HC Deb 09 November 1964 vol 701 cc640-8
3. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he will take steps to empower himself to control the allocation and use of rooms in the Palace of Westminster.

6. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what immediate plans he has for establishing Parliamentary control over the Palace of Westminster.

18. Mr. Boardman

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he will seek power to ensure the effective use of all suitable rooms in the Palace of Westminster.

19. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he will introduce legislation to take under his control the whole of the accommodation of the Palace of Westminster in order to provide better working conditions for hon. Members and secretaries.

Mr. C. Pannell

I am giving this matter urgent consideration, but I am not in a position to make a statement.

Mr. Dalyell

Though it would be less than reasonable to expect any firm decision on a complex issue, is the Minister none the less conscious of a deep feeling among many Members of the House of Commons on both sides that we should control our own environment?

Mr. Pannell

I would remind my hon. Friend that on 15th March, 1963, the House unanimously passed a Motion, which I had moved— That this House resolves to maintain Parliament as the paramount forum of the nation and to bring its practices and procedures into harmony with this end and in accord with the needs of 1963."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 1820.] That will be my remit for all the time I am Minister.

Mr. Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend say what co-operation he is getting in this regard from the existing establishment which now controls the Palace? Will he not take urgent steps to take it by the throat and shake the life out of it?

Mr. Pannell

The control of the Palace through the Lord Great Chamberlain goes back to 1133 and the House would hardly expect me to solve this problem in three weeks.

Mr. Boardman

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that one of the most urgent needs of Members at present is the provision of additional writing places on the Principal Floor? Is he aware that the areas of the Commons Library, the Lords Library and the Royal Gallery are almost equal and that the Royal Gallery, apart from State Openings of Parliament, has been used for less than ten hours in twenty years? Will he consider this as being the means of providing additional writing space for the Commons by converting the Royal Gallery into a Lords Library and transferring the use of the Lords Library to the Commons, thereby doubling writing places and bookshelf accommodation?

Mr. Pannell

Without necessarily taking up every point that my hon. Friend has made, I only want to tell him that I thought I had some reputation in these matters. The things that are apparent to him have been daylight clear to me for years. All the matters of which my hon. Friend spoke—anything that can improve the amenities of hon. Members—are matters on which I have already started studies in my Department. All we are looking forward to now is the enthusiasm for the rights of the Legislature on the other side of the House, which has been missing for the last thirteen years.

Mr. Peter Emery

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Government have taken over more accommodation in the Palace of Westminster than any other Government? As he was such a supporter of back benchers, will he make representations to members of the Government to ensure that the large room in St. Stephen's used by the Labour Party is now relinquished for the Opposition's use?

Mr. Pannell

If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the Order Paper, he would have seen that I am dealing with that in a later Question.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Who made the allocations of the new accommodation provided in the roof by the recent scheme? Who are Mr. Frank Barlow, Mr. Harry Mitchell and Miss Phyllis Birt, who seem to be occupying one of the very best rooms and who do not appear to be Members of the House?

Mr. Pannell

May I say, generally, that there is a Question on the Order Paper dealing with this matter; but I will deal with the hon. Gentleman's point? The arrangements of the Parliamentary Labour Party, to which those people belong, are arrangements that go back to at least 1910 and have been approved by Conservative Chief Whips in all those years. The arrangements of the Labour Party are rather different from those of the Conservative Party. The allocation of all the rooms of which the hon. Gentleman spoke are my function, and I have exercised it.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend fully seized of the squalid living and working conditions in the House? Can we have an assurance from him that he will brook no delay, and that if obstacles come in his path he will remove them expeditiously and will seek an assurance from the House that it will support him?

Mr. Pannell

There is no impatience which my right hon. Friend can express that has not been mine over the years, and there is nothing that I have said in Opposition which I will not try to achieve while I have some authority.

4. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works which rooms, other than those occupied by Ministers, are under his control in the Palace of Westminster.

Mr. C. Pannell

My control is very limited. I am responsible for allocating rooms to the Government and Opposition Whips in the Commons, the Leaders of the Opposition Parties and the Deputy Leader of the main Opposition Party in the Commons and the Parliamentary Labour Party. In addition I control the offices, work rooms, and plant rooms made available for the staff of my Ministry.

Mr. Dalyell

Will my right hon. Friend consider taking powers to instruct a team of architects, experienced in the problems presented by old property, to have a look at accommodation such as the detention room, the upper prison room, the prison room, and the parade room in the Palace of Westminster?

Mr. Pannell

All these are matters on which I have already started studies, but for the benefit of new Members I should like to make it clear that the custody and the control of the Palace of Westminster is exercised by the Lord Great Chamberlain. [An HON. MEMBER: "Get rid of him."] The Lord Great Chamberlain delegates control of all that portion of the Palace of Westminster required by the Commons to the Serjeant at Arms. The Serjeant at Arms makes available to me accommodation for Ministers, Whips and so on, and I am responsible for the allocation of this accommodation.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider those rooms which he has been listing and the very large increase in the Government? Does he not think that he will need all those rooms for the new Ministers?

Mr. Pannell

That is the subject of an Answer which I am giving later today. I should get myself into trouble with Mr. Speaker if I attempted to answer supplementary questions in advance of Questions which are on the Order Paper, but these sorts of considerations are very much in my mind. We have more Ministers now in the House of Commons than ever before, but from my point of view it is good constitutional doctrine that they should draw their authority from the elected Chamber. I must do my best to see that they efficiently discharge their duties.

7. Mr. K. Lewis

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works how many of the new offices recently completed on the Upper Committee Floor have been taken over by Ministers.

Mr. C. Pannell


Mr. Lewis

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the days not so very long ago when he was a self-appointed shop steward for the back benchers, and, if I may say so, a very good one? In taking over so many offices for Ministers, is the right hon. Gentleman not already nationalising the Lord Great Chamberlain? Is he aware that we on the back benches do not think that this is a very good exchange? We think that we did better under the Lord Great Chamberlain. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is taking away accommodation which was originally available for hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Pannell

First of all, I must get this clear. If a few months ago I was the shop steward of this place, I am now but the works manager. Unfortunately, I am not the landlord. I look on the hon. Member not as a rival but as an ally. I hope that there will be enthusiasm on the benches opposite for the improvement of amenities tolerated far too long under 13 years of Conservative Government, when under successive Leaders of the House we who cared for these things on both sides of the House had little help until the right hon. and learned Member for the Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) came along. I want to make it clear that there is no less accommodation available to Members as offices and desk rooms than there was at the end of the last Parliament. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not the point."] The number of Ministers in the House will now be 91 instead of 75.

I should like to make it clear on the matter of accommodation that the Duncan Committee recommended that the new accommodation in the North Block should provide eventually for 23 Members and 11 secretaries but should be used for the temporary housing of those displaced by the later stages of the work affecting the Upper Committee Corridor. Some of these have been found accommodation elsewhere. It was therefore not envisaged that additional accommodation should be available to Members at this stage of the scheme.

11. Mr. Ramsden

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works how many rooms additional to those so used in the last Parliament will now be occupied by Ministers in the Palace of Westminster.

Mr. C. Pannell

Twelve in the House of Commons area of the Palace. I am not responsible for the allocation of Ministers' rooms in another place, but I am informed that there are no additional rooms in use for Ministers there.

Mr. Ramsden

As the right hon. Gentleman has sought to help the House already on this question, may I ask whether he can go a little further? As this is a complicated matter, could the hon. Gentleman publish in HANSARD an account of how the roof space scheme now stands? Can he describe any modifications in it which may have been occasioned by having to take 12 rooms for Ministers, and could he show in the Library a plan of the present stage of the roof space scheme and its succeeding stages? I do not believe that any such plan is in existence.

Mr. Pannell

I do not know whether I can make available all those things. I am not trying to be funny about this, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will understand. This place is most difficult and complicated to understand. I am prepared to make available to the right hon. Gentleman, or the Serjeant at Arms will make available to him, somebody to guide him through the labyrinth of that part of the Palace so that when he reappears on the Front Bench opposite we shall be able to speak on closer terms of acquaintance with the problem. I will provide in the Library details of all those who have rooms in the Palace.

Mr. Ramsden

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but may I ask whether he will produce a plan? Although I and other hon. Members are capable of finding our way round the labyrinth without special escort from the right hon. Gentleman, is he aware that a plan would be of great convenience not only to us but to the staff?

Mr. Pannell

The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that I do not have a plan, but I think I have seen one somewhere.

25. Sir D. Glover

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works how many rooms in the Palace of Westminster assigned to Cabinet Ministers have been redecorated since 15th October, 1964.

Mr. C. Pannell


Sir D. Glover

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether the one that has been redecorated has been done within the normal order in which redecoration of these rooms takes place in this Palace, and which Cabinet Minister occupies the room in question?

Mr. Pannell

I think that the House, in view of the demands on its time, will probably think that supplementary question a trifle frivolous. Ministers' rooms are normally cleaned every third year and redecorated every seventh year. The room which has been redecorated was due for it next year. It is now occupied by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development.

27. Dr. David Kerr

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he will introduce legislation to empower himself to take responsibility for the provision of services to deal fully and promptly with cases of emergency sickness or injury occurring within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster.

Mr. C. Pannell

It is not my responsibility, but I am always ready to consider suggestions for improvement and to discuss them with the authorities of the two Houses. I do not feel that this particular matter calls for legislation.

Dr. Kerr

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that advice, may I draw his attention to the unprecedented need for industrial health services for the House of Commons? Will he take an early opportunity to inspect the present facilities available, in company with an expert on occupational health services, and acquaint himself with the fact that the only means of keeping the House going is a copious supply of cascara tablets?

Mr. Pannell

There was no room of this sort at all until some of us served on the Select Committee and secured it. I do not know what the present state of the place is, but, as I made clear last week, I intend to consult the hon. Member and other hon. Members who are medical men.

29. Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he will endeavour to secure a more even temperature and to minimise draughts throughout the Palace of Westminster.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works (Miss Jennie Lee)

During the summer, the double-glazing of the windows of the rooms on the river front of the Principal Floor has been completed and this, together with the mechanical ventilation that has been installed, should effect some improvement in these areas. Short of air-conditioning the whole building, which would be very difficult and extremely expensive, there appears to be little scope for further large scale palliative measures, but if my hon. Friend has any suggestions I will gladly have them examined.

Mr. Driberg

Despite the improvements which my hon. Friend has referred to, may I ask whether she is aware that this is still one of the draughtiest palaces in the world? Is there anything that can be done before winter descends on us in its full rigour—bearing in mind that it is, on the whole, desirable that as few hon. Members as possible should catch colds?

Miss Lee

The difficulty is that, although the Chamber is air conditioned, draughts are continually created as hon. Members enter or leave the Chamber. My information is that no further large-scale palliative measures are possible, but I repeat that if my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) or any other hon. Member has suggestions that could be brought within the practical, they will certainly be considered.

Mr. W. Yates

Would the hon. Lady consider making inquiries as to whether there is not some other place out of London and a little more suitable where we could conduct our Parliament? In particular, will not she consider making a study of the Hampton Court area, since that part of London would be so much better?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That question does not arise.

31. Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what rooms in the Palace of Westminster have been allocated to the First Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, respectively.

Mr. C. Pannell

I have allocated room 21C to the First Secretary, rooms 15 and 16 to the Foreign Secretary and rooms 3 and 3A to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Does this mean that a room traditionally reserved for the Foreign Office spokesman—if that be the right word in present circumstances—has been altered? If so, what expense was incurred by moving security machinery and security communications? If there has been expenditure, does not the right hon. Gentleman recollect his own complaints when certain machinery was moved from one Minister's room to another not very many years ago?

Mr. Pannell

Not as much expense is being incurred on this occasion as probably was the case when the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) would not move out of his room to make way for the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) who succeeded him as Leader of the House. On that occasion, the transfer of an annunciator was involved. But there is no real tradition about this. These are matters for allocation by the Minister of Public Building and Works after consultation with everyone concerned.