At questions to the MP representing the House of Commons Commission (Nick Harvey) yesterday, a succession of Conservative MPs raised issues about the cost of the recently refurbished Bellamy's Bar being turned into a nursery for the children of MPs and House of Commons staff…
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): This important issue has not suddenly arisen before the House. I believe that the process so far has been unacceptable and undemocratic. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that £400,000 has recently been spent on refurbishing Bellamy's bar, and that this proposal will cost an additional £400,000? Will he confirm whether that has been included in the House budget estimates for this financial year?
Nick Harvey: The recent refurbishment in Bellamy's involves a significant amount of work and furnishing that can be reused-certainly about a third of the cost can be used directly. The hon. Gentleman says that this has come about swiftly, but I would point out that there have been constant surveys of the need for child care provision here, and the decision has been taken to move swiftly with this project so that the option is available to new Members as early as possible in the new Parliament to take up this facility if they need it.
Peter Luff (Worcestershire Mid): I entirely share the perception of the need for such a day nursery, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the House of Commons should establish any such facility on an exemplary basis. Given that, as on this particular occasion, a nursery cannot comply with statutory guidance to providers, I hope he will search urgently for an alternative site – one that would comply with that guidance.
Nick Harvey: There will be no question whatever of progressing with any project that does not meet all the statutory norms. We are progressing the project in consultation with experts and providers, and there is no question whatever of cutting corners and not meeting proper standards.
Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): 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?
Nick Harvey: 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.
Christopher Chope (Christchurch): 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?
Nick Harvey: 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.
Simon Burns (Chelmsford West): 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?
Nick Harvey: 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.