HC Deb 02 December 1988 vol 142 cc966-1018

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Neubert.]

[Proposed subject for debate: First Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) of Session 1987–88 (HC 561) on New Parliamentary Building (Phase 2): The Next Steps.

Relevant documents: Second Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) of Session 1986–87 (HC 378) on New Parliamentary Building (Phase 2); Casson Conder Partnership, Phase 2 Parliamentary Buildings Design Study (January 1987); Property Services Agency, New Parliamentary Building Phase 2 Alternative Strategy (February 1988).]

9.36 am
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

This morning's debate provides an opportunity for the House to consider the recommendations made in the first report by last Session's Services Committee on what is generally known as phase 2 of the new parliamentary buildings; that is to say, the site bounded by Bridge street, Cannon row, Derby gate and the Victoria embankment.

Although I am Chairman of the Services Committee, I am not a member of the New Buildings Sub-Committee, and rely on my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) to keep me informed. This report is really the work of the New Buildings Sub-Committee, and I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and his colleagues for their splendid work. Our thanks, too, are due to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) and his officials in the Property Services Agency, and to Casson Conder's project team, who have produced the two valuable design strategies before us today. It is the intention of my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to wind up the debate today—subject to catching your eye, Mr. Speaker—and respond to any detailed comments or questions which arise during the course of this debate.

Parliamentary accommodation has long been felt to be unsatisfactory. The Palace was first said to be overcrowded in 1852, the year of its opening. I know that, almost 140 years later, this is still the case.

Most Members have their own horror stories, but the plain facts and figures on overcrowding are contained in the the report before us today. In short, about 500 Back Benchers have access to only 150 single rooms. To some extent this overcrowding has been brought about by improvements in our other circumstances. The increasing office costs allowances of recent years have meant that Members have been able to employ more secretarial and research staff, all of whom add to the pressure on accommodation. Moreover, the increase in the Short money for the Opposition parties has already, quite naturally, enabled them to take on more staff to help them with their work. I understand, though, that it has simply not been possible to accommodate them near the Chamber.

The 1987 Services Committee report recommended that by 1995 every Member should have a room of their own, if they wanted one. The building work which is currently under way, and the proposed building under consideration today, should go some way towards this.

It may be of help to the House if I summarise the general background to the Committee's report and the present activity. Over the past 30 years, many abortive schemes have been put forward for the Bridge street site. In 1960, the then Minister of Public Building and Works, now Lord Glendevon, announced that the Government had decided to apply for designation of the Bridge street site for parliamentary development. Prophetically, he added:

As the House knows, this is bound to take a bit of time. The House devoted much of its time and effort during the 1970s to discussing plans for an entirely new building, but the scheme eventually foundered owing to lack of money.

In 1978, however, the president of the Royal Academy, Sir Hugh Casson, and his firm, Casson Conder and Partners, were commissioned by the Department of the Environment, on behalf of the House, to conduct a further study into the Bridge street site. The objective was to retain and restore what was of quality, and replace the rest to a coherent design. In his report, Sir Hugh recommended that the most practical approach would be a phased development extending over a period of years. As a first stage, which came to be known as phase 1, he proposed the development of the area bounded by Parliament street, Derby gate, Cannon row and Bridge street.

As hon. Members will be aware, work on that phase is well under way and is broadly on schedule for completion in time for occupation at the end of the summer recess in 1990. When finished, it will provide accommodation for the research and public information activities of the Library, residential accommodation for the Serjeant at Arms and four other Officers of the House, all of whom presently live in the Palace. There will be offices for 60 Members and 100 Members' secretaries, as well as refreshment facilities and a parliamentary bookshop. Moreover, nearly 30 further rooms for Members become available in the Palace as a result of the transfer of Library and residential accommodation to the phase 1 site.

The temporary refurbishment for parliamentary use of the former Cannon row police station is taking place concurrently with phase 1 development, and is due for completion by summer of next year. Unfortunately, there have been delays to the scheme, caused most recently, I understand, by the listing of the building by Westminster council, but, when finished, it will provide office space for 41 Members' secretaries and about 20 research assistants, in addition to space for PSA and Crown Suppliers staff.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Am I to interpret that as criticism of Westminster council's decision to list the building?

Mr. Wakeham

Absolutely not. The hon. Gentleman was quite right to bring that matter to my attention if it sounded in that way. It certainly was not meant to be a criticism.

These developments will still leave about 100 Members without a room of their own. Thus, the report recommends that provision should be made in phase 2 for at least 100 Members' offices, together with additional space for Members' staff.

The most pressing task before the House today is to consider the design strategy for phase 2. The Casson Conder partnership has produced a design study for the site, and the PSA has put together an alternative strategy. The two are not in fact mutually exclusive, nor is the House being invited to approve or reject either strategy in toto. Elements of one could be combined with elements of the other.

There are common proposals in the two strategies. Both involve the rebuilding of Palace Chambers. That is unsurprising, as only the ground and first floors remain after the rest was demolished to relieve pressure on the supports holding the building over the underground railway. Both strategies adopt a refurbishment approach to Norman Shaw South and Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street, because those buildings are listed.

Perhaps I should say at this stage that the word "refurbishment" does not just mean a lick of paint. Rather, it would involve restoring the original fine features of the building, both internally and externally, while bringing it up to modern office standards. So there would be as high a quality of finish and furnishings, and of the environment, in terms of heating, daylight, and so on, as if it were a completely new building.

However, there are some differences between the proposals. The Casson Conder proposals would raft over the underground railway at an early stage. The principal advantage of that would be a reduction in noise, and perhaps a better visual environment. But, on the down side, it would add about a year to the project timetable, in addition to the extra time needed to negotiate on air rights with London Regional Transport. The Committee believes that it is more important to press ahead with the first stages of phase 2, the rebuilding of Palace Chambers, and the refurbishment of Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street. A raft could, if necessary, be added later.

The second difference in the proposals is over St. Stephen's House, which Casson Conder would rebuild and the PSA refurbish. No final decisions are needed on that just yet, as that stage of the project is some years away.

Mr. Dalyell

The right hon. Gentleman said that a raft can be added later. May we have some idea of the extra costs of doing it in double phase rather than in single phase? Would it not be significantly cheaper to do it all at once, or am I wrong?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Chairman of the Committee and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who will wind up the debate, know considerably more about the detail than I do, and have taken note of the point. We hope to answer that question in the course of the debate.

The third difference is that Casson Conder propose to move the underground station entrance to the corner of Bridge street and Cannon row; the PSA would leave it where it is. As moving the entrance would add substantially to the planning and construction time, the Committee feels that no change should be made.

For the sake of clarity during today's debate, it would be helpful if hon. Members could address at least their main remarks to phase 2. It is important that the momentum of the new building project is maintained. To do that, it would be helpful today to have the House's broad approval of the Services Committee's report and of its recommendations in paragraph 29 on the best way to make progress. Although the debate is, of course, on the Adjournment, it would be my intention, if the mood of the House is largely in favour of making progress with this scheme, to table in the next few days a motion to approve the Committee's report, which I hope would then be taken formally one evening.

In brief, the recommendations of the Committee are to start work on phase 2 by carrying out preliminary design work on Palace Chambers, Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street, and a feasibility study on a secure Bridge street subway to link the new buildings with the Palace. The PSA is ready to appoint an architect to carry out those studies, but nothing of substance can be done until the House's wishes are known.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the subway, will he clarify one point that puzzled me on reading the report? Is the subway intended to serve all the buildings on the other side of the road? I speak as a new tenant and exile in Norman Shaw North. Accommodation there is extremely good, but access is unsatisfactory. Will the remit to the PSA include linking it by some kind of shuttle, as in the United States Congress? In the meantime, will the PSA consider subdividing the existing tunnel to provide slightly cleaner and more secure access for hon. Members?

Mr. Wakeham

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first question is yes. It is thought that it could be made to service all buildings on that side of the street. I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman's other points will be taken into account by the Committee and by my hon. Friend. Obviously, practical possibilities will be looked at.

Mr. Dalyell

Paragraph 29 of the first report, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, uses the words while bearing in mind the possibility of using part of the building for broadcasters' accommodation. Have the Government any view on broadcasters' accommodation?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government have no special views on broadcasters' accommodation, and they are quite happy to consider any recommendations by the New Building Sub-Committee. We are entirely content with the report, as I am seeking to show.

The Government's intention, if the House approves the report, is to make the necessary money available for these studies, and for the subsequent detailed design study of Palace Chambers. Further work beyond that is several years away, and decisions on finance will be made at the appropriate time. At the moment, the costs of the phase 2 proposals range from £47 million for the PSA proposals—that is, making no allowance for a raft, rebuilding St. Stephen's or moving the station entrance—to £70 million for the complete Casson Conder proposals.

Before I close, I should like to comment on the general principles of phase 2. It is a longer rather than a shorter-term solution to our accommodation problems. All the buildings on the site, except Palace Chambers, are already occupied. Therefore, it follows that all work will need to be carried out in stages, with staff being decanted into completed buildings from buildings yet to be refurbished. Significant accommodation gains will thus come later rather than earlier in the development.

I hardly need remind the House of the importance of the site that we are discussing. It is close to one of the most famous and beautiful Victorian buildings in the world, and the Committee's 1987 report emphasised that. it would be most unfortunate if an insensitive and utilitarian building design were to be adopted on grounds of speed and economy". But we should not be too extravagent either. When making up their minds on the proposed expenditure, hon. Members will no doubt bear in mind that this must be a question of competing priorities and that the expenditure, if agreed, would necessarily reduce public funds available for other purposes.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not quite understand from a reading of the documents how much excavation is still involved. Should not the House set some example to archaeologists who throughout London are deploring the way in which some possibly very important sites are being excavated by bulldozers?

Have the Government thought about their obligations towards archaeologists? This work could be very expensive, because it is time-consuming and uses expensive equipment. Anybody who talks about doing archaeological work had better understand that it creates financial problems for contractors. What thought has been given to what may be a most important site in terms of the history of London?

Mr. Wakeham

I am advised that we had an archaeological report on phase 1. The Government will be sympathetic to any recommendation made by the New Building Sub-Committee. It is for the Committee to consider what is necessary. The way forward recommended by the Services Committee would give us a gracious scheme of a fitting standard for our parliamentary purposes without making undue demands on the public purse. I hope that the House will welcome these recommendations.

9.52 am
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

I thank the Government for making time available to debate this report which was prepared by the New Building Sub-Committee which I have the honour to chair. It is five years since the House last debated the new building project; given the level of interest and anxiety among hon. Members about their accommodation, that is far too long an interval. I am sure that the House will have taken note of what the Lord President said about a debate within the next few weeks if the House approves this report.

The Lord President has concisely summarised the contents of our report, and I shall not seek to cover the same ground. Instead, I shall concentrate on some matters of special concern. Before doing that, I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, John Silkin, who became a member, and was Chairman, of the New Building Sub-Committee from 14 January 1981. I am sure that the House would like to place on record its appreciation for the services that he rendered to the House and especially to the Committee. All hon. Members have cause to be grateful to John Silkin for the work that he did on the Services Committee and for his enthusiastic commitment to the new building project. His successors will need to be equally enthusiastic and committed if phase 2 is to be a success. I should like to thank my fellow members of the Committee and the clerk for their able help and assistance during the 12 months that I have been in the Chair.

We all know and appreciate that there is a crying need for extra accommodation and better facilities for Members. I am not sure what the Lord President meant by his obscure reference to Brent. Perhaps he could explain it to me afterwards. Many hon. Members work in impossibly cramped and squalid conditions. As the Lord President said, about 500 Back Benchers have access to only 150 single rooms. In our report, we say that many hon. Members sharing rooms have only 60 sq ft of space each. We compare that to the 250 sq ft that comparatively junior officials in the Civil Service can expect.

The building in which we work is an architectural masterpiece, but it was designed for the part-time gentlemen MPs of the 19th century, who took a very relaxed view of their political duties. It was not designed for modern Members who quite reasonably require staff, space and facilities to cope with the burden of constituency work and the sheer hard slog of parliamentary duties. For some years I was well aware of the problems about accommodation, but it was not until I was appointed to the post of allocating accommodation to Opposition Members that I realised that the problem would be solved only when Members from all parties forced the Government to take more than a cursory interest in the early completion of the proposals that are before the House.

Mr. Dalyell

Does my hon. Friend know of a more thankless task in the whole Palace of Westminster than allocating accommodation to Opposition Members?

Mr. Powell

A more thankless task in this Parliament is that of the Government Whips who allocate accommodation for Conservative Members. That is because they have considerably more Members than the Opposition. The allocation of accommodation is a difficult responsibility, given the problems of Members about their work load. It is essential that we have no more slippages, no more excuses for pushing dates further and further ahead. We want action to advance completion dates and a sincere promise to ensure that hon. Members are accommodated. Even the Prime Minister should be told to give her customary stamp of approval.

When I tour the buildings looking for rooms that might have been overlooked or rooms that might be unused, or when a new Member is allocated a room and moved from the desks in the Cloisters, I inevitably look into the Oratory in the centre of the Cloisters. I do not know how many hon. Members have walked down there and looked into the Oratory. There are four hon. Members there with four desks and four filing cabinets and all their books and papers. They are cramped in a historical room where the death warrant of Charles I was signed. We might conclude that that is an unusual place and ideal for a new Member who could get a great deal of publicity when he is allocated a desk there. That is the only condition under which new Members will accept a desk there.

Four hon. Members, representing 250,000 constituents, should not be asked to work in such accommodation. Some elder statemen might say that, when they were elected, they had to wait years for a desk. I have not been elected all that long, but I had to wait four years for a desk. Together with 12 other Members, I squatted in rooms above the Chamber; we were told every week by the Serjeant at Arms that we had no right there because it was a writing room for Members and that we should not be using the desks. Nobody slept on the desks but we used to leave most of our documents there, and at least we had a desk to write on. As I am not going back all that many years and as I am not an elder statesman, it is clear that we have not progressed very far over the years with the allocation of desks.

We are nearing the 21st century and advancing into modern technology. We have young and enthusiastic Members who have been educated and trained in modern techniques, and we must ensure that facilities are made available for them so that they can house their computers and other advanced office machinery. Let us keep the Oratory for signing historical documents. It is no use increasing secretarial allowances so that Members can employ more trained staff unless we provide them with the basic necessities of an office and a desk. It is of little use to increase Short money for the Opposition unless that is coupled with the allocation of accommodation for staff.

It is of grave concern that the Government announce major programmes of legislation, adequately backed by increased spending from the Prime Minister's office down to that of the most junior Minister, yet give little if any consideration to providing the Opposition with increased accommodation for the extra staff that they need to deal with the extra work load that major Bills involve. I hope that some consideration will be given to this urgent matter.

Yesterday, there was a tremendous attendance of Members from all parties at a retirement farewell gathering for one of the staff. I place on record my wholehearted appreciation for the help that was afforded to me over the years by Miss Frampton. There is no doubt that she will be missed. Her knowledge of every desk in all areas throughout the Palace was formidable. I am sure that the House would like to join me in expressing our best wishes to her for a long and happy retirement.

Like many other hon. Members, I could record in great length and detail tales of actions taken by some to acquire desks and rooms for themselves, only to find eventually that they have to be evicted. I do not wish to delay the House with those tales. After the 1987 general election, the allocation of accommodation proved to be a tremendous problem. With only one exception from the Opposition's point of view, all other problems were eventually overcome, if not entirely satisfactorily, with all Members being allocated a desk. Undoubtedly this was due mainly to the tolerance and understanding of the Serjeant at Arms and his staff. I am sure that all hon. Members appreciate the help afforded them in 1987 after the June election, when so many had left the House and so many new hon. Members had been elected.

The House must surely appreciate that the lack of accommodation is not merely a minor inconvenience to a few hon. Members. Instead it is a major curb on the effectiveness of Parliament. I bustled into the office of the Lord President only this week and witnessed the activities that were taking place in such a cramped area. If it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to have reasonable accommodation in which to exercise his duties on behalf of the House, what hope is there for others, including Back-Bench Members? It is high time that we improved accommodation at all levels.

In the report we set targets for the provision of extra accommodation. We recommend that by 1995 every hon. Member should have a room of his own, if that is what he or she wants. We suggest that a minimum standard of 50 sq ft of working space should be provided for each Member's personal secretary. We say that that standard should be introduced as soon as phase 1 is ready for occupation in 1990. We recommend that high priority should be given to the provision of between 20,000 and 36,000 sq ft net for additional office space for Members' staff.

It is one thing to set targets, but quite another to achieve them. The history of parliamentary building projects is not encouraging. I am acutely aware that the prospect of a new building on the Bridge street site was first announced to the House more than a quarter of a century ago, yet we are now talking tentatively about the completion date for phase 1. I cannot respond in detail to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but if we cannot complete phase 1—we want to couple phases 1 and 2—our grandchildren, if they become Members of this place, will be asking when they are to have new accommodation. I am sure that the Minister will respond to that issue in more detail.

It is difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that successive Governments have paid only lip service to the need for improved accommodation. A further problem is that responsibility for design and construction rests with the Property Services Agency, which is not the most dynamic of public bodies, especially if Ministers do not exert the necessary political will to keep it up to scratch.

A recent example of repeated delays in the conduct of parliamentary building projects will prove my point. It is an example that has been a source of irritation to myself and my colleagues on the Sub-Committee for the past 12 months. The old police station at Cannon row is being temporarily refurbished for parliamentary use. This will provide a limited number of extra desks for Members' staff, which will be a modest but useful gain. The original completion date was late 1987. That slipped to mid-1988. It slipped again to the spring of 1989. We were told last summer that that was an unrealistic target. I hope that we shall be told today what the latest estimate is.

The Cannon row refurbishment is a small-scale project. If temporary refurbishment can take twice as long as was first estimated—during the period when cities of skyscrapers have been built in docklands—will work on the parliamentary site proceed at a snail's pace? We have a right to expect that phase 2 will be conducted with much greater urgency. I hope that the conversion project is an extreme example.

Progress has been made over the past five years. For example, phase 1 will provide considerable extra accommodation. There will be offices for 60 Members and 100 Members' secretaries. There will be catering facilities and a bookshop. We have been told by the Lord President that phase 1 is broadly on schedule for completion in time for occupation in October 1990, but I am a little suspicious of "broadly". I hope that he will confirm that there will be no slippage that will put the target date in danger.

When the Cannon row project and phase 1 are completed, much accommodation within the Palace will become vacant. The Library alone will vacate 21 rooms. Other staff of the House will move out of the Palace. The Sub-Committee is concerned that funds should be made available and plans drawn up so that the vacated rooms can be converted without delay. As we state in the report, it would be unacceptable if prime accommodation within the Palace were to lie idle for any long period because lack of funds for conversion. Perhaps the Minister can reassure us that attention is being paid to that recommendation.

Our overriding concern on phase 2 is that we should, as far as humanly possible, be able to proceed with construction work as soon as phase 1 is complete. That is why the Sub-Committee decided earlier this year, when considering the proposals from the Property Services Agency's consultants Casson Conder Partnership and from the PSA itself, to pursue a compromise approach. That is set out in the report and has been outlined by the Leader of the House. We have accepted that the underground station entrance should not be moved as Casson Conder wanted. We have deferred a decision on whether St. Stephen's house should be rebuilt or refurbished, and we have recommended that a deck over the underground, which would result in much improved working conditions for those who use the offices around the southern inner court, should not be built in the first stage of phase 2 but may be built later.

I must make it clear that I and my colleagues regard that compromise approach as the minimum that the House is likely to find acceptable. If the House accepts those elements of scaling down of the scheme prepared by the consultants—I accept that it may be necessary to do that—we have a right to expect in return that the proposals for phase 2 are proceeded with without delay and with ministerial guarantees on appropriate funding at every stage. I hope that the Minister will provide us with guarantees at the end of the debate. Perhaps he will also be able to assure us that the quality of accommodation that will be provided under phase 1 and 2 will be up to the standards that Ministers have recently provided for themselves and their civil servants further down Whitehall in Richmond terrace.

Phase 2 will have to proceed in stages, as so much of the site is already occupied. The logical place to begin is Palace Chambers, which is not only unoccupied but largely demolished and, in its present state, is a considerable eyesore. Fundamental decisions on the future of Palace Chambers will have to be taken within 12 months. Those include decisions on the use to which the building will be put, the choice of an architect—on which I trust that the Sub-Committee will be consulted in due course—and the preparation by the Sub-Committee of a detailed design brief.

The report makes specific proposals about the preliminary studies that need to be carried out by the Property Services Agency. Those proposals are in paragraph 29 of the report. We made a great effort to take evidence and agree on the report before the summer recess, so that essential preliminary work might begin during that recess. I understand that Treasury Ministers gave their approval in July for such studies to go ahead before the present debate. I was therefore disquieted to learn that after all that effort, no work was put in hand. Five valuable months have been wasted, either because of indolence in the Minister's office or because of bureaucratic time-wasting by the PSA. The Minister owes us an explanation for the latest delay and an assurance that the studies will now proceed immediately.

The studies outlined in paragraph 29 of the report include not only detailed work on Palace Chambers, but an examination of the uses to which Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street could be put to pave the way for the next stage of phase 2. We also call for a feasibility study on a subway link between phase 1 and the Palace of Westminster. That is something that successive Services Committee reports have highlighted as a priority. The need for a proper dedicated link with the new building will become urgent when phase 1 is opened in 1990. It follows that planning must start now and that necessary financial provision must be made in the advance budget.

I want to make three further points on phase 2. First, I want to sound a note of caution. Precisely because so much of the site is already occupied, the overall accommodation gains will not be enormous. We shall have to decant—I do not like that word, but we are using it now—people from one building to another to allow work to proceed. The gains will accrue later rather than earlier during work on phase 2, although we intend that a further 100 Members' offices will be provided by phase 2. I should mislead the House if I claimed that those offices will be made available in the first stage of phase 2. That is all the more reason to make the fastest progress that we can on phase 2, unhampered by Treasury penny-pinching.

My second point concerns the appearance of the building. The rebuilt facade on Bridge street will be of particular importance because it will face towards the Palace of Westminster and it will be seen by literally millions of tourists and visitors every year. It is at least as sensitive a site as the precincts of St. Paul's cathedral, which recently received some publicity. I think that the House will wish to be reassured that the New Building Sub-Committee has no intention of angering the heir to the throne by permitting the building of a monstrous carbuncle on the site. In our report, we suggest a restrained classical style which is dignified but does not seek to distract attention from the Palace opposite.

My third point is about the timetable. The Property Services Agency has been coy in giving us estimates about how long each stage of phase 2 is likely to take. The House will expect the Minister to give us precise information on that today. I have made a number of criticisms about the Government and the PSA and I ask the Minister to reply on several important points. I am sure that officials in the Box have taken careful notes.

I shall end on a more positive note. We should miss a great opportunity if we considered phase 2 merely as a way of providing new office space and refurbishing or reconstructing a few buildings. Together, phases 1 and 2 will provide us with a capacious, internally linked complex of buildings for parliamentary use within easy striking distance of the Chamber. Almost all decisions on the uses to which phase 1 buildings will be put have been taken, but that is not the case with phase 2. That means that we now have a chance to consider what facilities should be provided in phase 2, over and above basic office provision.

The New Building Sub-Committee and the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee have agreed to co-operate in a joint inquiry into the long-term need for the improvement of parliamentary facilities generally. We intend to consult widely within the House—initially, perhaps, by means of a request for submissions publicised through the all-party Whip and later by other means.

All manner of additional facilities have been suggested by hon. Members already. They include a swimming pool, a day nursery, a ladies' hairdresser, cash dispensing machines, a badminton court and rooms for Members' families. No doubt many more suggestions will be made, some practical and others less so. It will be our job to assess the level of demand in the House for particular facilities that we do not enjoy at present, and to allocate priorities. We shall take account especially of the need to offer the support of facilities that might be taken as standard by the end of the century when the new building complex will be in full operation. We shall report to the House on that in due course.

10.19 am
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), the Chairman of our Sub-Committee, and to congratulate him on an extremely effective and wide-ranging speech. I associate myself with almost everything that he said, and I am sure that every other member of the Sub-Committee will feel as I do. It is a pity that more are not here today. That should not be regarded as a lack of interest but as underlining the needs that we are talking about. If Members had better facilities they could transact business from their offices which at present they must transact in their constituencies. I hope that the people in my constituency who expected me to be with them this morning will acquit me of discourtesy, just as I hope the House will if I disappear shortly after speaking in an attempt to catch up with what I should be doing in my constituency.

It is a long time since I spoke in the House on a new building. In 1973, on the only occasion on which I won a ballot for a private Member's motion, I decided that we should discuss the Spence-Webster building. The proposal then before us was for an enormous bronze glass and steel structure that would have dwarfed much of the Palace, would have been completely incongruous and out of scale and would have been a blot upon this part of London's landscape. It certainly would not have won an award from the Prince of Wales.

I was one of those who believed strongly that the site was so sensitive and this building so historic and beautiful that it would be wrong, merely to give Members luxury accommodation, to build something like the Spence-Webster building. I strongly opposed the proposal, and I was glad that we were successful. I was even more glad when Sir Hugh Casson, to whom tribute has properly been paid by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and by the hon. Member for Ogmore, came up with the scheme for phase 1 which is now, happily, very much under way. May I say to my right hon. Friend, whose interest in and strong support for the scheme cannot be in doubt, that we hope that "broadly" means on target.

Mr. Dalyell

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I admire him for all the work that he has done on this subject. I understood the Leader of the House to say that the Casson proposals were half, but not quite, exclusive of the other proposals. I should be interested, because I respect him greatly, to hear the hon. Gentleman's views on the Casson proposal. Is he wholly in favour of it?

Mr. Cormack

Perhaps I may deal with that in a moment. This morning I am speaking in support of the recommendations of the Services Committee and the New Building Sub-Committee. I believe that we have got it about right.

I paid tribute to the innovative work of Sir Hugh Casson and his partners in coming to the rescue of Parliament. When we had abandoned the Spence-Webster building for all sorts of reasons—aesthetic and financial—we still had a problem. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has described the problem in graphic terms many times. I shall never forget his account of prowling the corridors of Westminster looking for accommodation and coming upon a man pressing his trousers in an enormous subterranean room somewhere in the House of Lords. But that is not entirely apposite to this debate.

Sir Hugh Casson and his partners created a sensitive scheme that would use the facades, and where possible more than the facades, of buildings that were already listed or deserved to be listed. The scheme would not be out of scale and would not commit the heinous sin of so much modern architecture of being ill-mannered to the buildings that surround it. Sir Hugh and his partners performed a signal service in that regard.

We cannot allow to come out of this debate the suggestion that this is a group of parliamentarians intent on personal extravagance. One occasionally reads comments about Members wanting to look after themselves. It is amazing how many people believe that we do not pay for our own food here, and how many believe that we have some mysterious expense account and that when we entertain them to lunch it is paid for by the taxpayer. In fact, we pay for it, and cannot even claim it against tax.

We are talking about giving our constituents a better service. I entered the House in 1970 and for some time shared a room with seven other Members, including the former Labour Chief Whip, now Lord Cocks. We were of different parties. We were extremely friendly and got on well together, but how could either of us hold a detailed telephone conversation on a confidential matter sitting three or four feet away from each other? It was impossible. If a Member is to look after his constituents properly, he must have soundproof, decent—not lavish—personal accommodation.

During the long recess, I had the honour to be a member of the British delegation that attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in Canberra. We held our meetings in the new Australian Parliament building. It is a magnificent building, and Australian Members of Parliament have been looked after in a way that touches on the extravagant. I looked at their suites of offices with more than a little envy. We propose nothing like that here. At the end of the day, be it 1995 or a little later—I hope that it will not be later—the Members of the British Parliament will not have accommodation that begins to equal in opulence the accommodation that is provided for Members of the United States Congress or Senate or the Australian Federal Parliament. We should remind ourselves that those legislatures meet far less frequently than we do. That is another point that people should take into account. We at Westminster meet for far longer periods than almost any other legislature.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

That is because there is too much legislaton.

Mr. Cormack

That is one of my hobby horses, but I shall not, disturb the all-party accord and my lavish praise of the Government by talking about the excessive amount of legislation in the Queen's Speech. That would be to enter a slightly discordant note, which is not what we are about this morning. Every Government, of whichever party, have broken their pledge to cut legislation. For many years, we have been kept here five days a week for 36, 37 or even 38 weeks. Members of Parliament may sometimes rightly be accused of lack of judgment, bad behaviour and all the other things of which we are guilty, but few of us could be accused of slacking. Most hon. Members, irrespective of party, try to give a good service to their constituents. Most Members are here because they have a vocation for public service. Although that might sound a little prissy and pompous, it is true. Many hon. Members gave up far better renumerated occupations outside to come here.

It is monstrous that many of the able new Members who came here last year will not have individual rooms until 1995. Not only are they being frustrated in many of their personal ambitions, but their constituents are being deprived. It is important to get those things on the record in a debate like this.

We enjoy an enormous privilege in being able to work within this historic Parliament and I have always been among the forefront of those who criticise vociferously any suggestion that we should abandon this place and move out. However, we must remember that this building was created, as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) reminded us, in a different age for a different type of Member representing a different type of constituency. The building was created before the age of universal suffrage when there was not the relationship between a Member and his constituents that exists now or the variety of jobs that a Member is now expected to do for those constituents. One does not have to go to the extremes of Lord Palmerston who, in order to represent Newport, had to promise never to go near the place.

In the 19th century, when the building was opened, Members would pay irregular and infrequent visits to their constituencies. Those knights of the shires who resided in the counties came and went, but they did not come and go with enormous boxes of letters imploring them to help with housing and pension cases and all the other things that Members are asked about today.

We should also remember that the building was opened long before the age of the telephone. I believe that it was well into this century before a telephone appeared in this Palace. We must also remind ourselves of those facts when we consider the needs of the modern Member.

No modern Member can conceivably perform a proper job and serve his or her constituents in the fullest way without reasonable accommodation. I am fortunate to have had a room for some years and I pay tribute to my colleagues who exist in the Cloisters with just a desk or those who share a room. It is even unsatisfactory to share a room with one Member. For some years I shared a room with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) when he was the hon. Member for Petersfield. We were the closest of friends and we got on extremely well together. However, we found it so impossible to do our work that we worked out a rota: I had the room for certain hours of the day and he had it at other times. That was not satisfactory.

We should not be in two minds about this. It is important that phase 1 is on time. It is absolutely vital that there should be no slippage. It is crucial that phase 2 should be proceeded with and that the momentum, as my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said, should be maintained. No Government should be allowed to get away again with the argument that this is excessive public expenditure. It is expenditure for the public, so that the public can be served better by those they send here regardless of party.

I would deplore it if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment in replying to this debate said that there was any doubt about meeting that modest 1995 target date. By the turn of this century, it should be an historic memory that Members of the British Parliament once had to exist in conditions of squalor, which would send most ordinary workers quite rightly yelling to the factory inspectorate, and which would cause strikes up and down the land if any private employer tried to insist that people with confidential and important work to do had to do it in the conditions that many of us have to endure.

I hope that we shall receive a good answer from the Minister. I hope that the answer tells us that the Government support, as my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council made plain, the Committee's report to the letter and are determined to support it fully in spirit. I am confident that we shall receive such a reply today. The time for delay has long passed.

When this building was created, it was created not only as a building for the British Parliament; the aim was to create a building which would speak of and for Britain, which would help to tell the story of Britain and would exemplify in every last detail the very best of British craftsmanship. Although we sit in a Chamber that was built after the devastation of the war, we still sit in a beautifullly constructed and elegant Chamber. When we wander around the rest of the Palace, as we do so often, taking our constituents around they always remark on the brass work by Hardman of Birmingham, the wonderful stained glass and the incredibly beautiful carving in the House of Lords and elsewhere. They look with interest at the pictures which tell the history of Britain.

Obviously I am not suggesting that there should be any attempt across the road to replicate what we have here. That cannot happen. However, the spirit of what we have here should be reflected over there. I declare an interest because I have the honour to be Chairman of the House of Commons Works of Art Committee which has responsibility for the works of art in the building. We are constantly trying to conserve what we have and to add to it. Hon. Members will perhaps have admired the conservation of the murals in the Upper Waiting Hall. We do our work with a few thousand pounds: we do not even reach five figures. Recently we were able to unveil a bust of Ernest Bevin and we accepted the gift of a bust of Parnell. Throughout the Palace we want to see constant reminders of those who have helped to mould this place and create its history.

I have discussed these matters with my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore—and in his capacity as chairman of the New Building Sub-Committee he is very much my hon. Friend. When we go across the road, the New Building Sub-Committee and the Works of Art Committee should work closely together. Just as it is important that the building should be sensitive to its surroundings, so its contents should be equal in interest, if not in intrinsic value to the contents of this place. I hope that we will be able to commission young contemporary artists just as our Victorian predecessors did.

I am not suggesting that we should subject Members to avant-garde work which they might find it difficult to understand, although that might not do them a great deal of harm occasionally. However, just as in this building the story of Britain is depicted, so perhaps in the new building Britain itself might be depicted. What better than to commission artists to paint landscapes of the various parts of the country or commission a series of living or recently deceased parliamentarians to compliment studies in this place? What better than to commission tapestry weavers? We can do all that within a relatively modest budget if we patronise young, living artists. There are many distinguished artists whom I am quite sure would be prepared to negotiate special terms for the honour of having their work displayed here, just as their Victorian predecessors did.

I hope that we shall concern ourselves increasingly with the building and its contents so that it will be truly worthy of our Parliament and so Members in their individual offices can have the benefit of a little inspiration on their walls as well as a computer on their desks. All those things can be done and Members can be involved, perhaps by enlisting the support of colleges of art within their constituency, if we are imaginative.

Mr. Dalyell

When I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dick Crossman when he was Lord President, he wanted pictures for those marvellous offices at 70 Whitehall that the Lord President has, and I managed to fish out what was deemed suitable—the beautiful portrait of Halifax the Trimmer. Since then there has been a succession of pictures of admittedly second-class importance which had not seen the light of day for a long time. Should not some of them be taken out of storage and put in the new offices?

Mr. Cormack

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments—we are at one on that—but he will find that there have been many changes since those days. The Government picture collection under Dr. Wendy Baron has been extremely well managed. Many of the works that he speaks of have found their way on to the walls of embassies or consulates, and when I saw the store recently it was not very full. We have brought works of art from the store to the Palace and it is right that we should. We should also pay a thankful tribute to the National Portrait Gallery, which has been so generous with some of its surplus pictures and has allowed us the portraits that hang along the Committee Corridor. The interiors of phases 1 and 2 merit careful, detailed, sympathetic consideration and should show the beauty of 20th century Britain as this building speaks of 19th century Britain.

The hon. Member for Ogmore made a good point about the Oratory. I hope that we can free it by removing the desks and make it the small museum that it should be to one of the most historic events in British history. It is a sad event, which we may interpret differently, but a seminal occasion which should not be forgotten in a welter of papers and clutter of desks. It should be somewhere which parliamentarians can visit and to which, with appropriate arrangements, from time to time take small school parties. As the hon. Gentleman rightly reminded us, it was in the Oratory that the death warrant of Charles I was signed.

I have said enough to show my support for the Committee on which I am pleased to serve, my delight at the Lord President's welcome acceptance of our recommendations and my expectation that my hon. Friend the Minister will not disappoint us when he replies. I hope that he will assure us that "broadly" means on target, that there will be no spurious financial considerations to deprive the public of the service that they have a right to expect from their Members of Parliament and that, as we move towards the completion of phases 1 and 2, we should give proper, detailed consideration to the contents of the building, just as our predecessors did to the contents of this one.

10.43 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I strongly support the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) on many of his points, but particularly on two. First, for heaven's sake, this is not about the personal extravagance of Members of Parliament who want to build cushy facilities for themselves. All of us are a little sensitive about that. This morning we are talking about a decision for Britain, and I make no apology to anybody in my Linlithgow constituency for not being there while the House of Commons discusses this matter, because it concerns the prestige of Britain and her good name.

Secondly, I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the possibilities for patronage of young British artists. That is of enormous importance and I hope that a great deal of trouble will be taken. I should like to hear from the Minister what the Government's thinking is on the patronage of young British artists.

I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) mentioned the work of John Silkin, especially as this week some of us attended the memorial for Sam Silkin at the Temple church. Those two brothers made remarkable, although different, contributions to the House of Commons over many years and it was fitting that my hon. Friend should pay that tribute. I was also glad that he paid tribute to Mary Frampton. She had many functions, including serving writs on distinguished trade union leaders. Apparently her formidable figure was the armed force in the House of Commons and doubtless she did the job better than anyone else could have done—not that I am in favour of serving writs on trade union leaders. She performed many other tasks of an unofficial nature. When I was presented with several jojoba plants for having spoken strongly in favour of ecology, I went to Mary Frampton to look after and water them before I could take them home to Scotland. Many other hon. Members have similar memories of her kindnesses. She was a distinguished and good servant of this House.

The work of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore may be unsung, but his colleagues should thank him and the Committee sincerely for doing what may be a thankless task but one which someone must do and which is important. We are grateful to him for the long hours he has spent on the issue.

My history in these matters was briefly touched on by the hon. Gentleman. Within weeks of coming here, bereft of accommodation, I had the effrontery to carry out a survey of the Palace of Westminster over three nights with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who at that time was not right hon. As a result I wrote a long article 2,500 words, for Architects Journal. No one took much notice of it until three weeks after its publication when the Daily Mirror discovered that I had alluded to the fact that we had found a man in his underpants in 590 sq ft of prime space, pressing his trousers. The discovery was not to my political advantage because I was immediately tagged as the man who discovered the man pressing his trousers. I remember vividly two distinguished knights of the shires, Sir Henry Stodholme and Sir Otto Prior Palmer, pointing me out and saying, "That's the fellah who found the man pressing trousers in his underpants."

Fame comes in strange ways. The absurdity and yet the non-absurdity of that encounter reached the headlines. About a month later the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, passing me in the corridor looked up and said, "Dalyell, was he pressing his trousers to Royal Scots Grey standard?" The accommodation problem had even reached Downing street by then.

I should like to ask a series of specific questions. The first is prompted by that series of visits round the building a quarter of a century ago when I was critical of the House of Lords' space and accommodation.

Now I ask a reverse question. I am one of those who acknowledge that the House of Lords works extremely hard. There are more and more working peers. Some of their accommodation is very unsatisfactory. I do not suggest that the House of Lords has anything like a prior claim to the building that we are discussing, but is it intended, as a knock-on effect, that there should be rather better accommodation for working peers?

Secondly—I speak with feeling here, as it concerns the Library—I strongly register the opinion that as far as possible the Library should be concentrated in this building and that, where possible, those scholars—for such they are—who work in the Library should be allowed to work near us rather than in the proverbial outer Mongolia. I pay tribute to Dr. John Poole who has recently left the service of the Library. To many Members, Dr. Poole was an extremely able and helpful Library scholar. We have had cause over two decades or more to be grateful to him. He and his section were recently moved out of their position in the Library and sent over the road.

It is not right and proper to go into the reason why Dr. Poole retired from the Library service. I just register the point that it would have been very much better if the science section were accommodated in this building near to Members rather than over the road. Library accommodation is a priority. The Library staff should be near Members rather than over the road. Facilities that are consequential on the Library's needs should be made available over the road.

Thirdly, I hope that the Minister will say something about the nature of the competition. The documents do not make clear how the architects are to be chosen. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore said that the building is to be in a restrained, classical style. It will certainly be on a prestige site. Has the Department worked out how that is to be achieved and what the form of the competition is to be?

Fourthly, I foresee enormous difficulties over what is called "decanting." I refer to paragraph 28(ii) of the report, which says (ii) that decisions should be taken as part of a coherent strategy for the Phase 2 site as a whole. All buildings on the site, apart from Palace Chambers, are currently occupied by Members and officials of the House, or by broadcasters. It will therefore be necessary to proceed by means of a staged approach (as is accepted in both sets of proposals) in which occupants of each building to be developed are "decanted" to other parts of the parliamentary estate to allow work to proceed. I have had recent constituency experience of the decanting of one general hospital, Bangour, to another site at Livingston. Decanting big areas of sophisticated work is very difficult. I am not saying that it is as difficult as decanting a hospital, but how much thought is being given to the mechanics of decanting? I foresee that a great number of my colleagues will be extremely vexed about the kind of things that might happen to them.

Fifthly, I do not see very much reference in the documents to the needs of the visitors that all hon. Members receive. For example, could not some provision be made for those who have to queue for a long time in rather cold conditions? Could not some cover be provided for those who have to queue outside when it is often wet and cold? I find it embarrassing to see people queueing to get into the Strangers' Gallery when the weather is wet and cold. Could not their needs and facilities for visitors in general be taken into account?

Sixthly, what is to be done about the long-term fabric of the building? Any building has to be constructed taking into account its functional use and the long-term maintenance of its fabric. I hope that you will not rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I say publicly now that the day before yesterday, having endlessly raised with the authorities the stone rot of the Crypt, particularly around the font, I took my friend, Frank Bracewell—an expert from the Central region of Scotland—down to the Crypt chapel where he saw evidence of stone rot in the Welsh marble font that ought to be attended to. I throw that in, because it is not entirely irrelevant. I hope that something will be done about it. The general question that nevertheless remains is the quality of the fabric of the building.

Seventhly, hon. Members have cause to ask questions about exercise facilities. Over a quarter of a century ago I went, together with colleagues, to see the late Sir Paul Chambers about ICI Dyestuffs at Grangemouth. He said, "The trouble with MPs is that they are unfit. You get too portly and fat." That was true. I asked him what we should do about it. "Oh," he said, "you can have our squash courts." For over 20 years some hon. Members, from 8 to 10 o'clock in the mornings, have benefited greatly from the ICI squash courts. They have now been demolished. The squash players, of whom I ceased to be one last year, were then moved to the Civil Service building. Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, who is a regular squash player, told me last week that he thought that the courts are to be closed. He asked me where people would be able to play squash. It is not up to me to offer facilities to the Cabinet Secretary to play squash, but I am entitled to ask what sports facilities will be provided in the new building. If neither the Civil Service nor the ICI squash courts are available, could courts be made available to Members of Parliament within the foundations of the new building? That might not be too difficult.

The foundations bring me to the next issue that I raised in an intervention. What exactly is being done about the archaeology? The House of Commons has to set an example. We cannot lecture people in the City about not taking care of the archaeology of London, or Baynard castle, or whatever the issue of the day may be, if we do not take care of it ourselves. It will be a pity if achaeological work is not carried out towards the end of Horseferry road. The site of the new building may be important in archaeological terms. What thought has the Department given to archaeology during the site investigations that are bound to take place?

Ninthly, I return to the question of accommodation for broadcasters. Any hon. Members who go to No. 1 Bridge street must see that those who work in Parliament as broadcasters do their job in completely unsatisfactory accommodation. No. 1 Bridge street is hot, stuffy and overcrowded. The report refers in various places to accommodation for broadcasters, but the detail is left in limbo. I am not trying to curry favour with broadcasters, but they are an essential part of the working of Parliament. They must be given proper working conditions—conditions that hon. Members are demanding and will continue to demand for constituents who work in factories. The same goes for IRN which has really pokey accommodation at the moment. It would be useful to hear exactly what is to be done. I am not asking for a palace, but for decent healthy conditions for the broadcasters.

Finally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) knows exactly what I am asking for, and we are on delicate ground, but will there be a little room set aside for a few instruments that our Prime Minister thinks are very good for other people? Will there perhaps be a polygraph room? Perhaps it could be called the polygraph room in the Cheltenham memorial suite, as that would be a good name for it. Perhaps the cabin could be called the Westland cabin. I make the point that people who ask for facilities for other people had better look at the mote in their own eye. On this occasion I shall leave it at that.

11 am

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

First, I want to comment on one or two things I have heard during the debate. In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House quite properly urged us to address ourselves to phase 2 and to the details of the report, but I do not feel that we should debate in isolation the design of particular buildings as that might lead us to overlook the possibility of transferring things from here to that building. If we take that approach, we may well overlook the need to discuss the budget required for the contents of the building, as how we equip the new accommodation for hon. Members is absolutely vital.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) said that he felt that Conservative Members have more difficulty with accommodation and made the observation that the more Members there are, the greater the accommodation problems. I wonder whether he was working up to a justification of what happened in Govan as being an accommodation manoeuvre. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) drew our attention to the fact that longer sessions are held here than anywhere else in the world. I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) that perhaps we legislate too much in this place.

However, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South did not draw the attention of the House to the fact that we meet for more days in the year and that we have longer days than other parliaments. If we had fewer days and fewer hours perhaps that would reduce the pressure. Dare I suggest that we have the largest legislature in the democratic world. Some would say that if we had fewer Members that might help. Therefore it is not just a matter of buildings evermore.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) quite rightly observed that the prestige of Britain is at stake, but he did not tell us whether his discovery of gentlemen without trousers in the other place was better or worse than the recent discovery of young ladies in the basement, which a Labour Member had the pleasure of knowing something about.

While I freely admit that I have not been here very long, the views of newcomers are quite significant, particularly when the newcomers are full-time Members of Parliament who work here throughout the week and throughout the year. The shock of what I encountered in terms of accommodation is still very fresh in my mind. Unlike hon. Members who have been here for a while, I have not seen things get better, therefore I cannot fall back on thinking that it is not as bad as it was. I am still being asked by my constituents what are my first impressions. When I tell them about the working conditions, either they think that I am joking, or they are shocked to find that the person they elected to represent them is unable to do his job.

I shall mention some of the things that shocked me as a new Member. Perhaps it might help the Sub-Committee when finalising its plans to know the issues which we hope they will attend to. The question of privacy which has already been mentioned is clearly first in my mind. Newcomers cannot have a confidential meeting anywhere except the draughty corner of a corridor, where we hope nobody will overhear. We cannot make telephone calls privately unless we are prepared to leave the office and risk being run down by the traffic to make a 10-minute journey to a telephone booth to call someone back and have a private conversation. Above all else, there is no chance of quiet thought so that we can gather our wits together when we need to come here and speak.

Although our personal conditions are inadequate and the shock that that caused is still clear in my mind, I was more shocked by the conditions under which I had to ask a secretary to work. The working space is not only communal with no privacy, but in most cases it is cramped beyond belief. One has to take one's life in one's hands as one negotiates an office without tripping over cables, and it is impossible to make oneself heard on the telephone because of the clatter of typewriters in the background. On many occasions it is quite impossible for a secretary to make anything remotely like a confidential telephone call on behalf of an hon. Member.

As a newcomer, perhaps because I am in Abbey gardens rather than in the Palace of Westminster, not only am I a long way away, and if I wish to collect papers from the Library it is a 20-minute journey if traffic is bad, but it is easy to be anything up to half a mile away from my staff. The report draws attention to the advent of electronic mail which would make it less important that staff are a long way away. I am still looking for the electronic mail that might help with that problem. I was also shocked that the technological revolution of which we are so proud in Britain seems to have passed Westminster by. It has been said that it took a long time for telephones to get here. With the exception of a fairly rudimentary service offered by the Post Office, the fax revolution has not even entered the portals of this House.

Mrs. Gorman

Unless hon. Members buy their own.

Mr. Wilshire

Exactly. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay says that we should buy our own, but that clutters up the place with more telephone lines and makes life more difficult for everyone.

Most offices and large groups of people have effective paging systems. That does not seem to have reached us. I mean no disrespect to the Badge Messengers who do a magnificent job, but it would be far simpler to track us down by electronic paging than by walking miles to see whether we are here and can be given a message.

When I first arrived, I was pleased that the allowances were improving, but then I discovered that the allowances were a means of opting out of offering help with equipment. This is not a plea for something as well as allowances, it is almost a plea for equipment instead of allowances. By the time one has bought one's own typewriter and computer and realised that no one else has quite the same equipment, hon. Members we caused a remarkable amount of trouble. It takes me about half an hour to find a stationer's shop to track down a ribbon for my typewriter, because no one else seems to use the same model.

I was also shocked at the lack of recognition of our anti-social hours and unhealthy lifestyle. As a newcomer, I am regularly kept here for very long hours and find that if there is a running Whip it is quite impossible to get away even for a short time. Yet the concessions for trying to maintain family life, and the opportunity to buy necessities are virtually nil. If one is pinned down in this place, having broken one's toothbrush in the morning, and if the Whips do not smile sweetly at one, it is quite difficult to get out and find a shop that sells them.

As has also been mentioned, the lack of exercise facilities is staggering. Apart from the gym, the opportunities for exercise include the ability to exercise one's trigger finger in the rifle range or one's drinking arm in assorted bars. Beyond that, I fear that I am becoming ever less healthy as time goes by.

As others have said, the cynical will take speeches of this sort as a plea for plush surroundings and more perks for Members of Parliament. I do not intend now or in the future to apologise for saying these things. We should not apologise for asking for sensible working conditions. My constituents who learn the truth think that something needs to be done about it. They do not like huddles in the corridor, or me having to telephone them from a telephone booth down the corridor or finding that they cannot make themselves heard on the telephone to my secretary over the clatter. My family do not think it is unreasonable to ask for better working conditions, particularly when there is a running Whip and there is no place to meet them or eat with them because everywhere is overcrowded and overbooked. Similarly, because of the lack of exercise facilities, my doctor would not think it an unreasonable request if he knew how unfit I was becoming.

The vital parts of the report are paragraphs 28 and 29 —"The Next Steps". Paragraph 28 rightly invites us to comment on three principles—keeping up the momentum of development, ensuring that the next phase is comprehensive and, as has been discussed already, the quality of the buildings. Paragraph 29 makes three correct calls for action—doing design work on Palace chambers, doing a study on the uses of Bridge street and looking at the feasibility studies for a subway.

The three principles in paragraph 28 are absolutely fine as far as they go. I suspect that it is the principle of keeping up momentum about which I feel most strongly. Phase 1 is, I hope, nearing completion and phase 2 has simply got to carry on immediately after, without any break. Until phase 2 is complete we shall not reach the key objective of obtaining a single room for every Member who wants one and secretaries' accommodation that is civilised and located near to the Members for whom they work and in which they can hear themselves think.

Even if the scheme is comprehensive, we shall end up with discussions about whether we have too much accommodation and are we overdoing it. Those of us in Abbey gardens and Dean's yard would say that if, mysteriously, there is too much accommodation in phase 2, or phase 3 if there is one, there is plenty of scope for giving up things that are too far away and unsuitable.

I hear what is said about the quality of the building and support the approach that we must do nothing that would upset the Prince of Wales. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the speed of completion of the project and the cost are relevant. I am not making a plea for quick, cheap and nasty building, but, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, we should not be too extravagant and should not lose sight of the fact that the speed of completion is an important issue as well as ensuring that the quality of the building is as it should be for such a sensitive site.

The suggestions in paragraph 29 are fine as far as they go. However, they will not result in a single new facility. The calls for action do not include a detailed timetable for the work to start and finish. I hope that when the Sub-Committee considers this further it will extend the calls for action and add details of the new facilities and a strict timetable so that we all know where we are going.

When focusing on the question of action, I should draw attention to the point about the use of Nos. 1 and 2 Bridge street. To a certain extent, we could extend that discussion to the use of Palace chambers as well as the feasibility study there. There are some uses which were identified in the first report of the previous Session but which have not been mentioned this time. I draw my hon. Friend the Minister's attention to that and invite him to comment. There is mention of a book shop but I have not been here long enough to discover whether it is intended that it should carry stationery items so that we can save time and run our offices efficiently. I see no mention of whether the use of Bridge street could include some sort of small shop to supply us with the necessities of life. On both counts, I am not suggesting that we should try to run an in-house facility. I am sure that both those facilities would prove attractive to somebody who may wish to come in and run them for us.

There is one somewhat exotic point I would make about the use of the new accommodation. Perhaps, if there has to be a chess room in the Palace of Westminster we could transfer it to the new accommodation. During the time I have been here I have yet to see the existing chess room in use. In making some inquiries about the chess ladder fixed to the wall, I saw a list of people who I suspect have not been Members of the House for a long time. I saw the name of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) listed and when I asked him about it this morning he expressed considerable surprise that his name should be on a chess ladder because he has never played chess in this place. If the chess room is moved to the new accommodation, it would free a room for something that is a matter of urgency. We should provide additional space so that hon. Members with spouses who wish to eat here on an ad hoc basis without being able to book can have a small amount of space used in much the same way as the Members' Dining Room. That would mean that if there was space one could obtain food and be with one's immediate family. Such accommodation is not available now unless one wants to go to the cafeteria and put one's food on a tray or book a table months in advance in one of the restaurants.

Similarly, in the new accommodation we must find space for exercise opportunities. My preferences, for what they are worth—I am sure that they will not be echoed by all hon. Members—are a swimming pool and squash courts. In case people outside feel that I am advocating the spending of public money on such things, I am sure that there would be private funds available to build a swimming pool and squash courts if the demand was there and they could charge for the use of them. It would not be a free facility but one that could be used within the confines of the Palace when we are kept here for long hours.

My suggestions arise out of paragraph 15 of the report which refers back to the previous report, which contained a much longer list of suggestions. As well as talking about a subway from the new buildings to here, as a user of Abbey gardens, may I put in a plea to minimise the risk of by-elections caused by hon. Members trying to get from Abbey gardens being mown down by traffic. It is fine when there is a Division because the police ensure that we can cross the road. However, on other occasions we take our lives in our hands. The traffic whizzes around and motorcyclists seem to be oblivious to the lanes of traffic.

I stress again that fax machines should be urgently provided and a modern paging system should be introduced. In the previous report the Speaker's Court figured strongly, but this time it seems to have been overlooked. Will the Minister guarantee that the use of that accommodation will be included in phase 2?

In the past few days I have found myself speaking to broadcasters in the rain. The thought has occurred to me that it might be possible to allow journalists to use Westminster Hall for filming and carrying out interviews. I cannot believe that that would either cause security problems or disrupt other activities because, for most of the day, apart from having tourists, Westminster Hall is not used for any purpose. This is a useful opportunity to improve the broadcasting facilities of this place, without spending any money.

I hope that this report is approved rapidly, and that that rapid approval leads to immediate action. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House say earlier that he will provide time soon for the House to give its seal of approval to this report. When action is taken, hon. Members can look forward to being able to do their job properly, constituents can look forward to being treated properly and staff can look forward to having decent conditions in which to work. Family life might stand a chance here, and there will be fewer unhealthy Members of Parliament for our constituents to worry about. Rather than being apologetic for having a long list of conditions that I think should be improved, I think that all my suggestions, and others that have been made this morning, have to be good news for all who work here, for all whom we represent and for the nation at large. Above all else, if our working conditions are civilised, it has to be good news for democracy.

11.21 am
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), I am a new Member and I, too, was deeply shocked by what I found when I got here, despite having been told on numerous occasions how bad it would be. I thought that it must be exaggerated and that one could not run the nation's affairs in such a way. When I arrived here, like countless others, I found that I had no desk, no secretary, no typewriter and no telephone and that I had to make these arrangements ad hoc, in such corridors as I came across where telephones were free, and we were all competing. I found that I had to interview constituents in public, and it was to be many weeks before this state of affairs was put right.

When it was put right, I found myself in a room with three other Members of Parliament. By common consent, as our work load increased throughout the year, we agreed that we would also let our research assistants and any additional secretaries whom we thought that we ought to employ share that room. As a result, it is rare that we hear ourselves think, and we never hear ourselves speak. Never a day goes by without one of us being asked by the others in the room to talk more quietly on the telephone. The lines never seem to work properly anyway, and it is extremely difficult to hear.

One of my hon. Friends in that room, to make up the deficiency of secretarial provision, does some of her own typing. That clatter, combined with the noise of many conversations going on at once and much work in progress, makes it extremely difficult to do an efficient job. I daily find that I am not giving my constituents the sort of service that I would wish to give them, and although they are extremely tolerant, I am sure that they do not appreciate the almost impossible conditions in which we have to work.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, I believe that one of the most essential things that we have to get right is the provision of space and facilities for our support staff, not just for ourselves. We can move to find telephones for private conversations if we have to, we can move to corridors for a bit more space, but we cannot reasonably expect our secretaries to cart their typewriters and heavy equipment around with them. It is essential that they have a stable, good and healthy working environment.

My secretary has to cope with sitting at one small desk with about 8 in of space behind her before she encroaches on to the space of another secretary. On that small desk, by the time that she has fitted in her word processor, her ever-overflowing in-tray and her telephone, there is hardly room for a biro, let alone a pile of work. That is not a satisfactory situation, yet little can be done about it because we are asking so many of our secretaries to put up with such conditions.

I have always thought that, instead of being allocated a desk, we should be allocated X amount of space for our support staff. We should be able to say that we will fill that space as we see fit. Some hon. Members may choose to fill it with electronic equipment, others may choose to fill it with old-fashioned filing cabinets and one desk with one secretary. Other Members, who either make their meagre allowances stretch or who subsidise them from their own salaries—it should be put on the record that many of us have to do that—may wish to employ more than one member of staff and fill that space with two desks. At the moment, that flexibility is not permitted us. We are allowed one desk, it is laid down where we shall have it, often a long way from our offices, and that is where our secretaries are supposed to work.

I think that I heard that in the new building we are to be allowed 50 sq ft of space. The ideal by 1995 is that we should each have our own room and should be allowed, in addition, 50 sq ft for our clerical and secretarial staff. I have not done a square root since I did O-level maths, but I make that an area of approximately 7 ft by 7 ft. If that is the ideal standard towards which we are working, it will not be enough. One would be hard put to squash two desks into that space, or more than the two regulation filing cabinets. It should be added that we have to buy our own filing cabinets if we want more than the two regulation ones. That is not enough space, and if that is our ideal, we cannot be working towards a modern and efficient Parliament and a modern and efficient service for our constituents.

I am a full-time Member of Parliament. I do nothing outside the House, and I try to devote my working day to coping with an extremely large volume of correspondence from constituents in distress, and from constituents with strong views. Apart from the urgent cases, there is nearly always a delay in answering routine stuff, simply because there are not the facilities to do it as quickly and efficiently as I would have wished.

If we are seriously aiming at a secretarial work space of 7 ft by 7 ft, then we are aiming at future inefficiency, inadequacy and a complete mess as, more and more, we become full-time Members but do not have access to office space outside the House and, in general, have to make up facilities in the best way that we can. I would appreciate it if my hon. Friend the Minister would comment on that figure of 50 sq ft, which I think I heard correctly, and tell me what he thinks can be fitted into that miserable area that will help to service Members of Parliament adequately.

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said about the need for the facility of a small shop where we can buy necessities. I am sure that my cat would uphold that. I have often tried to buy a tin of cat food, but not being able to get out during the day, and leaving this place at 3 am when all the fish and chip shops are closed, I cannot even buy him a bit of fish. In general, it would be helpful if we had somewhere that we could purchase necessities.

I have another plea. Can we have a uniform database? Can Members of Parliament be told about systems that are consistent with that database, so that we could find for ourselves much of the information that we now ask the Library staff and our research assistants to provide? One of my major problems is that most of my research information comes to me at best second-hand and often third-hand, and I should like to be able to key in and do certain essential research myself. I could do that if we had a proper working system database.

Finally, may I put in a plea, not only for somewhere to buy a toothbrush, a pair of tights or cat food, but for some equality? There is an ever-growing number of ladies in this House and I hope that that number will continue to grow. Why, then, can we not have a unisex barber and hairdresser?

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

You are welcome to him.

Miss Widdecombe

Why can we not have such facilities? Why is it that, when a lady and a gentleman are asked to appear on television, the man always looks extremely smart and neat?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The men very rarely do.

Mr. Holt

Speak for yourself.

Miss Widdecombe

At least they have the opportunity to do so, whereas the lady, who has gone out in the rain to get to the television studios, arrives looking bedraggled and has no facilities where she can put that right.

I may make that point slightly frivolously, but I do not make frivolously the point about secretarial space: 7 ft by 7 ft is not enough. It is not ideal, and we should not accept it as the standard.

11.31 am
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), I am also one of the new Members of Parliament. I am not deeply shocked about the facilities here, but I wonder about the way in which we allocate those facilities.

Much of today's discussion is about the acute need for accommodation for Members of Parliament. When something is provided free at the point of consumption, as our office space is allocated, it does not surprise me that there is a considerable demand, not just from the point of view of Members, but from their staff. There was a time when Members' secretaries were generally accommodated outside this building, but when we start providing office space cheaply, or free, and telephones, it is inevitable that the demand for space within the building, or close to it, will build up. Anything that is free at the point of consumption generates an excessive demand.

I should like the Minister to tell us the average cost of providing accommodation for Members and their secretaries and whether we might consider being allowed to spend that sum of money on accommodation and facilities outside this building. A number of hon. Members would prefer to have office space in other parts of the town, but, because of the temptation of "free" space, we all want to congregate around here. We might not need as much accommodation as we think we need, if we appreciated the cost of that accommodation, if that cost were negotiable and if we could have that money to spend elsewhere on accommodation. That could take the pressure off the apparently insatiable demand for accommodation here.

Part of our problem is that we cannot make up our minds what we are in this place. On the one hand, we are treated like self-employed people, providing our own equipment, such as filing cabinets. On the other hand, we behave as if we were employees of Her Majesty's Government. We now receive our salary on that basis, although that was not so some years ago, when Members were treated as being self-employed from the point of view of salary. The Members at the time did a switch because it enhanced their pension prospects.

We are now neither one thing nor the other. We are not full employees, in which case we might have expected accommodation and facilities to be laid on, yet we are no longer self-employed. Although this matter is outside the scope of the debate, it would be a good idea to sort that out. We would not then be constantly whingeing about whether the Government should provide us with fax machines or bleepers, as if we were hospital doctors doing a ward round.

I am concerned that phase 2 has been given over to the Property Services Agency for its control and decision. That organisation has proved to be far from sensitive in matters of architecture. I think of the hideous structure in Marsham street, the Department of the Environment, and of the new Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, which is also far from delightful, with green fencing boards all around it. It adds nothing to the charm of Parliament square, yet that was also built under the control of the PSA.

Rather than limiting our scope to one set of architects, who are currently nominated by the PSA—the Casson Conder consortium—we should bring in outside architects to give us some ideas on how we might make the best use of the site. When we limit those decisions, we end up with scandals such as the one reported in last night's Evening Standard, under the heading "£50m web of bribery exposed," which said that PSA officers have been involved in allocating contracts to builders because of the limited scope of the way in which they tender for work. I put in a strong plea for the PSA not to have the main control over this development, both in the interests of a more imaginative scheme and in an attempt to reduce the opportunities for corruption.

When I was a Westminster city councillor, the council carried out some developments and was asked to put up certain sums of money for roofs. I have told this story before, but it is worth telling again. Our local officers, in co-operation with the accredited list of contractors, had accepted a price for those roofs of £140,000 each. This took place in my ward, so I took a great interest in it. In the end, the real cost of that work was about half that price, so we made a considerable saving of about a quarter of a million pounds. When such large sums of money are involved, we should get a wide range of estimates. The architects and quantity surveyors involved in the project should be brought in from outside the close, incestuous network normally used by the PSA.

Mr. Tony Banks

I am not sure whether Westminster council is a happy choice for examples of cost-cutting efficiency. After all, it sold its graveyards for 5p and is now trying to purchase them back compulsorily at a cost of £5.5 million. I do not think Westminster council can teach us about cost efficiency. Surely the hon. Lady must realise that the PSA scheme is cheaper than other schemes. Surely she wants a cheaper scheme rather than a more expensive scheme.

Mrs. Gorman

There appear to be two options for this scheme. The first is the Casson Conder scheme and the other is the PSA scheme, so we are limiting ourselves unnecessarily to those two options.

As for Westminster council, I take the hon. Gentleman's point to some extent—that, in considering such matters, bureaucracies often make awful mistakes. In the case of Westminster, the officers concerned have yet to resign. The councillor concerned has done the honourable thing and accepted responsibility.

Mr. Banks

What about the leader?

Mrs. Gorman

I support my colleagues who are calling for an outside agency to handle the catering and the facilities which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone mentioned, are so essential for people who are tied up here all day. A little general store should be laid on. I note that there will be shops in the front of the new building and it is reasonable for whoever leases those shops—it is likely to be the Government, through the PSA—to dictate what those shops shall offer by way of services.

About 4,500 people work in or are associated with this building. During the day, people want to tidy themselves up for an evening meeting or a bit of shopping. It is disgraceful that we do not allow the private sector to provide us with the necessary facilities. I am not sure about the plea for recreation and exercise facilities. There is an enormous shooting gallery underneath the House of Lords. I do not know how many hunting, shooting and fishing people use that facility. I question the propriety of us extending that and calling for our own squash and swimming facilities.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) commented on the facilities in the ICI building and the squash courts there which are available for our use. When I was a Westminster city councillor, I remember that entire building being on offer for £5 million. We could then have taken over that superb ICI Millbank building—with its sports facilities—and it could have been used as accommodation for people working in Parliament. I remember writing to my Member of Parliament, who is still the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), suggesting that he refer that building to the PSA, but I got nowhere. The PSA is a little empire which, naturally enough, enjoys its own powers and ability to control a budget of about £2.5 billion, which is an awful lot of money. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State for the Environment is calling for a great deal more of accountability and openness from that organisation.

In calling for more facilities for ourselves, we should consider the costs. I certainly would like to know what it costs per capita to provide our facilities. Do we need to provide them all in-house? Is there a case for Members having a budget and buying the accommodation that they wish—whether a small single office or a share in an office—and thereby creating a market for office facilities for Members? We would not then be restricted to using this area because what is on offer appears, at least at first sight, to be free.

There is, also, the question of the delay involved. There is the slippage, as it is euphemistically known, of the Cannon row site. If the private sector had been doing that work for us, I would hope that we would have had strong penalty clauses which would make the concept of slippage alien. Slippage would result in the company losing profitability, which is a wonderful spur to get the job done on time. I believe that if the private sector had been carrying out such a development, it would have completed it, in, perhaps, six months or a year at the very most. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when he considers who will get the work.

When I was a member of Westminster city council, there was an office block, accommodating 500 to 600 people, on the corner of Perkins rents—which is just beyond one of our Government buildings—that we delayed and delayed, mostly for silly political reasons. When we finally allowed it to go ahead, within six months it was occupied.

Delays are inevitably caused by a bureaucratic set-up like the PSA and the lack at present of open competition for the very design and facilities. We need to consider whether we need to keep adding facilities here, as opposed to giving Members the financial options of choosing where they work, which may not be in the confines of this building. I am one of those people who often feel completely claustrophobic when here in the evenings—I cannot wait to get out. A little office nearby that was not part of this building would certainly appeal to me. The shared office in Norman Shaw North, for which I do not pay rent, has a certain attraction. However, if I were able to use that financial allocation more flexibly, I may decide not to be actually attached to this building.

Again, I was a Westminster city councillor in the days of the T. Dan Smith scandals concerning the construction of large municipal developments in the north of England. The Redcliffe Maude report about that pointed out the dangers of the rather incestuous working relationship between local government departments and the councillors, with their ability to grant favours to friends and close associates. We should bear that in mind when we are considering how to allocate the development of the site opposite.

Nobody would deny that that site needs redevelopment. It is hideous; it has been a disgrace and a scar on this historic area for far too long. There are those dirty, scruffy little shops with all their bits stuck out on the pavement and the ghastly, filthy Bridge street building. I do not know why the broadcasting authorities are allowed to occupy so much of that building. Do they pay us rent? Is it properly costed? I do not know why we should worry about providing facilities for them. Why do they not find their own facilities in or around the building?

I believe that we spend too much time—in the way that councils do—in deciding nit-picking details which are not the proper duty of parliamentarians. It reminds me of my time on Westminster city council, when we spent hours and hours deciding what colour to paint the council house doors. In a way, this exercise is similar. A private company would bring in outside experts to give them advice, and tell them to get on with it. It could be given a brief of the facilities required—such as the shops and the means by which we cross the road—and they would get on with it. Anything designed by a committee—I am sure that that includes the Services Committee—is more likely to turn out like a camel than a horse.

11.45 am
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I apologise to the House for coming late into the debate, but I have been in my constituency. I should like to make a few observations on the report and, having listened to previous contributions, perhaps make some points of my own about the way in which hon. Members are treated in this place, especially Back-Bench Members. Of course, it is primarily Back-Bench Members who are taking the opportunity of having their views heard this morning. Frankly, I do not believe that this is the best way of finding out the views of Members generally. Friday debates often tend to be characterised by vast acres of empty green Benches and this place takes on the appearance of the legislative equivalent of the Marie Celeste. It would have perhaps been better if we had had a debate which involved more hon. Members. We should, perhaps, have extended the debate on Thursday when we were discussing procedures generally. Having said that, one should not complain that one has the opportunity to stand up and put a few points to the Minister, which will, perhaps, be taken into account.

I welcome the new facilities with which we shall be provided. Who would not? It would be a surly and fairly ridiculous Member of Parliament who was completely content with our present facilities. So many complaints are voiced by Members one to another and one clearly realises that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with our working conditions.

Unfortunately, perhaps, Members of Parliament are not the most popular group in our society. I do not quite know why that is, but it is a fact. There will be some people outside who, if they were to listen to the debate or if it were to be reported, would say, "They are just a bunch of whingers. There they are, going on again about themselves and their resources." I must join with Conservative Members and make it quite clear that this is not just a good occasion to whinge. We are whingeing—if indeed we are—because many of us consider that we are prevented from doing the sort of job that we want to do on behalf of our constituents. That is what it is all about. We do not ask for enhanced facilities in this place because we want to luxuriate in them but because we want to do a better job for our constituents.

I take the points that were made by Conservative Members. Some of the office facilities for hon. Members are so appalling that we would not tolerate them outside this place, and many of us would demand that something be done. As Members of Parliament, it is always easier to demand that something be done for other people than it is to say that something should be done for ourselves. Quite frankly, if we are not capable of delivering decent facilities for ourselves to do a better job, perhaps we are not in a good position to demand them on behalf of other people.

In welcoming the new facilities, I emphasise that the debate is not about our wanting better conditions for ourselves, to wine and dine and thoroughly enjoy ourselves, it is about us being able to do a better job for our constituents.

In a debate some years ago, I referred to the Palace of Westminster as a legislative slum, because, behind Barry and Pugin's neo-gothic splendour of the Palace of Westminster, some appalling conditions exist, and Members' staff and the workers in this place must endure them. For example, one has only to see the conditions downstairs in the basement for those who work in the various restaurants and snack bars to realise just how unacceptable such conditions are for any group of workers. Several improvements have been made, but, quite frankly, because of the antiquated nature of the building, it is almost impossible to raise the standards of the work place to the necessary levels that we would want. From the plans, I note that we shall ensure that those who provide the valuable support services that Members of Parliament need will be given adequate, bearable and good working conditions in the new building.

I referred to this place as a legislative slum. When we give guided tours, many of our visitors are quite surprised at the bare facilities in the Chamber. There is nothing on which to rest papers, and there is no way in which to have an allocated position. There are many touching little customs and traditions in this place. There cannot be one Member of Parliament, wherever he or she stands on the political spectrum, who has not pointed out, sometimes with pride and sometimes with total disbelief, the two red sword lines along the Floor of the Chamber. We point out these things, and we find such traditions amusing, supportive of the system, or whatever else, depending on our political views. But that is not what it is all about. It is about this place being a workplace for us to do a proper job. Quite frankly, we do not have the facilities in this place to do a proper and effective job.

My first place for working here was down in the cloisters. "Cloisters" is a rather fancy word for "corridor". Because we are not subject to Acts of Parliament such as the shops and factories legislation and the various fire regulations, which we insist that others should adhere to, we endure terrible facilities downstairs in the cloisters. If there ever were a fire in the cloisters, we would not face the odd by-election, we would face a mini-general election. If fire officers were rigorously to apply fire safety regulations, they would close the cloisters and, probably, other large sections of the Palace of Westminster.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) mentioned Westminster Hall and asked why we cannot make greater use of it. On many occasions when we have discussed facilities generally, I have asked the Lord President of the Council why we cannot use Westminster Hall more effectively and extensively. It is a wonderful space. Architecturally, it is a glorious space. It is the oldest part of the Palace, and it is an architectural wonder, but, at the same time, it is a terrible waste of space. Westminster Hall was where it all began. Westminster Hall used to be the nerve centre of the Palace of Westminster. It is a great shame that it is badly under-used at the moment. Because of problems elsewhere, some exhibitions are going on downstairs, tucked away in the corner. Amnesty International has an excellent exhibition there at the moment. I hope that all hon. Members will have a chance to visit it. That is only a temporary use of the Hall and we should consider its far more permanent use as an exhibition space. I have said that we ought to put on concerts there or allow dance groups to use it for rehearsals.

When I was chair of the arts committee of the GLC the greatest scandal in the arts in London generally was not just the inadequate funding level but the lack of space in which to exhibit works of art by our young artists and sculptors and space for dance groups and emerging musicians to use. Some Conservative Members—not necessarily Conservative Members who are here for this debate—have said that that is not a fitting and proper use for Westminster Hall.

The previous Leader of the House said that one of Westminster Hall's greatest attractions was that it was so large and empty. That is an elitist point of view and is not acceptable, given the great lack of space in the capital city for the arts functions for which I would like to see Westminster Hall used. Anyone who has read Pepys's diaries will know that Westminster Hall was a thriving centre of activity and that all sorts of things went on there in earlier centuries. We should try to restore some of the vibrant life that used to exist there and get it back there in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Another point that I would like to make while I have this somewhat unexpected opportunity to speak in the House is that I entirely support Conservative Members who talk about the inadequate resources that they are given for secretarial and research facilities. I am not whingeing but I find that hon. Members who tend to complain about inadequate resources are usually those who are doing the hardest work. That tends to unite the House. Many hardworking hon. Members in all parts of the House rightfully complain about the inadequate funds for research and secretarial assistance.

One does not want vast retinues of secretaries and researchers, but one wants an adequate level. It is anachronistic that, in terms of research and secretarial resources, all hon. Members are treated in exactly the same way whatever the work load. I come from a very deprived area of London, but I know that some Conservative Members have similar problems in their constituencies. We have enormous problems. In a place such as Newham I am almost loth to encourage people to come to me. So many people find their way there anyway that I do not have to encourage them, but I should like to be able to do far more to get people to come to me, write to me or visit me in my constituency office. I find it necessary to keep a full-time office in my constituency because that is where my problems are. I am loth to go out of my way to encourage people because I do not have the resources and facilities to deal with the additional problems that would surface.

I feel some resentment from time to time because I know that I am being given exactly the same resources as a Conservative Member in a leafy rural constituency whose only weekly problem is perhaps to decide what fete or sale of works of art to open at the weekend. I have to deal with problems that come in by the sackload. It is silly to think that all Members have an equal work load when we know that that is not the case. I do not quite know how one would go about it, but somehow the facilities and the resources that Members are given should in some way be linked to the work load that they have to bear. That seems perfectly reasonable. We would consider it totally reasonable outside the House. Why do we not accept in the House so many of the things that are considered reasonable and which we impose on or suggest for people outside? It is nonsensical that we should treat ourselves differently, especially when that operates to our disadvantage in terms of the resources we can provide for ourselves to enable us to carry out our job. The best way to make Members one of the better liked groups in our society rather than one of the least liked is to ensure that we are seen to be doing more of a job more efficiently on behalf of our constituents.

There is another issue that I wish to raise on the role of Members of this place, if only for the reason that I was unsuccessful in catching the eye of the occupant of the Chair during a recent procedure debate. The House is a place that penalises the hard worker in two ways, one of which I have referred to already. It penalises the hard worker in the Chamber in our proceedings. It is fairly easy to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on a Friday morning when everyone else has cleared off. That is all right for those of us who are prepared to attend on a Friday, but it is not merely a matter of making speeches. The idea is to make a contribution that has some influence and will have some effect on the deliberations of the House.

I find it frustrating when I want to speak in a debate—I hasten to say that I am not whingeing, because I am called fairly regularly—and I am told by your good self, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or by Mr. Speaker, that there is a long list of hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate and that I have already spoken on several occasions in other debates. I know that Mr. Speaker keeps a fairly close tally of the number of times that Members speak. Then I am told that Mr. So and So or Ms. So and So has not spoken so far in the Session—it may be that we are nearly at the end of it—and that preference must be given to him or her. It is a funny old workplace where the person who turns up regularly is told, "I am sorry but you will be penalised for attending regularly", whereas the person who turns up intermittently has the fatted calf killed for him. It would be a strange workplace where the regular worker who turned up to clock on was told that there was something wrong with him, while a colleague who had not turned up for weeks was given free bacon sandwiches by the gaffer. I find that a strange way of treating hon. Members.

Those who do not turn up regularly in this place should not be rewarded by being able easily to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. Surely they should be penalised. Someone should say to them—perhaps the Whips—"If you don't turn up here more often, don't expect to get in on debates very easily. You will have to give way to those who have spoken on more occasions than you because they are doing a more regular job, if not a better one. We reward regular attendance."

Mrs. Gorman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he is retelling the tale of the Prodigal Son? He is complaining that he is undervalued, although he is always doing his bit, when the black sheep who comes back occasionally is rewarded. There is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents—it is something like that—than over all those who slog away at the workplace all the time. That is life.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Lady has mixed up a number of biblical analogies. I have always felt sorry for the brother of the Prodigal Son. We have one or two prodigal sons and one or two prodigal daughters in this place, and I would not alter any of my remarks about the way in which they are treated. If they cannot be bothered to come here, or if they can find other things to do, they should not expect preferential treatment when they do attend. Unfortunately, they do enjoy preferential treatment.

In addition—I must throw this in—there is the nonsensical notion that Privy Councillors should be given precedence during a debate. That has not been the practice during this debate but it applied during the recent procedure debate to which I have referred. We see phoenixes rising from the ashes of their political careers to give us the benefit of their experience. They then disappear until they choose in a few weeks' time to participate in another big debate. I find that unacceptable.

Mr. Wilshire

I hope that. I do not seem phoenix-like in asking the hon. Gentleman to reflect, before his enthusiasm for giving priority to those who attend regularly runs away with him. The logical extension of his argument that those who are here more often should be called to speak more often is that those who say more should be rewarded more. I sincerely hope that he is not advocating that those who speak most should receive further preference.

Mr. Banks

Of course I did not mean that. If hon. Members were paid by the word, I suspect that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) would be a millionaire by now. There are many hon. Members who manage to say very little in a great deal of time. I do not want to fall foul of that myself. I welcome the new proposals and I hope that the arguments and discussions about who will carry them out and how fast that can be done will be cleared away quickly and that we can go into the new facilities and be better able to do our jobs as Members of Parliament—of whatever party—who are trying to represent our constituencies.

The Property Services Agency and the Minister have lost an excellent opportunity by not considering the use of county hall, on the other side of the river, to provide facilities for Members of Parliament. I know that the Government want to turn county hall into a hotel. A previous Secretary of State for the Environment said that he would like county hall to be taken down brick by brick because it represented something odious to the Government. We all remember the battles that were fought in the Chamber—which will continue to be fought—over the Government's abolition of the Greater London council. Since city-wide Government has not yet been restored to the capital—which the next Labour Government will do, or perhaps even a future Conservative Government, when the present Prime Minister has retired to Dulwich or wherever else she has managed to get a free house—county hall could be used for public offices. In the meantime, it stands empty, waiting for its future inappropriate use as a hotel—which will involve great difficulties. The Government could decide to use the facilities at county hall for Members of Parliament. If Members of Parliament were able to use the excellent facilities there, that would satisfy many of the points that I have raised about the lack of resources and facilities here. When the Minister makes his winding-up speech, I hope that he will tell us whether consideration has been, or will be, given to the use of county hall as offices for Members of Parliament or as public offices for others in this area of London. I know that he is involved in discussions on the future use of county hall.

12.8 pm

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I apologise for not having been here at the commencement of the debate. I did not think that I would be called to speak on this subject at all, but I wanted to throw in my pennyworth. I enjoyed hearing the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—as I always do. He and I are two of the most assiduous hon. Members and we could name the dozen or so hon. Members who attend regularly. I sympathise with many of his remarks. However, it is far worse to be a Government Back Bencher than an Opposition Back Bencher in that an Opposition Back Bencher has much more freedom to speak than we do. We are restricted to four speeches a year, except on a Friday. If one represents a north-eastern constituency, as I do, one is in the north-east most weekends so one is rarely here on a Friday. Our opportunity to speak is therefore restricted. That is not about what we are supposed to be debating today—which is accommodation.

I wonder how many hon. Members have considered the matter in relation to the changing role of Members of Parliament—which is important. Members of Parliament today are very different from those of 20, 50 or 100 years ago because most of them are full-time working Members of Parliament who do not have outside activities and who are constrained to working here.

Unlike most places outside, we debate our salaries, conditions and working environment. I wonder why we were pitched at the third tier of a civil servant's salary? Perhaps they wanted to ensure that we were not pitched at a higher level for office accommodation and back-up facilities. Civil servants would not work in these conditions. Sir Humphrey would find a way of buying the Dorchester and putting his staff in there.

I should tell my new hon. Friends that I entered the House of Commons at the age of 52—a geriatric by modern standards. Before then I worked as a personnel manager in industry. I spent 25 years interviewing people and trying to put them into the right jobs. They had to decide whether to accept the terms and conditions of employment. If some of the senior people whom I have engaged were expected to work in the conditions in which Members of Parliament must work, British industry would have lost many of them. They would not tolerate working in such conditions. For one thing, it is impossible to think properly when one has to share an office with three other people, the telephone is ringing constantly and there are many other interruptions.

Some people say that we can do our thinking in the Library, but it is pretty well occupied end to end. A casual visitor to the Library who simply wants to write a letter has great difficulty finding a desk that is not already occupied. It is hard to find somewhere in the building where one can sit down quietly and read an important report so that one can take it in.

When I first entered Parliament I had an office in Norman Shaw building. For a short time—it was only two days before I took action—I had to share an office with my hon. Friend the present Under-Secretary of State for Health. I assure hon. Members that that was no joy. I now enjoy shared facilities with a very compatible friend.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

In which Department is this new friend of the hon. Gentleman's?

We have an excellent Library with a first-class staff, but it must be the only Library in the United Kingdom that allows its patrons to smoke.

Mr. Holt

I smoke a cigar occasionally, so I shall not go down that path. The hon. Gentleman believes that our Library is good, but he should visit the library of the American Congress to see how it works. Its facilities are mind-boggling, To understand the difference is like trying to understand walking on the moon.

Mr. Wilshire

I, too, have visited the library of Congress. I wonder whether my hon. Friend had the opportunity to ask the United States service to provide information on a subject, in the way that we ask our Library to provide information? I was able to compare the information provided here, with our rudimentary facilities, with that provided through the magnificent facilities of Congress. It is a tribute to our staff that the information that I obtained here was almost as good as the information that I obtained there.

Mr. Holt

That is a compliment to the staff, not to the facilities. Our facilities are inadequate and I would argue that with anyone. Too many people are trying to use too small a facility. As our jobs grow and we perform more and more full-time work as Members of Parliament and require back-up facilities, we need research assistants to help us. I defy anyone to know everything about everything all the time.

Recently, I got into trouble because I did not know at the drop of a hat what a Macmillan nurse was. I am sorry, that information had not registered with me. There are all sorts of things that we would like to know about the nurses' dispute. We need research assistants to examine those matters for us. I have been here for only five and a half years. I must wait another 14½ years before my research assistant will be allowed to use the Library. I do not even have a desk for my secretary and I have been here five and a half years. My secretary must use my desk, which I can use only after 7 pm when she has gone home if I want to write personal correspondence to my constituents.

I am used to industry and commerce, but I could not work in an environment if my office was in one building and my secretary was elsewhere, for instance in Norman Shaw. It is very stupid to ask Members of Parliament to work in such conditions.

Although I have not read the report properly, it seems that we will continue to have pigeon holes. The system will be no better for our successors. I remember the arguments from the former right hon. Member for South Down, Mr. Enoch Powell. He did not want a secretary, an office or a desk. He believed that we should all be in the Chamber participating in debates, creating legislation and orating. That is how it used to be; it is not how it is now. We must rationalise and work in modern circumstances.

I have a small personal point to make with reference to a comment made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. I need to have a drink when I speak because I am a diabetic. I have special permission from Mr. Speaker to bring a drink into the Chamber and I can poke it under here and have a drink if I want one. However, I should not have a drink in the Chamber.

Mr. Tony Banks

I thought that I would give the hon. Gentleman a chance to have a sip of his water. I did not realise that one needed Mr. Speaker's permission to bring a drink into the Chamber. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is correct in that. I assure him that secreted away under here I have a small hip flask and I once brought a carton of orange juice into the Chamber. I tucked it away down here and looked down from my papers and had a quick suck—of the the orange juice of course.

Mr. Holt

I am grateful for that moment's break. I do not want to enter into a huge argument with the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that we are not allowed to eat or drink in the Chamber. I remember walking into the Chamber one day with a drink and I was stopped by the gentleman outside whose job it is to ensure that the rules are maintained. As a consequence I asked for permission, although I will not pursue whether I needed to do that. My point is that we do not have the facilities for a drink. The Front-Bench speakers may get dry mouths and can have a drink. The Back Benchers cannot. Water is provided, but that is not cooled and probably has stood for three days. Nevertheless, there is water for the Front Benches.

The office conditions for our staff are even worse than ours. The conditions would not be acceptable to the inspectorates in industry and commerce let alone to the would-be employee. However, our secretaries must work in the most appalling conditions. Before I became a Member of this House I had a secretary working for me in industry and commerce. She thought that it would be marvellous to come and work with me here after I was elected as a Member of Parliament. Alas, she is no longer with me. She could not tolerate the working conditions. She put up with them for four years in the hope that some day they would be better, but she did not see the day coming before her retirement and she is only a young lady. She chose to work for a major institution in the City, where the conditions she now enjoys are similar to those she had when she worked for me in industry and commerce. I am sure that these conditions stop many potentially high-flying people from working for us as secretaries. We need good secretaries. Any Member of Parliament without a secretary, except for Mr. Enoch Powell, who says that he can cope without a secretary to assist him with his diary and all our other tasks, is not doing the job properly.

With our allowance we can buy either a new typewriter, which our secretary requires because—with the number of letters that she has bashed out, she has worn out last year's model—or we can buy something electronic, such as a computer or fax machine—

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

And be taxed on it.

Mr. Holt

Yes, indeed—or have a research assistant. We can pay peanuts invariably to some aspiring young politician to work himself silly in the hope that one day he may have these inadequate facilities as a Member of Parliament. We should have better facilities for research assistants. I do not have one, but if I did I would have to ask him or her to share the shoe box upstairs with my colleague, my secretary and myself. There is nowhere for research assistants to go all day, every day to work, unless they work for a Member who has been here for a long time, and are consequently given a special pass.

While we are involved in a bit of a bitching session, perhaps I may put in a word about the lifts. I hesitate to mention this, but they are so jinxed and so often out of order. Two days ago I was in a lift with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and his guide dog and we pressed for the first and second floors. It did not stop at the first floor—it has a mind of its own and is never adequately repaired—but went straight to the second floor where I was getting out. The hon. Gentleman was in a difficult position because we did not want to risk him being caught in the lift, so I moved him into the next door lift which has double sliding doors which are not easy for a sighted Member, let alone a non-sighted Member. Why do we have such inadequate lifts after all these years? Has somebody only recently invented the lift or is it considered that it is all right for us to walk up and down three flights of stairs every time we come in and out of the building? We must have this looked into seriously.

Throughout the long summer recess the lift was out of action for maintenance. Perhaps the Property Services Agency was working on it. I do not know. But as a member of the Select Committee on the Environment I have examined the workings of the PSA, particularly in relation to the new gaol building programme, and I know that nothing coming from the PSA will surprise me. It is amazing that estimates for building prisons can be 85 per cent. below the final cost. That led to repairs and rectification work. The original distance between the upright bars on stairs was found not to be correct; if people had walked up and down the stairs they could have slipped through them. Additional bars have had to be inserted, at enormous cost to the ratepayer. It has put back the programme and has led to prison overcrowding and all the other problems that we could do without. The thought of the PSA's inadequate prison building programme makes me shudder when I think that it may be given the responsibility to provide our facilities. Two things could happen. First, the facilities that the PSA provides will not be right. Secondly, they will cost twice as much.

I do not want Parliament to become a place where Members can do their weekend shopping. I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) and her cats, but this is a legislative building. If one visits legislative buildings in other parts of the world, one finds that they have marvellous facilities for all sorts of things, but I have not yet observed that they sell cat meat. That would be a retrograde step.

Miss Widdecombe

My point about cats was partially, but not wholly, frivolous. Those of us who are both full-time Members of Parliament and single and who work in this place from 9 o'clock in the morning right through until 3 o'clock the next morning occasionally need to buy a few unusual goods, largely because we have been too busy to do our normal shopping. Is it unreasonable to ask that personal necessities should be sold in one small area when posh Parker pens and souvenirs are already being sold in another area?

Mr. Holt

I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. We are responsible for so organising our lives that we have time to do our shopping. For instance, I had to go to hospital this week—

Mrs. Gorman

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Holt

No, I do not intend to give way. I am still answering the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. I had to spend three or four hours at that hospital. I could not say, "Look, I am such a busy, important person that I have to be in the House of Commons from 9 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock the next morning. Therefore you will have to open the hospital on a Sunday so that I can have my X-ray then." It does not work like that. We have to achieve a balance. We do not do the same thing all day, every day. If we intend to make a speech on a particular subject, we probably spend two or three days on research; we think about and work in advance on what we intend to say. We know that we shall be unable to go shopping. But that does not happen all the time, and we make arrangements to go shopping within normal constraints.

I do not believe that this building is the right place to go shopping. Where would it end? There would be a greengrocer's shop here, and every other kind of shop. That would be completely wrong.

I do not accept that hon. Members have no leisure time. I am a full-time Member of Parliament, but I have plenty of leisure time. I am going to the theatre tonight. If I so wanted, I could do my shopping tonight. That does not make me a bad Member of Parliament. It makes me a balanced Member of Parliament. An unbalanced Member of Parliament is one who spends his or her time from 9 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock the next morning working and working and never having a change.

Mrs. Gorman

Is not my hon. Friend a married man? My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) made a valid point about women Members of Parliament. We are responsible for remembering that the toothpaste has run out. I am sure that many of our male colleagues have wives to do the shopping for them. The whole point about shops, though, is that it is expected that shops will be provided at the bottom of the new building. The question is what those shops should provide. My proposal was that when leases are allocated a variety of facilities should be borne in mind. They should include a general store, a chemist's shop and other facilities that women Members of Parliament in particular would like and would find most useful.

Mr. Holt

I take my hon. Friend's point, but I hope that she takes it to heart, as queen of the market forces, that if market forces dictate that every one of the shops sells cheap junky souvenirs, that is what will happen. She cannot have her cake and eat it. She cannot suggest a planned economy, saying what should be in the shops, and then say that she believes in market forces for office rents. I do not accept that duplicity.

We are here today to express our personal views about our accommodation. I do not believe that we want to get involved with shops. I believe that we want better facilities for ourselves and for our secretaries, research assistants and other staff. We cannot concern ourselves about whether a person is married, single, male or female. In this non-sexist age, we must concern ourselves with Members of Parliament.

Mr. Tony Banks

I must say that I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's put-down of his hon. Friend, although I have some sympathy with the point that she raised. However, as was said earlier, shops are not meant to cater only for the needs of Members of Parliament but for the thousands of people who will work in the new facilities. Quite frankly, if we are talking about market forces, Mr. Enoch Powell always detested the souvenir stand downstairs, but it actually makes quite a lot of money. Therefore, it would be possible to square the circle and solve the problems that exist on the Conservative Benches. If there were adequate facilities within this building or the new building for people to buy groceries and other things, those facilities would also make money and Conservative Members would be satisfied and would not be falling out with each other.

Mr. Holt

I hope that we are not falling out with each other.

I do not have a public school background, therefore I did not have the pseudo-advantages of learning of some of the things that go with a public school background, but I know that this establishment is run as an extension of a public school. We have our juniors, our seniors, the prefects and the remove. We have some quaint and ancient traditions and I would not wish too many of them to be done away with. But I wonder why, in this modern day and age, we have the anachronism referred to by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West of catching Mr. Speaker's eye and why we have to stand up and sit down like recalcitrant school children in order to do so. Why do we not have the facility of putting our hands up?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. We debated procedure on Wednesday evening. We are now talking not about parliamentary procedure but about the new building.

Mr. Tony Banks

Fortunately, I got away with it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That just goes to show that I ought to have been in the Chair earlier.

Mr. Holt

It just shows my luck as usual. Perhaps while we are talking not about what happens here but only about what happens in the new facilities, I can ask whether we are to contemplate installing the facility of listening to the debate taking place in the Chamber? Are we to have closed-circuit television to enable us to do so? Why do we not consider the electronic advantages that would flow from the new building into this building so that we would not have to stand up and sit down like recalcitrant school children, but prearrange with Mr. Speaker that we would be speaking between 7 pm and 9 pm, instead of having to do what we do now and sit here from 3.30 pm until perhaps 8 pm or 9 pm waiting for a six or seven minute slice of time? That is totally wrong. It is part and parcel of the frustration. If we had decent offices with decent facilities and modern communication, we would all be much happier.

We know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not heard the debate up to now, and that is not your fault, but almost everyone who has spoken has spoken in a bitching manner. No one has been enthusiastic about the situation as it is or as it will be.

I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister winds up the debate he will not talk of next week or next year. I hope that he will realise that Westmister Hall has been around a long time and that, whatever decision we ultimately take, it will be around for a long time.

12.35 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

On behalf of the Opposition I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and the Committee on their work. I am glad that the Leader of the House has been able to rejoin us because I may want to call on him. I am waiting for further information. We welcomed his initial contribution to the debate. I also echo the tribute paid to the late John Silkin for the work he did while Chairman. There are few people who could be more suitably described as "House of Commons men" than John.

This morning we have inevitably had to talk about our own experiences and some of the discussion may, from the outside, seem somewhat trivial. However, we are talking of working conditions not just for ourselves but many others. About 4,000 people other than Members of Parliament work here. Therefore, when we describe the conditions that affect us, we are describing the better end of the conditions because those who work for us, often including the civil servants working within the building, have even fewer adequate facilities. However, that should not blur the fact that we are dealing with a historic and highly prestigious site and what we put on that site will be part of our heritage.

We are here to consider and approve—I am sure that we shall do so—something much more modest than that because we are asked only to endorse some calls for action and no one is suggesting that we should not. The suggestions are that we should carry out preliminary design work, undertake a study and carry out a feasibility report. No one finds that exceptionable and we would probably all endorse the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore who was astonished to discover that, although he understood that the work was to go ahead on an anticipatory basis five months ago, up to now, very little, if anything, has happened.

As has been suggested, the conditions here are appallingly inadequate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore mentioned each member of staff having 60 sq ft. Conditions will get worse as Members need to employ more staff and more equipment is used.

It is interesting that conditions are so bad that our work force is exempt from the protection of employment conditions that we have enacted for everyone else. Therefore, they work for us at a legal as well as physical disadvantage. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) gave us the benefit of his experience in industry. He said that he has been here five and a half years and does not even have a desk for his secretary.

After I had been here for six years I did not have a desk for myself. I came in 1964 and in 1967 I became a Minister. That was the first time I had any territorial claim on the Palace of Westminster. However, the accommodation was not for me but went with the office. When the great British electorate made an ill-considered decision in 1970 I found my total claim on the House of Commons had been contracted to a pile of cardboard boxes tied up with string with "A. Williams" written on the side and "To be collected" in small print underneath. The trouble was that there was nowhere to take those boxes. I had to do what one or two other hon. Members had done. I explored the building and I found a corridor above the Aye Lobby, so in 1970, I bundled up those papers and walked up to the corridor. There were some tables there and I just put my papers on them.

I began to get courteous notes from the then Serjeant at Arms, or one of his deputies, asking if I would be kind enough to move the papers so that someone could dust around them, and I equally politely said that the moment that I was provided with somewhere to put the papers, I would gladly move them. Two years later, the war of attrition paid off, so by 1972, although I did not get an official desk, I was allowed to continue squatting and the Serjeant at Arms' office said that it would even give me a filing cabinet. Eventually, those two corridors had to be pressed into use. It was not until 1974, 10 years after I entered the House, when I again became a Minister, that I had a desk that belonged to me in the House of Commons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore paid tribute to Mary Frampton. Some of us signed an early-day motion because we did not want her to feel that her departure was unrecorded by the House. I understand that she, whom I have to thank for that first filing cabinet—the endorsement, the rubber-stamping of my squatting in the Palace of Westminster—is to grow shrubs. I would love to be a fly on the wall as she is talking to those shrubs. I suspect that she will have the tidiest shrubbery in the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore is too solicitous for the well-being of the Leader of the House. Much as we all love and respect the right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend should not be deceived by the little slum along the corridor. That is for presentation purposes only. He does not want us to think that our landlord is living in better conditions than we are. I would gladly swap with him if, in addition to the meagre office that he has here—it is twice or three times the size of those that we have—I also had the rather decorative little cubbyholes on Whitehall to which he is able to retreat. Sympathy by all means, but let us make sure that it goes where it belongs, which is here with most hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) put forward a proposition, which I do not think she meant frivolously, that it might make more sense to give people money to rent their own accommodation, rather than providing it here. I understand the doctrinal element behind this suggestion, but there is a practical point. The real difficulty in this place, and one of the constraints that faces everyone in planning for accommodation, is that whoever has accommodation has to have accommodation that is available at all hours of day and night and that is within a sufficiently short distance for hon. Members to be able to get from there to the House within the time allowed for a Division. The longer we extend that time, the longer we extend the sittings of the House of Commons.

A private market solution might make sense if we were working normal office hours and could persuade the Chief Whips on both sides to be courteous enough to ensure that there were no Divisions during those times. However, as their only delight and pleasure in life seems to be a sadistic joy in calling Divisions at the most inconvenient time for Members, I can only conclude that the hon. Member would be playing into their hands if she were successful in the campaign that she has mounted this morning.

Mrs. Gorman

Would it not be nice to be treated as a grown-up and given the option of either taking facilities here or being allowed to choose facilities? At the moment, rooms are allocated in a primitive way—that is, on a pecking order basis of a lovely room if one is a Minister, and nothing much if one is not.

Mr. Williams

When there is so little accommodation, there has to be some sort of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore can tell us how difficult it is to determine who should have what. We have all been, as we see it, the victims of inadequate resources here. That is another possibility and I suggest that the hon. Lady takes it up with the Lord President of the Council.

I used to have an office in Norman Shaw, but I left it because I found that it was hopeless for me. By the time I got over here for a meeting, with another meeting in an hour's time, I would have to decide whether I went back to my room or stayed here. We find ourselves picking up a newspaper, or, if we are unusually diligent, wandering into the Library. We may sustain ourselves with a cup of coffee, but we waste a great deal of time. If that option is adopted, surely hon. Members will say that, in addition to having accommodation outside the House, they still need somewhere where they can rest their briefcases within Division bell distance. We would end up with hon. Members wanting the best of both worlds. They would want the money for outside accommodation and, at the same time, a base available to them in the Commons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has designs on Westminster Hall.

Mr. Tony Banks

It would make a very nice office.

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend put forward some colourful and interesting propositions for its use. However, once again, the great problem that we have all had to face over the years is the overriding problem of security. We could reconcile some of his wishes with some of those of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Hon. Members who have had to show parties around the building have been apologetic and ashamed because they have had to keep groups of pensioners or young children waiting in pouring rain to go through the security screen when there is all that empty space where we could have a bank of security screens and people could wait under shelter.

I put it to the Lord President that the way in which we treat our constituents who come here to see Parliament is a public scandal. We treat them as if they were privileged to come and look when, in fact, we are privileged to be here. They are entitled to come and look and we should make the facilities available for them to do so. We want people to show an interest in Parliament. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider that matter seriously and discuss it with those of his colleagues responsible for such decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West floated the idea of a constituency means test, which he admitted would be rather difficult to adjudicate. I regard that as an even more impossible task than allocating rooms in the House in any sane way and I suspect that we shall be unable to make progress on that proposition.

Mr. Tony Banks

It would not be a question of giving Members of Parliament tranches of money because that would be too difficult. Members would have staff allocated to them through the Fees Office and would take those members of staff only if they felt it was necessary to do so. That would be a way of dealing with the problem. A Member could say to the Fees Office, "I think I can justify four members of staff working for me." No doubt there would be some empire-building by some hon. Members, but those Members who do not want large numbers of staff would not abuse the system.

Mr. Williams

Obviously, local government has a far greater ratio of saints than does central Government. I am touched that the faith built up by my hon. Friend during his period working on the GLC leads him to think that our colleagues would behave in so judicious and forthright a manner.

My hon. Friend also said that some Members are not as effective as others because they do not make as many speeches. I regret the fact that some hon. Members make even the few speeches that they do make, but I do not think that my hon. Friend would agree that the sole measure by which we should judge the contributions of hon. Members to the House of Commons is the number of speeches that they make here. My hon. Friend makes many speeches, but we are not all able to sustain the quality of contribution that he is. We would therefore be setting a false criterion by which our constituents would judge us if we were to take up his suggestion. His ideas about the use of county hall are well worth while and are worth investigating further. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West, I am disappointed that every time we discuss, consider or have a report on progress, there appears to be further slippage to report. I suspect—though I hope not—that today we shall hear about a further retreat of our timetable. We have a unique opportunity to contribute to the smooth running of future Parliaments. We owe it to them to give consideration to all aspects.

The catering facilities have also been mentioned, and all of us are daily aware of the difficulties experienced by the catering staff in meeting the enormous demands of the House of Commons. I hope that when new facilities are envisaged across the way that they will be available to everyone who works here. We need adequate resources for hon. Members, but I hope that the resources in the new building will also be available to those who work in the House, as certain parts of our cafeteria and self catering area are at present.

I noticed in the report—or it may have been evidence given to the Committee on behalf of the Catering and Refreshment Department—mention of the possibility of private dining facilities. I hope that we will regard that as low priority until we have ensured that the real and legitimate needs of all those who work in the House are served. We should not just consider our needs, as we are a small fraction. The catering requirements within this building are enormous and until those are fully met we should not be giving much priority to the provision for outside or private dining groups, even if they are lucrative.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow referred to exercise facilities. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) was a little disdainful about that in her comments. Having been here only a short time, she is lucky that she has not suffered the ravages which the sedentary existence in this place imposes upon most of us. My hon. Friend made a realistic point. I am not suggesting that there should be lavish facilities. I believe that they should be health-based facilities. As the Leader of the House will confirm, most of us are in this building between 9 am and 10 am and are still trapped here most evenings until some time after 10 pm. Even where there is the will, it is virtually impossible to find the opportunity to keep oneself in sensible physical trim. It is not an exotic demand by Members of Parliament, but a sensible one. I am sure that I shall make a great many enemies, in saying that those facilities should be considered, even if it means that those who like shooting have to give way to those who like surviving.

Several hon. Members have gone out of their way to pay tribute to the House of Commons Library. We must differentiate between the activities of our Library and the normal library service. We have a wonderful back-up service. In fact, the Library is the source of rapid information for a large number of hon. Members on a large number of subjects. By the nature of our business, it is often only in the morning, or even during the lunch hour, that one discovers that there will be a statement that very afternoon, and then information is needed in a great hurry. We put enormous demands on the Library. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow mentioned that some consideration should be given to the need to sustain the instant contact and instant availability that we value so much.

The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) referred to the lifts in the House. I share the lift service that he mentioned. I have a low-cost option to offer the Minister. Perhaps the Lord President of the Council would like the term "express" to be checked under the trades descriptions legislation, and conformity required. As that is unlikely, perhaps we could have a coffee-vending machine in the lift, so that we can at least have a cup while we are on our way between the principal floor and our rooms.

Mr. Holt

The right hon. Gentleman need not worry about cost. If he were to sell the lift to the British Museum, he would make more money than the cost of replacement.

Mr. Alan Williams

A serious point that must be contemplated is that we are dependent on recruiting many young people to do secretarial and research work here. As Ministers and industry constantly warn us, there will be a shortage of young people in the 1990s. It will become more necessary for young women to be encouraged to go back to work perhaps earlier than they tend to return at the moment.

Some hon. Members have not been terribly sympathetic to the requirement for creche facilities within the Palace of Westminster. I suspect that, whether we want to or not, in the 1990s we shall compete with high-paying employers for a more limited range of people with much-desired specialities. Circumstances will force us to make greater facilities available.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow asked for an assurance that resources will be available for the completion of the work. It is to be done stage by stage. I can understand that. I can appreciate the difficulty in which Ministers find themselves. They do not want to buy a pig in a poke; they want to know exactly what they are paying for. However, there is also the reverse side of the coin. It is difficult to stage the provision of resources. When planning stage 1, one cannot be sure that stages 2 or 3 will definitely be financed in the envisaged form. Clearly, any doubt about subsequent stages may alter the priorities that the planners and the Committee would require.

There have been numerous comments about the ever-expanding need for space within the Palace of Westminster. I have bad news for the Minister. In yesterday's newspaper, I saw an item labelled: MPs pay £300 to look good on TV". It went on to state that 40 image-conscious MPs were to get advice on hairstyle, clothes and colour co-ordination as part of a training course.

The Committee has not taken that point into account. There now appears to be a need for make-up rooms, changing rooms, and so on. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is of a different persuasion on the need for such training. He said: If any MPs pay out for that, they need their heads seeing to. We see how rapidly the need for facilities expands. Not only do we want facilities for make-up but we shall need consulting facilities as well.

We are not planning just for ourselves. I have said that before, and I emphasise it. There is a tendency for us to think purely in terms of our personal needs as Members of Parliament. We are planning for the needs of all those who work here, including those who do not work directly for us. We say that we want accommodation for secretaries and researchers, but we should remember that thousands of people who are not directly employed by Members of either House will be affected by our decisions.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) spotted the reference to space for broadcasters and asked if the Leader of the House could say how the broadcasting centre links to the work of the Comittee that the Leader of the House chairs and on which my right hon. Friend sits. It is the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House. My right hon. Friend would like to know whether there is overlap and due consultation between the two groups. Now that the Leader of the House is aware of the matter, I am sure that he will correspond with my right hon. Friend.

Despite the inevitability that, to some extent, we have become lost in detail and in the narration of our own horrific experiences about trying to accommodate our work needs to the absolutely inadequate resources available here, we must still bear in mind the long-term feature of what we are discussing. Even if the proposal goes ahead there will still be a shortage of space for current demand, let alone projected demand. That which we build in the next decade will be for use in the next century and beyond. We will make the decisions but we must remember that many current hon. Members may not enjoy the facilities when they are completed. We will bequeath what we decide to our successors. Our aim should be to see that they inherit buildings in which they can not only work effectively but of which they can be proud.

1.2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope)

I begin by thanking everybody who has participated in the debate and congratulating the Services Committee on its report. About 10 hon. Members have spoken in the debate and all the speeches were excellent. Although this is only an Adjournment debate, it is clear that the House has reached a consensus on the recommendations in paragraph 29. That means that the way will be clear for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to put down the motion that he suggested when he outlined his intentions at the start of the debate.

This is the first debate on the accommodation needs of the House since November 1983. That is not a sign that the House or the Government are complacent, because an enormous amount of work has been put in during the intervening period by those on the Services Committee, the officials who support it and the members of the Property Services Agency. Despite what some hon. Members have said, I can report to the House that there is a good working relationship between the Services Committee under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and the Property Services Agency. I look forward to that continuing. That does not mean that the PSA should be above criticism or that it should fail to respond to criticism. I am aware that some criticism was levelled at it in the debate.

The efforts put in have produced reports but now we can see much progress on the ground with work continuing on phase 1 and on the Cannon row refurbishment. Before I deal with some of the detailed points raised in the debate, I should like to thank hon. Members who paid tribute to the work of the late John Silkin. I assumed my present responsibilities when John Silkin was still Chairman of the Services Committee. I shall always be grateful to him for the time, advice and hospitality that he gave me. That was in his nature. Notwithstanding the fact that I represented the Conservative party, not the Labour party, he went out of his way to bring me up to date and to make me feel comfortable when attending my first meeting of the Services Committee.

I wish to record the unique contribution that was made to the Palace of Westminster and the conservation of this magnificent building by Sir Robert Cooke. Sadly, since our last debate on these matters he has died. His contribution will be remembered for generations. There are many examples around us of things that have changed as a result of his attention to them. The outstanding publication entitled "The Palace of Westminster" is, in a sense, a lasting memorial to him. I understand that it is still available on book stalls. I recommend those who have not yet obtained a copy of it to accept the advice that it is well worth putting on a list of Christmas presents that would be welcomed in the coming season.

I join all those who have thanked Mary Frampton for her 40 years' of service to the House. It is right to thank all the servants of the House for the services that they give day in and day out. It will be well known to secretaries as well as to hon. Members, because of her responsibilities for trying to fit a quart into a pint pot, that Mary Frampton had tremendous responsibilities with a high profile. I think that she took on the responsibility of allocating filing cabinets as well as desks. It is interesting to note that as recently as 1960 it was the Leader of the House who seemed to be in charge of filing cabinets. In a debate during that year he made a major announcement that there were to be 25 extra filing cabinets. That is an example of the way in which the expectations of Members have changed. There were changes in expectations between the previous century and this century, of course, but the same applies to recent decades. It will never be easy to keep up with Members' expectations.

A key example arose during the debate when my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) said that 50 sq ft for a secretary was inadequate. Yet it was only a few years ago that very few secretaries had desks. We now have 400 secretaries with desks although only 55 of the desks are in the Palace. In March 1960, there were only 124 secretaries with desks. Moreover, there was no waiting list. It is clear that demand has risen significantly in fewer than 30 years.

The same is true of desks for Members. There was a plebiscite at about the same time—that is 1960—and it was found that only 295 Members wanted desks. There is a desk now for every Member, and we are setting ourselves a new target of every Member having a desk in a room of his own. That shows that progress is being made. It is worth considering the historical context.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Minister give a categorical assurance to the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has a desk? That needs to be said.

Mr. Chope

It has been said already that it is not compulsory for Members to sit at the desks allocated to them. I understand that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) does not choose to sit at the desk which has been allocated to him. There is a desk available to him if he wishes to use it. It may not be as large as he would like, but it is there if he wishes to use it. I am sure that there is a telephone for him, if he wants it. During the debate in 1960, some hon. Members said that it was not necessary and not desirable that each desk should be accompanied by a telephone. There are moves afoot now to install expensive IT equipment around the House to bring communication facilities up to date. Those are examples of the way in which there has been evolution over relatively recent years.

In answering some of the points that were raised earlier, I shall begin by referring to what is happening at Cannon row. The House is aware of the refurbishment that is being carried out there and I assure the House that the target date for completion in summer 1989 is still on schedule. That is later than we had hoped and I explained some of the reasons for that when I gave evidence to the Select Committee.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House used the expression

broadly on schedule for completion when speaking about phase 1 of the new building. I cannot add to that, except to say that I visited the site, put on a hard hat and spoke to the contractors about the paramount importance of the contract being completed on time. There have been problems there, but I hope that they will be overcome and that the work will be completed on schedule. We have not relaxed our objective that the building should be completed on time. It is partly because of the extra resources that have gone into that exercise that we have not made such fast progress on the preliminary work for the phase 2 project, following the recommendations of the Services Committee report. It is not correct to say that we have made no progress. A draft brief has been finalised, which will go out to fee bidding by firms of architects. Five firms of architects are on the short list at present and I hope to be able to appoint the architects before next Easter. We shall put our major effort into ensuring that phase 1 is delivered on time, as the House wishes.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) raised the question of funds. Funds are made available year by year and it would be unreasonable to expect that all the funds could be allocated for phase 2 when we have not yet received a report from the architects and we do not have precise estimates of the costs.

The best evidence of the Government's commitment to spending money on facilities in the Palace of Westminster and the outside buildings is what we have already done. In 1983, annual expenditure was about £10 million, but it has now increased to about £20 million. I am pleased that we have been able to include in the forthcoming programme a start on restoring the Victoria tower, which has stood out as being a part of the Palace that has not been restored. We have the resources to do that, preliminary studies are under way and work will be started as soon as the existing work on the Central Lobby tower is completed.

The Property Services Agency and officials have to respond to changing circumstances in this magnificent and ancient building. Only a relatively short time ago, no one could have anticipated the amount of work that we must carry out on the Central Lobby tower immediately and on the Upper Waiting Hall during the next summer recess, because of the weakness of the floor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack)—who apologises for having to return to his constituency and missing the end of the debate—suggested that it was lack of offices that took many hon. Members away from the Chamber. I am not sure that I agree. Although I do not argue against offices, if there were no offices at all there would probably be more people in the Chamber. But that is about the only point on which I disagree with my hon. Friend. I agree about the need to complete phase 1 on time. The Government do not intend to be penny-pinching, but we wish to obtain good value for money. As for the interiors of phases I and 2, my lion. Friend is in the best position to investigate the idea of a patronage scheme for works of art as part of the refurbishment.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked 10 specific questions. The last one does not deserve an answer from me, but I shall do my best to answer the others. In the short term, we shall have no more facilities available for working peers, but we are spending money on improved refreshment facilities. When we can vacate Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace yard, provision will be made there for offices for working peers.

The hon. Gentleman hoped that the Library would not go across the road. I do not know precisely what he meant by that. The House has already decided that the Library will be the major occupant of phase 1, giving up space in this building and in Norman Shaw.

Mr. Dalyell

I was referring to the fact that Dr. John Poole and his science section and a number of others have had to move away from the centre, where they were often required to answer urgent queries. It is sad that that happened.

Mr. Chope

I cannot comment on that. The major move of the Library will not take place until phase 1 is completed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the nature of the competition. It will not be an architectural competition on the basis of the Royal Institute of British Architects' understanding of such a competition. It will be a fee-bidding procedure, after firms of architects have prequalified on the basis of being suitable and having the experience necessary to design for such a sensitive site.

Mr. Dalyell

It is all very well to say that it will be a fee-bidding process, but how can we be certain that we get the distinguished design that hon. Members on both sides of the House have made it clear that they want?

Mr. Chope

It is for the House to decide, once the architect has been appointed and has responded to the requirements of the Sub-Committee, whether it likes the resulting design. To proceed in any other way on the Palace chambers site would involve much more delay. One difficulty with RIBA design competitions is that the firms which win do not always have enough experience or resources to play a full part in the work. We need an experienced firm of architects.

Mr. Tony Banks

Why not ask Prince Charles to be the judge?

Mr. Chope

That will not arise. There will be no judgment of the designs.

Dr. Godman

Will the House have the power to reject an undistinguished proposal by the successful architect?

Mr. Chope

Certainly that is a matter for the House to decide. I am sure that the architect chosen will do his best to ensure that he produces a design that has the support of the House because if it does not have the House's support he will not get the commission to carry on the work.

Looking further ahead, the hon. Member for Linlithgow asked about decanting. That is a long way ahead. It will obviously be a difficult matter to resolve, but we shall try to do our best. The Government's thinking on patronage of British artists is outside my area. However, the works of art committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) could pay some attention to the scope for patronage of British artists in the purchase of any works of art for the building.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow also asked what extra costs would be incurred if there was a delay in decking over the underground from the first part of phase 2 to a subsequent stage of phase 2. The answer to that question is contained in the evidence to the New Building Sub-Committee on page 4, question 5 in which the PSA superintending architect said that there were

None that we can identify at this stage. That is not to say that there will not be any.

Mr. Dalyell

Does that apply in the context of archaeology? That is the problem.

Mr. Chope

Archaeologists came on to the site before phase 1 started and were paid by the PSA. I do not think that there will be much scope for archaelogical investigation on the phase 2 site because almost all the buildings will remain except for the Palace chambers rebuilding. Also, much of the site has already been excavated as it is crossed by an Underground railway line.

Points were also raised about the facilities for broadcasters. Obviously the facilities in Bridge street are unsatisfactory at the moment, but the House must recommend any changes. The Services Committee previously recommended 20,000 sq. ft. It would be sensible for that recommendation to await the results of the Select Committee report into televising Parliament.

The House already has a self-financing gymnasium under the auspices of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker). If anyone requests exercise facilities in the new building, the House can resolve that request. Ultimately it would be for the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee to consider that.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow's concern about the Crypt chapel font is well known. We have had discussions with English Heritage and an agreement has been reached to dig up part of Old Palace yard to see how or where the water is seeping in. I hope that we will be able to get to the bottom of that problem. The speculation is that the leak has been caused by war damage.

I agree wholehearted with the hon. Member for Linlithgow that it is important to get the fabric of the building absolutely right at the design stage. With regard to facilities for visitors, I have seen the early-day motion recommending an awning for the Line of Route. I understand that the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee is discussing that matter with the House of Lords so I cannot take that further today. I hope that I have answered most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

Mr. Dalyell

I thank the Minister very much.

Mr. Chope

I cannot go into such detail on all the other points raised during the debate having regard to the time. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that architects will be appointed to do a feasibility study into the conversion of Speaker's court so that that accommodation does not lie vacant for more than a minimum period after the completion of phase 1.

I understand that the parliamentary bookshop is to be run as an in-house enterprise. Exactly what will be provided is still to be decided and, again, that is a matter for the House to resolve in detail. There are certainly to be shops along the Bridge street end of the Victoria embankment, as at present, and phase 1 includes a shop in the Refreshment Department area. I do not think that any decision has been taken on what it will stock, but there should be scope for stocks to meet day to day needs.

Mrs. Gorman

Is my hon. Friend aware that the British Airports Authority is installing shops in hospitals? It might like to instal a shop for us on a contract basis.

Mr. Chope

That is an interesting suggestion. It is for a Committee of the House to consider whether we wish to move from the principle that has been decided on until now—that the shop will be run as an in-house enterprise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) made in her inimitable way a thoughtful and challenging speech. I agree that anything free at the point of consumption increases demand and that the temptation of free space could lead to a waste of accommodation. It is one thing to put forward that proposition, but rather more difficult to find a solution which would ensure that there was not increased demand. I can see that even under present arrangements there is a difficulty because if a Member employs a secretary within the precincts of the Palace, the telephone facility is free and the Member does not even have to charge it against allowances, whereas if a Member employs a secretary in the constituency and does not trouble the House for accommodation, he or she must charge both the costs of the telephone and the costs of heat, light and rent against allowances. My hon. Friend's point might bear further investigation.

My hon. Friend spent some time talking about corruption in the PSA. Today's debate gives me an opportunity to say that the trial concluded yesterday is the last of a series which has resulted in eight PSA officials being convicted of a series of offences of corruption which have brought tremendous disgrace on the PSA. Eight officials have made life difficult for some 22,000 employees, but I hope that neither my hon. Friend nor anyone else would tar the whole organisation with the same brush because of the admittedly heinous activities of that minority. Moreover, all the matters on which they were convicted date back to 1984. Since then there have been major administrative changes in the PSA to ensure that such corruption cannot recur.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is the Minister blaming the Labour Government?

Mr. Chope

No, I am not blaming any Government. I blame loose procedures which were exploited by an irresponsible group of employees.

My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) spoke about the lifts. I do not know whether the particular faults were reported.

Mr. Holt

They were.

Mr. Chope

I shall ensure that action is taken. We have an ongoing programme of replacing the lifts. It is extensive but it is programmed over a period of years. It should be coupled with a maintenance programme which ensures that if a lift is out of order it remains out of order only for a short period.

Mr. Holt

The lift to which I referred earlier was out of action for the whole of the summer recess. If the experience of those of us who were in the Norman Shaw building when they installed the new lift there is anything to go by, I shall have no faith in the lifts. After that lift was installed and put into operation, it was out of service for a longer period than it was in service during its first nine months. I see an official at the back of the Chamber nodding.

Mr. Chope

I share my hon. Friend's concern, and I shall look into the matter.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred in passing to the use of county hall as the new parliamentary building. It is the first time that I have heard him make that suggestion. I thought that he wanted to keep county hall for London government purposes. It would be wholly inappropriate for the House to extend its empire to the county hall area. I look forward to private sector use of that fine building and the surrounding area.

Mr. Tony Banks

The Minister must know what is to happen to county hall. He has plenty of time yet in which to reply to the debate, so could he tell the House when an annnouncement is to be made about the future use of county hall?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. We must deal with one building at a time.

Mr. Chope

I have to respond to the hon. Gentleman's question by saying that I must observe the ruling of the Chair on that matter.

Mr. Ray Powell

The purpose of this debate is for the House to declare a preference for one of the schemes that have been put before us. Having listened to the debate, is the Minister able to say what preference the House has declared?

Mr. Chope

The views of the House very much reflect the views of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services), of which the hon. Gentleman is Chairman. The House would like the redevelopment of Palace chambers to proceed rapidly. It would also like consideration to be given at a later stage to decking over the Underground station. It is a blend of PSA proposals and the Casson Conder proposals, with the gloss that has been placed upon them by the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services). The best way to put it is that the House seems to have agreed unanimously with the recommendations of the hon. Gentleman's Committee.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) asked two questions about the proposed subway. He asked whether there might be a subway shuttle, as in the United States. I had not expected that suggestion to be included in the architect's brief, but if the Committee chooses to include it that will be a matter for it. The subway will be open only to passholders and it will serve the buildings on the other side of Bridge street.

I very much appreciate that Members and staff work in less than satisfactory conditions. The House is at one on that. Better offices are needed, and they must be given high priority. Cannon row will provide some relief. Phase 1 will provide even more. After today's debate, we are about to embark on the next serious and exciting phase, and I am grateful for the support that the House has given to it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.