chamber for an hour to make a speech one was likely to have no ideas whatever. I think that the air conditioning in the present Chamber is a great improvement and might possibly be extended to other rooms in the Palace.
1568 To sum up, let us have more care for secretaries, more writing desks, and more armchairs, a nicer and extended Smoking Room and air conditioning in other rooms. I think these are worthy objectives which could be carried out at reasonable expense in the limited lifetime of this Parliament. Perhaps hon. Members in future generations may have more extensive ideas. Perhaps in 60 or 70 years from now they may be taking off on a Friday after four in a moon rocket to some inter-Parliamentary conference or entertaining visitors from Los Angeles to tea on the Terrace, these having arrived by the same means. But, meanwhile, we should make life more agreeable by limiting the new extensions to the Palace of Westminster to those which may be carried out in the lifetime of the present Parliament.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
. In his eloquent speech the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr) offered some modest but attractive ideas to the Minister. I think we would all agree with him that it is very desirable that hon. Members should be housed within the Palace itself, and I see no objection at all to the Smoking Room being made more comfortable. But I do not think that what he has suggested goes far enough in present circumstances. Certainly it would be nice to be more comfortable, but the main burden of the speeches, at any rate from hon. Members on this side of the House, has been that we want a more efficient place in which to work. If it could be made comfortable as well, so much the better.
We are debating a Government Motion and an Opposition Amendment, but it is not really, nor should it be in any sense, a party issue. It was not a party issue when we had the Report of the Stokes Committee, an all-party Committee which reported unanimously, and I hope that we shall not forget that this is essentially a House of Commons matter which we should approach as Members of the House of Commons and not as members of the Government or Opposition.
I intervene briefly in this debate to indicate my support for the Amendment in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, and to speak, not so much as the Leader of the Opposition 1569 but as one of the few Opposition Members who is decently housed at the moment. I think that there are only three members of the Opposition who have rooms of their own, the Leader of the Opposition, the deputy Leader—he did not get one until, I think, 1951— and the Chief Whip.
I recall the period between 1951 and 1955 and the almost intolerable situation in which one was placed because one had nowhere to work here and nowhere to meet people who came from overseas, as many of them did, to visit or to interview us. In my case that was a serious hindrance to doing any effective work. A few years later my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) came to see me and asked if anything could be done about a room for him. I think it will be generally acknowledged in all quarters of the House that he is a man of international reputation, but the fact is that he has no room of his own in this House. That seems to be a ridiculous state of affairs.
Of course, I am not basing the argument on behalf of a few Front Bench Members. The point is that we are now in a stage when we can no longer accept the physical conditions which may have been perfectly adequate for the House of Commons a hundred, fifty, or even thirty years ago. It was all very well in a House of Commons where the volume of constituency correspondence was perhaps negligible, where life was quite leisurely, where hon. Members did not have to see constituents very often and where most hon. Members would probably have found it perfectly easy to make arrangements to do their work at home or in offices for which they had paid.
It may have been perfectly all right in those days when the House of Commons was regarded as the best club in the world, a place to which people came to listen to speeches in the evening, to chat over a drink and take part in a Division, but that was about the whole extent of the activity of the average Member. Of course, a certain number of distinguished figures, on both sides of the House, made many speeches, but a very large number of Members simply came to listen and that was all.
That is all out of date now. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member 1570 for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) emphasised that we are here to do a job and we simply cannot carry on in the way that our fathers did in the old days. The real choice before us is this. Are we to go on tinkering with this problem or should we really try to find a permanent solution? I have no doubt about what the answer should be.
Two things are necessary. The first has been made abundantly clear from speeches which have been made already and from Reports that the problem cannot be solved without new building. I was very glad to hear the Minister describe to us the possibility of the Government taking over, as I understand, the other side of Bridge Street. Accommodation might be made available there, not for Members but for officials and others who are occupying space in the House today. I should like to ask a few questions about this. Has the noble Lord yet calculated, if that scheme goes forward, how much additional space would be provided in the Palace itself? If he knows the answer to that, I then wish to ask if he is contemplating that when there has been, as it were, this withdrawal from the Palace of a number of officials and others, it will be possible to provide for hon. Members the kind of thing which most of us on this side of the House feel is desirable.
I certainly take the view that every Member of the House of Commons ought to be entitled, if he wants it, to a room of his own. Perhaps a number of hon. Members might be willing to share rooms. There would not be any great hardship in that. Some hon. Members simply do not need such a room as they have offices of their own and, like the hon. Member for Cambridge, live near. That is not a reason for not providing rooms for those who need them. We ought not to set ourselves any lower target than that of providing a room, or at least one to be shared with one other hon. Member, for all hon. Members who want one. With that would go the necessary telephone—necessary, but unfortunate. There ought to be adequate space also for secretaries.
The other thing which in my view has to be done is to clear up the question of control. I can quite understand hon. Members opposite saying, "After all we 1571 are only the tenants here; we do not control the Lord Great Chamberlain." This could not become a party issue if we had a House of Commons Commission handling it, and it ought not to be a party issue. I cannot see the case against a Commission of this kind.
The Minister of Works is struggling with the problem. He answers Questions on it, but he has no systematic way of knowing what the views of hon. Members are. We have a debate like this once every few years when he hears suggestions and when points are made, and no doubt some hon. Members go to see him. I should have thought that it would have been of enormous assistance to him in his work to have a Commission with which he could negotiate. He would have to negotiate—I think my hon. Friends will agree that the Commission would not have the power to dictate to the Government—and he would be in a position to go to the Government and say, "This is what the House of Commons Commission is asking. Can I go so far to meet it?", and so on. I should have thought that would be a very great help to him.
There is the other half of the business, our activities in the Palace, for which the Serjeant at Arms is responsible. I shall not say very much about that because that does not come into the question of accommodation and I want to confine myself to that question. I should have thought that there was an overwhelming case for a change of this kind. Although they have put down a rather ineffective Motion, I hope that the Government will not close their minds to the suggestions which are being made from this side of the House. I do not see why the Minister cannot accept and why the Government cannot accept some kind of House of Commons responsibility here.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) said in an admirable speech, this is a matter for which we should be responsible. Why can we have a Kitchen Committee composed of hon. Members of all parties with the Chairman answering from time to time in the House, but cannot have a Committee for the other things in the House? It just does not make sense at all. Although, of course, we understand the complexities of dealing with the 1572 House of Lords and all that, the main point surely is that we had the Stokes Committee, which reported in 1953 and again in 1954 with a whole series of proposals. Few things have been done, but the very fact that so little has been done in these last five years is the greatest argument of all for appointing the Commission for which we ask.
in supporting our Amendment, I say again to the Government that I hope they will treat this not at all as a party issue but will consider very seriously the two points that I have made—firstly, that we ought to have new building and make changes whereby every hon. Member can have a room of his own or share a room with another hon. Member if he wishes, and, secondly, that we should govern and control this matter ourselves.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
This debate has been characterised by an entire lack of party approach or party feeling, and I hope that the few remarks I have to make will be no exception.
My interest in this matter of accommodation was first aroused when, in 1943, I became a Member of the Select Committee on the Rebuilding of the House of Commons. After some deliberation and, I believe, a very close vote in that Committee, we took a decision to repeat one of the characteristics of the old Chamber, namely, to make this present one too small—that is to say, if the number of hon. Members it will hold on the Floor is the only consideration of its appropriate size. I am sure that decision was a right one in the light of subsequent events, but I am equally sure that it should not be taken as a precedent for thinking that everything else about the Palace of Westminster ought to be too small or inadequate.
One of the questions to which we have to address ourselves is, what is the basic need of a back bench Member? I do not go so far as the Leader of the Opposition who says that every hon. Member who wants one should have a room to himself. I think that that is really going too far. One reason is that, if such accommodation were provided, there would, I think, be an inevitable tendency—I expect I should do it myself 1573 if I were in the building in the morning —to conduct all kinds of business and to deal with private and social letters, and everything else, as well as House of Commons business. I might even do that kind of work at other times of the day, too.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Will the hon. Gentleman consider the plight of those Members who have no home in London where they can carry on some part of their work and, perhaps, keep some of their books and papers?
§ Sir P. Agnew
I sympathise with hon. Members who are in that position. I am anxious that something should be done, something far beyond the improvements Chat were favoured chiefly by my right hon. Friend. I shall come to that in a moment.
I think I can best describe what I have in mind in this way. Probably, many hon. Members have been in the rooms above this Chamber and seen the accommodation used by those I will describe, with all respect to them, as the middle range of that excellent hierarchy, the Clerks. Those hon. Members who have seen that accommodation will know that each Clerk does not have a room to himself but there is, as it were, a long gallery which is broken up at intervals by library bookcases, with the result that, roughly, two gentlemen share a space, although the main room is a connected whole and, I suppose, if one raised one's voice, it would be possible to be heard from one end to the other. I think that something like that would give the right amount of privacy which every back-bench Member who wants it ought to be able to have.
§ Mr. Blackburn
What happens if hon. Members occupying such accommodation use typewriters? I certainly could not work in a room where there were half a dozen typewriters going, and, in any arrangement of that kind, some Members probably would wish to use typewriters.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I answer that straight away. It should be contrary to rules framed by the Serjeant at Arms for typewriters to be used in those places. They would be places where Members would go when they wished to meditate with a view to composing their speeches 1574 —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I do—to write letters quietly, and that sort of thing. If hon. Members want to type, they should have access to a number of very small cabinets, which would be quite separate, where they could take their typewriters and go and type, as they do now.
I come now to my right hon. Friend's proposals. The proposal to build on the other site, which would cost £5 million, would take a very long time to carry out. I should not be against that in principle, but I think it is a somewhat visionary proposal for those hon. Members who have not a great number of years before them in which they may hope to serve in this House of Commons. It would take a very long time and it would be very expensive.
In my view, the Minister should concentrate on the provision of more desks. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where."] In all sorts of places. One feature of my right hon. Friend's proposals I found to be very unsatisfactory. So far as I could see, it involved a repetition of what he has so far done, and that is to place these desks absolutely cheek by jowl. I really believe that an overcrowded and out-of-date primary school would give better conditions than those desks do. It is really quite unsatisfactory, and we really must have a proper standard introduced for the density of the desks. Also, of course, a telephone should be provided on the desks. It is an extraordinary waste of time, when a message asking that one should ring somebody up is brought by one of the attendants, to have to go right to the other end of the Palace somewhere in order to find a telephone box and make a call.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Would my hon. Friend mind if a constituent tried to ring him up at his desk and he was not there?
§ Sir P. Agnew
No, I should not mind at all. It might occasionally be rather useful. My constituents would have to fall back on my general record in those matters.
I come now to the allocation of existing and, indeed, of future accommodation. I wish to point out certain anomalies which, in my humble submission, ought to be drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend and the 1575 House. First, some new accommodation has just been completed and allocated in No. 7, Old Palace Yard. Some desks have been placed there for Members. I say nothing more about that. On the top floor, however, there is a suite of rooms which has been placed at the disposal of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. This is not, of course, the United Kingdom branch where most hon. Members have their contacts, do their work and see the officers. This accommodation has been allocated to a body which is a Commonwealth body that is to say, the General Council of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
I put it to the Minister that it is not necessary that that body should have accommodation found for it so very near the Palace of Westminster. If it could be moved out and given other quarters by the Government—I do not object to that—somewhere near Great Smith Street or in that area, this would make way for someone else to be moved out of this Palace and give more accommodation for Members here.
I come now to an anomaly which I was quite surprised to find but which, none the less, I think I should mention. I hope that it will not cause any embarrassment to the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) or any of her hon. Friends. I know that she has been doing a certain amount of peering about. I wonder whether she has come across three rooms down below which are allocated to the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is quite apart from the accommodation which is allocated, of course, to the Whips of all the parties and which, so far as I know, is adequate. It is extra to that.
I made inquiries and I was told that there were three rooms and that their allocation dated from some time near the era of the late Mr. Keir Hardie. I can understand that, when that arrangement was made, it was felt, perhaps, that the Leader or, perhaps, the only member of what was then a very small party which only years later was to become one of the great parties in the State, ought to have a helping hand at any rate to set up some kind of office down below since he would not, of course, at that time have a Whips' office in a House accustomed then to a two- 1576 party system. No doubt, that seemed reasonable enough. In my view, those circumstances no longer prevail.
I inquired of the authorities of the House why there were three rooms. I was not told that. I wondered whether one of those rooms ought to have a label pinned on the door saying, "Abandon Clause 4 all ye who enter here". There are only three of those rooms. I feel that they could be reallocated. It should be remembered that when the Conservative Party was in Opposition those rooms still remained in the hands of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The reason why we have only three rooms is that we could not get any more. It is essential for the work of the Opposition that some of our staff should be housed in this building. I find it difficult to understand the hon. Baronet's point of view. When he began, I thought that he intended to argue that three rooms were quite inadequate now that the party is so much larger than it was at the time of Keir Hardie. We welcome the hon. Baronet's approach and shall call it in aid the next time we approach the Minister of Works.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I should have been prepared to take up that attitude if, when I inquired of the authorities of the House, I had been told that when the Conservative Party was in Opposition those rooms were allocated to the Conservative Party so that it could conduct its Opposition activities. I found that that was not so. There must be room at the bottom of Transport House, which at present lets off a substantial portion of its premises to the Westminster Bank. If the Parliamentary Labour Party wants accommodation, it can find it at Transport House.
I do not wish to approach this in any spirit of ill will. If the Parliamentary Labour Party feels that it needs these rooms in order to put up as good a show as it does, I am not prepared to grudge it the rooms.
§ Mrs. Castle
Is the hon. Baronet aware that the Liberal Party has accommodation in the House proportionately far in excess of what it might be strictly entitled to? None of us on this side 1577 begrudge it to the Liberal Party, because what we are anxious to do is to make all sections of the House efficient and not to cheesepare in that mean-spirited way.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I have just said that I do not begrudge the Opposition the accommodation they have, but, in fairness to the House, it is right that it should be mentioned as an anomaly.
Administration has figured largely in the debate. Indeed, it has a prominent place in the Amendment. The most important part of the Amendment relates to the proposal, not for a House of Commons Commission, which in itself is unexceptional, but to the proposal for unified control over the whole building. I wonder if the case which the hon. Lady tried to make out can be sustained by experience. I rather doubt it, because I am carried back to the conditions which prevailed during the war when, by a perfectly amicable arrangement at a time when it really mattered, another place relinquished its Chamber for use by the House of Commons. That arrangement continued until this Chamber was rebuilt. So far as I am aware, there was no friction or difficulty in coming to an arrangement, in which the Lord Great Chamberlain inevitably played his part, and making a sensible reallocation of accommodation at that time to meet what was then a great national need.
There should be some kind of body which permanently could represent the views of hon. Members to the Government. It would be valuable to have a permanent Select Committee which could primarily be only of an advisory character. I hasten to add that all Select Committees are, in their essence, advisory and the House is absolutely free to accept their reports or to do nothing about them. For a long time ahead, until better conditions are provided for Members, Standing Orders might well be altered so that the Select Committee's Report could be debated once each Session. It would then be for the Government to decide, in the light of all the considerations at the time, some of which might be financial, how far they would accept the recommendations. I can go as far as that, but only as far as that, in meeting the Opposition case, but it leaves me in the position of having to reject the Amendment.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The hon. Baronet the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) claimed to be in sympathy with the needs of those hon. Members who do not live in London or who, for other reasons, have not the necessary accommodation in the building to do their work which, however, some hon. Members are able to find outside. I am sure that he was right in saying that he has sympathy with that view, and I accept his profession of sympathy.
I criticise his suggested solution that there should be a long corridor with slight partitions off. I appreciate that that is a step in the direction of those who want a single room. However, what is the point of the hon. Baronet's suggestion? Is it for the sake of a very few thousand pounds that this should be the permanent solution of the difficulty?
§ Sir P. Agnew
No, it is not primarily a financial consideration. At present we are jostled together, but the prize or consolation of that jostling is that we all have contacts in conversation with one another, which is very desirable. My suggestion was a compromise between the existing state of affairs and the other extreme of absolute solitary privacy, which would do much to destroy the fellowship of Members of the House.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I agree that contact between Members on both sides of the House is very important and valuable. Nevertheless, there are times when a Member should be able to get away from contact with his fellow Members, or indeed anyone else, and get down to his private work. The only permanent solution which we can hope for in this respect is to have one room per Member. However small the room was, it would enable the Member to keep his own filing system there, do his own work there, and have his own mind and his own soul for a few minutes. That would be extremely valuable.
We have been discussing accommodation and amenities of all Members of the House.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
Does the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) believe that it would be possible to provide one room per Member within the confines of the Palace of 1579 Westminster, by building or by other means, or does he envisage a building quite apart from the Palace of Westminster?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
It is possible that many hon. Members would not want it. I have not sufficient knowledge to say whether it could be done with the new building which has been adumbrated. I think that it could, but I may be wrong. If it could not, it should be done somewhere very close and within immediate contact. The subway under Bridge Street might be a solution to it, though it is not by any means an ideal one. I should like to see it all within the building, if it could be done. I am not certain that it is possible. No doubt the Government can give us some ideas about that.
What we are discussing is not additional comfort for Members. I have no objection to comfort, though my wife says that I prefer a mattress like a mountain range to an ordinary civilised one. I can sleep on the floor, and I have no doubt that other hon. Members can and have so slept. The point is not comfort; it is to have the necessary amenities to enable Members to keep up that standard of work for which they are sent here—in other words, to enable them to do their job.
I want to speak only about one aspect of accommodation and amenity. It is not on the comfort side—the armchairs, the offices or the like—but on the Library side. Our primary function here is to try to keep the Government on their toes by informed scrutiny. I am quite sure that every new hon. Member is very soon made aware that he is really not equipped even to contribute relevantly to that end.
Earlier in this debate there was a reference to the Library of Congress. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr) spoke about the number of constituents that Representatives have in the United States—350,000, or something like that. I have no doubt that that is perfectly true. We, thank heavens, have far fewer. Nevertheless, the constituency side is only part of our work.
We have this other major work, as I consider it to be, of trying to keep the Government efficient, of scrutinising everything they do, of criticising them 1580 in an informed manner, and, if possible, of trying to improve them. Of course, American Representatives have that task to do in addition to their own gigantic constituency tasks, although I do not know whether they are the cushion between the bureaucracy and the ordinary people that we have come to be.
How are we to fulfil this major work? We need not slavishly imitate everything in the United States, but we would be very foolish indeed if we did not pick from amongst their institutions something of which we approve and which we think would contribute to the well-being of our own country. We are simply incapable of competing with the sort of briefing that Ministers have, and must have.
How on earth is the ordinary backbench Member able to criticise the figures of the Government? If we wish to have any facts and figures, we have to come humbly with Parliamentary Questions and ask Ministers for them. I am not aware that Ministers would ever deceive Members by telling them untruths, but they might very well withhold information—and possibly be justified in so doing—
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Does my hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the Library of Congress always acts on the assumption that one cannot trust the Executive, and prunes and alters their figures and estimates?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The word "trust" means two different things, and I was referring only to one kind of trust. I do not think that Ministers would lie in this House of Commons, but they might withhold information, or they might give us only half the truth.
We simply must have the right information behind us—and information of an authority at least equal to that available to the Government—if we are to do our House of Commons job. We have not that information. If the Library of Congress acts on the assumption that it does not trust the Administration, in the sense that it does not trust them to produce the right figures, however honestly they may be produced, I am with it entirely. That is an attitude that any self-respecting Opposition and, I should have thought, any self-respecting Member on either side of the House should adopt.
1581 Where are we to get this information? Tribute has been paid, and I add my own to it, to the courtesy and co-operativeness of the officials in our Library, but how on earth can these men compete with all these numerous libraries that we have heard exist in all Government Departments? The Board of Trade Library has been referred to. I have not the exact figures, but though I am only guessing I think I am fairly near the mark when I say that the Board of Trade has either four, six or eight trained, qualified librarians. Have we any in our own Library?
I am not a man to say that because someone has a label round his neck stating that he is a trained librarian he is necessarily better at his job than the man with experience only, but he is probably better at the job if he has had the training as well as the experience. He is then probably better than the man who has had only experience.
Those libraries are run by these trained librarians; and these trained librarians, having collected the facts and figures and the sources of information, hand them to high-powered civil servants who predigest them for the Minister. How can we possibly compete with that? Obviously, we cannot. We cannot possibly do our job unless we have a very much extended library service that will give us facts and figures at least as authoritative as those that the Ministers themselves have. We could then test Ministers' assertions against another equally authoritative set of assertions.
I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of the fact, but it has been stated here and elsewhere that the St. Lawrence Seaway would not have come into being at all had it not been for the facts and figures produced by the Library of Congress in the teeth of those produced by the Administration—
§ Mr. Mallalieu
If my hon. Friend prefers that expression, by all means let us use it—mine was intended to mean exactly the same thing.
Here was an Administration telling the House of Representatives—and, no doubt, the Senate—"We know ". The Congress Library said, "We think that we know better". It was the facts and figures produced by the Congress Library 1582 that were accepted, and that have been proved right. We must have something like that Congress Library if we want to do this job of ours properly.
It may be said that in former times, when the House of Commons was a very greatly respected place and had great authority, hon. Members had none of these extended library facilities, for which I now plead. That may very well be so—in fact, it obviously was so in the comparatively good old days of the House of Commons—but, at the same time, the facilities then available to Ministers in their Departments were nothing like so good either, and the matters dealt with were not so complex.
I say nothing against what has been said in favour of extra physical accommodation. I agree with practically everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) said about that. Nevertheless, we simply cannot do our job unless we have these library facilities. This is purely a non-party matter and, I am glad to say, has so far been kept so. It is a House of Commons matter in which we should be interested if we are to do our job.
I therefore sincerely hope that hon. Members will seriously consider my case, which is that it is just not possible to do our job of keeping the Government on their toes and making the House of Commons what it should be unless we have this extra library accommodation. If we have that, we shall bring back the influence of the House of Commons which, perhaps, it has not recently deserved to the same extent as formerly when it fulfilled this function well. It will deserve that influence once again when it can perform this function again.
This is one thing that we could do which would not cost an immense amount when judged against the figures with which we and the Government have to deal. It would be a well-worth-while investment. It would bring back to this House of Commons that authority and esteem in the public mind which it has enjoyed through centuries of service to our country.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
I agree with much that the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) said about the Library but, with great respect, I would say 1583 that when we try to compare the House of Commons with the American Congress we are not comparing like with like. There are many fundamental differences between our system of government and that operating in the United States of America. The American Congress has a very much more prominent but different rôle to play in the government of that country. The United States' Constitution is founded on quite a different conception from our own.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), intervening in his hon. and learned Friend's speech, said that the Library of Congress did not trust Ministers in Congress. May I suggest that One possible reason for that is because Ministers in Congress are not members of Congress? They are completely separate and autonomous bodies not answerable to Congress in any way whatever.
Therefore, while what the hon. and learned Member for Brigg has been saying may be quite true, the position is completely different, because in the American Congress there is not that day-to-day examination which we can have in the House of Commons. One cannot have the American Minister of Defence in Congress, being cross-questioned on the Floor of the Chamber—
§ Mr. Channon
It is true that they have the specialised Committees, as I readily concede to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), but I am sure he will agree with me that to try to compare the House of Commons with Congress is not comparing like with like.
Although I accept what the hon. and learned Member says about the importance of the Library in the House of Commons, I do not think it right to accept it on those particular grounds. I agree with him that one of the great problems that faces us is the problem of the Library, because the Stokes Committee's Report made quite clear the way in which the Library of the House was expanding. The Library is expanding every year by about 40 yards, and 40 yards in this place is quite a lot of space. One of the problems we shall have to face is where to find the additional space for the books, which will increase year 1584 by year. That problem will face us, even if we do not have the extra facilities which the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to have.
I submit, with a great deal of humility, since I am the youngest Member of this House, that so far this debate has not been as satisfactory as some hon. Members would like it to have been. One of the reasons for that is that we have not got a concrete plan which we could discuss this evening. What would be of very great value to the House would be to have the actual detailed plans of what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works intends to do, both in the short term and in the long term.
Here are two completely different considerations. While everyone thinks that what should be done in the House of Commons in the long term is a matter of some controversy—and no doubt there are in the Ministry of Works long-term plans for the future of this House, plans which would take many years to carry out and which would cost a great deal of money to execute—while these long-term plans are being made and carried into fruition, there must also be a short-term plan on what we are to do to accommodate all the people we have in this building at the moment.
I have ventured to intervene in the debate only because, as the youngest Member, I thought that, if there are to be far-reaching changes, at least I shall have the chance or being here longer to enjoy them than any other hon. Member. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) disagrees with me, but he and I will be fighting the battles of 1984 together, I hope. Another reason why I rose is to meet the challenge of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who said that it was up to the younger Members to speak today.
I think I would agree with those hon. Members who have said that the long-term answer does not lie in shifting people out of the House of Commons, but actually building elsewhere, where we can house those who do not need to be here. Much has been said about the Reports of the Select Committees, but one of the best pieces of evidence given is on page 87 of the 1953 Report, where Mr. Speaker Morrison said:… my general advice to the Committee, if I may express it, in meeting this problem that 1585 you are considering is to seek to amend your accommodation for Members by building rather than by taking away from people who have space at the moment.Although in the long-term plans we must have a building in which to put these people, in the short-term plan what we want to do is to get rid of some of the people who occupy space in this building now.
I cannot speak with the experience of many hon. Members who are here today, but I must say that there seems to be a fantastic number of officials in this building who possibly could be moved. I may be wrong about various officials, but there are so many. Is it absolutely necessary, for instance, for the Fees Office to be here? Are hon. Members so vigilant over their salaries that they call daily at the Fees Office for inquiries, making it necessary for that Department to be here? It takes up quite a lot of space. Then there is the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and all those kindred bodies like it. Do they have to be in the Palace of Westminster? It may very well be that some of these people have to be here, but I think my right hon. Friend should make some form of inquiry into who should be here and who not, and see who could be moved.
Many of these officials will, of course, say that it is absolutely indispensable for them to be here. Obviously, officials always think that it is necessary for them to be wherever they happen to be at that moment. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works could carry out some inquiry to find out who is indispensable and who not. When he is carrying out that inquiry, I hope he will also inquire how many people from his own Department are in this building, and whether all the staff of his own Department have to have the space which they occupy here at present.
When we are considering what hon. Members want in this building, whether they want desks or offices, we have to bear in mind that many hon. Members have completely differing views about this. Some want their own offices, but a great many do not. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) has said that he is very happy with the House of Commons as it exists at the moment. He wants neither an office nor another desk. There 1586 are a great many hon. Members who feel like that.
The last Stokes Committee carried out a poll on this very subject, and my right hon. Friend referred to it in his speech. He said that 295 Members needed desks, or would like desks in the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend said that he will provide accommodation under the roof for 300 desks in addition to the 75 already there. That will be 375, which is 75 more than the Report of the Stokes Committee said hon. Members wanted at that time. I should have thought that that would be sufficient desks for hon. Members at the moment. I must say from my trips round the House of Commons that whenever I have gone into these desk rooms, I have found remarkably few hon. Members there. There is something to be said, though not all hon. Members will agree with me, for the argument that what a great many hon. Members desire more than desks is to have much bigger and better filing systems or filing cabinets, rather than these inconvenient and very small lockers miles away from the Chamber, as so many of them are.
§ Mr. Channon
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) wants telephones, but I think that would be highly controversial. There might well be a poll on the subject, and my hon. Friend could then indicate that he wanted a telephone. I think there are a great many hon. Members, not only on this side of the House, who would not want a telephone. I do not think that this desire is by any means universal.
The great difficulty with this problem of accommodation is that only certain accommodation near to the Chamber is any good to hon. Members. The further we get away from the Chamber, though we build palatial offices, hon. Members will not go to them. In my short time in this House, I have found that Members tend to congregate near the Chamber. If we provide magnificent offices some distance away, Members will not go to them. They will want to be in the Tea Room, or perhaps will wish to hear a speech in the Chamber.
There are a million and one things in this House to stop us going miles 1587 away to offices elsewhere. Even if there were a general desire for offices for all hon. Members, I do not see how it could be achieved, because I do not think that, even if there were that general desire, we could build these offices sufficiently near the Chamber to make it practical for hon. Members to use them, unless we carried out a most drastic reorganisation and moved the Library away. I know that the hon. Member for Leeds, West and others would be very reluctant to do that, but there is some case for saying that the Library has become far more of a sitting room and far less of a Library, and there may be something to be said for moving part of the Library away.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
In view of what he has said, will the hon. Member tell us why he suggested, when visiting one of the desk rooms, that I should go across to No. 7, Old Palace Yard and see the accommodation there?
§ Mr. Channon
When I was in the hon. Member's desk room I found remarkably few hon. Members working there. The reason I suggested that he should look at the accommodation in Old Palace Yard was that it is very much better accommodation than in the room which he is at present occupying. I do not know whether he has moved his desk. If not, he proves the point which I have been making—that hon. Members like to be near the Chamber. I do not know whether he has followed my advice or intends to stay where he is. If he intends to stay where he is, he is supporting my argument that it is no use providing accommodation miles away. I was challenging him to see whether he was one of those who conformed to this idea or not.
I know that as a long-term plan many hon. Members would prefer the Barry plan and would prefer to rebuild. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West is extremely anxious that we should carry out the Barry plan. But the cost would be £5 million, and many people in this country would be reluctant to see Members of the House spending that much money on the Barry plan. I know that it would be in order to make hon. Members more comfortable, but it could easily be misrepresented. That would have to be very carefully considered.
1588 Before we reach any final decisions about accommodation, we ought to have placed in front of us two plans—a long-term plan of what we hope to see in 20 or 30 years' time in the House of Commons and a short-term plan. My right hon. Friend should put the latter plan before us to show what he intends to do in the meanwhile until we carry out the long-term plan which he proposes to adopt. He may well say that he does not intend to have a long-term plan because he thinks that things are going very well at the moment. If that is what he means, let him say so, and we shall then know where we are. If we had placed before us plans showing exactly what the Government intend to do, we should be in a position to criticise and to give our views. This is a non-party matter, and we should then be able to decide whether the House as a whole agrees with the Government in the view which they take of the problem.
I do not know whether the Government have such plans in mind. If not, I respectfully urge that such plans could be formulated reasonably quickly. The House should have an opportunity to comment on those plans and to make its criticisms.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
It could fairly be said to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) that if the Minister of Works' speech today is an indication of what he intends to do, then the hon. Member will be the father of the House before he sees anything done at all. I do not know how the hon. Member himself felt about it, but I was shocked more by what the Minister did not say than by what he said.
I am sorry the Minister is not here, because I do not like making such comments in his absence, but I must place this on record, for I thought that his speech was rather like that of the vice-chairman—not even the chairman—of a parish council. It was a deplorable effort. He had not paid enough attention to the Stokes Committee's Report and some of its recommendations, and it can fairly be said that hon. Members on both sides of the House were very disappointed by that speech. We were expecting that the Government would give us some idea of what they have in mind and would indicate that they 1589 accepted at least that all was not well. Apart from some vague references to the possibility of acquiring some property on the other side of the road—I do not know when—we were given no information at all.
I came to the House 14 years ago. I came here from the Army on demobilisation leave. When I first came here I was a little bewildered, as everyone is when he first arrives. I confess that I am still a little bewildered at times. But I learned very quickly to love and respect this place and its surroundings for what they are. I am not one of those who want to change its character or to provide elaborate offices on the lines of American-style buildings. To me the Palace of Westminster typifies some of the great things about Britain and its past. This I do not want to change.
But this I want to put on record: to my knowledge, my constituents, who are very humble people, believe that I have an office and that I have a secretary and that my postage charges are paid for me and that I am receiving a wonderful salary; and, curiously enough, my constituents do not mind. Some Labour Members and Conservative Members always seem to think that their constituents worry about the money which is spent by Parliament on hon. Members. This is an absolute fallacy. We have had debates on Members' salaries. All I can say is that at the last election but one I was asked not a single question on the subject.
The British public are a fine body of people and they are not concerned with this kind of thing. Of course, we receive letters from cranks on the subject; they write letters to everybody about some barmy thing or another. I remember that when I moved a Motion in the House for an increase in Members' salaries I received a large number of letters of abuse, but they were only from the kind of people who do not much count anyway. The vast majority of our people are genuine and decent about it, and most of them would be shocked to know exactly how Members of Parliament are expected to perform their daily duties.
I represent 60,000 constituents. I have got over the stage of being very modest about it—the stage when I first came here—and I happen to think that I can 1590 represent them reasonably well. In any case, I give of my best, and I cannot do more than that.
What happens to me? I have the services of a secretary for one hour a week. My postage is about 120 letters a week. I have been to Germany on a 10-day trip, thanks to the generosity of a Parliamentary delegation, and I returned to a pile of about 180 letters. This girl can give me one hour a week. To be fair, she has done a remarkable job and helped me a great deal, but I am faced with the fact that I have to write about 100 letters by hand. I have to do that, for I have no secretary and, I will be frank, I cannot afford one. I think it is about time my constituents knew that.
Where am I to write these letters? I will explain. I shall go into the Library. If I go there at certain hours, I shall find nowhere to sit. In any case, when I sit down I am always worried in case I am occupying a seat Which belongs to someone else who has just gone out for a cup of tea. Usually they leave a lot of books around. Once I start writing, I shall be there for about three hours. Is it suggested that it is right in the year of our Lord 1960 that a Member of this House, with all the status that that represents, should be expected to perform his duties in that way? Is anyone prepared to rise and defend that?
Surely the time has come when Parliament ought to say, "The British people demand efficiency and they demand that their Member of Parliament should have first-class facilities with which to do his job. They believe that he cannot do it unless he has the necessary services".
All hon. Members ought unanimously to resolve that free secretarial services should be available to every hoo. Member who wants them. I accept at once the implications that there are some hon. Members on both sides of the House— this is not a party point—who do not want a secretary because they already have one. The best of British luck to them. I am glad that this is so. But they do not have to use the service available if they do not want it. I should very much like to use such a service.
May I turn to the method by which we do our work? We all know that there is congestion in the Library. I see no 1591 reason at all why some facilities should not be provided for Members—a room which it is possible for three or four Members to share, for example. I do not ask for a room of my own. That would be asking for far too much. Such a room would be used only for a few hours of the day and for the rest of the time it would be empty. But I ought to have the right at least to sit down somewhere in some reasonable measure of comfort and to dictate my letters on behalf of my constituents. I assure the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that I shall not write any love letters. I gave that up a long time ago, and these days I am concerned only with the political side of life. I want to be able to dictate letters to a secretary on behalf of my constituents and I want her to have the facilities to type these letters so that she can send them to me for my signature later in the day. It is surely right to ask for that.
My next comment concerns research. These days, one has to try to find out a great deal about subjects in which one has not interested oneself before. I certainly find that that is the case. At the moment, I am engaged in trying to find out about transport. I pay tribute to the people who work in our Library, but it is so short of staff and there are limitations. They render us magnificent service.
The Library staff say to us, in effect, "Read this, that and the other". They give us the sort of books which we ought to read so that we might learn something from them. I am very grateful to the staff in the Library for doing that. We then go away with a pile of books. I remember once going upstairs to one of the Committee rooms. The custodian thought this rather strange. He came in about four times. He thought that I had gone mad. I was sitting there on my own. He said, "Are you all right, Sir?" I said, "I am trying to look for somewhere quiet so that I can read". I was not talking to myself, which is a habit of some Members who are trying to prepare speeches. I did not want anyone to see me there, because I might have been locked up.
There are hardly any facilities here for private reading or for the elementary things which Members have to do. 1592 Why cannot we have something along the lines suggested? Is it asking too much that the tools of the job should be given to those who, at any rate, enjoy Parliamentary work? I am what I think is called a full-time politician, although, I accept, not a very good one. I do not receive money from outside sources. I took the advice of Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who said, "Young man, you must do something else apart from Parliamentary work". I said, "All right, I will". I do work on hospital boards. I do not get paid for it. I am not pleading any virtues. It is just that I took up that work, and I enjoy it. The hospital authorities are generous to me because I am chairman of a committee. We have a staff of over 1,000. They lay on facilities for me, but I have a sense of scruples about this. I would not dare use the hospital's secretary for Parliamentary work. I ensure that the secretary deals only with hospital correspondence. Here I get the services of a secretary for one hour a week.
I am sure that I speak for the vast majority of hon. Members when I say that we are compelled to work. Those who love this Parliament and all it stands for and its great traditions of yesteryear, especially those who have had the chance to travel abroad, and who are proud not only of its past but of its present, say to the British people: do not deny us the right to do the job which you have elected us to do. This House of Commons should take this matter seriously and should ensure that we get the facilities in order to carry out our job. We should not have infantile, puerile speeches such as that which we heard from the Minister of Works.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I would not have intervened in this debate if it had not been for the speeches of the hon. Members for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn). I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East has returned to the Chamber.
I have an interest to declare in this matter. Several references have been made to the Lord Great Chamberlain. I think that all hon. Members know that the office of Lord Great Chamberlain is hereditary. It so happens that my 1593 mother and her four sisters were all coheiresses for that office in the next reign. Two sisters have passed on and, therefore, their sons become entitled to their shares. The matter is rather complex and I do not propose to go into its complications. There is no particular constitutional difficulty over the inheritance being shared by more than one person. There are precedents for it and the matter can be dealt with.
However, that is not the point. I was disturbed when I suddenly realised that there is a remote possibility that I might be nationalised, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East wishes.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I think that I can save the hon. Member that trouble. One of the features is that one has to be not less than a knight in order to be appointed by female co-heiresses to the hereditary right Many people whom I admire very much have been made knights and I am certain that I would not come up to the standard which would entitle me to become one. In the words of Stephen Hawes, who, I think, died in 1523:For knighthood is not in the feats of warAs for to fight in quarrel right or wrong.I hope that I would at least satisfy the last requirement of a knight specified by Stephen Hawes, namely, that,And no quarrel a knight ought to takeBut for a truth or for the Commons' sake.All I wish to do is to give the results of the very considerable researches that I have made into the rights of the Lord Great Chamberlain over the Palace of Westminster. I shall not make any lengthy quotations, because I am sure that the House is not in a mood to hear them, but I must refer to two documents. The first is the Report of a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, which sat in 1901. It was a Committee to decide the proper procedure at the time of the presence of the Sovereign in Parliament. Secondly, I should like to refer to two very copious volumes which can be found in the House of Lords Library which deal with the office of the Lord Great Chamberlain.
I have perused most of the two volumes, and I hope that the House will feel that I am entitled to say a word or 1594 two about this office. I am certain that not all hon. Members have had time to study these volumes. I have been trying to see whether there is any way in which the irritation caused by the presence of the Lord Great Chamberlain in the Palace of Westminster could be removed. I realise that over the years hon. Members on both sides have not been entirely happy about the position. I have done my best to see what could be done.
Only one possibility occurred to me in perusing these documents. Strangely enough, it was a possibility which arose out of something my grandfather had to say to a former secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain and who happened to be my grandfather's brother. It appears at Question No. 738 on page 38 of the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee in 1901. The question was:But the Sovereign has no prerogative or right, I take it, to make the Palace of Westminster a Royal Palace and live in it?The reply was:No. The only room he has a right over is the Robing Room, and whenever we wanted to use the Robing Room we used to write to the Queen"—that was Queen Victoria—to ask if Her Majesty had any objection to its being used.That was a reference to accommodation for the Lord Great Chamberlain in the Palace of Westminster.
It occurred to me that if a way could be found to limit the power of the Lord Great Chamberlain with regard to the Palace of Westminster solely to the Robing Room and some other satisfactory arrangement could be made for the rest of the Palace, it might be a desirable thing. The question of on what document the power of the Lord Great Chamberlain in the Palace of Westminster is based is somewhat difficult, because obviously the original was lost —whether as a result of fire, I do not know—but certainly it can be established that as far back as 1133 the Lord Great Chamberlain had some responsibility for the Palace of Westminster. It appears that it dates even further back than that, probably to the time just after the Conquest, when a great many of the nobles who came over with the Conqueror were only too anxious to serve him in some way and get a certain amount of favour from him.
1595 I believe that although the House would obviously wish to take account of the great changes which have happened in our country since those remote days, nevertheless, if without causing offence to modern political thought it were found possible to devise means of keeping the old inherent right of the Lord Great Chamberlain to have some responsibility concerning the Sovereign when in the Palace of Westminster, I think that most hon. Members would consider it a pity to upset that unnecessarily, provided that we could remove any of the offending powers that the Lord Great Chamberlain may have.
I have thought seriously about this and I seriously believed that it was a practical proposition that we might have established some system whereby the Lord Great Chamberlain works in with the Minister of Works in all that part of the Palace other than in the Robing Room. It is worth remembering that Westminster Hall is not part of the Palace of Westminster and that when the Sovereign is invited to come into Westminster Hall, the Lord Great Chamberlain can come in only if the Minister of Works hands the key over to him. When they are inside, they walk side by side as having almost equal status in Westminster Hall. It occurred to me that that arrangement might be found workable over the whole of the Palace of Westminster other than the Robing Room. In theory, it sounds a quite satisfactory method.
What are we left with, however, if we do that? This is my principal point. If we do that, we are still left without one authority responsible for the whole of the Palace when we are not here. We are also left without any person solely responsible for the employment of many of the Officers of the House, custodians and so on. Before we came to a judgment on that matter, I should certainly require to know the expression of view of quite a number of those who have to work to Parliament's convenience inside this Palace. Certainly, for instance, our learned Clerk's views ought to be known. The opinions of any of those who have to do day-to-day work in conjunction with us in this Chamber—or, indeed, in the other place —should be known, because they are the people who are mainly responsible to 1596 the Serjeant at Arms in this House and to Black Rod and the Lord Great Chamberlain in the other place. They are the people who have the heavy burden—and it is a heavy burden—of organising the staff that operates in the Palace of Westminster.
Unless we knew those views, I should be hesitant to make a change unless it had been shown, as I do not believe it has been shown, that any of those Officers have come to Mr. Speaker or to the Lord Chancellor in another place or to anyone else and asked for something to be done about this. I should be very hesitant to change the unified control over this building when we are not here and over the employment of some of the permanent staff of this place when we are here and when we are not, unless we were absolutely satisfied that those upon whom we rely to carry on the work for us behind the scenes could do that work. Nothing could be more fatal to the successful working of Parliament than that that machine should break down. Whatever one may say about this, I agree entirely with Mr. Speaker Morrison.
Concerning accommodation, I am certain that we have to build more space if it is established that the amenities of Parliament are inadequate. I agree entirely with what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works said in opening the debate about the kitchen staff and that sort of thing. It is abominable that Parliament should employ people at a standard below that which it regards as the minimum for people outside this place. That is obviously totally wrong and we must do something about it.
What I want to try to impress upon the House above all other things is simply this. We cannot justify by logic the system we operate here concerning the control of this place. We are in many ways an illogical people in the way our constitution has developed and the way our Parliament has developed. If we try to do it only on logic, I am sure that we shall do something which is typically unnatural to the country. That would be a great pity, because if Parliament starts behaving unnaturally to the rest of the country, sooner or later we shall find that we rue the day we did it. The important test, therefore, is whether it works. Whatever alternative I have looked at, I cannot find a better 1597 alternative which I could be sure would work as well as the present system even with all its faults. For that reason, we had better leave the control over this Palace alone unless we are certain that we can get something better.
I do not believe that to make the Minister of Works responsible would be an improvement. [Interruption.] I am talking about the office and not necessarily the person. It is important that the administration of this place must be impeccable. It must as far as possible be removed from party politics. If we once bring in an office which has to do a great deal in connection with State ceremonial and do it, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East indicated he would like to do, by nationalising the office, if we were to put any of these officers at the behest of party politics one way or the other, I believe that sooner or later we should drag the Sovereign into party politics. If we think back on the constitutional development of the country and how we have fought to prevent that very thing, it seems to me that it would be a great pity to do that, because it would be a major step backwards rather than forwards.
As to the accommodation, I do not question that we need more, particularly for those who serve us. As a Member of Parliament, I lived a great many years in my constituency and I had a small flat in London. I did not find that I was ever short of a place to write a letter here. I did not find that I was ever unduly deprived of research facilities when I wanted them. I realise, however, that some hon. Members are more exacting than I am. For my part, I hope that one thing I shall never do as long as I am in this place is to try to make myself out as more important than I really am.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)
We have all listened with the greatest of interest to the historical dissertation of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), whose contribution was not only personal but was, perhaps, one which only he could make. Nothing could point more to the problem which is posed by our Amendment than that in considering this matter the hon. and gallant Member should set off the pressing and urgent claims of hon. Members, like his hon. Friend the Mem- 1598 ber for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), against the historical bonds which he would wish to continue to bind us.
There is one important factor which the hon. and gallant Member should have mentioned. There may have been an overwhelming argument for the position that was taken up in 1133, to which the hon. and gallant Member referred. The case remained equally strong for the next 400 years, but I remind the hon. and gallant Member and the House that it is over 400 years since this was a royal residence and that the whole basis of the claim for the Lord Great Chamberlain derived from duties which arose in connection with his attendance upon the Sovereign in a royal palace. Therefore, the fact that this is only now notionally a royal palace would, I should have thought, demonstrate that the claims which the hon. and gallant Member is advancing for continuance of the power and prestige of that official can no longer be maintained.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for drawing attention to that. It would be right to say also that one of the principal reasons why the Lord Great Chamberlain had a duty here was because in the old days the Sovereign used to sleep here on the night before the Coronation. Now that the Sovereign no longer does so there may be a strong case for following the suggestion which I made.
§ Mr. Johnson
I welcome that. I am not attacking in any way the connection between the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Sovereign, but the second factor is also important—that whatever the duty he seeks to perform the whole of the expenditure for the maintenance of the whole of the Palace of Westminster has been borne for many years on the Public Vote. Therefore, the exercise of these powers has been entirely extraneous to the continuance of the building so far as Lords and Commons are concerned. I do not think there is any substance at all in the hon. and gallant Member's point that any interference with the powers of the Lord Great Chamberlain would affect adversely the use of the building.
I think, however, that reference to the past shows that there are two opposing points of view when we consider these matters. There are those people so 1599 conscious of the traditions of the House, so confident in their rememberance of the glories of the past, and so aware of the ghosts which stalk this Chamber that they do not project their minds to the different type of Member that is sent to the House nowadays.
If we come to this Chamber, as so often we do, like characters in a Pirandello play waiting to play our parts, and find ourselves frustrated, the frustration is largely personal and we can go away quickly and no harm is done. But if we neglect all the other duties which are increasingly placed upon us we forfeit the respect of our constituents and we fail to do the job which is much more important in this building, namely, what we do outside the Chamber rather than what we do inside.
It is easy to be wise after the event, but perhaps the House of Commons rushed too quickly after the war into rebuilding the Chamber. The hon. Baronet the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) referred to the Select Committee on Rebuilding. I looked up the debate which then took place. It was largely because of the influence and the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who was then Prime Minister, that the Select Committee which was set up in 1943 restricted itself to the narrow question of rebuilding the Chamber, making such improvements as it could but retaining its essential features. It is interesting to recall that Lord Winterton, as he then was, who became Chairman of that Select Committee, used some words which are very germane to our discussion today.
He said on 28th October, 1943—and this links up with the contribution which we have just heard from the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely:I have always resented the claim of a certain Court official, to whom I have referred,"—and that was the Lord Great Chamberlain—to have powers over a building in which the Commons House of Parliament sits. I would suggest… that something might be added to the Motion,"—which was to set up a Select Committee to rebuild the Chamber—in more or less the following terms:'and to report what changes are possible and desirable in the re-arrangement of the 1600 rest of the Palace of Westminster allocated to this House, with a view to the greater convenience of Members of this House.'"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1943; Vol. 393, c. 457.]They might well be words which we could be debating today.
The hon. Member for Southend, West posed a number of questions and suggested that the Minister of Works should submit plans and detailed drawings of alternative possibilities for rebuilding. Of course, when one considers that suggestion one must realise that neither these proposals in detail nor the drawings nor the plans can be submitted to the House of Commons as such and discussed and settled by us. If they are to be considered, they must be considered by a Committee of the House. Once that paragraph is accepted we are brought back to what kind of committee should be established, and these are in fact the very matters which were considered by the Stokes Committee over two Sessions of Parliament.
It is as well for the House to be reminded that in the case of both the first and the final Report of the Stokes Committee there was unanimity among all its members. I do not think we could have had a Committee which could have gone more thoroughly into this matter, which could have explored all the possibilities, and which by unanimous vote could have come to the House with such specific proposals. But the Committee said, and as far as I know this point has not been answered by the Minister or any speaker in the debate, that it would be impossible to proceed with these matters without a unified control of the Palace as a whole. I hope that when the Leader of the House replies to the debate he will answer the question why, if the Stokes Committee argued cogently, as it did, that the first step to deal with this problem was the setting up of a House of Commons Commission, the Government have refused and refuse to accept that recommendation.
There are one or two subsidiary matters to which I should also like to refer connected with the amenities of the House. We have talked about typewriters and telephones, and hon. Members have referred to the typing of letters. We are entitled to get from the supplies department of the House of Commons a certain amount of letter 1601 paper, but after that there is nothing else available. We all know that we keep carbon copies of our letters, but carbons are not provided nor the flimsies to go with them. Our secretaries cannot get pencils or shorthand books to do their work, and I understand that if an hon. Member should find himself without a carbon and he needs it urgently he can obtain it only on personal application to the Serjeant at Arms. Is not that a quite fantastic situation? Why cannot every hon. Member be allowed some specific sum—a reasonable sum—so that the facility would not be abused—and be allowed to use all the normal facilities in the matter of stationery and the like? Without these things we cannot do our job efficiently.
Reference has also been made to the Library. It will be found from a study of the Estimates for the Library that the sum that we provide for running our library service for this great House of Commons is negligible compared with what most local authorities spend. We have never faced the problem of having a Library and having facilities and providing a service for Members which is comparable with the needs of the place. Here again, I do not think that a problem of that kind—the reorganisation of the Library—can be dealt with other than by an efficient and effective House of Commons Commission, and that, I submit, is another reason why the Amendment should be considered seriously.
This country preens itself on being the Mother of Parliaments, but she is a rather skinflint parent when it comes to providing for government, not only in connection with the salaries of Ministers but also with regard to Members' allowances and the like. I was looking at the Estimates dealing with this matter, and I was surprised to find that though the salaries in respect of the officials of the House are steadily rising and are to rise next year—and I am sure that they should rise to become comparable with figures outside—in the one case of allowances for Members of Parliament the figures are down. If the allowances are not to be adjusted above the present level, which seems roughly equal to those of senior clerks in various Departments of the House of Commons, at least those other advantages in the 1602 way of amenities and secretarial help should be found for us.
The Minister of Works posed us with a problem and with a number of questions to solve for him which I really think he should have considered and settled himself and then have come forward with concrete proposals. How, in fact, can we on that short statement of his in the barest of terms come to a decision today? I do not know how he suggests that these matters should be pursued as between the various alternative building programmes. That must surely be left to some committee or some informal discussions with Members before it can be settled. I think that from what one has heard in the debate and the nature of the problem, if it is to be solved, it involves new building of a substantial character.
An hon. Member opposite thought that there would be some public concern if money were spent for this purpose. If the people of this country were assured that we would be more efficient Members of Parliament and if the conditions under which we work at the moment could be brought home to them, I do not think that there would be any public outcry. We spent nearly £2 million on rebuilding this Chamber. If we need to spend an equivalent sum to provide Members with the facilities and amenities which they need outside the Chamber in order to be efficient, that sum also ought to be paid, and I am sure there will be no public concern about it.
I hope that the Minister will treat this Amendment a little more seriously than he has done. It is not an unfriendly Amendment. It seeks to put concretely before the House a very specific first step which we believe must be taken if the other problems are to be solved.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)
There are here, as has been said, two problems—the short term and the longer term. I think that, whatever we decide to do on either, we must remember that this building is not only a place where we work, answer letters, harry Ministers and make speeches, but a place almost of pilgrimage to many people, not only to our constituents but to people who come from overseas.
1603 Distinguished visitors from abroad and the Dominions come to address hon. Members here and, in addition, distinguished persons often address groups of hon. Members in the Committee Rooms upstairs. I believe, therefore, that it is a point worth making in any debate on accommodation that one should ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works to try to keep the place clean. The windows in the Committee Rooms on the first floor—the floor above this Chamber —are a disgrace. Committee Room No. 10 is one of our larger rooms and it is often used by various Committees of friendship between the British Parliament, and by Belgian, French and American visitors and other distinguished visitors from overseas. The windows are a disgrace, as are very often some of the carpets about the House of Commons and as is the choice of linoleum put down in Committee Rooms Nos. 9 and 12.
If my right hon. Friend, having cleaned the windows, wishes to do something, without a major degree of reconstruction, to make life more convenient in its wider sense for hon. Members, I would put very high on my list of priorities a decent system of ventilation and air conditioning in the Committee Rooms, the Library, the Smoking Room, the Tea Room and the Dining Rooms. The system of ventilation, as referred to in one of the Stokes Committee's Reports, either produces an atmosphere thick with fog, over-heated and completely lacking in oxygen or, when the windows are open, our papers are blown about and one goes down with pneumonia the next day. Surely, in this day and age, it should be possible for something to be done to enable us to work in a reasonable temperature and in air that is reasonably pure.
There is, of course, the problem of desks. I would support any system which enables an hon. Member who wants a desk to be able to have one for himself with a reasonable amount of drawer accommodation. In particular, all hon. Members should be able to have a reasonable amount of filing space, either for their secretaries, wherever their secretaries may happen to work, or, separately, in another part of the building. But let this filing accommodation be somewhere near the main arteries 1604 down which Members move and near to this Chamber, which is the hub of our life. I believe that that is immensely important.
When we come to the question of desks, we also come to the problem of where to put them. I am perfectly certain that in the longer term we have to build, and build fairly substantially. I note in the Stokes Committee's Report of 1954 two main suggestions for increasing the amount of accommodation available for Members. Paragraph 10 of that Report proposed that Mr. Speaker's Library, the end room of the succession of Libraries on this floor, should be handed over to the House of Commons for which, of course, that accommodation was in fact designed. Mr. Speaker suggested to the Stokes Committee that he must have accommodation convenient to the Chamber where he could interview Members. The Stokes Committee produced a suggestion for the use of another room in this Palace and that that should be connected with Speaker's Way to this Chamber by means of a small corner gallery passage. On page 154 of the Report there is an attractive sketch of how this could look. I believe that that would be a help, because it would enable more tables or desks to be put near the Chamber where Members want them.
The second alternative is in paragraph 8, namely, that the arcade in New Palace Yard should be so altered, at a cost of about £25,000, as to enable a new room to be provided where Members could sit or work. This is somewhat less than the £250,000 which it is now proposed to spend on providing desks under the roof.
I should be grateful if the Leader of the House, in summing up, could say why the Government have never taken any action to implement the proposals in paragraphs 8 and 10 of the 1954 Report.
But we need something more than that. I incline to the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke). I have a sentimental longing to see the original Barry plan around New Court realised. I fully realise that there are many difficulties, not least the fact that the road is somewhat wider now than it was some 130 years ago. I congratulate 1605 my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works on his proposal to have a building on the other side of the road, but I hope that we shall not be content, as apparently we are with Nos. 6 and 7 in Old Palace Yard, to have a building on the other side of the road without an underground footpath across the road. I am well aware that there is a public footpath there now, but that is no reason why the public should be inconvenienced by a large number of extra people trooping across. I should have thought that one needed a special throughway for those working on the other side.
I would support wholeheartedly any move to put into the new building people connected with us in this House who do not need to be immediately on our doorstep, for instance inter-Parliamentary bodies. I would certainly support the Fees Office going across the road. I would be surprised if there were not other bodies hidden in this place, or offices of the House, which could be transferred, and I certainly agree that the offices of the Law Officers should be sent across the road straight away.
As the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) said, the problem of Who is to control all this is the point of the Opposition Amendment to the Government Motion. Before I mention that, however, I want to say something about telephones. I do not take the view that the telephone should never have been invented, which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) seemed to say earlier, but equally I view with alarm that we should each have a desk with our own telephone on it, where people could ring us all the time. For instance, if one were in the Chamber or attending a Committee meeting in the building when the telephone rang, and the operator said, "I am sorry, he cannot be there", the constituent would be firmly convinced that one was not doing one's job properly.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Is there not another side to the argument? Is it not possible that the caller might think that the hon. Gentleman was so busy, or was in the Chamber so often, that he could not get back to his telephone?
§ Mr. Freeth
I hope that my own constituents would always be as charitable 1606 as are apparently those of the hon. Gentleman. I hope that we shall not each be made to have a telephone with our name on it, but equally I believe that we need not necessarily continue the present situation whereby, if someone rings and leaves a message, we often do not get it for perhaps an hour after the caller rings. When one thinks that the attendant sets off with thirty or forty telephone message slips to walk round the Committee floor, to go along by the Library corridor, to go down to the rooms on the Terrace level and to go through the Lobbies round here, it is really a miracle that the attendant carrying the message slip ever meets the hon. Member in question as he goes from one part of the building to another in pursuance of his duties.
I suggest, therefore, that there might be the following arrangement. Possibly in the Members' Lobby just outside this Chamber, possibly in one of the rooms in the Library, possibly within easy reach of the attendant who allocates the rooms on the Committee floor, there should be a system of numbered lights, each Member having a number and a light. Then: a Member expecting a telephone call could see if anyone had telephoned, and immediately ring a telephone message room where the operator would tell him what the caller had said. I believe that a system of this kind would enable telephone calls to reach Members more efficiently.
Now I come back to the Opposition Amendment. I may have mis-read or misunderstood it, but it seems to me to go a little further than the Stokes Committee went in the question of a Parliamentary Commission or House of Commons Commission. We heard today at the end of Question Time that there is to be the experiment, if that is the right term, of a Welsh Grand Committee. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that it would probably be as well to go slowly and see how this-worked. I cannot help thinking that we might appoint a House Committee or a Select Committee, possibly with the Chairman of Ways and Means as its Chairman, representing all hon. Members in this House. Such a body might be given the task of hearing from hon. Members their complaints and proposals. It would have the right to go anywhere in this building and to get information, 1607 as does the Select Committee, from the Ministry of Works or any other Government Department. It would have laid upon it the duty of presenting to this House at least once a Session a full report of the ideas put up to it and of the action it had taken, and also a full report of what representations it had made to other authorities and of its successes or failures.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, following the Report of the Stokes Committee, an Advisory Committee was set up to help Mr. Speaker? Its terms of reference, which were narrower than the Stokes Committee recommended, were derisory. If the hon. Gentleman would read the minutes, which I have here, he would learn that we went to the Speaker so many times to proffer advice which was never taken that we on this side of the House declined to serve any longer unless the terms of reference were real. A great deal of sympathy was expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, so the hon. Gentleman should put his idea over to his own establishment.
§ Mr. Freeth
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) for that information. I was proposing something wider than the Committee which apparently existed. I am putting forward these ideas in the hope that some words may fall on fertile ground. I would not go as far as the Opposition at the present time, but I believe that we might take a step forward with the appointment of a Select Committee charged with the job of channelling, of co-ordinating Members' suggestions, of chivvying the authorities as far as possible, and of making public the results of its endeavours.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I suggest to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) that what he said about our Amendment seems to mean that he supports it. I am sure that a Commission of the kind our Amendment envisages is necessary, if only to deal with proposals that have emanated this afternoon in profusion from both sides of the House. If we start to build, as seems likely now, such a Commission would be a busy one.
As regards telephones, I suggest that if Members were working in rooms of 1608 their own, or in the Member's rooms upstairs, they would find that most of the messages taken round the House are first telephoned to ascertain if the Member concerned is in the room, and so, very often, messages are dealt with there and then.
I suggest that those Members who want separate rooms, or would share a room with another Member, should be given that facility. It is not necessary to have a telephone on a table. I was in Munich about three years ago and I remember visiting a new office building put up by a municipality in Bavaria. It was built in twelve months—I hope the Minister will note this—and it was equipped in the most modern way. In a cubicle shared by two men the telephone was not on the table but on the wall, and it could be swung round to either of them as required. It seems to me that our capable Post Office could provide something similar.
I wish principally to speak about something which I raised at Question Time a few weeks ago—the fire hazards in this Palace. I have no wish to be a scaremonger and if, therefore, I quote from two letters the Minister has been kind enough to send me, I hope the House will bear with me, for I would like them to go into the record for future reference. I had said that in my tour of the Palace I was frightened at the fire hazards there seemed to be in some parts where many of the staff had to work. In the Answers to my Questions the Minister said that there was an annual survey by his fire inspectorate and that one was to take place shortly. He said there were 375 fire extinguishers, 202 hoses, and sand and water buckets so labelled. In a letter dated 10th March the Minister said:In a supplementary to your first Question you said that there were no means of escape from certain parts of the Palace. My professional staff assure me that the regular and comprehensive inspections by the Ministry's Fire Inspectorate have revealed no parts of the building which lack safe alternative escape routes in the case of fire. External fire escapes would be excrescences on a building of this character; but it has protected internal staircases which provide escape routes from most rooms, and in all places where these are not easily accessible there are ladders to flat roofs which lead to safety.You also mentioned that some windows in the new Commons block were locked shut. The new building was, of course, designed in accordance with modern fire precautions 1609 requirements. There are alternative routes of escape from the rooms in which the windows are locked shut; to allow these to be opened would upset the air conditioning system.We have heard a lot about that system today, but we ought to look at this question very carefully in relation to fire hazards. In a second letter next day, the Minister said:Firstly, as regards printed instructions on the use of the various fire-fighting appliances which are provided in the House, I have made inquiries and I find that instructions are generally printed on or placed next to all appliances which can safely be used by those not trained in fire-fighting methods, except that there are no instructions on the sand and water buckets (I hope no one needs any) and there are none on the wall-mounted hose reels. I think that in this case your suggestion might appropriately be adopted, and I am bringing it to the notice of the Lord Great Chamberlain, whose responsibility this is. However, the fire hydrants and canvas hoses are suitable only for use by trained personnel, and it would not be wise to encourage others to use them by providing instructions.I regret that I cannot answer your question about the hours during which trained fire fighting staff are on duty, as these people come under the control of the Lord Great Chamberlain. However, I am asking if he can send you some information on this point to reassure you.I should like to say how much I appreciate the Minister's efforts to satisfy my apprehension and I will take advantage of his offer that I should meet his chief officer concerned. I also had quite a nice letter from the secretary of the Lord Great Chamberlain saying that he would do what he could to answer my questions. But, having said these things, I still feel a little worried. We have the Lord Great Chamberlain's duties, which. I am told, are to see that fires are put out, that trained firemen are on duty 24 hours a day throughout the year, and that, in addition, 12 custodians, trained in fire duties but not to the degree of professional firemen, are on duty at all times.
I have been unable to find any printed instructions anywhere from which a simple back bencher like myself can know what to do. Like 71 other Members, I have a desk upstairs on the Committee floor. The corridor there is, I suppose, 70 yards long, or more, with as far as I can see, no means of escape at all. The Minister tells me—and I accept what he says—that there is somewhere an outlet by which we can all get out.
1610 There are other people with accommodation on that corridor, including many of the typists and our HANSARD reporters who are very busy there at times. There should be explicit instructions very clearly placed everywhere in the Palace where fire danger might occur at any time; they should be available so that we may know where to go and what to do in case of danger. The Minister says we can get out on to the flat roof somewhere. That I do not know.
Then there are the protected staircases, but I do not quite know what a protected staircase is. I have seen some of the staircases around, I think, the Lord Chancellor's quarters, where, I imagine, they were part of service quarters in days gone by and there are people working in what appear to be landings just boarded up. I do not like to think what would happen to them if a fire occurred.
We ought to consider this very seriously. After all, a Private Notice Question was asked this week about a serious fire in Glasgow which caused heavy loss of life. We know that the previous Palace was burnt down in 1834, almost in its entirety. I remember, too, that about five years ago during the night the television set had internal combustion and set fire to the room. Fortunately, it was dealt with quickly. People saw the fire, I believe, from St. Thomas's Hospital opposite. But that fire was so intense that an iron umbrella stand was actually twisted by the heat.
I should like consideration to be given to the question of linoleum. I recall a serious fire in a small house in Redruth, where I live, some three years ago. It was within 100 yards of the fire station, yet the draft coming through the house—it was about eight o'clock in the morning—set fire to the linoleum on the staircase, and the smoke was so choking that a mother and two children upstairs were asphyxiated, and the firemen were unable to get into the building to control the blaze.
I do not wish to be a scaremonger, but it was my duty, at one time of my life, to have to report to the local education authority—of which I was an officer —parts of schools, and so on, which seemed to me to be carrying an undue fire hazard. We ought to consider this matter carefully. I am sure that the 1611 Ministry and the Lord Great Chamberlain will. I have said all I need to say about it.
I welcome what the Minister said about a fresh, large building project. After reading the two Reports produced by the Stokes Committee and considering all the suggestions that Committee made for improving some parts of the Palace, I am quite satisfied that there is little extra accommodation to be squeezed out for the benefit of hon. Members.
I emphasise that many back-bench Members have to travel long distances, sometimes hundreds of miles, to get here. They have to spend the first four days of each week entirely on the premises. Some of us spend an average of 14 hours a day here, in the first four days of the week. To my mind, our Library has three functions. It is a library proper; a series of writing rooms, and a rest room—I will not say a dormitory.
I appeal to the Minister to consider the provision of separate rooms for individual Members. I have to keep a lot of papers here. I do not know why, but I seem to accumulate a lot of papers and files, and one section of an ordinary filing cabinet would be useless to me. I hope that hon. Members who have secretaries will remember the difficulties of those who have not. I am sure we will all welcome the new project of the Minister, and I hope that a Commission on the lines suggested by our Amendment can be set up to consider implementing our plans in detail.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I begin by paying a small tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works for the action he has taken in making a full investigation into all parts of the Palace of Westminster. He has not received very kind treatment from hon. Members recently at Question Time, and not many kind things have been said about him this evening; and I cannot agree with some of his proposals. Nevertheless, he has brought some ideas to the House, and I sympathise with his difficulty, because he came here today to give us a few suggestions but largely to sound out the House in order to obtain information. Let us hope that the Leader of the House will come forward with some forthright proposals.
1612 It is no good our casting envious eyes upon the accommodation along the way, in another place. There is not much accommodation to spare there, in any case, and the fuss that we would have to go through in order to get it would probably make what we got in the end not worth while. It is not right to try to run the Lord Great Chamberlain into the Thames, because even if we did we would not got all we want.
I agree with the first half of the Opposition's Amendment. We need more facilities. But I am not sure that the idea of having some all-controlling body would necessarily get us what we want. My hon. Friend the Member for South-end, West (Mr. Channon) said that he thought that a number of people could be shifted out of the building. Perhaps they could, but I believe it was the late Mr. Stokes who talked about this place being a splendid example of vast numbers of vested interests. We have all had experience of that sort of thing, and we know about traditions and precedents, and one thing and another. Even if we managed to shift some or all of these people we would not get what we wanted in the end, and it would not be worth the bother. We would dig a whole lot of men out of their burrows under the ground, but their subterranean rooms would be of very little use to hon. Members for the kind of work they need to do.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition in his suggestion as to what facilities should be available to hon. Members. I even go so far as to agree that if an hon. Member wants a room of his own it should be provided if it is possible to do so. Many hon. Members do not think that others ought to hide themselves in small rooms, and I agree about that, but I still think that if a Member feels that he needs a room—as some of those who come here from distant areas do—he should be given that facility. If we were given single rooms we could have typewriters and telephones in them and do exactly what we liked.
I am not suggesting that communal rooms should necessarily be accompanied by the hum of typewriters, and as to telephones, we require many more for our use. But it is a ridiculous idea that a Member of Parliament can be rung up by his constituents and expected to 1613 be available to speak to them on the telephone at any time. I would never allow anyone in this building to tell a constituent of mine that he would try to find me and get me to go to the telephone. I would expect to receive a message and to be able to go to the telephone later, when convenient. It would be intolerable if we were to come on to a kind of telephone extension system so that we had to be available all the time. I am not suggesting that we should set ourselves up in little offices.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). I sympathise with her frustration, because many hon. Members are frustrated. Some of us, including many hon. Members on this side of the House, take the view that all these things will be very difficult to achieve and that it is not worth making the fuss. They think that we should try to find somewhere outside which is convenient for us to live in and to keep our things in. But many other Members are not in that position.
The only criticism I have of the hon. Lady's speech is concerned with her wish to set up a body of some kind and give it a lot of power. Not very many specific proposals were made for finally solving our problem, and I would like to put a proposal to the House now. In spite of what the hon. Lady said—and it shocked me greatly to hear her talk about this building as a neo-Gothic horror—I believe it to be a very good building. It is one of the best nineteenth century public buildings to be found anywhere in the country. It is rather a grand building, and when an hon. Member calls it a "fake" I would ask him to consider that many of our finer buildings, which are examples of eighteenth century architecture, are adapted in style from Greece and Rome. They are adapted to suit our climate. Gothic is supposed to be our national style, so it was chosen for this new Palace of Westminster. Whatever is said about this building, we have it, and nothing we do will alter that. I suggest we should try to get the space we want in some other way.
We have in this part of the building more or less ideal conditions. We have this antiseptic atmosphere, this pale pink 1614 lighting and all the other things that go with it—pale green seats—and what a very pale colour they are. The other part of the building, in another place where all the money was spent when the Palace was first built, is grand. It has colour and life. Our end of the Palace is drab and dirty, and no matter how hard my right hon. Friend works to clean the windows, he will never make much difference without spending a lot of money on redecoration and the introduction of a little colour.
Why have all these pale, cream, dirty looking walls? Why not have some of the eight colour wallpapers of Mr. Pugin, who designed the old House, a roll of which I recently bought myself? It is sold at 50s. a roll, and I will show it to any hon. Member who wants to see it.
This is a very grand building, but it was left unfinished. We have heard about the Barry scheme during this debate, and I wish to say a few more things about it. Barry wanted to complete the Palace by building round New Palace Yard from the Clock Tower along Bridge Street and along the side of Parliament Square, past Cromwell's statue— which was not there in those days—and joining on to St. Stephen's Entrance. This scheme, considerably modified, could solve all our problems once and for all, with a minimum of disturbance to the existing users of rooms in the Palace, so that none of the friction, trouble and acrimony which we should encounter if we tried to shift people out would happen. They could go merrily on as they are, some necessary and some not so necessary, but even those which are not necessary are reasonably decorative, and so I defend them.
I do not want an office block, I will never lend myself to that idea at all, and I will explain why in a moment Here I must mention the row of very beautiful catalpa trees now planted on the line of Barry's original proposal. The last time I mentioned that proposal the Leader of the House waved those beautiful catalpa trees in my face and said, "You cannot do anything about them. They are beautiful and cannot be touched."
I would go a long way in agreeing with that, and in case I may be thought to be an "anti-tree" man, may I say that I have today ordered half-a-dozen 1615 catalpa trees to be planted in my own garden in Dorset. The trees here, although beautiful, are old and dying. I do not think they will last much longer. They could be moved if we wanted to build on the site. If we are proposing to spend £5 million on building we can spare a few thousand to spend on shifting a few trees, and I have expert advice that they would survive.
We could have a compromise and build along Bridge Street on the other side from St. Stephen's Club to the corner of Whitehall and make that the side for the courtyard. At the Clock Tower end we could build over the road with arches for the traffic to go through and go over the road again where the taxi bell is now and carry on down towards Westminster Hall. If it is not desired to cover up the front of Westminster Hall, we could end at the present front of Westminster Hall, leaving Cromwell's statue where it is.
This great soheme of Barry's could be modified to give quite a good building in the same style as the present Palace and provide all the accommodation we want. Most people have seen the rather unattractive line drawing of Barry's proposal which is in the Librarian's room and which has been reproduced in official reports. But I beg hon. Members who are interested in the scheme to look at the coloured prints in the office of the Serjeant at Arms which show the scheme very much better and reveal what was originally intended. From many angles the Palace looks very unfinished in its present form. Compromises could be arrived at, but I am still firmly of the view that we ought to carry out the whole of the scheme and solve our problem now.
How could we get to such a building were it erected? There are quite a number of ways. We could go through the present office of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association by St. Stephen's entrance. We could get to it across the bottom window of Westminster Hall, where there is already a gallery across there, or from the new entrances into New Palace Yard from ground level, and also along the Ministers' corridor and through the Clock Tower. It would be easy of access and not all that far from the Chamber.
1616 Furthermore, we could move some officials gently outwards and make use of some of the rooms which are closer to the Chamber now. This new building would have four floors if it were like the rest of the building, the ground floor could be used for secretaries and for interview rooms. Thus we could get rid of those from under the Chamber and use them for other purposes. On the first floor we could provide a variety of committee rooms and get rid of that hideous building, the Grand Committee Room, which is of no use to anybody in its present form. On the second floor we could have rooms like the Aye and No Lobbies with little alcoves and bay windows and tables. There people could be contacted fairly easily and they would not be shut away in little cubicles. On the floor above we could have all the small rooms we want opening off a central corridor, and there would still be the roof where there would be plenty of space, as it could be free from internal iron ties like the rest of the Palace. If we carried out this great scheme all our problems would be solved.
Mention has been made of the problem of justifying it to the public. I believe that the public would show good common sense on this matter. They will read this debate and note the speeches, including those of some reactionary hon. Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) who want nothing done. They are just as reactionary about this matter as I am in my endeavours to prevent anyone from stopping foxhunting and that sort of thing. They are entitled to their view, but hon. Members who adopt that attitude are becoming fewer and we should ignore that view when providing for the facilities which we need.
My hon. Friend has said that the scheme, as I suggest it, would cost £5 million, and I am wondering how he arrived at that figure. If it be accurate he must have done a lot of detailed research on the plan, taking into account what sort of interior this new building will have. Therefore, he is in a position to lay the details of that investigation before the House. I hope that he will do so, or that at any rate we may discuss it publicly or in private before long.
1617 I regard the expenditure of £250,000 on the attics above the Committee Corridor as utterly fantastic when compared with the return which it will bring. One could understand the expenditure of about £20,000 or £30,000, but to spend £250,000 would, in my view, be to throw money away. The Barry scheme commands a certain amount of support—
§ Lord John Hope
The point of view expressed by my hon. Friend regarding the expenditure of £250,000 depends on whether one considers it money thrown away in providing at least 200, and possibly more, hon. Members with desks and facilities of their own which at present they do not have.
§ Mr. Cooke
I can see the point made by my right hon. Friend on this score, but I have rather taken the view that the sort of desk accommodation hon. Members are given now is not of very much use to them. Certainly it is not of use to me. I could explain that in detail, but I do not want to detain the House. I think that the quarter of a million pounds spent on that is money thrown away. That space should be used as library space, or something of that kind, and need not cost a quarter of a million pounds.
The great and grandiose Barry scheme, as it might be called, commands a great deal of support. A number of my hon. Friends are in favour of it. I could put down a Motion suggesting this scheme and collect 100 names of hon. Members in its favour in a very short space of time. I feel inclined to do so unless the Government make some dramatic improvements before very long.
I was going to speak about the use of existing space in the Palace, but I will not do so because time is short. It would be invidious to mention one group of people rather than others. I think very little could be done with the present accommodation except that we could improve the Library facilities. Quite a lot could be done if we took a couple or three Committee Rooms above the Library and had a lift into them and a lift going into the roof space, where the records could be kept instead of in mildewed cellars. The hon. Baronet the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) was very modest in mentioning the difficulties of accommodation, 1618 because he is the Chairman of the Selection Committee and he has nowhere to keep his papers. If one finds oneself on a Committee by mistake, it is because he has got the papers muddled because he has not got a room of his own.
It would be ungracious for us male Members not to say a word about the lady Members. I was allowed to look into their room the other day, and I must say that I was horrified at its state. It was not their fault. They have a room which was meant originally for rest and relaxation, but the whole space is smothered with books and papers, and telephone cubicles open straight off the room. They are not allowed to have any of the refreshment facilities of the House brought to them. If they want a cup of tea there is some impediment which prevents it being taken there. I think that could be remedied almost overnight. I should like to see their room moved away from that room on the Terrace level, which should be a private dining room, and the ladies given more and better accommodation, possibly on the level of the Chamber.
The ideal type of hon. Member of this House was the amateur who—let us face it—was rich enough to be able to spend a certain amount of time here and cope with his other interests as well. He was rich enough to take a house or a flat within reach of the Division bell. In present times, some of the older Members who have made their way in the world can do that, but younger Members find it difficult. It is all very well to say that the younger Members should go out and make their way in business, but it is not always easy for them to become directors of firms, and many hon. Members are not fitted for commerce or some activity like that by which they can make a lot of money. I am not complaining on my own account, but I know there are hon. Members in that position. Many of us have nothing but a weekend suitcase and a dirty little cupboard to call our own.
§ Mr. Cooke
We are told by the Ministry of Works that we have to take our suitcases away from the secretarial department, but I leave the House to work that one out.
1619 It costs about £3,000 a year to do the job of a Member of Parliament. We get in expenses—perhaps I should not call it expenses, because we have to justify every single penny in order to get it exempted from tax—about half that amount. If we are to continue in that thoroughly inadequate state of affairs, we must have facilities here to make our lot just a little bit easier. If we are to remain virtually unpaid Members of Parliament because the entire amount of our so-called salary is swallowed up in expenses, we should be given facilities to do our work properly. I hope my right hon. Friend will endeavour to see that we are given those facilities and that this evening he will produce some proposals for a final solution to our problems of accommodation.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
It is perfectly clear that the wind of change is blowing on the other side of the House. I am sure that I am speaking for all hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House when I say that we were pleased to hear the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke). He has shown an imaginative and sympathetic appreciation of the difficulties of hon. Members in general and in particular of those who have not the private income to enable life in this House to be tolerable.
If one has to live in this House on what one is paid as a Member and nothing else, I think it is impossible for members to provide for themselves the bare minimum of facilities required. I am quite certain that the general public is proud of Parliament and proud of the House of Commons. It comes here with great interest and is impressed by the public buildings. I do not believe that there is any substance in the fear that if we provided adequate facilities for ourselves to do our job we would be subject to criticism from the public and from our constituents. As long as we have confidence in ourselves to say that we need it to do the job properly, we need not, I believe, fear public criticism.
Because I felt that the Minister of Works had a timid approach to this matter, I could not help wondering whether there had been political pressure put on him in this matter. I believe that 1620 the Minister personally is anxious to do what he can, but I do not believe that he will be able to do anything in the least adequate unless we have an absolutely unmistakeable expression of opinion from the House of Commons that something really suitable in scale is to be attempted.
I was one of those who, by the courtesy of Mr. Speaker and the Sergeant at Arms, were allowed to go round the building to see some of the rooms into which we do not usually penetrate. I could only come to the conclusion that within the existing structure one can have, admittedly, some amelioration—mostly at somebody else's expense—but one could not really achieve anything adequate in the existing building. I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, West that the proposal to spend, over three years, £250,000 on work in the part under the roof in order to accommodate Members is really not worth while.
In my view, the Government should come forward now with a really substantial scheme. I should not myself object if it were part of Barry's scheme, though not the whole of it. If they would say, "We are prepared to do this. It will take some time, but we are determined to go ahead with it", and if they would give us some idea of what the timetable would be, in the meantime making such relatively minor but quite useful improvements as could be made within the existing Palace, such as finding temporary accommodation for the Fees Office, the Lord Chancellor's Office, and so forth, Members would be prepared to accept that. In spite of the difficulties under which we now labour, we should not be so unreasonable as to say that we expect everything to be done overnight. If the Government were to give some such absolute assurance, they would carry the whole House with them. Having had to carry on in present conditions for a number of years, hon. Members would, I believe, be prepared to carry on for a little longer, provided, as I say, that they were assured that the Government were determined really to go ahead.
It is not an act of statesmanship for the Government to say that they will tinker around, spending quite a considerable sum of money and taking three 1621 years to do it, when, at the end of that time, they will still have to find a proper scheme. I do not know what the Bridge Street scheme may be. After all, since the Stokes Committee reported, there has been quite a long time for the Government to make some plans. If they really have some estimates and other information, we should have been given far more detail than the Minister of Works indicated in his speech. I must confess that I found his speech far from adequate. I am not against his making minor improvements in ventilation and so forth. They would certainly improve our health and well-being. Even to clear away the smell of fried fish from the corridors would be something.
We must address ourselves tonight to the major plan. The Minister of Works said that an office block would be unpopular because it would alter the character of the Palace. He did not elaborate on that. I am not quite clear what he means. Does he mean that, from the architectural point of view, we do not want a great office block in juxtaposition with this building, or does he mean that there is something in the nature of an office block as opposed to the long rooms such as we have in the Library which is in some way antipathetic to the character of the Palace?
All I can say is that the modern Member of Parliament requires modern accommodation. It may be enclosed within the shell of Barry's Gothic, but it must be reasonably modern accommodation. We have in this age up-to-date office equipment of all kinds in at least some of the offices in this country— though I speak with some hesitation because I see my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) in his place. The general standard of office equipment in the outer world is improving day by day. Many of us use tape recorders, for instance, as an aid in our work.
I must make this point to the Leader of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and other hon. Members spoke about secretarial assistance. What one is planning for hon. Members depends to some degree on whether or not the House is prepared to provide reasonable secretarial assistance. That is one of the matters of principle which must be faced. I think that we should provide for all 1622 hon. Members who desire it a straightforward secretarial pool. We do not ask for a full-time private secretary, because the difference in the needs of hon. Members is too great for one reasonably to suggest that. But all of us should be able to call upon a stenographer or, if we prefer to dictate into a machine, have the reel collected, transcribed and returned to us without any charge to hon. Members. Our ordinary Parliamentary and constituency work should be provided for in that way.
If that were done, no doubt some hon. Members would still wish to have a room in which they could use their own typewriter, but the number would be greatly diminished because the vast majority of hon. Members, at least, would prefer to be able to have a secretary to do their manual work for them. One of the things which the House should decide is that this minimum secretarial help should be given to all hon. Members. I cannot see anything against it in principle, and I feel strongly that it should be done. I repeat that until a decision is taken about that there will remain some degree of doubt about the precise kind of accommodation which would be ultimately most suitable for hon. Members.
If we have the secretarial assistance which I think is absolutely necessary and justified, we must have decent places for the secretaries to work. I cannot afford a secretary. I tried sharing one, and it was not very satisfactory. At present I use the agency—Ashworths—which is in the building, and every time I go up to that room I am ashamed of the conditions in which those young ladies have to work. The ventilation is quite shocking and, if they are to have any air at all, the noise is intolerable. It is improper that we in the House should allow staff to be employed in those conditions. There are also other parts of the building in which the staff conditions are very far from satisfactory.
It is not at all easy for us as hon. Members to do what many of us feel we should do, because we have no properly constituted body to which to turn. That is the crucial consideration. I can see no point in carrying on with the present arrangements. I was very interested in the historical account of the office of Lord Great Chamberlain which was given to us by the hon. and gallant 1623 Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). His suggestion that the Lord Great Chamberlain should be left with a historical connection with the Sovereign's Robing Room is very interesting, and I should have no objection to that. I feel that for the rest of the control of the Palace of Westminster something much more satisfactory is required.
Above all, there must be some continuing body to which hon. Members can turn with suggestions and criticisms. It should be a body which is somewhat more than advisory. I am sure that we have all served on advisory bodies. We know exactly what happens. They give advice, find that nothing is done to follow it up, and in time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) pointed out, they feel so frustrated that they just resign and do not give their time or attention any longer. However, even in the short time that it was in existence the Advisory Committee was able to do one or two useful things. There was the most astonishing combination of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) and the noble Viscountess the then Member for Hemel Hempstead, Lady Davidson. It was a very odd but extremely effective combination. They obtained certain facilities for lady Members which were greatly appreciated. That Committee faded out, and it was inevitable that it should, because it had no real status, standing or powers.
I believe, therefore, that we shall never have a really satisfactory relationship between hon. Members and the organisations of the building and the staff unless we have a proper Committee. I cannot understand why the Government should resist this suggestion. I cannot see any real objection to it. There may have to be some discussion, naturally, as to the Committee's extent and powers, but I cannot at all see why, in principle, the Government should resist having on a rather wider basis what we already have, in a minor way, with the Kitchen Committee and the Library Committee.
It is quite incomprehensible that the Government cannot grant to hon. Members the right to have some say in the conditions in which they live their lives. For that purpose, I repeat, there must 1624 be a standing body of some sort to which we can turn. Time and again in our ordinary working life here we find some small matter that we should like to refer to someone. The difficulty is to find out who precisely is the proper person to whom to refer. The effort is too much, inertia plays its part, and nothing is done. For our own self-respect as hon. Members and in duty to the staff it is time that an alteration was made.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I propose to speak for only a few moments, as I understand that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) wants rather more than half an hour in which to wind up the debate for the Opposition.
I do not propose to be drawn into the controversy about the Lord Great Chamberlain—
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Lady will allow me, I will tell her why. I do not believe that there is anything in the argument. If this House were to decide on a definite policy on what to do about this Palace of Westminster, it is inconceivable to me that the Lord Great Chamberlain would resist our wishes, if they were reasonable. It is rather a smokescreen over the whole debate to bring the Lord Great Chamberlain into the question.
I thought that the most effective contribution to the debate, was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) when he pointed out the differences in the Legislatures of the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Here, since the dawn of Cabinet Government, the problem of Government has been how to manage Parliament. I realise that an unscrupulous Government might wish to impede back benchers in order to carry on with the government of the country without back benchers being able to exercise any restraint on them at all.
For instance, such a Government might shift the telephones in the Palace right out into the middle of New Palace Yard, in order to make it that much more difficult for hon. Members to perform their duties. They might take away the chairs. Nevertheless, we have 1625 to keep a correct balance between providing facilities for back benchers and setting up another Government by giving back benchers undue facilities.
I, too, have seen the operation of the American equivalent of the Commons. For myself, I hope that we do not try to develop accommodation on the lines provided for the members of that Legislature. We often hear people who come back from the United States speaking of the enormous amount of accommodation provided, and how wonderful it would be if hon. Members had the same, but as one of my hon. Friends—the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr). I think—pointed out, the constituencies for which members of Congress are responsible are far larger than ours.
In case any hon. Member has not had the benefit of seeing the suites of offices made available to members of Congress, I can say that they consist of two rooms, with a staff of something like eight or ten. I do not believe that a staff of that size is necessary. It is, to a very great extent, used by the members of Congress—and I speak with diffidence when referring to the Legislature of another Power—to further their popularity in their own constituencies. They have tremendous postal facilities, and I have seen enormous numbers of the journal of that House being posted to a Representative's constituency in order to build up his importance there.
The suggestion was made, I believe by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher), that office accommodation in an outside building should be provided to give each back bench Member of Parliament, a separate room. I think that the hon. Member also mentioned the redevelopment plan for the other side of Bridge Street, which, he said, would be adequate to provide each Member of Parliament with a room. I think that it would be a tragedy and a great mistake if we had that separate building put up. The result of it would be that Members of Parliament would tend to spend a tremendous amount of their time in their offices instead of moving about amongst us here in the Palace of Westminster. I think some hon. Gentlemen opposite think the same as I do about that, and agree that the great advantage of our Parliament is the way in which 1626 we continually rub shoulders with each other in the Lobbies, fall over each other in the Tea Room, Smoking Room or in the Library, and constantly exchange views and sum up the value of various Members of the House.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Surely, my hon. Friend would not suggest that an hon. Member is likely to sit in his office merely for the sake of sitting there? He will come over here when his work is finished.
§ Mr. Williams
I thought I had dealt with that point, but if my hon. Friend has been to the United States, he will know that members of Congress spend practically the whole of their time in their offices. They have a telephone there, and people continually want to get hold of them. If a man has an office with a telephone in it, he develops one of the biggest pressure systems ever devised. That is one of the reasons why I am not in favour of a separate room for every Member, with a telephone on his desk. I think that, when he considers the matter a little more deeply, my hon. Friend will be very grateful to me for my proposal that he should not have a telephone on his desk.
I was interested to see in one of the daily papers today a remark by an ex-Member of this House, who said that he had had a rough time when he was in the House of Commons, and that nobody would speak to him because of his views on hunting. Personally, I cannot remember the hon. Gentleman at all. He came here very infrequently, and at the moment I cannot even remember what he looked like.
§ Mr. Williams
As my hon. and gallant Friend has indicated, I did not rub shoulders with him because he was so infrequently here. He was paired with an hon. Member on the other side of the House.
1627 In support of the view that we should not have a building separate from the Palace of Westminster, I should like to refer to another hon. Gentleman, but I will not refer to him by name, because it would be rather unfair to him. I ran into him the other day in the Lobby, and I said, "I do not see you here very often." He said, "No, I spend a lot of time in my office." I asked him, "Are you in business?" and he replied, "No, but I have an office across the road by Westminster Abbey, part of a suite of offices provided for Members." I think that because he has got a desk and a carpet—I am not envious of him in any way—he does not come into this House as frequently as he used to do. I think he is a character, and he certainly used to entertain me, and it is a pity that we do not hear him more frequently. That would happen in countless cases if we had separate offices a long way from this House. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will make it clear that he is not in favour of any such proposal as that.
I think that in his proposal to provide 300 extra desks upstairs, my right hon. Friend is doing the right thing. He is maintaining the right balance between giving hon. Members too many facilities and not giving them enough. He therefore deserves the support of the House in this respect.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden West)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) telling us of the opulence of America. I rise very briefly to request half a desk. At the moment I am very fortunate, for I have half a desk; I am squatting. When I arrived in the House I went to the Serjeant at Arms and he told me that I was on the list for a desk, that the top of the list was as far back as 1956 and that possibly in four or five years I should get a desk.
One of my hon. Friends kindly said that I might share with him. Unlike the hon. Member for Exeter, who was troubled about rubbing shoulders, I am troubled about another part of our anatomy which we almost rub together, because we almost have to share the same seat. It is rather like Box and Cox M.P.S.; when he sits down, I have 1628 to move out, and vice versa. All I want is another half a desk to go with the half on which I have managed to squat. It should not be beyond the wit of this Mother of Parliament to provide me half a desk. May I say it is quite a nice little desk? It has a typewriter on it. But if we want to write on the desk, it is necessary to put the typewriter on the floor. It even has two drawers. He has one and I have the other. All this may sound ridiculous. It is, however, ridiculous that we should have such a situation in the House.
That is the first point I wanted to make, and I have three minutes in which to make the second, which has not yet been made in the debate. I make a strong plea that those of us who are full-time Members, and who are here from 10 a.m. until we leave to reach home about midnight, should have some amenities provided. The first Count which I attended in the House was a novel experience for me. I saw the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) panting at a slight trot into the Chamber after the rest of us had gone out. It occurred to me that that had been the effect on the health of a Member who at one time had run a mile in four minutes and who could no doubt then have reached Lewisham and still have got back to the House in time. Yet after a few weeks in this establishment, he was too late for a Count.
If we are to do our job effectively and well we must be healthy. I know that some of my hon. Friends in the 1945–50 Parliament were full of good intention when they had a little gymnasium upstairs. One of the first inquiries I made was to ascertain the wherebouts of this gymnasium, but it has gone the way of many other good intentions, I am afraid, and there is no longer such a place in this establishment. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) was the last hon. Member to go into the Division Lobby in running shorts, and this was some years ago.
I hope that we may be given facilities for a short period of exercise. In the House we are inundated with words. We read them, they are poured out at us, we listen to them, we go into the Tea Room and hear more of them; morning, noon and night we have words, 1629 words, words. I make a plea for the provision of a squash court. This exercise would take about ten minutes, which is all I can stand at my age, but it would mean that we could keep tuned up and would be able to endure more of the words in the Chamber. It would not take a great deal of room. If the Minister is unable to find a small corner somewhere where a squash court could be provided, I wonder whether he will make an arrangement, perhaps, with Imperial Chemical Industries, which have an excellent court across the road. Perhaps during periods other than the lunch period hon. Members might have this facility to keep themselves in trim.
I ask that hon. Members on both sides of the House should give serious thought to the Amendment when we divide this evening, as perhaps we shall. I hope that they will give serious thought to the very sensible suggestions which have been put forward and that we shall have some rhyme and reason in this place, the procedure of which sometimes is a little difficult to follow. I hope that the Amendment will receive the support of both sides of the House.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I expect that by now the Minister of Works appreciates that his speech was not a roaring success. To many of us on this side, it seemed that his brief was deliberately prepared to put this debate on a rather mean and trivial level.
§ Mr. Pannell
At least I wrote it myself. This matter does not seem to be highly regarded by the Minister or his Department if that is the best that he can do. I think that the whole House was glad when my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) lifted the debate on to a higher plane.
We are not concerned with small appurtenances like lavatory chains, door handles, typists' desks and all that abracadabra and trivia. We are concerned with a fundamental issue—the continuing fight of the Legislature against the growing power of the Executive. Unless the matter is appreciated on that basis, it seems to me that we are wasting our time.
1630 Most of our present practice comes from the House of Commons Offices Acts of 1812 to about 1849. It is interesting to appreciate how then the legislation reflected the manners of the time of the best club in Europe. The Commissioners of the House who were set up from 1812 onward were the then Secretaries of State, who had offices which were extant at the time—Admiralty, War, and so on, including the Master of the Rolls, who then could be a Member of this House. The busy Secretaries of State, together with the Speaker and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ran this House. In effect, they are still the Commissioners of the House today. Any Chancellor of the Exchequer will know that in the matter of the stipends within the House, the salaries to be given, the Commissioners of the House are not subject to Treasury veto on the well-established theory that the Legislature should be superior to the Executive. We ought to get back to that basis when we consider the matter today.
Joseph Hume was Chairman of the great Select Committee of 1834 which put this House on its present basis. It reduced Mr. Speaker's salary from £6,000 to £5,000 a year. It ensured that he did not get a set of gold plate every time he was elected but bought the set which the House has now. That was the result of the great Select Committee that sprung from those times.
It is a fact that the practice of the control of the House has not substantially altered since the great Select Committee of 1834. I pay tribute to those people of the past. They were great men who stopped bribery and nepotism and stopped people being born into the service of the House, but they dealt with the problem as they saw it in their day. We who served on the Stokes Committee thought that we would bring Joseph Hume's work up to date. We produced a unanimous Report.
I hope that no one has the idea that our Amendment is a sort of political device. I want to quote some words which were used in the debate on the Stokes Report. I am quoting—I will give the author afterwards—from the debate on 22nd July, 1954:I am quite sure we need some new machinery whereby Members of the House, whether junior or senior, may have the opportunity of getting their suggestions or problems relating to this building examined from time to time by a regularly established body.1631 The same speaker went on to say:On all these grounds, I regard as far the most important recommendation of the Committee"—that is, the Stokes Committee—the establishment of some kind of new body, whether a House Committee, or a Commission such as would require legislation, because we want to bring into the conduct of affairs of this House and the control of the building that flexibility which has been referred to by previous speakers…. We want to make sure that nothing is so rigid that it cannot be altered; but that no alterations will be made except after careful consideration by responsible Members."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1954; Vol. 530, c. 1666–7.]That was the present Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs speaking in that debate. I could quote from the speeches of other hon. Members opposite who contributed.
That debate marked the last speech in the House of Commons of a greatly respected Member, the late Sir Herbert Williams, who told me that when he went on the Stokes Committee he was very much against the idea, and thought that we would never reconcile our opinions. But the logic of opinion and the vested interests, the general muddle and confusion, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has spoken and which the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Stokes, spoke about, all convinced somebody as politically far apart as Sir Herbert Williams that only a Commission of the House of Commons could deal with these matters. That was the position some years ago and nothing has happened since to alter that view. In fact, it has been strengthened over the years.
The Government have a bad record concerning Select Committees. They seem to set up Select Committees very much on the same basis as the late lamented Ramsay MacDonald used to set up Royal Commissions, the basis that a Commission a day would keep a crisis at bay. Whenever the Leader of the House gets an awkward problem, he says "Let us have a Select Committee."
Let us consider the Government's record. The question of salaries and pensions of hon. Members was referred to a Select Committee. Everybody knows the cowardice and procrastination that followed and the uproar that need 1632 not have occurred because nobody ever met the question of Members' salaries at subsequent elections. There was a good deal of timidity about dealing justly with Members of the House.
Then, we had the Select Committee on Procedure. The Government's record in that case was miserable. They did not adopt anything substantial, although I appreciate that in that Select Committee we did not attempt to get agreement. We put forward starkly a majority and a minority point of view.
Then, we had the Stokes Committee on House of Commons Accommodation. It was a unanimous Committee. Following that, we met the then Leader of the House, now Viscount Crookshank, who, I was sure then and am still sure now, had never read the Stokes Committee's Report. [Laughter.] He should have done. After all, he was Leader of the House. I think that it is only my continual nagging that has got the present Leader of the House to read it.
Following that, the Government set up a Sessional Committee, an advisory committee to Mr. Speaker, under the chairmanship of a former Leicester Member, Captain Waterhouse. He was not exactly what one would call a person in the vanguard of progress. I think he was deliberately appointed to do a good bit of stonewalling on behalf of the establishment.
If one reads the Reports of that Committee, one finds that three or four times —the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) will remember this—we sent deputations from that Sessional Committee rather to argue with Mr. Speaker because he would not accept the advice of that advisory committee. We advised Mr. Speaker, quite sensibly, that he ought to give up his Library. That was a reasonable request. The Stokes Committee reported unanimously that he should do so. Everybody knows that the end of the Library which is now Mr. Speaker's Room was built for the House itself, but was collared, if that is not an un-Parliamentary expression, by Mr. Speaker Denison at the time as a sort of drawing room that he wanted. Our idea was to push the Library into Mr. Speaker's Room, provide him with another one and provide a nice adequate lounge where the Oriel Room now is, and not to provide desks, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil 1633 Freeth) seemed to think. At any rate we advised the Speaker on several occasions and he never took our advice at all.
I can only say that at the end of the Session my colleagues, including Mr. Stokes, found our powers and our terms of reference so derisory and so much narrower than the original terms of reference of the Stokes Committee that we indicated through the usual channels that we would be prepared to serve only when the terms of reference were widened. The usual channels of the other side of the House have never thought fit to widen the terms of reference, and this is where we came in again at the beginning of the Stokes Committee Report.
I do not underrate the great difficulty in the House in achieving any change. I have never been in a place in all my life where one labours so long to achieve so little. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn referred to a certain part of the establishment which is known as "Barbara's Castle". Believe it or not, I am responsible for that designation. I wonder whether I can let the House into what happened behind the doors of the Select Committee one day?
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) came in in great distress and told some of us that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn had collapsed on the floor of the "No" Lobby. I should remark, of course, that she always says "No". Mr. Stokes said, "This is a terrible thing", and it was a fact that there was no ladies' room on the floor adjoining this Chamber at all. There was no place into which to take a lady. The Select Committee got going and it found that there was a trainbearer's room just round the corner all fitted out with the usual conveniences.
Then we started, and Mr. Stokes, who was a very aggressive personality, though a greatly loved figure, said, "This is a great scandal." He suggested that this place should be turned into a ladies' room, but, Mr. Speaker, if you only knew the uproar of the Establishment when it was suggested that the convenience of one man should be suited to the convenience of 22 women you would know what a battle we had on our hands. It took all the truculence of Mr. Stokes, of Lord McCorquodale and the whole Select Committee to drive this through. As a matter of fact, we solemnly sat and Dick Stokes 1634 looked at the plan. He said, "This used to be known as the trainbearer's room, what shall we call it now?" And I said, "Barbara's Castle".
This may seem a humorous story, but it is a fact and anybody who sat on Sessional Committees here and compared the performance of those Committees with the sub-committees of local authorities or sometimes the kind of things we do in outside life would know the solid wall of prejudice one comes up against in this place when one tries to do anything at all. This matter of the Stokes Committee Report and the Motion which we are considering today shows that the present Leader of the House is, in the words of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), "resolved only to be resolute". He believes in non-intervention, as he did many years ago.
I want to say a few words about the Lord Great Chamberlain. I tried to intervene when the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was speaking, but he was so busy with his disquisition, and when he quoted dates as far back as 1133 I did not like to press him too much. But he was asking how it was possible to get unified control and yet somehow keep the control of this Palace away from politics. I think that that was partly answered in the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson), who pointed out that the whole Palace appears on the Civil Vote and that it is doubtful whether there is any point in maintaining more than the superficial fiction about a Royal Palace. I gathered that the origin of its being a Royal Palace was that the Monarch used to sleep in this place on the night before the Coronation. All that we can hope that any future Monarch might do would be to sleep in the Library at an all-night sitting.
I have always thought that the best way out of this difficulty—and I put it forward for what it is worth—would be that when the Government are returned at a General Election, instead of having a hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of the day might advise the Monarch to make the Lord Great Chamberlain the Minister of Works, as one of the Ministers who normally sit in the Lords. This would 1635 co-ordinate the activities of an ancient office with modern usage without legislation at all. As I want further cuts in legislation, and I do not want the Commons to be concerned for too long, that would be a tidy way of settling the matter.
Another thing to which it is worth calling the attention of the House is that their Lordships in this matter order their affairs rather better than we do. Their Lordships have a Sessional Committee and, if it is a matter of a typist getting a Royal Society of Arts certificate for 80 w.p.m. and an increased increment, their Lordships instruct the Lord Great Chamberlain that the increment has to to be paid. That is very different from what happens in the Commons.
One of the things which I take very hardly is that the trade unions are not recognised in this place. The right of people to organise or of trade unions to be recognised in this place is not met at all. I quote the Stokes Committee's Report, page xvi, which states:Your Committee have received written representations from the Civil Service Whitley Council—Staff Side—thatThat has not been met up to now. The Committee also recognise that
- (a) there should be formal and active encouragement of membership of staff associations,
- (b) that it should be for the various elements of the staff themselves to determine what organisations they prefer to belong to,
- (c) that a system of recognition on the lines of the Civil Service system might well be devised,
- (d) that as and when the staff become organised, appropriate joint consultative machinery should be set up."The free rights of association and collective bargaining are widely accepted. It would be the duty of the proposed House of Commons Commission to settle all questions relating to the practical application of these principles to suit the special circumstances of the staff and servants of the House.In case anyone suggests that trade union recognition is not appropriate in a Royal Palace, I would say that Buckingham Palace does the thing rather better. Buckingham Palace recognises the right to organise among the servants of Her Majesty. There are regularly established methods of negotiation. There are shop stewards there. Her Majesty is not embarrassed and neither is her Comptroller, who nominates the 1636 Minister of Labour to negotiate on her behalf.
This is the only Royal Palace where trade union rights are not recognised. It might be taken as rather an indictment of the party opposite, which claims that it now has 3 million trade unionists among its numbers, but it has only one trade union Member in the House, and he is a member of the E.T.U. The Prime Minister had better ask him how to keep the party in order.
I think, therefore, that in this matter control is everything. I believe that, important as these minor considerations are which we have been discussing this afternoon, the purely technical matter of providing desks and settling, as the hon. Baronet suggested, the question of the Serjeant at Arms room, who should be allocated space and what should happen to certain waitresses and their rest room facilities, could be decided by the Commission itself. Once a Commission with adequate powers is set up, all these things will flow from it. Everything will not be done at once, but things will be done from time to time. So all we really ask for is a respectable lease of this place. At the present time we seem to be guests at the caprice of the Lord Great Chamberlain, and everybody knows that, however charming his manners may be, from time to time difficulties have arisen occasionally because of this dual system of control.
The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has sent me a note saying that he is sorry that he cannot be here to hear my reply to his point. The hon. Gentleman said that it is unrealistic to compare the British system with the American system, or to ask for the same facilities here as the Americans ask of the Library of Congress. But is it so unrealistic? I appreciate that in America the Administration is different because there are no Ministers, but the Senate and the House are a check and a curb on the Executive. Is it not a fact that we all become alarmed from time to time about the growing power of the Executive? Do we not become alarmed about the growing power of bureaucracy?
On Monday we shall have an Economic White Paper which will give the view of the Government. We have many other White Papers and documents from the Government which could be 1637 checked by an efficient research division of the Library of this House. It should be remembered that there have been such things in the life of the party opposite as Crichel Down. These things arise from time to time and we know full well that the Executive is armed against the Legislature. This is not entirely a party matter because there is no hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House who is so optimistic as to believe that the winds of change are not so strong that at some stage we shall not be sitting on that side of the House.
§ Mr. Pannell
There is only one thing that might be longer, the kind of filibuster which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) puts up in Committee sometimes.
There are certain places here where we should be able to find more accommodation. We have, in effect, a whole Government Department in this place. The late Earl Jowitt, after 1945, shifted the whole of the Legal Department concerned with the House of Lords into this place. There is no doubt that their Lordships have an inordinate amount of space compared with their daily attendance here.
Of course, I am all in favour of new buildings, but I think that, for instance, the Library might be pooled. There seems to me no reason why there should be an empty Library in the House of Lords and a crowded Library in the House of Commons. Again, on the question of social amenities in which we all like to share, I cannot see why, when we have lady guests, or when we wish to bring our wives here in the evenings, we should not be able to offer them the hospitality of the Peers' Guest Room which is not always fully occupied. There are all kinds of sensible things of that kind which could be done.
Now I want to pick up one or two points that have been made in the debate. One or two hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), suggested that we would have to look at these proposals. The Minister himself said he would have to collect the voices and would have to get opinions from the House. From whom is he going to get them? If a 1638 Select Committee were set up, or a Commission on the lines suggested by the Stokes Committee, the right hon. Gentleman would have a continuing body with which to consult, over which the Speaker could preside, on which the right hon. Gentleman himself would sit with the Leader of the House, with the Leader of the Opposition, with a certain number of back bench Members, one of whom would be the Deputy-Chairman.
That Committee could have met as often as it liked, probably with a minimum of four times a year, and would have been a continuing body. This was a proposal which had the unanimous acceptance of the Select Committee itself. Nobody attemped to argue it down in the subsequent debate. Why are we not having that useful piece of machinery, which could not only deal with extensions to this place but which would have sub-committees, such as a Kitchen subcommittee and a Library sub-committee, which would be concerned with giving us more research. The Committee would be concerned with adapting this place from time to time. I would be concerned not with the appointment of the staff but would know who was being appointed from time to time.
I suggest that anybody who has been on a local authority—and this is not a bad comparison—will know that we could set up a committee, with Members of great experience, which would give Members a continuing knowledge of what was happening in this place. The House could have a debate each year on the conduct of the Palace. Many of us on both sides of the House have cried out against privilege of one sort or another, or against the abuse of privilege, from a thousand platforms, yet the House of Commons tolerates it under its very nose and takes part in it. The setup in this place would not be tolerated in any town hall in the country. If any administration on this side attempted to run a city council in that way, the opposing party would have an election on that issue, and so would we if the rôles were reversed.
The fact that a thing is old is not excuse enough in itself. I appreciate that certain people might have to be shifted round here, and I know that then there would be divisions of opinion as to who should be shifted out. But, broadly speaking, the life of this House is in 1639 the places surrounding the Chamber, and all accommodation round the Chamber should be reserved for the elected element.
This appears to me to be often a place where functionaries play too great a part. I have never seen an elected element in any body on which I have served pushed around as it is in this place. It often seems to be run by the non-elected people, but the elected element gets the sort of treatment it deserves and up to now we deserve very bad treatment because of the sort of things we have tolerated.
This debate is being held against the background of many issues which we discuss—events in Africa and all over the world—and it may seem unimportant compared with them. I suppose there are people in the country who would say "Fancy discussing these matters when much greater issues are at stake." I do not take that view. As I said in the procedure debate, I take it that this Parliament has to make itself efficient. It must make itself efficient by having procedures that are sensible and right and reasonably expeditious in order that the will of the people prevails.
It should also have a membership that is above corruption. Broadly, I think it has, though sometimes I do not think the public deserves it so much when one bears in mind the remuneration of Members compared with those of many Legislatures in other parts of the world. Then, of course, we face the question of service and accommodation. Nobody who has visited many other Parliaments can say that we are well treated, or claim that we are a pampered Legislature. It is rather the reverse. [An hon. Member: "Thank God."] Somebody is thanking God. That is rather odd. I can only say that the hon. Member offers up his prayers to the Deity on rather trivial issues.
We must be armed here with the resources to do our job properly. We must have the degree of research to enable us intelligently to face the Government of the day. We must have the accommodation and the secretariat. We must have all those things which other people outside consider to be indispensable to efficiency.
1640 We are the oldest Parliament in the world, and we should try to be the most efficient. We are the most humane debating Chamber in the world, and the spendid British people who sent us here should be sure that we do our job in the most efficient way. It is because I believe that our Amendment is a contribution towards that end, in exactly the same way as the Government Motion is merely a negative one, which will put off till tomorrow—or even later—what should be done today, that I ask the House to vote for the Amendment.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I am sure that we are always glad to see the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). Remembering the phrase used by his hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), that he was worked to the bone, we are thankful to see him in such robust health. If he were ever to become like Cassius, with a lean and hungry look, the Government would be frightened when questions of procedure and accommodation arose. We know that we can rely throughout upon his humanity. There has certainly been quite the correct spirit in dealing with this matter today, and I hope to answer the debate in the spirit in which the subject has been introduced and discussed.
I am glad that the hon. Member has constituted himself the beefeater of "Barbara's Castle." I hope that that will be a slight present to the cartoonists, who are somewhat underworked at present. I will leave it to them.
In reference to the warm heart and stout work of Richard Stokes, I am sure that in considering this Motion and Amendment tonight we will all remember his activity, and the fact that he was not only a great member of the Opposition but also a great Minister of Works.
In dealing with the Amendment, I am struck by the similarity of phrase used by the hon. Member for Blackburn and her right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) who did us the honour of taking part in the debate. The hon. Lady suggested that the House should be a workshop, and her right hon. Friend said that we were here to do a job. We must therefore regard them as having an absolute unity of 1641 interest. Their hearts beat together, and their minds work in unison.
I should like this description of the House as a workshop to go a little further outside. It would be a great mistake if the country were to regard this debate as being an expression of opinion by hon. Members that they should have a more luxurious or an easier life. As Leader of the House I should like to endorse the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady that we want to make the House a workshop. We do not want to make it quite what the hon. Lady suggested —a sort of businessman's paradise. I do not think that we shall ever have that. The House of Commons is something very human, in which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) said recently, we are all rubbing shoulders together. Whatever part of our anatomies may come together in future, I hope that we shall always be friends, and always be close together in the Lobbies, the Library and everywhere else. I hope that we shall never have arrangements exactly the same as those which exist in the American Senate or Congress. The main feature of this House is its humanity.
Speaking of the Opposition, I do not believe that any Opposition in this House will be strengthened by dictating machines or other mechanical machines. I do not believe that Charles James Fox, the greatest person who ever sat in Opposition in this country, ever heard of a dictating machine, and I should think that he rarely, if ever, saw a secretary. These things come from the heart and from conviction, and if the Opposition want to attack us, their attack will not be strengthened by improved arrangements for research in the Library; essentially the attack will come from their own policy and convictions. That seems to be a little controversial— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.]—but I will come down to a less elevated sphere and consider the practical proposals made by hon. Members; and, having had this flight of 18th century rhetoric, I promise I will deal faithfully with all the points raised.
I wish to refer to the speeches made by two of my hon. Friends both of whom are comparatively new and young 1642 Members, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) and the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). In neither case can it be said that they were unduly eulogistic of my right hon. Friend or of the Government, so the fact that I mention them does not mean that I propose to offer them immediate patronage. I should like to say, however, that their contribution, one in relation to the Barry scheme and the other in relation to the fact that he is going to live here most of his life, and wants to be comfortable before he dies, seemed to be thoroughly sensible approaches to this problem.
I would say to the Leader of the Opposition and hon. Members opposite, including my old friend the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), that perhaps if we follow one or two lines which the new Members have suggested we might make real progress in the short term as well as the long term. I should like to see some of the older Members enjoying some of the facilities which I believe we can offer.
I therefore propose to divide my concluding remarks into short-term and long-term proposals and in that I am taking the advice of, I believe, the youngest Member of the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West—which he gave in his speech. If I divide it up into those two halves it does not mean that I shall exclude the long-term constitutional problems raised by the hon. Member for Leeds, West.
The short-term considerations are the practical considerations put forward by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, and his substantive proposal was that we should spend the best part of £250,000 in improving the position in the Upper Committee Corridor. We should there introduce a scheme which at its optimum would mean that about 300 desks, in an area of about 19,000 sq. ft., would be added to the accommodation of the House. My right hon. Friend mentioned a term of three years and the reason he did so is that consideration has to be taken, in any short-term exercise of this sort, of the fact that knocking and banging and building cannot go on easily while the Committees of the House and the House itself is in Session. Therefore it has necessarily to occupy the holiday periods of the House. We can, of course, examine 1643 whether the scheme could be carried out more quickly.
I think we really must bring things to a head and I propose to try to help, as Leader of the House. I propose, with the agreement of my right hon. Friend, that as a Government we should put forward, through the Ministry of Works, this definite proposal. We should put it forward in the normal way with a model and with plans, and with an extra statement if necessary about what it means. It should then be able to be examined by hon. Members.
When I have considered some of the other positive suggestions of which my right hon. Friend made mention, I propose to describe the sort of machinery I have in mind for the House to examine and expedite in the immediate future a plan of this sort, with proper consideration being given to the feelings of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I listened to the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and I thought that she was rather critical of this scheme. There were also one or two other criticisms. In fact I should like this scheme put forward, and we propose to put it forward. My right hon. Friend will put it forward. I believe it to be the only good immediate scheme in the short term. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition suggested that we should aim at a room each of our own—"a room with a view"—or have one or two people in one room.
I wish to make quite clear, so that there is no deception, that we cannot achieve that in the short term. It can be achieved only in what I shall come to discuss as the long-term scheme, in relation to plans for the other side of Bridge Street and other proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) said that he had examined some of the upstairs rooms —notably the Public Bill Office, and, I believe, the HANSARD Editor's room—in which there is a long vista; in which it is possible to have partitions; in which it is possible to have desks; in which it is possible to have telephones and in which it is possible to have a certain degree of privacy, and yet to accommodate a great many desks in a way in which it has not been possible before.
1644 When I add that my right hon. Friend has it in mind to build a series of lifts so that we can be brought with extraordinary expedition, not only to Disisions but also to a Count, and also, if we want, for further rubbings of shoulders; and when I add that we propose also that there should be a series of rooms adjoining those so that the secretaries will not have to be right downstairs but could be in proximity to those who employ them; when I also say that my right hon. Friend has in mind the possibility either of an extra smoking room—that might not be liked by hon. Members, but it is the sort of thing we want to know about—or an extra room, it will be seen that this can be approached from the Committee Corridor, that it will do no violence to the outside architecture of the House and will be a very good short-term scheme to alleviate things in this Session of Parliament. I therefore propose that this scheme should be put forward with my right hon. Friend's strong approval, by himself, for consideration by the House.
I should like to take up another scheme mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth). My hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of building a temporary structure in Star Chamber Court. He was kind enough to point out that that would cover only 3,600 square feet, it would be more expensive than the upstairs venture, it would get in the way of parking of cars and I think perhaps it would do some violence to our architectural outlook. It might do violence to Westminster Hall and its architecture, which is some of the most precious in our history. While it is always possible for my right hon. Friend to bring out that scheme, my advice, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke who I think shares these views, is that the upstairs corridor is at once a more effective and better scheme throughout.
I must make one reservation. It is that if we are to give a little more room and consult the views of the Leader of the Opposition it may not be possible to bring 300 desks to light and we may have to drop the number as low as 200, but that is the sort of thing I think hon. Members ought to see. When I have described one or two other improvements, I hope they will look at these plans in the manner I suggest.
1645 The next sphere of activity to which my right hon. Friend has already drawn attention, and which I think achieved the consideration of the House, is the general argument put forward by the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher). His speech must have been listened to by everybody with great care because, as the Minister of Works said, there are obvious abuses in the conditions in which we ask our friends in the kitchen department to work, not only the waitresses but also those others who work in the cafeteria and the cleaners. We have already been considering, even since his speech, some of the improvements which could be made in this direction. I therefore suggest that my right hon. Friend should also put forward proposals at the same time for improvements for the staffs of the kitchen department. We need not necessarily in the first chapter remove the Lady Members' Room, for which an appeal was made. We should like to put forward proposals in answer to the debate.
A third big sphere in which practical suggestions have been put forward is in relation to the Library. I am in some difficulty here because I do not think that some of the excellent points put forward about improved conditions in the servicing of the Library are really in order in this debate. I do not think, for example, that the question of provision of secretaries for hon. Members is in order in an accommodation debate. I do not think necessarily that the question of this form of dictation into a machine and reception taken by somebody else is in order in this debate, but, to avoid the issue, I suggest, as the Government and my right hon. Friend have taken note of this, that I should discuss these matters with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we can in one way or another find improvements which would mean extra finance—that is where my right hon. Friend would be brought in—we shall be only too glad to try to help Her Majesty's Opposition to barb their shafts with even more knowledge against the Executive of the day. However, even if we try to improve the filing system, the research system and the general work of the Library, I believe that we still must not ignore the fact that those things are not at the core 1646 of the real spirit of the House of Commons.
We should try to make those improvements. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr), I agree that we should try to improve the number of chairs. I thought that his description of playing musical chairs with the 24 chairs in the Library was really almost pathetic. I hope that we may, with the aid of my right hon. Friend, provide a few more comfortable recesses in which my hon. Friend and his Friends can recline and leave to the Executive an easier time.
I do not believe that we shall ever achieve conditions such as I have seen in the American Senate and Congress. When I was a young man, I went on a debating tour in America. There were three of us. We had the usual facilities of pencils and a few bits of paper. We made a few dollars which sufficed to pay for our travel and get us home. I there met the leaders of a wealthy American university. What was our horror when we found our three opponents had not only three trainers who were looking after their health, ordering steaks and other fine foods for them to eat prior to debating with us, but they had three librarians as fully equipped as the hon. Lady would wish with filing and reference systems to find what Lloyd George had said on such-and-such a date and what Gladstone had said before him. I can only say that, in front of an American audience, the British fleet defeated the Spanish galleons. It is by better seamanship and not necessarily by over-gunning or over-mechanising a vessel that we may preserve our position as a Government. However, I shall attempt to improve the situation to the best of my ability.
I come now to the way to handle the submission of right hon. Friend's plans. There is the possibility of consulting hon. Members by circular. That was done by the Select Committee, so it has a respectable precedent. But that may not be enough. It is possible to conduct the matter by question and answer on the Floor of the House, but, as we have found in matters of expenditure, the Floor of the House is not always enough for a detailed examination of such matters. There is, further, the precedent which has been adopted by your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, of appointing 1647 ad hoc committees to examine particular changes in accommodation. There was the Herbert Morrison Committee, the Hopkin Morris Committee and the McCorquodale Committee, to take only three ad hoc examining committees appointed by your predecessors.
I suggest that we should engage in immediate conversation not only with Mr. Speaker but also through the usual channels to decide which would be the best method for the House of Commons to express its view on the immediate proposals for the immediate future to be made by my right hon. Friend. Hon. Members will then have an opportunity, in the best method we decide upon, with your aid, Mr. Speaker, to give their opinion, and we shall then have a practical plan for the immediate future which will then help us in the immediate future. I think that that would be the best method of tackling the matter at this moment.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Does the right hon. Gentleman envisage this committee meeting and solemnly pronouncing on particular proposals, or does he envisage it as a kind of continuing committee, at any rate so long as the period of adjustment continues? We are concerned, as I understand it, not only with the short-term proposals but with the longer-term proposals to which he has referred.
§ Mr. Butler
That was a very appropriate intervention by the Leader of the Opposition. I was just coming to that point. I was suggesting this as an ad hoc committee following the precedents of Mr. Speaker's predecessors' appointments to deal with the problem of the immediate and short-term future.
I propose now to examine the longer-term problem. I want to say this about the passage from the short term to the long term. All our experience in 1955, when we tried to set up a Sessional Committee, and in 1956, when it also failed, was that it is better to avoid an open-ended or general committee which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston said earlier, very often results in wrangling and quarrelling. Therefore, I suggest that we should tackle it in this way so as to deal with the ad hoc situation first.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned wrangling and quarrelling immediately after a reference to the Sessional Committee set up following the Stokes Committee Report. On looking through the proceedings, he will find that there was no wrangling or quarrelling, but that in effect we were a completely agreed body.
§ Mr. Butler
The phrase "wrangling and quarrelling" was taken from my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, and not used necessarily in reference to the Committee in 1955. I accept the hon. Member's definition.
What we suggest for the longer term is to follow up my right hon. Friend's statement about the Bridge Street designation. This means the designation of a considerable area, as defined by my right hon. Friend, on the other side of Bridge Street. This will take a little time. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston rather implied that, if it was done by a private contractor, it could be done easily. However, we have had to approach the L.C.C. The matter has then to be submitted from the L.C.C. to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The matter has to be carried out under the general authorities we are dealing with under the Planning Act. There are many owners on the spot While I anticipate and hope that we shall be successful, I do not think that this can be done as a rush job. Therefore, several—three or four—years must elapse before we can be sure that we are through the first procedure and can start on the scheme.
It will be a large scheme. What I have to add to my right hon. Friend's description is that it will be for Government purposes. That means that part of it can be designated for the purpose of the House of Commons. The Leader of the Opposition asked me how much space would be freed in this building by people being transferred to the new building. That depends entirely on how much space is made available in the new area. When we are a little nearer the time, we will inform the House and the right hon. Gentleman of the nature of our plans.
1649 I am convinced that this decision is better than the Barry scheme. The Barry scheme, apart from condemning the catalpa trees, which we should all regret, is less efficient than the new scheme. If hon. Members are ready to go forward with the immediate scheme upstairs, which will relieve congestion here, and wait for the designation of the Bridge Street scheme and the advances we can make there, I think that Che combination of the two schemes, together with moving certain persons over the road, will greatly improve the accommodation of the House of Commons.
I think that the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works is a great advance on any previous suggestions made. I think that the House of Commons should acknowledge that the combination of the short-term and the long-term outlook have a great deal to be said for them and have added greatly to the possible improvement of our life in the House.
I want to deal in my remaining few remarks with the constitutional issues.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Before the Leader of the House passes on, may I put this to him? It is enormously important that both the short-term and the long-term aspects of this should be considered to some extent together. If we were to move people from this building over the road to Bridge Street, it is important that space thereby saved should fit in with the short-term plans. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider—we can discuss this through the usual channels—the possibility of a committee which would not be confined simply to looking at the particular short-term proposals, but would be charged with the duty of advising the Minister of Works on both the short- and long-term proposals?
§ Mr. Butler
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's wish, but I could not undertake this evening to go further than I have. The one is immediate, and let us deal with that, and the other is long term, and we had better deal with that as it comes up.
In relation to the constitutional issue, I do not think that up to this date— and I have a few minutes left in which to explain the genuine difficulties—the difficulties of the Executive as regards the Stokes plan have been made clear. Paragraph 50 of the Report of the Select 1650 Committee recommended that the Commissioners for Regulating the Offices of the House of Commons should not only deal with the staff, and managing the Fee Fund, but that they should also deal with accommodation, and should have Members of Parliament added to their ranks.
I want to say, quite sincerely, and without wishing to create controversy, that the Government have three main objections to that plan. The first is that we do not think that the Commissioners should have their duties and responsibility in relation to the staff of the House of Commons altered. Sir Frederic Metcalfe, the previous Clerk of the House, giving evidence before the Select Committee, himself indicated that the staff would prefer that the Commissioners should retain their primary duty of dealing with staff matters. The Government have examined this, and do not think this is a suitable vehicle by which to examine both staff matters and responsibilities, and deal with accommodation—
§ Mr. Butler
They meet sufficiently often to give confidence to the staff. The staff of the House have confidence in them, and I should prefer their constitutional duties not to be altered.
The second objection relates to the words used by the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn herself when she said that the new Commissioners should prepare the Estimates. The hon. Member for Leeds, West referred to a possible clash between the Legislature and the Executive. I have to remember that tonight I am speaking in a dual capacity, as a member of the Executive and as the Leader of the House of Commons, but in this matter I must defend the position of the Government.
The Government do not accept paragraph 57 of this Report, which says that the Vote of the Ministry of Works should be put on the Vote of the House of Commons. We consider that the matter should remain with the Ministry of Works, under the more direct control of the Treasury, and we do not think that the House of Commons Commissioners should prepare the Estimates. This may be a clash between the Legislature and the Executive, but we do 1651 not think that this proposal of the Select Committee is sound.
The third reason lies in the terms of the Amendment itself. Hon. Members have put on the Order Paper that they wish… for the establishment of a unified control of the Palace of Westminster under this House…We feel that that is absolutely wrong. We do not feel that we can possibly control another place by unified control under this House. It may be that the office of Lord Great Chamberlain is somewhat anachronistic. It may be, as was said in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), that this has been going on for a very long time, but I think that my hon. and gallant Friend uttered some very wise constitutional remarks when he said that any alternative central control may well lead us into constitutional difficulties worse than those we might get into if we were to accept the advice of the Select Committee, and the Amendment moved by the Opposition.
§ We feel that the present system permits the Minister of Works to be answerable to Parliament. It permits the Serjeant at Arms to run our own accommodation. It permits hon. Members to express their opinions. The only issue unresolved in this debate—which it may well take some time to resolve, and which we are perfectly right to continue to discuss—is the exact future of the control by hon. Members of the day-to-day accommodation.
§ I have gone some way to indicate how we will deal with the short term; the long term remains an outstanding problem. Tonight, we cannot accept the Amendment moved from the other side. We understand the spirit in which the debate has taken place, but we propose to stand by our own policy, and not to make the alterations suggested by hon. Members opposite.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question: —
§ The House divided: Ayes 201, Noes 154.1653
|Division No. 68.]||AYES||[10.1 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Costain, A. P.||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Coulson, J. M.||Hooking, Philip N.|
|Allason, James||Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Holland, Philip|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Holt, Arthur|
|Arbuthnot, John||Crowder, F. P.||Hope, Rt. Hon. Lord John|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Cunningham Knox||Hopkins, Alan|
|Barber, Anthony||Curran, Charles||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia|
|Barter John||Dance, James||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)|
|Batsford, Brian||Deedes, W. F.||Hughes-Young, Michael|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Doughty, Charles||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Bell, Ronald (S. Bucks.)||Eden, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Elliott, R. W.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Bye)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Errington, Sir Eric||Jackson, John|
|Berkeley, Humphry||James, David|
|Bidgood, John C.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Jennings, J. C.|
|Biggs-Davison John||Farr, John||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Finlay, Graeme||Johnson, Erie (Blackley)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Fisher, Nigel||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green)|
|Bossom, Clive||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Kerens, Cdr. J. S.|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Freeth, Denzil||Kerr, Sir Hamilton|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Gammans, Lady||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Box, Donald||Gardner, Edward||Kirk, Peter|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Gibson-Watt, David||Kitson, Timothy|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Glover, Sir Douglas||Leavey, J. A.|
|Braine, Bernard||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Leburn, Gilmour|
|Brooman-White, R.||Glyn, Col. Richard H. (Dorset, N.)||Legge-Bourke, MaJ. H.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Goodhew, Victor||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Burden F. A.||Gower, Raymond||Linstead, Sir Hugh|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. n.(Nantwich)||Liltchfield, Capt. John|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Green, Alan||Longden, Gilbert|
|Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Gresham Cooke, R.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Grimston, Sir Robert||MacArthur, Ian|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||McLaren, Martin|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hall, John (Wycombe)||McMaster, Stanley R.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Harrison, Col.J. H. (Eye)||Maopherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hay, John||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Cooke, Robert||Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward||Marshall, Douglas|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hendry, Forbes||Marten, Neil|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)|
|Cordle, John||Hiley, Joseph||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hill,J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Maydon, Lt. Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Mills, Stratton||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Taylor, w. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Rees, Hugh||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Morgan, William||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Morrison, John||Ridsdale, Julian||Turner, Colin|
|Nabarro, Gerald||Rippon, Geoffrey||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Noble, Michael||Roots, William||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Oakshott, Sir Hendrle||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Orr-Ewing, C. lan||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John|
|Page, A. J. (Harrow West)||Russell, Ronald||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Page, Graham||Scott-Hopklne, James||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Seymour, Leslie||Watts, James|
|Partridge, E.||Sharples, Richard||Webster, David|
|Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Shaw, M.||Whitelaw, William|
|Peel, John||Shepherd, William||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Percival, lan||Simon, Sir Jocelyn||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||wise, Alfred|
|Pilkington, capt. Richard||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Pitman, I. J.||Speir, Rupert||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Pitt, Miss Edith||Stevens, Geoffrey||Woollam, John|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Prior, J. M. L.||Studholme, Sir Henry||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Profumo, Rt. Hon. John||Tapsell, Peter||Mr. Peter Legh and|
|Ramsden, James||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Mr. Edward Wakefield.|
|Albu, Austen||Hayman, F. H.||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Allen, Soholefield (Crewe)||Henderson,Rt.Hn.Arthur(RwlyRegis)||Peart, Frederick|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Pentland, Norman|
|Beaney, Alan||Holman, Peroy||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Benn, Hn. A. Wedgwood(Brist'I,S.E.)||Houghton, Douglas||Prentice, R. E.|
|Benson, Sir George||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Blyton, William||Hunter, A. E.||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Boardman, H.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Randall, Harry|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Rankin, John|
|Bowles, Frank||Janner, Barnett||Redhead, E. C.|
|Boyden, James||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Reid, William|
|Braddook, Mrs. E. M.||Jeger, George||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Brought on, Dr. A. D. D.||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Ross, William|
|Carmiohael, James||Kelley, Richard||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Short, Edward|
|Chapman, Donald||King, Dr. Horace||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Chetwynd, George||Lawson, George||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Cliffe, Michael||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Collick, Percy||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Small, William|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Loughlin, Charles||Snow, Julian|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Crosland, Anthony||MoCann, John||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Molnnes, James||Sprlggs, Leslie|
|Darling, George||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Steele, Thomas|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Maokie, John||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||McLeavy, Frank||Storehouse, John|
|Dempsey, James||MaoPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Stones, William|
|Diamond, John||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Dr. Edith|
|Dodds, Norman||Manuel, A. C.||Swain, Thomas|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Mapp, Charles||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Driberg, Tom||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Marsh, Richard||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mayhew, Christopher||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Mellish, R. J.||Thornton, Ernest|
|Evans, Albert||Millan, Bruce||Warbey, William|
|Fitch, Alan||Mitohison, G. R.||wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Moody, A. S.||Wheeldon, w. E.|
|Foot, Dingle||Morris, John||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Forman, J. C.||Moyle, Arthur||Whitlock, William|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mulley, Frederick||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|GaitskeH, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip(Derby,S.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Ginsburg, David||Oliver, G. H.||Willey, Frederick|
|Gourlay, Harry||Oram, A. E.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Oswald, Thomas||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Grey, Charles||Owen, Will||Woof, Robert|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Padley, W. E.||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Hamilton, William (Weft Fife)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Hannan, William||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Parkin, B. T. (Paddington, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Mahon and Mr. Cronin.|
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House takes note of the measures which Her Majesty's Government have under consideration to provide better accommodation and amenities for honourable Members and others who use the facilities of this House.