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House of Lords

Thursday, 29th June 1995.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Southwark): The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

St. Pancras Chambers: Future

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that the requirements of the law upon owners of historic buildings to keep their buildings in an adequate state of repair are promptly observed.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, where an owner fails to maintain a listed building in an adequate state of repair, local planning authorities have powers under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to require repairs to be carried out. We are satisfied that those arrangements work.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on being satisfied. I am sure that she will not be surprised to know that I refer to St. Pancras. Is she aware that, if the building had been in private hands, the Secretary of State, with his reserve powers, would have been down on the owners like a ton of bricks long before now? Further, do the Government understand that to allow the building to go to a bidder for a railway franchise is a pipedream behind which the Department of Transport currently shelters its nakedness? Does my noble friend not agree that it should be put up for sale to a more general market? The Government never know what they might get for it. Incidentally, I should like to know what value they put on it.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, the supplementary question from my noble friend reminds me of the boy who wrote home to his mother with these words, "Dear Mum, no mun, your son". Unfortunately, his father intercepted the letter and replied: "Too bad, how sad, your Dad".

The St. Pancras Chambers will form part of the package of assets passed to the private sector promoter of the CTRL as part of the Government's contribution towards the cost of building the rail link. By developing St. Pancras station as the CTRL terminus, it is considered likely that a private sector interest in funding an acceptable new use for the Chambers will be found.

To return to the money side, since 1990 £10 million has already been spent on St. Pancras. English Heritage has spent £200,000, and it has just gained two prestigious awards. English Heritage is satisfied that the building is safe.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, on the general matter raised by the Question, is it not a fact that the Government make the task of those responsible for maintaining the buildings much more difficult by imposing a charge of VAT on every penny spent on bricks?

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Baroness Trumpington: That is as may be, my Lords.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, given the amount of money already spent on the building, is it not sad that it can no longer be said of it, "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la gare"?

Baroness Trumpington: Mais, mon cher, c'est the gateway to Europe in the future.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Forth rail bridge is one of the most magnificent national structures in our country. She will also be aware that there is considerable public disquiet that it is not being adequately maintained and repaired. Will she take steps to ensure that the local authority responsible for chasing up the owners of the Forth rail bridge uses its powers in the matter?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I shall pass on the noble Lord's remarks. However, the powers of local planning authorities plus English Heritage in London and the Secretary of State in respect of urgent works, repairs and compulsory purchase of listed buildings apply to all buildings, irrespective of grade.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, returning to the original Question, with the imminent arrival of the Green Paper on listed buildings, will the Government take account of it and give favourable treatment to private owners? Will they ensure that the owners are not treated like fly-by-night developers? Can the Minister assure us that such people, who have a long history of dedicated commitment to their historic houses, are given the consideration that they truly deserve?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I believe that we all agree with my noble friend. Government funding for historic buildings is channelled through English Heritage. In 1994-95 English Heritage paid out £33 million in historic building repair grants. That is expected to rise to £35.7 million in 1995-96. I do not believe that that looks like "fly-by-night".

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the whole area of north central London—St. Pancras, the New British Library and King's Cross and its hinterland—offers enormous potential for coherent cultural and environmental development? No other major city in Europe would allow development to proceed in the present piecemeal and ad hoc fashion. Is it not yet another example of the need for a single strategic authority to govern London?

Baroness Trumpington: Most certainly not, my Lords. I return to what I said; it is a matter for the local planning authorities. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is well aware of that district of London. I shall bring the noble Lord's remarks to his attention.

Lord Ironside: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the added historical significance of the St. Pancras site? It was part of the Sandhills Estate owned by Sir Andrew Judd, who was one of the worthies of England, founder of the free grammar school at Tonbridge, Lord Mayor of London and the last Mayor of the Staple of

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Calais in 1587 when—surprise, surprise—the French moved back in again. The property was sold by the school governors, the Skinners Company, to the Midland Railway Company in 1871. Does not Sir Andrew's uncanny foresight in earmarking while at Calais the site for the Channel Tunnel London terminal add to the importance of the building which should be fully preserved now?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, all I can say is that St. Pancras has a much better pedigree than I have!

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: A yw'r Gweinidog yn sylweddoli fod pobl Cymru yn gwerthfawrogi eu hadeiladau hanesyddol? Will the Minister tell the Prime Minister that we shall not be satisfied until we get a Secretary of State who understands that?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I once tried to say Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year in Welsh to your Lordships. Nobody understood a word that I said.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I ask my noble friend not to be too bemused by the pipedream of the Department of Transport. Of the current four bidders for franchises, I understand that two very wisely said that they would not touch the chambers. Will my noble friend at least approach her colleagues about the possibility of putting the building up for sale to a wider market and of perhaps finding a bidder who would fulfil the necessary conditions and keep it as it ought to be kept?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, my department believes that there is a commercial future for the building, particularly in view of the fact that, as I said, it is at the gateway to Europe. I cannot comment on the present bidders; that is commercially confidential information. However, as there are bidders, there must be interest.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not permit London Underground to desecrate Sir Marc Brunel's Thames tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe, as it seems determined to do, without a public inquiry? Any reply will do!

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I am unaware of that particular problem. I shall write to the noble Lord.

Domestic Workers from Overseas

3.11 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the additional measures announced in December 1994 to ensure that employers of domestic workers accompanying them on visits to the United Kingdom are fully aware of their obligations.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, yes. We believe that these are useful measures to help to remind the employers of domestic workers from overseas of their obligations.

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Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, since the avowed purpose of the measures is to ensure that the parties are aware of their obligations, will the noble Baroness reflect on the thesis of St. Paul that knowing what is right and doing what is right do not always coincide? Since the victims are left to pursue whatever legal remedies they may have on whatever advice is available to them, and since they are not allowed to take employment with anyone other than the employer against whom they are complaining, are the Government still not abdicating responsibility for the situation that they have allowed to arise?

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