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House of Commons Commission

Volume 507: debated on Thursday 11 March 2010

The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Bellamy’s Bar

25. Whether the House of Commons Commission plans to respond to the public petition against the closure of Bellamy’s bar. (321531)

The petition has been noted, but the Commission remains of the view, reached on independent advice and after examining a number of options, that Bellamy’s bar is the most suitable available site, and it is proceeding on that basis.

The previous Speaker summoned me in for a dressing down because the Public Accounts Committee had dared to criticise the House of Commons authorities for overspending on Portcullis House. Will he accept, however, that we must insist on value for money not only in the wider Whitehall apparatus but here, and that we have to consider whether it represents value for money to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on equipping facilities for the staff just in order to strip them out? Is there nowhere else in the House where we can deliver this unit more cost-effectively?

A number of alternative sites for the nursery were considered, including Speaker’s Green, North Curtain corridor, Lower Ground Floor secretaries’ area, Cloister Court and the Oratory, the Shooting Gallery, 2 the Abbey Garden basement, 14 Tothill street and 4 Millbank, but 1 Parliament street offered the most suitable accommodation, principally because of the ease of conversion and the proximity to the Chamber.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept my congratulations on the progress that has been made in this matter? I understand there has been a campaign in this place for at least 40 years for facilities of this nature, and it will not just be staff who benefit, but many hon. Members. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many Members will benefit as a result of these developments, regardless of where they end up being located?

I sincerely hope so. The Commission felt it was important to demonstrate to both new and current Members with small children that the House will help them to combine their parliamentary work with their family responsibilities.

Day Nursery

26. Whether the Finance and Services Committee has advised the House of Commons Commission on the cost of establishing a day nursery. (321532)

The Commission considered it important to have the nursery facility operating early in the new Parliament, before new Members had made other child care arrangements. This is a challenging time scale, and in view of the time constraints the Commission decided it was not feasible to consult the FSC for appraisal in the usual way.

But under Standing Order No. 144, the Finance and Services Committee should have been consulted, and is it not correct that the Chairman of the Commission knows that the project is not a good use of resources, is a reckless waste of taxpayers’ money, and would never have been approved by the FSC? Is that not the reason why it was never referred to that Committee, and will he ensure that it now is?

There would be no question whatever of the Commission proceeding with something that it considered reckless or a waste of public money. Competitive tendering will be undertaken for the contracting of works and for running the nursery, and a significant proportion of the work paid for by the money that has been referred to as having been spent on Bellamy’s bar over the past couple of years will be reused in the new scheme.

May I press the hon. Gentleman on the answer he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope)? Given that the hon. Gentleman attended the meeting of the Commission, can he tell the House which member of the Commission expressly voiced the opinion that the matter would not be put before the Finance and Services Committee—because it was known that Committee was not very happy with the proposal and the cost?

No, the decision not to refer the matter to the Finance and Services Committee was simply one of timing, because we wanted to make the facility available early in the new Parliament.

Now we come to the business question—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) should calm himself—he has the weekend ahead, which he can enjoy—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should calm himself.