§ 32. Mr. Flynn
To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, pursuant to his oral answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) of 22 February, Official Report, column 678, what progress has been made in making creche facilities available for the children of hon. Members and of House of Commons staff.
§ 34. Mr. Win Griffiths
To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, if he will make a statement on progress on the provision of creche facilities in the House.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission)
Since I last answered questions on the subject on 22 February, the Administration Committee has considered the possibility that the House might take up a small number of places in a projected joint venture nursery near Vincent square. The Committee turned down the proposal as inappropriate and has consulted the Commission on the need for a comprehensive survey of all possible users. That will now be taken ahead, with the Commission's full support.
§ Mr. Flynn
How can the Commission maintain that there is not room within these buildings for a creche when we have room for a shooting gallery and several rooms are used for wining and dining which is not parliamentary but entirely commercial and party political in character? Do we have to wait until the present crop of children who might now be in nursery school are attending university before a creche is provided? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that there are special problems for the 2,000 staff in the building and especially for Members of Parliament as the peculiar demands of our jobs mean that many of our families are brought up for most of the year in a single-parent context?
§ Mr. Beith
The Commission is well aware of the problems and the proposals for dealing with them. That is why it intends to undertake the survey. The hon. Gentleman must address his views about the use of rooms in the building to the Accommodation and Works Committee. However, I am bound to say that the public authorities would probably not look kindly on the use of a basement now used as a shooting gallery for a children's creche.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
Why is it taking so long for the creche facilities to be provided when so many Members have urged for several years that action be taken? It seems to us that once again obstacles and delay are being put in the way of the provision of facilities. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us a date by which he hopes to see the facilities provided?
§ Mr. Beith
I should like to see the facilities provided as soon as possible, but the hon. Gentleman should discuss 15 with his hon. Friends who are members of the appropriate Committee the difficulties that they foresee in providing accommodation from the present parliamentary estate. They made the decision to which I referred, and they must be well aware of the difficulties.
§ Mr. Burns
May I ask my right hon. Friend fully to appreciate that although it may not be popular with some of our colleagues, the House of Commons must be brought into the 20th century? In the past two decades or so, many men and women who are younger and have young children have become Members of Parliament. It seems inappropriate that while the Government and other organisations encourage and foster the provision of creche facilities, this establishment seems remarkably reluctant to provide the facilities that it encourages the private sector and other sections of the community to provide.
§ Mrs. Helen Jackson
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the questions that I asked him in February and on the first sitting day in 1993 did not refer to surveys? The House is not asking for surveys—it is asking for action, and action this year. A creche facility is not specialised —it requires toilets and water, but it should not be impossible to find space within the various buildings of the Palace of Westminster which contain such facilities. May we have some action, please?
§ Mr. Beith
The joint venture, which the Administration Committee regarded as inappropriate, would have provided only six places, and would have done so at a relatively high cost. It was partly because of the inadequate number of places that the Commission felt it necessary to support a proper survey, to see how many people would use this facility.