HC Deb 01 November 1979 vol 972 cc1472-4
Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter which I think will be of concern not only to the whole House but to the entire country.

Yesterday morning the Committee that is dealing with the Abortion (Amendment) Bill was sitting in Committee Room 10. Whatever one's views about that Bill might be, there is widespread and growing public concern about it throughout the country. The consequence is that in that Committee Room the accommodation for the press and the public is completely inadequate, so much so that yesterday morning the Press Association representative and a large number of other press representatives were unable to get access. Several members of the Committee, on both sides, raised the matter with the Chairman. He sought to give an undertaking that he would do something about the problem. However, looking at all of the Committee Rooms, one finds that there is simply not enough accommodation for all of the people who want to get access to hear the debates on this Bill.

I think that it would be generally agreed that we all want to encourage maximum public access to our proceedings upstairs and downstairs. If there are any physical difficulties to prevent that, the House authorities should take every possible step open to them to ensure that this problem does not occur.

The Chairman of the Committee has given undertakings to us that he will do what he can for the next sitting, next Wednesday. However, I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use your good offices through the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House is listening now. He has a view on the Bill, but he also has a view on the need to democratise our proceedings and expose them to public scrutiny. In those circumstances, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will use your good offices to ensure that the undesirable occurrence of yesterday is not repeated.

Mr. Speaker

First, I am deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who gave me 48 hours' notice that he would be raising this point of order this afternoon. As the House is aware, I have no jurisdiction over the proceedings of the Committee, but the hon. Gentleman raises the question of accommodation. I have asked the authorities who manage our affairs on our behalf to examine it to see whether there is any way in which they can help. Of course, it could well be that even if we had the Central Hall there would not be room for everyone who would want to attend for that particular subject. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am taking an interest in this mattter, and I know that the responsible authorities are having discussions to try to find a way to help.

Mr. Hamilton

Further to the point or order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for a little clarification? In Committee we asked whether it would be possible in this particular instance, without necessarily creating a precedent, to allow the press into the seats that are normally used by hon. Members. It is a very small Committee, comprising 17 Members in a fairly large room. Therefore, the accommodation that is available to Members is far in excess of what they need. If the press were allowed to use Members' accommodation—again without creating a precedent—that would satisfy Opposition Members serving on the Committee.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am afraid that it would create a precedent. Whatever we said, someone on a future occasion would advance the argument that for the first time in our history we allowed Strangers into Members' seats.

We are very particular not to allow simply anyone into the Chamber. When I was Chairman of a Standing Committee, I always firmly observed the rule that that part of the Committee Room allocated to Members was allocated to them only. I am afraid that I cannot offer much hope to the hon. Gentleman in that regard. However, I can tell him that there is no objection to the press taking notes in the public part of the Committee Room. Perhaps members of the press will get up early and form a queue.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since my name was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, may I say that I shall be very glad to assist in any way that I can in solving this problem or finding some other accommodation? But you, Mr. Speaker, with your usual dispatch, have set the whole operation in motion and I can only be a rather minor accomplice.

Mr. Speaker

Before we leave this matter, let me put it back on the shoulders of the Leader of the House. I want him to take responsibility, not me.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have had notice of a point of order from the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop).