HC Deb 08 December 1980 vol 995 cc619-21
34. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if, in view of the long queues in St. Stephen's, Members' difficulty in getting tickets, and the usual significant number of empty places in the Strangers Gallery, he will institute a study of the system of allocating visitors' tickets to the House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

No, Sir. The accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee of the Services Committee considered this matter only last November, and it was of the opinion that the present arrangements should not be varied, except that Admission Orders should carry a request in bold print that Members should return any Admission Orders to the Admission Order Office if not required. I have arranged for that to be done, and there has been a slight improvement in the number of Admission Orders returned for use by others.

Mr. Dalyell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he had arrived a quarter of an hour early for prayers last Thursday, he would have seen my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) and five parliamentary colleagues sitting on the Government Benches, queuing to get a favourable position in the unseemly daily rugger scrum that surrounds the Serjeant at Arms' chair in order to get tickets? Is he further aware that some hon. Members feel that that is less than necessary, because many people pocket their tickets or leave it until the last moment to return them? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are complaining about the system, not about the courteous staff of the Serjeant at Arms' Department? Will he examine the matter again during the winter, before the inevitable happens next summer?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot keep referring the matter to a Committee of the House. If a Committee has recently investigated a suggestion and come down against it, there is little further that I can do. The solution to the problem lies in the hands of hon. Members. As I have said, there has been a slight improvement, but I appeal once again to hon. Members to return any unused tickets, or tickets that are unlikely to be used, in good time.

Dr. Glyn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Members' Gallery is in use on very few occasions? Could not there not be some flexibility in the use of it, to enable more visitors to be accommodated?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We keep the situation under continuous review. We see the number of Admission Orders for the Special Galleries, and we look at the Diplomatic Gallery. If those seats are not used they should be available to Members for their visitors, and they are.

Mr. English

What are the views of the right hon. Gentleman on why children visit the Tower of London more frequently than they visit the Palace of Westminster? Is he aware that the Department of the Environment employs more than 100 information officers, one of whom is an education officer who is solely responsible for showing schoolchildren the Tower? Why has this House no such officer?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is an interesting suggestion, and I shall look into it on behalf of the hon. Gentleman. I imagine that more children visit the Tower of London because they find it more intrinsically interesting than the activities of this House.

Mr. Freud

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, in view of the normally riveting nature of our debates, it would be sufficient for most visitors if they had tickets enabling them to sit in the Public Gallery for 15 minutes, and no more? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that would make it easier for hon. Members to accommodate coach parties from their neck of the woods for short periods?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall consider that suggestion, but it is a dangerous remark for the hon. Gentleman to make. If he continues to make remarks such as that, he may end up in the Tower.