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Visitor Facilities

Volume 461: debated on Monday 4 June 2007

The Commission has taken a close interest in facilities for those visiting the House. Recent improvements include the employment of visitor assistants, and we look forward to the eventual opening of the visitor reception building. The Commission will consider the latest recommendations from the Administration Committee shortly.

Although I welcome the new facilities and the new building, have we not for a long time missed a trick in terms of getting more school parties to visit the House of Commons? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as two thirds of those visiting the education unit come from London and the south-east, we might well think of providing support for travel for schools from other regions of the UK to get a more equitable distribution of visits so that our children can be more involved in the political process in the Palace of Westminster?

I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I will not compare constituency distances, but obviously those coming from Wirral, like those coming from North Devon, are confronted with the problem to which he alludes. Hon. Members have made requests to the Administration Committee for some sort of public subsidy to be offered to help school parties from further distances to come here, and a proposal will come forward later this year which the Commission will then consider.

Pursuant to the question by the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman), one way to improve visitor facilities at the House would be to give young people the chance not merely to observe but to participate in our proceedings. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that proposition and, if so, does he accept that there is a powerful case for acting to ensure that organised school parties can have, at periodic intervals during recesses, staged debates on the Floor of the House to enhance their interest in this House and to prepare them for their future contributions? [Interruption.] The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) disagrees gives me great hope for the future.

That is not an idea that the Commission has had put before it, and we have not had the chance to consider it. I can see that there would be opposition from certain quarters to such a thing, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to advance such a proposal, I am sure that it will be considered with proper reverence.

Is it correct that the new entrance for visitors, which is nearly completed and appears to start just outside St. Stephen’s entrance, is going to guide them down and round the building in order to come back on themselves to begin the Line of Route? Is that not a masterpiece of planning, and could we not congratulate those who are responsible?

I believe that what the hon. Lady says is basically true. People will be guided in and then brought through the north entrance, which will be both the way in and the way out for visitors, enabling them to have a good look at Westminster Hall in the process.