HC Deb 27 November 1995 vol 267 cc922-3
29. Mr. Skinner

To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission what progress the Commission has made in providing funding for better facilities for visiting constituents to the House. [681]

Mr. A. J. Beith (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission)

On 12 July 1994, the House approved the first report of Session 1992–93 from the Catering Committee, which recommended that the area currently occupied by the Westminster Hall cafeteria should be converted into a visitors' centre which would provide light refreshments for the public, but that that should take place only when a suitable alternative had been found for the present lunchtime users. The Catering Committee is advised that, at present, there are not sufficient outlets for staff to accommodate the large numbers of users of the Westminster Hall cafeteria who would be displaced. It is therefore unlikely that the recommendations can be implemented until the opening of the new cafeteria in phase 2 of the parliamentary building plan. It remains the Commission's intention to proceed to implementation as soon as circumstances permit.

Mr. Skinner

Obviously, that reply from the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament who represents the Commission on this occasion is not good enough. Is he aware that when disabled people come to Parliament—there has been an increasing number of them lately, protesting about the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill and trying to get their own Bill through—there are no proper toilet facilities, with the result that private facilities costing several thousand pounds are engaged every time that there is a disabled lobby? The disabled have to use portable toilets, which cost money, in Star Chamber Court. Why is it not possible for the Commission and the Government to provide the money to ensure that when disabled people come to Parliament to protest and to lobby their Members of Parliament, proper toilet facilities are installed somewhere or other in the building? Surely, with all the money that they spend on the portable facilities, they ought to be doing something of a permanent nature.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Member raises a perfectly good point, about which there is a question further down the Order Paper. The Commission made it clear that it is ready to implement, and find the money to implement, whatever recommendations the domestic Committees bring forward to help disabled people.

Mr. Viggers

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is no greater honour for a Member of Parliament than to show constituents around the House of Commons and that, generally, we have few complaints about the facilities available and nothing but praise for your staff, Madam Speaker, and the other staff of the House of Commons who make those visits possible? Does he agree that the real problem arises from mass lobbies, where the unreasonable expectation is given that they provide a good forum for dialogue between Members of Parliament and the public, and that that worthwhile dialogue is best achieved in the constituency or perhaps by hiring a hall outside the Palace?

Mr. Beith

I agree that it is a great honour to show constituents around the House and that they rarely have any complaint except that they often express a wish to have somewhere to go for a cup tea where they do not have to be accompanied by the Member who is showing them around.

On the issue of mass lobbies, there are obviously physical limitations on the ability of the building to allow a large number of people to see their Members of Parliament during an afternoon. Organisers of lobbies must recognise that, although they may wish to have the impact of bringing a large number of people here.