HC Deb 26 July 1999 vol 336 cc17-8
43. Angela Smith (Basildon)

To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), representing the House of Commons Commission, what proposals the Commission has evaluated for the provision of facilities for visitors to the Houses of Parliament. [91381]

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission)

Plans have been prepared to convert Westminster Hall cafeteria into a centre for visitors to the Houses of Parliament in 2002, after Portcullis house opens. The centre will provide alternative catering facilities. I am pleased to say that good progress on the new building means that it may be possible to bring forward the conversion to 2001. The relevant Committees and officials of the House are now examining options.

Angela Smith

Many of us welcome the hon. Gentleman's answer, but while we enjoy our constituents' visits, they are often spoiled by the lack of refreshment facilities for them. I speak as someone who was ticked off by the Serjeant at Arms Department for allowing my cubs to eat their sandwiches in the one of the W Rooms off Westminster Hall—I had to send them outside in the rain. While we welcome the proposed use of the Westminster Hall cafeteria, could we not use the hall itself, which is used for lobbies and functions, to provide special facilities in the interim period?

Mr. Kirkwood

That would be difficult. One of the difficulties that the Commission always faces is that the uses to which the precincts of the Palace—both the House of Commons and the Lords—are put are constrained by architectural and national heritage considerations. The hon. Lady's point is well made. I encourage her to continue to press the House of Commons Commission and the appropriate Committees to put pressure on all the available authorities to improve what is available for our constituents and other visitors. The conditions are certainly inadequate and need to be improved, but we are doing all that we can.