HC Deb 23 January 1967 vol 739 cc967-9
42. Sir C. Osborne

asked the Lord President of the Council why he has taken the action of denying the public the ancient right to hear House of Commons debates by closing the public galleries for the morning sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. commencing 1st February; and if he will withdraw forthwith his instructions until they have been confirmed by order of the House.

43. Mr. Winnick

asked the Lord President of the Council what arrangements are in hand for accommodation in the Strangers' Gallery for visitors during the Monday and Wednesday morning sittings.

Mr. Crossman

The Serjeant at Arms made representations to the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) just before Christmas that, owing to the shortage of Doorkeepers, it would impose an impossibly heavy burden on these men if the full services at present provided in the afternoons were extended to morning sittings. The Doorkeepers are averaging some 60 hours work a week already, and the addition of morning sittings would add some 10 hours extra each week. The Serjeant therefore stated that some of the normal Doorkeepers' posts would have to be given up if the Doorkeepers were to have adequate rest periods off duty.

The Committee considered these representations carefully, and reluctantly came to the conclusion that, owing to short- age of Doorkeeper staff and the very long hours of duty already worked by the staff, the Strangers' Gallery will not, for the time being, be opened during morning sittings. Until more staff can be recruited alternative arrangements are being made for the public to use the back row of the special galleries during morning sittings. I reckon that as many people will be accommodated in the galleries each morning as are normally to be found listening to our business after 10.30 p.m. The Services Committee consider that this will be adequate, but if it is not, we shall have to reconsider the situation.

Sir C. Osborne

Is not the most reasonable and sensible solution to this problem not to hold morning sittings? In order to accomplish that ought not the Government to stop pushing so much legislation through the Parliamentary machine, such as the Homosexual Bill, which the majority of people in the country do not want?

Mr. Crossman

That is not really to do with the Question that we are seriously discussing. The House has taken a decision about morning sittings and it is the duty of the Services Committee to make arrangements for the public galleries during that period. That is what the Question was about.

Mr. Winnick

Would not the Leader of the House agree that most of the objections from the other side of the House come because hon. Members opposite do not like morning sittings? Does he not further agree that it would be most undesirable if there were any restrictions upstairs while the House is sitting? Would it not be possible for people to make their own arrangements, going upstairs and into the Gallery during the two morning sittings? Would the Leader of the House not agree that this is a further argument for televising our proceedings?

Mr. Crossman

I will not be tempted to reply to the last part of the question. The suggestion in the first part is completely impracticable. Entry to the House has to be controlled. I would say to my hon. Friend that we have calculated, and we had no dissent in the Committee upon this, that for morning sittings we would not get more than the amount of people upstairs which we have after 10.30 p.m. That is the kind of business that we are doing. If we are right in that calculation, there will be plenty of room for everyone who comes. If we are wrong, then I am sure that I speak for the whole Committee when I say that we shall have to revise the organisation and make room for these people, because the one thing that we will not do is to exclude people from the Gallery.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Does not the Lord President's original reply to the Question emphasise the utter nonsense of meeting on Monday and Wednesday mornings, particular on Monday mornings, when perhaps the only performer will be the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick)?

Mr. Crossman

I would repeat that we debated at length the pros and cons of morning sittings and we decided to hold them. The job of the Services Committee and the Leader of the House is to accept the decision of the House and to implement it in a way most convenient to the public. That is all that we had to consider when we came to our decision.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Can my right hon. Friend say what consultations he, or his officials, had with representatives of the staff of the House about morning sittings?

Mr. Crossman

My officials consulted at length with the representatives of the staff and I gather that what we had there was most satisfactory to the Doorkeepers.