HC Deb 08 December 1986 vol 107 cc15-7
26. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Lord Privy Seal what information he has as to the number of official tours of the Palace of Westminster by (a) school parties and (b) others in each of the last five years; and if he has any plans to review the arrangements for such tours.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I will arrange for the figures to be published in the Official Report. The arrangements for the line of route were reviewed by the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee in February this year and previously in June 1985, when additional measures to reduce congestion were introduced.

Mr. Bruinvels

I look forward to receiving those figures, but I am already fully aware of the increasing number of visitors to the Palace of Westminster. Does my right hon. Friend consider that the time has now come for perhaps a charge to be levied on all foreign tourist parties? [Hon. MEMBERS: "No!"] Alternatively, because this is a place of work, can we not reduce the number of tour tickets issued? We must get on with our work and even our constituents find it difficult to get into the House during the day.

Mr. Biffen

I think that this is something which, in the first instance, should be considered by the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee. I am sure my hon. Friend realises that he has raised some fairly weighty issues of principle.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Will the Leader of the House assure us that none of those visitors have access to the logging equipment that logs hon. Members' telephone calls? Will he come to the House to make a statement about who has access to that logging equipment and in what circumstances?

Mr. Biffen

I think that that is very wide of the question of tours, but I shall write to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this is the British Parliament, and that people are entitled to tour it, but at the moment they have great difficulty in doing so because of the very long queues? Will my right hon. Friend consider whether, for example, two sets of checking equipment can be installed to halve the time that constituents spend in queues to see around their own Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a point that I know is a cause of concern in all parts of the House. The Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee is aware of these factors and my hon. Friend's point will certainly be drawn to its attention. The figures for last year show that 130,000 people went round Parliament with their Members of Parliament. That is a considerable increase over what was true hitherto.

Mr. Williams

Is the Leader of the House aware that most of us hope that he will ignore the ludicrous proposition put forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), but hope that he will give serious consideration to the point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham)? Many of our parties that come a long distance face great difficulties. They often start at 6.30 am and arrive before 11 am, but have to wait outside for long periods, often in the rain, because there is only one piece of screening equipment. Bearing in mind the security problems, will the Leader of the House prevail on the Committee to look at this matter yet again?

Mr. Biffen

I would not disparage the points that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels). They are perfectly fair points, but I consider that they raise issues of principle. Of course the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee will look at this matter again. It is perfectly well aware of the difficulties and I would be misleading the House if I said that I thought there was a fairly easy way to overcome them.

Following are the figures:

Parties on the Line of Route
Autumn Visits Programme organised by the Education Officer Estimated total number of individuals in Member's Parties
212 tours from 125 schools 99,917
120 tours from 66 schools 99,905
271 tours from 136 schools 108,222
30 tours from 12 schools (No official programme due to closure of House of Lords Chamber) 144,161
276 Tours from 138 schools 130,774