HC Deb 08 December 1971 vol 827 cc1294-5
39. Mr. Golding

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will make better provision for constituents seeking to visit the House of Commons.

Mr. Whitelaw

The arrangements for admitting constituents to see Members of Parliament are currently being examined by the Services Committee at the request of Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Golding

Is it not time that constituents were able to visit the House as electors rather than as strangers? Would it not be a good thing for Westminster Hall to be used as a place where constituents could wait out of the wet and out of the cold?

Mr. Whitelaw

There can be no doubt that the House treats members of the public who wish to come and see their Members here, particularly if they have given notice to their Members, as electors, and there are always opportunities for them to come into the House. I think that they are properly cared for in this respect.

As to some of the difficult occasions which we have had and which I know are in the hon. Gentleman's mind, it is worth reminding him yet again that even on a recent difficult occasion some 3,000 electors saw their Members of Parliament in the House in the proper way, and in a way which was well organised and which reflected great credit on all concerned. The use of Westminster Hall can be considered, but there are great difficulties if it is to be used on some of the occasions to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention.

Mr. Maddan

Would my right hon. Friend agree with me that if hon. Members wish to see their constituents about an important topic in a way which is likely to lead to constructive discussion, they should discourage their constituents from coming on days when a mass lobby is taking place?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not for me to pronounce on how Members conduct their arrangements with their own constituents.

Mr. Kaufman

Can I tell the Leader of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Can I point out to the Leader of the House—[Hors. MEMBERS: "No."] May I ask the Leader of the House—[H0N. MEMBERS: "Yes."]—whether he is aware that my own experience as a "stranger" in the House over many years is not that about which he has any information? Is it not time that all attendants and police and so on, many of whom are extremely good and admirable, nevertheless had it pointed out to them that this Parliament is the people's Parliament and that the people who come here are coming to their Parliament and should be treated as such, rather than as guests allowed in on sufferance?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate that the Galleries have not as much space as many Members would wish, but, with that reservation, I should have thought that the arrangements for people to visit the House were properly conducted. I am only too ready to look into proposals for improving the arrangements, but I think that we owe a great deal to all those who work for us in the House for the way in which they conduct the arrangements.

Mr. Houghton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am dismayed by the complacency of his replies on this matter? Does he recall my evidence to the Services Committee, when I made serious criticisms of the arrangements for the reception of visitors and suggested that other Parliaments elsewhere treated their visitors, their constituents, as honoured guests, not as persons coming to this place are often treated—under the suspicious eyes of the police?

Mr. Whitelaw

The last thing I wish to be is in any way complacent about a matter which I regard as of great importance to Parliament. If I have appeared to be so, I must apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for that. I was referring to recent particular problems. I will certainly take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said.