HC Deb 15 July 1997 vol 298 cc151-2W
39. Mr. Stunell

To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what plans the Commission has(a) to make the Palace of Westminster more accessible to the public and (b) to provide clearer information on the operation of the House; and if he will make a statement. [6730]

Mr. Kirkwood

The Commission appreciates the importance of ensuring that access to the Palace of Westminster is available to the thousands of members of the Public who visit it each week and information is provided through the Public Information Office so that they can understand the House of Commons and its activities. A number of initiatives are in progress and I will arrange for a list of these to be published in theOfficial Report.

The following is the information:

The Public Information Office of the Library takes the lead in providing information to the public and it has been making every effort to deal with the increased public interest in Parliament which has become evident in the last few months.

Plans by the Education Unit of the Public Information Office to provide more information for young people were agreed by the Administration Committee in March 1997. These are in addition to the current Autumn Visits Programme, and include greater use of the public gallery for schools visits from November 1997, from 1998 the use of Committee Room 10 to be made available for the holding of six or seven "Pupil Parliaments" per year and from autumn 1997 the holding of four teacher seminars per year. The Administration Committee has also agreed that, following the opening of Portcullis House, a Committee or Conference Room in that building be set aside each Monday and Friday when the House is sitting to enable whole-days seminars for schoolchildren on the work of Parliament to take place.

The Line of Route is available to parties of visitors sponsored by Members and the Administration Committee regularly reviews the arrangements to ensure the greatest possible access. In addition, the general public will be admitted to Westminster Hall from 4 August to 26 September to visit an exhibition being held by the House of Lords Record Office.

Electronic means are also being used to increase accessibility. The Parliamentary public Internet web-site is proving popular and greatly increases the accessibility of the papers and proceedings. New arrangements were instituted for overseas visitors from 1 May 1997. In addition an interactive CD-ROM about Parliament and its activities is currently being produced on a commercial basis with the co-operation of the House authorities and an interactive education web-site is in the planning stage.

It is planned to redevelop the area currently occupied by Westminster Hall Cafeteria to include a visitors' centre after the new Portcullis House is occupied.

An exhibition video and hard disk ROM is on view in the historic Jewel Tower, almost opposite St. Stephen's Entrance.