Tea on the terrace at the Commons? MPs do their bit for struggling economy
The trials of Charles I, Sir Thomas More and Guy Fawkes took place there, and King Henry VIII is reputed to have honed his tennis skills in its wide open spaces. Now Westminster Hall, the only surviving medieval remnant of the Houses of Parliament, is to be transformed into a venue for hire at £25,000 a night.
The plans are being drawn up by MPs under pressure both to raise money and to make savings as the national austerity drive reaches the Palace of Westminster.
They are also proposing opening a high street store selling Commons souvenirs, offering cream teas on the Thames-side terrace and increasing the number of wedding receptions held in its historic precincts.
Under the moves, major companies, trade associations and charities could hold receptions in Westminster Hall – as long as Buckingham Palace, which has ultimate responsibility for the building, gives its approval.
The initiatives are due to be set out in a report published by the House of Commons Administration Committee.
The MPs call for Westminster to take advantage of its prestigious brand by selling more souvenirs bearing its exclusive portcullis emblem.
At the moment the Commons only sells souvenirs – ranging from Big Ben pencils (£1.50) to Speaker's whisky (£28.50) – within the building.
But the committee calls for memorabilia to be put on general sale to tourists in a high street shop to be sited opposite Parliament Square – a move it believes could net £400,000 – and for the possibility of selling merchandise online to be examined.
The MPs also suggest organising tours of the Commons' art treasures which end with afternoon tea on the terrace on days when the Commons is not sitting.
Only one civil wedding ceremony has been staged in the Commons – that of Labour MP Chris Bryant – but the number could also be significantly increased in an attempt to cash in on Westminster's cachet.
The moves are designed to slash the £5.7m loss made by the catering operation at the Commons, where there are nine cafeterias, five dining-rooms and three bars. Prices were raised last year in the heavily subsided restaurants to raise an extra £1.3m and the committee believes its moves will cut another £1.25m off the taxpayers' bill by 2014-15.
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