HC Deb 23 March 1965 vol 709 cc328-32
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement about the Palace of Westminster.

Her Majesty the Queen has graciously agreed that the control, use and occupation of the Palace of Westminster and its precincts shall be permanently enjoyed by the Houses of Parliament.

Her Majesty"s Government have decided that the control of the accommodation and services in that part of the Palace and its precincts now occupied by or on behalf of the House of Commons shall be vested in you, Sir, on behalf of this House.

The House will wish to know that the control of the accommodation and services in that part of the precincts now occupied by or on behalf of the House of Lords will be vested in the Lord Chancellor as Speaker of the House of Lords on behalf of that House.

The control of Westminster Hall and the Crypt Chapel will be vested jointly in the Lord Great Chamberlain as representing Her Majesty the Queen and in the two Speakers on behalf of the two Houses. The Lord Great Chamberlain will retain his existing functions on royal occasions and Her Majesty"s Robing Room and the staircase and ante-room adjoining and the Royal Gallery will remain under his control.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works will be responsible for the day-to-day management of Westminster Hall and the Crypt Chapel. He will be responsible to Parliament for the fabric of the Palace and he will be, subject to Parliament, responsible for its upkeep and for any extension and alteration to the Palace and the provision of furnishing, fuel and light. My right hon. Friend will also be responsible to the House for the provision of custodians and guides as may be necessary.

I think, Sir, that you might find it helpful if a Select Committee were appointed to consider how we should exercise the control of the accommodation and services in that part of the Palace and its precincts which is to be vested in you on our behalf.

These arrangements have been discussed with the Opposition parties through the usual channels and I believe that they are likely to commend themselves to the House as a whole. It is proposed that they should come into effect on 26th April.

It seemed to Her Majesty"s Government right that this important change should be set out in a formal document. I will, with permission, circulate this in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

I should like to add that the present Lord Great Chamberlain and the other co-heirs in whom the hereditary Office is at present vested have readily given their humble obedience to Her Majesty"s commands with respect to the future control, use and occupation of the Palace of Westminster.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

No doubt the Prime Minister is aware that discussions were begun on this matter in the last Parliament. I feel that the proposals are likely to be acceptable to the House. I should like to say that I certainly support the idea of a Select Committee to advise you, Mr. Speaker, on how the powers vested in you should be exercised.

The Prime Minister

I propose that a Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee should be tabled quite soon. All the points which, I am sure, are in the minds of right hon. and hon. Members will be able to be looked after in the advice given to Mr. Speaker.

Sir H. Butcher

In view of the importance of this statement, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he would enter into consultations through the usual channels for the provision of time for the discussion of this matter, so that the Select Committee can be fully advised of the wishes of the House?

The Prime Minister

The question of time is, of course, one for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I hope that, if the Select Committee is appointed, it will be sufficiently representative to make itself capable of finding the views of all right hon. and hon. Members in the House.

Mr. Dalyell

May I say to my right hon. Friend that those of us who have been agitating for some improvement will greatly welcome this statement? Will the Select Committee have the power to make some agreement between Lords and Commons on the question of pooling certain accommodation between the two Houses?

The Prime Minister

I am glad to have the support of my hon. Friend—

Sir R. Thompson

On a point of order. Arising out of the Prime Minister"s statement, are we to understand that you, Mr. Speaker, accept this nomination to become the chairman of yet another industrialised industry?

Mr. Speaker

The Prime Minister was answering a question. Let it continue.

The Prime Minister

I was saying that I am glad to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) because we all know the interest which he has taken in this matter. Now that this has been achieved, perhaps it will enable him to cut down on his nocturnal perambulations around the Palace of Westminster.

The question of the pooling of accommodation is, of course, a matter for the two Houses, but, as my hon. Friend will realise, the question of the control of accommodation here is now quite unequivocally in the hands of the two Houses, so that if there is any advantage in this it will be possible for the two sides to get together on it.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is my hon. Friend aware that I think that all hon. Members of the House will be very grateful to Her Majesty the Queen for this imaginative gesture to modernisation? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to seek to establish the Select Committee with a due sense of urgency, to make sure that we in this House get our proportionate share of the accommodation in the whole of the Palace of Westminster?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that the whole House would agree with what my hon. Friend says about the Gracious decision of Her Majesty about the Palace of Westminster. It still remains, of course, a Royal Palace, but as a result of the statement graciously made by Her Majesty, the control of it for Parliamentary purposes is now completely within the hands of the two Houses of Parliament.

We certainly intend to get on with the job of appointing the Select Committee as quickly as possible and of seeing that the control is effectively exercised in our part of the Palace by this House.

Mr. Jennings

Shall we be able to debate this important question on the Motion for the appointment of the Select Committee? Surely the House will be allowed to debate this important departure from tradition?

The Prime Minister

This will be a matter for discussion through the usual channels. It may well be that the House will find it more useful to wait for the Report of the Select Committee before entering into a full debate.

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