HL Deb 19 December 2002 vol 642 cc134-6WA
Lord Jopling

asked the Chairman of Committees:

Why the House of Commons Commission in setting up an initial feasibility study for visitor facilities for the Houses of Parliament did not do so in conjunction with the House of Lords; and what representations have been made on behalf of the House of Lords; and [HL642]

Why the consultants' meetings about setting up a visitor centre for the Houses of Parliament with 13 representatives of the House of Lords included only one peer; and what instructions the other 12 representatives of the House of Lords had previously been given by individual peers or groups of peers with regard to their evidence or views; and [HL643]

How much land within the parliamentary estate might be taken up by option five of the consultants' report on setting up a visitor centre for the Houses of Parliament and how much land in Victoria Tower Gardens; and whether he will resist access by visitors being granted to and from a building on that site across Black Rod's Garden and will insist that access be from outside the parliamentary estate; and [HL644]

Whether, in view of the House of Commons Commission's action in asking the consultants who prepared the feasibility study for a visitor centre for the Houses of Parliament to examine the possibility of putting the whole visitor centre facilities in Victoria Tower Gardens, he will suggest that such a facility be built underground together with an underground car park for the House of Lords. [HL645]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

The initial feasibility study for improved visitor facilities was commissioned by the House of Commons Board of Management, acting through the Group on Information for the Public (GIP). The study was conducted by the consultants Haley Sharpe, in conjunction with Purcell Miller Tritton and Partners (conservation architects).

GIP is a Commons body, but the House of Lords is represented on it by Mary Morgan, the Director of Public Information. The group is charged with increasing and improving the public understanding of Parliament, so fulfilling one of the strategic objectives adopted by the House of Commons Commission in October 2001 (see the commission's 24th annual report, 2001–02, p.10). It has been particularly concerned about the way in which visitors of all types (whether on business or simply to see the building) are received when they come to Parliament. Related concerns have been expressed by Members of this House in recent debates, including those initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, on 4 July 2001 (HL Deb., cols. 821–34) and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth on 13 March 2002 (HL Deb., cols. 827–65).

The decision to commission an initial feasibility study was therefore taken by the House of Commons administration. The object of the study was to assess what options were available for improving visitor facilities, not to agree a single way forward. No formal representations were made on behalf of the House of Lords, although the consultants did meet senior officials, including Black Rod, the agent of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. The House has been kept informed throughout, and the Administration and Works Sub-Committee took note of developments on 2 July.

A general notice was issued to Members of both Houses in the all-party whip on 16 May, inviting them to make their views known to the consultants, who subsequently conducted a number of interviews. No instructions were given by individual Members or groups of Members to those from the House of Lords who spoke to the consultants.

The feasibility study covered a range of options and different levels of visitor facilities, from an improved welcome and access to more fully developed information provision. At this stage no decisions have been taken, and no options either ruled in or ruled out. Proposals to build underground car-parking facilities in Victoria Tower Gardens have been considered by the Administration and Works Sub-Committee in the past (notably in 1991), but have been rejected on the grounds of costs. However, with regard to option five of the present feasibility study, no detailed appraisals have been undertaken, and further examination of the Victoria Tower Gardens option could well include consideration of other facilities, which would have to be costed. No agreement will be given to any scheme until all relevant issues have been thoroughly explored, including that of access to the parliamentary estate.

The House of Commons Commission discussed the report on 18 November and has asked for further studies to be undertaken, while asking several Commons committees their views. The House Committee of this House discussed the report at its first meeting on 10 December and has remitted it to the Information Committee and the Administration and Works Committee for detailed consideration. The House Committee will consider the matter again in the light of recommendations from these committees. I urge the noble Lord, should he wish to make formal representations on this matter, to write either to me, as Chairman of the Administration and Works Committee, or to the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, as Chairman of the Information Committee.