HC Deb 29 July 1975 vol 896 cc1517-20

4.14 p.m.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the common ownership of the Royal Palace of Westminster for the duration of the time it remains the seat of the United Kingdom Parliament; to make provision to bring the Palace and those who work therein within the scope of all past, present, and future protective labour legislation; and for purposes connected therewith. The Bill is not as bad as it sounds from the Title. One or two hon. Members spoke to me a few weeks ago saying "For God's sake do not try to change the licensing laws". That is not my intention.

The first of the two purposes of the Bill is the improvement of accommodation for Members and staff of this place. I know that this has improved in recent years, and I should be the first to admit that it has improved since I have been a Member. However, the statement made on 16th July makes it clear that there is an urgent need for more space in this building.

Coupled with that fact, I personally believe it to be a bad principle that a Government Department should be situated in a parliamentary building in any country, let alone this country. In this situation, I understand, Mr. Speaker, that some of your own accommodation is to be given up, and we may well reach the point in the near future when the Serjeant at Arms has to leave his mansion and join the waiting list for a flat or a house from Westminster Borough Council. That is a proposition that would be quite contentious. Nevertheless, there is a vast amount of space in this building taken by what I like to call the Lord Chancellor's Department, which still has 56 rooms which could be put to better use.

While it may be said that it is longer from the south end of this building to this Chamber than it is from Norman Shaw, the problem is not overcome. When I came from Norman Shaw yesterday during a Division, I met two of my hon. Friends chatting on the pavement. They were completely oblivious of the fact that there was a Division in the House. That situation could not occur if we had mores space for Members in this building, even though it is a little further to walk.

This would also overcome a quite massive problem which will arise later this year due to the loss of public space. It is not down in the dungeons that these printing machines have been placed. It is in public space for Members and their constituents on the Interview Floor that these machines are in operation. There will be a lot of trouble when delegations come to see Members. There will be no room for them and Members and others may be turfed out. The objective is to bring this House into public ownership simply as a means of getting our hands on the space available, not least that of the Lord Chancellor's Department.

The second purpose of the Bill is concerned with the fact that many hon. Members are quite aggrieved about the situation which is becoming more apparent as we push more legislation through. That is that none of this legislation applies to the employees of this place. One can list a whole series of Acts under which the legislation we pass to provide benefit for the working population of 20 million does not apply to the couple of thousand people who work as employees in this House. I name merely the Public Health Acts, the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, and the Sex Discrimination Act, and the Employment Protection Bill.

The Employment Protection Bill is particularly important. On Second Reading of that Bill some months ago a question was raised about its applicability to the House and those who work here. We were told that there were consultations with the authorities of the House—which turned out to be the retired military establishment which seems to run the place, from what I have gathered since I have been a Member. We shall reach the Report stage of that Bill tomorrow and there is still no Government amendment to enable the Bill to cover those who work here. This is an absolute travesty and one of the problems with which the Bill seeks to deal. I understand that the maternity provisions would not be applicable to those who work here. I also understand that in the other place there is sex discrimination which no-one will be able to use the Sex Discrimination Act to overcome.

The day before yesterday, staff in the Strangers' Cafeteria were working in a temperature of 100°F. I speak as someone who almost lost half a factory because the temperature was 2°over the limit and the workers walked out. This failure was highlighted in a Written Answer given last week by the Leader of the House to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner). My hon. and learned Friend had raised the matter of the Black Hole of Westminster, which we know as the Police Mess in St. Stephen's. The reply from the Leader of the House was to the effect that the authorities—the same retired military establishment to which I have referred—would invite an inspector from the Health and Safety Executive to come and look at the area.

I do not know what industrial experience the Leader of the House has had, but one sure-fire way to bring factory inspectors or any such people into disrepute with the work force is to have the management continually inviting them in by appointment. But that is the only way in which it can be done here. These inspectors have no right of access whatsoever to come and look at the conditions here, but it is a right of access which, as legislators, we expect them to use without appointment in the rest of industry. I myself have been very much aggrieved by factory inspecors making appointments when they should be visiting on a speculative basis and deliberately trying to catch people out to see whether they are upholding the laws.

We must clear up these aspects of the matter, but I am not sure whether we can do it, having read some of the background. This problem arises because of the privileges of the House of Commons.

The right of this place to settle its own code of conduct should not extend to a right to abrogate our responsibility to those who serve us. The right should extend only to hon. Members who initiate the laws, the motions and so on. It should not be used to cover every nook and cranny in the building, and therefore the people who work there.

The matter has been raised in the courts in the past. The classic case was when the authorities of the House took Mr. Hansard to court. The Lord Chief Justice of that day, Lord Denman, said: The Commons of England are not invested with more of power and dignity by their legislative character than by that which they bear as the grand inquest of the nation. All the privileges that can be required for the energetic discharge of the duties inherent in that high trust are conceded without a murmur or a doubt. Many hon. Members may well agree with all those words even today.

We have allowed others to abuse the privileges which we have set aside for ourselves. This has had the disastrous effect for our employees that many of them are not sure of their legal position. They see in the Press and other media the legislation that we are pushing through here for the rest of the working population.

The matter should be cleared up once and for all. On the basis, I hope, that the will of the House still has some meaning, I hope that I shall be given leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. J. W. Rooker, Mr. Robert Kilroy-Smith, Mr. John Ovenden, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Cyril Smith and Mr. Greville Janner.