HC Deb 25 November 1964 vol 702 cc1428-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Whitlock.]

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I make no apology for raising this subject of the facilities available to hon. Members in these buildings at the earliest possible moment in this new Parliament. I should like to start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works for coming here tonight to reply to this brief debate and other hon. Members who are attending what is a relatively well-attended Adjournment debate in spite of the hour.

We all recognise that my right hon. Friend was the main leader in the campaign for better facilities for hon. Members in the past. He has described himself as the shop steward and we are, therefore, expecting some particularly dramatic action from him early in his term of office now that he holds at any rate partial responsibility, although, I regret to say, his responsibility is not as wide-ranging as some of us would wish it to be.

I want to concentrate on three matters, for I know that time is short and my hon. Friend wants time to explain what action he intends to take. The first is the emergency action which is urgently required; the second is the longer-term approach, and the third is the control of these buildings themselves.

There must be many hon. Members who, like myself, have had absences from these buildings, compulsory expulsions from the House, during which they have had the opportunity to appreciate the normal facilities available in other occupations. We return reinvigorated in our determination to see that facilities in these buildings shall not fall so miserably far short of what is normally available to anybody doing almost any kind of administrative job throughout the country.

As one who has come back to the House after a period in which I was used to having modest but useful facilities, some secretarial help and office facilities in the form of an ordinary desk and filing cabinets, and so on, it has came as something of a shock to me, even after a fairly long experience in the House before, to find how poverty-stricken our provision is. It is, therefore, very important to concentrate on the emergency need, especially for the new Members coming to the House for the first time who do not have even the most modest provision.

I want to concentrate, first, on the most obvious of these facilities, the need for every hon. Member who requires them to have a desk and a filing cabinet. Nothing could be more modest than that. I am asking that they should be available to all hon. Members who want them, not in some long distant time hence when building operations may have been completed but, more or less, as of now. We want something done immediately, and I think that we can expect my right hon. Friend to make that possible.

I have made some investigations and I understand that there are 59 hon. Members who have applied for these very moderate facilities, but who have not yet been able to get them. I am one of those whose name was included, apparently, in a ballot—such are the proceedings of this historic House that we have to ballot for services of this kind—hut I was informed in a very courteous letter that although my name had gone into the ballot I had not been successful in getting even a desk or a filing cabinet and that the writer of the letter thought that it was unlikely to be in the near future when that modest requirement would be met.

I am just not prepared to accept that position, nor, I am sure, are any of the other hon. Members who are in a like position. I quite appreciate that a lot has happened during the last five or six years. I quite appreciate that there are today—I have the figures here—167 hon. Members, in addition to Ministers and Whips, who have these modest facilities available to them. Some have even risen to the terrific height of having a room, but most share a room. These facilities, of course, are available not only in this building, but in Bridge Street and in Old Palace Yard.

However, there are, as I say, about 60 hon. Members, roughly, who have no provision of any kind at all. What do they have to do? They live a nomadic existence, as we all know, wandering about the building, putting their papers down on a desk at one time and shifting them elsewhere a few hours later. This is a very unfortunate position for hon. Members who, no doubt, have a lot of confidential correspondence which, when they leave a table in order to make it available to others, is left lying about for others to see as they themselves wander through the building.

There are, of course, a number of writing tables in the Library, in the Division Lobbies and, together with other provisions, on the interviewing floor. Hon. Members can also, as we know, book facilities there in order to dictate their correspondence in a few private rooms. All this, however, is utterly and absolutely inadequate, and I am, therefore, asking my right hon. Friend to tell us what emergency provision he can make immediately for that most minimum requirement of a desk and a filing cabinet so that we can have some kind of place from which to work, because we are determined to do a useful job and we cannot do it without these minimum facilities.

I now turn to the second stage, and that is the question of the requirements—very slightly longer-term requirements—because I do not think that any of us would feel that it is sufficient merely to have the provision of a desk and a filing cabinet shared with a number of other hon. Members and which may be in another building some distance, conceivably, away from the House. We believe that the provision should be more adequate than that, and I think that most of us are quite satisfied that a great deal more could be done in this building without having to go outside. A great deal more accommodation could be provided. I am far from satisfied that enough has been done to make use of accommodation which, I agree, is not necessarily under the control of my right hon. Friend. I wish it were.

What we require is that every Member who needs it should have, not something elaborate, but a telephone and simple facilities. We realise that some hon. Members have other facilities available to them. They may have other offices which they wish to use. Other hon. Members may prefer, if they live in London, to work to some extent from their homes; that is entirely up to them. I realise that these facilities are not necessarily needed for every hon. Member, but there are a considerable number of hon. Members who require them and who can make urgent and valuable use of them. We have new Members who are used to these facilities and are not prepared to wait long to get them. I shall, therefore, be glad to hear from my right hon. Friend what action he is able to take in addition to what is already being planned and prepared to meet this second modest requirement for hon. Members.

I should like briefly to refer to Library services. It is right that at an early date we should decide on the principle of what kinds of needs we have in the Library service. I repeat, we have a lot of new Members. There is a new pressure upon the Library service and upon research facilities which are still quite modest. Now that we have a large new demand, we should review the whole of the Library service requirements and, possibly, set up a committee to investigate on what principles it should work in these new conditions.

In passing, I am certainly anxious that we should improve facilities, not only for ourselves, but for those who work for us. I think particularly of the refreshment staff and others. Some small im provements have been made, but we know quite well that the heat and everything else under which many people have to work are quite unacceptable. I appeal to my right hon. Friend, as a good trade unionist, to look into this matter as well.

Finally, let me take up again the longstanding issue, but one for which I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will fight with all possible vigour, of a proper democratic form of control of these buildings to satisfy us that they are used as they ought to be for the efficient running of this Parliament. We are not so satisfied as things stand. We think that the system as of today, with the power resting largely in the hands of the Lord Great Chamberlain, is archaic and utterly out-of-date. Now that we have a Government who are pledged to action and a great responsibility falling upon backbench Members, both on the Opposition side and on this side of the House, to check and to stimulate the Government, we must have full, proper and effective facilities to do it.

11.14 p.m.

The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. Charles Pannell)

I should like, first, to thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) for his kind references to myself. As I have said from the back benches, the House of Commons is its Members. It is not the building, nor all the things which surround us, nor the Lord Great Chamberlain. The House of Commons is the elected Members, and they deserve the best service that we can give them.

I do not think that I need to pledge myself on this. I hope that my past record will be exemplified in my future actions and will ensure that I yield nothing on this issue.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West) rose

Mr. Pannell

I am sorry, but I am anxious to continue. I have gone to some trouble to prepare a statement. I understand the hon. Member's great interest in the matter, but my voice is not standing up well to the task and I shall be grateful if the House will listen to me now.

I have accepted the case for urgent action, and it falls into three phrases: the immediate programme, the middle-term programme, and the long-term programme. I ask my hon. Friends who are new Members not to be led astray by either third-class accommodation or by second-class decisions. Let them take their minds off the House of Lords, which is old-fashioned and not suitable for the dignity of Members of Parliament, and concentrate on getting some really improved accommodation. I am not in favour of interfering with their Lordships' House at all.

We have dealt with pay. Now we start on conditions. The present position is that 292 Members have rooms or desks as follows: Ministers' rooms and rooms to be allotted to Leaders of Opposition parties, 86; Whips' rooms, 31; Chairmen's rooms, 9; Members' desk rooms in the Palace, Old Palace Yard and Bridge Street, with three or more desks for Members, 130; single or double rooms at Bridge Street, 36. And how lucky the Opposition are that we bestirred ourselves to see, when we were in opposition, that we had adequate Opposition facilities. But for that, the ex-Cabinet Ministers would have had no place in which to lay their heads. The Serjeant at Arms has a waiting list of 59 Members for rooms or desks. No doubt, some Members have not put their names down because they felt it was hopeless to do so.

For the short term, I want to assure the new Members that the authorities of the House will do all they can. I understand their opposition—and I agree with them—to the suggestion that more desks should be placed in the existing desk rooms. After all, we do not want as Members of Parliament to breach the Shops Act! For my part, I have reviewed again the possibility of finding more accommodation in Bridge Street and Parliament Street. I have looked at this continuously, and, for the short term, I looked today at a building which might provide rooms, to be shared, for about 50 Members. It is not perfect accommodation, and not quite as near to the Palace of Westminster as I would wish. Hon. Members will understand that I cannot be more specific at the moment, because I was merely looking at something this afternoon. But if the project matures the accommodation should be ready in three or four months' time.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

Where is this?

Mr. Pannell

I do not want to say at this moment, for a reason which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will consider a good one. I am prepared to tell him afterwards, but not publicly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am very touched by the great interest of hon. Gentlemen opposite in this subject. For 13 years, when they formed the Government, they took very little interest in it at all.

Mr. Robert Cooke


Mr. Pannell

There are some Members on that side who did, but, until the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was made Leader of the House, Leaders of the House appointed from that side never took any interest in it at all.

In the medium-term, when the next phase of the roof scheme is finished, in October, 1965, we shall have rooms for a further 28 Members. When the third and final phase is completed in 1966 there will be rooms for 10 more Members. The Metropolitan Police will move out of New Scotland Yard in the summer of 1966 and I have reserved accommodation on the ground floor there.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Is that for the Labour Members coming in?

Mr. Pannell

I do not know. The Conservative Party will still be in opposition.

This is somewhat further than No. 1, Bridge Street, but could provide good accommodation for as many as 100 Members for the time being. I am pursuing this possibility.

A third scheme in the middle-term I am looking at is a development of one which came before the Stokes Committee and was suggested by Sir Harold Emmerson. It is to build over Star Court. The foundations want looking at there. I have consulted Mr. Speaker as well as I have been able to while he has been in hospital, and we have discussed it between us, and he accepts that the level of consultation has been the highest there could have been in the circumstances. He knows that I am intending to say this.

This scheme would bring in four storeys, with about 10,000 sq. ft. gross of accommodation. If it did not touch the existing building on two sides, it would have adequate natural lighting, with a car park underneath. As it could not be seen from outside the Palace, there would be no major aesthetic questions about which to argue. We have, in any case, sooner or later, to do the major work of consolidating the arcade of this court. In so far as Mr. Speaker's temporary incapacity has permitted, I have informed him of this idea, and I have no reason to think that there is anything in it which will give rise to dissent on his part.

Mr. Ramsden

Will not this new building in Star Court be visible from the whole of the Aye Lobby, and also through the windows of Westminster Hall, from the inside?

Mr. Pannell

I was speaking about the view from New Palace Yard. I think that the right hon. Gentleman knows my view on this. I shall look after the aesthetic aspect. The new building would be looked on only within that enclave.

There is another thing that I must mention, in passing. The facilities for the Press are no credit to the House. They have a job to do, and I can only tell them that I am also looking into fresh accommodation for them. The difficulty is that where the Press competes with Members in this situation, I must deal with Members first.

Mr. Ramsden

Are they still going to get three extra rooms?

Mr. Pannell

No, and they understand that. That was never a realistic business. The three rooms are on the Ministers' floor. To knock holes through the walls so that they can go up the circular staircase into the Press Gallery is to spend a lot of money on short-term advantages. I have better conditions than that in mind for them, and I have seen the Press and explained the difficulties as I see them.

The long-term solution must lie in a new building. Here matters rest with the Resolution of the House, on which I too must rest, of 13th July, 1964, when it took note of the recommendations of what was known as the Selwyn Lloyd Committee and said that having regard to the need to co-ordinate the redevelopment of the Whitehall area as a whole, invites Her Majesty's Government that to pursue the necessary technical and professional inquiries arising from these recommendations, and subsequently to report to this House. Here I can put the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) out of his misery. There was no foundation whatsoever in the report in the Press last weekend about Gothic or about anything else. He probably knows that there was a good deal of Press coverage that somehow we had repudiated Gothic. We have neither confirmed nor repudiated it. It is not the Government's job to do that. It is for the House to do that.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I do not read the Sunday newspapers.

Mr. Pannell

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was literate. Planning waits on Sir Leslie Martin's report, which I hope to have before the end of January. I think that that settles that one.

We have to consider this in conjunction with a major scheme for Whitehall. The question of the Buchanan Report comes into it, as do all sorts of other considerations. I hope, therefore, that I have satisfied my right hon. Friend that I have tried to get down as quickly as possible during the time that I have held this office to the short-term, the middle-term, and the long-term schemes.

I cannot say how much I agree with my right hon. Friend about the Library. We certainly need a larger Library. We need more research staff. This is one aspect in which the House of Lords could come in. We ought to pool the accommodation with them. We should share our research staff, because the life peers who are coming in will want a life of their own. So they will need to be looked after.

On the question of democratic control, I do not think that I need give my views, but my hon. Friend might assume that I will do my best about that. I have already stated, in answer—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

Will the right hon. Gentleman please address the Chair?

Mr. Pannell

I am very sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but it is not unknown in this place for a Member to turn away to address another Member on a specific point.

I can only say, as I said in answer to a question from another of my hon. Friends, that I am pursuing this matter with all the vigour at my command.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said so far, but I was concerned, like other Members, about the report in the weekend Press about the aesthetic argument that might develop in relation to the Gothic or modern style. The desire of most of the new Members, in my opinion, is for facilities as soon as possible. We want them to be as aesthetic as they can be, but we want them as soon as possible.

Mr. Pannell

As I have already pointed out, those considerations arise only in the long term.

I now come to the question of democratic control. I was a member of the Stokes Committee which pioneered this sort of thing. My memory of "Dick" Stokes is such that I would wish to be faithful to his Report, because he was one of the great men of my lifetime. I have also served on every other Committee I could in my period in this House. I have consistently followed a course here, and if I cannot say anything at this stage about how negotiations are going I ask hon. Members to believe that I have not wearied of the task. I hope that, having set out, we shall be able, before long, to make some real progress.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I am sure that the House will be grateful for many of the Minister's remarks. I suppose that we should also be grateful to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), who raised the question of accommodation almost as his first act on returning to this House. While he has been away great progress has been made under the previous Government—and I hope that it will be continued under this—to make the best possible use of the resources we have and can have within our own frontiers.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing out that a lot can still be done within these frontiers. He will recall that the House received the Report of an all-party Committee—a very representative Committee—which made a grand and sweeping proposal in connection with land designated by the former Government which had been acquired, or was to be acquired. It was a grand—and possibly grandiose—scheme, which would have solved all our problems for all time.

But there are many other problems to be faced the architectural one in particular—and it would not seem likely in present circumstances, with our financial difficulties, that that great scheme would come to fruition for some time. I have no doubt that the Government's ban on office building also applies to buildings in the Gothic style, but I will not labour that point.

One thing which has come out of this Adjournment debate—and Adjournment debates do not usually attract much attention—is that the Government have no intention of getting into a constitutional battle with the other House by seeking to acquire some of its territory for the use of this House. I am sure that the stirring words that the right hon. Gentleman used to discourage many of his more militant colleagues from thinking that that was the way in which our accommodation problems will be solved, will be greatly appreciated by the whole House.

We also appreciate the work that the right hon. Gentleman is doing. As he likes to call himself a shop steward, I would remind him that the one thing that a shop steward should do is to represent the rank and file. He well knows that the rank and file—and I hope that I may join his union—consists of over 600 hon. Members. He serves them, and not the bosses, if he is their shop steward. Shop stewards often disagree with their bosses, and in this case the bosses are the Cabinet.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will represent our views to his colleagues in the Cabinet. Hon. Members are most anxious to make the best possible use of the building in which we exist, within our own frontiers. We can have long squabbles about the allocation of our space. If I question once again the room allocated to the Parliamentary Labour Party—and in my view the allocation is generous—I shall be told to "lay off" the National Liberals. The National Liberals have got a very small cubbyhole compared with the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman has all our interests at heart in trying to make the best use of what is available. We all wish him well in his tour of the Westminster district in trying to find other accommodation. I have been looking around in my mind. I am sure that we shall not be put in St. Margaret's, Westminster. I hope that it is not the Middlesex Guildhall. [An HON. MEMBER: "Whitehall."] I am glad that it is in Whitehall. I am sure that there is somewhere there which will be of use to us. As long as the right hon. Gentleman keeps his activities to that field, I do not think that we shall have much to quarrel about.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at the subject in the context of the plan for Whitehall. He may remember that large bodies of opinion in the House will be anxious to see the best part of the Foreign Office preserved when we think of the Whitehall scheme as a whole. I hope, also, that when the new building is completed, and the second part of the roof scheme is completed next year, we shall see all of that made available for the use of hon. Members.

I know that conditions change. My right hon. Friend raised the question of rooms which it was thought might go to the Press. If I may speak personally here. I—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-nine minutes to Twelve o'clock.