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House of Lords

Thursday, 26th March 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Personal Statement

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a brief personal statement. Yesterday during Question Time, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, who asked me about a ministerial group on the millennium bug, I inadvertently replied about the meetings of a ministerial sub-group on the millennium bug. I have agreed with the noble Baroness that I will write to her to clarify the matter, and I shall place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House.

Treasury Building

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their plans for the refurbishment of the Treasury building.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have to say, first, that there is no "do nothing" option for the Treasury building. There are serious problems with the electrical wiring and water penetration in the basement. The Treasury is looking at a range of options to improve the building's efficiency. Those options all take account of the fact that the building is listed Grade II*.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer to a question which has been rolling around this House for the past three years. Does the Minister accept that the Treasury's inability to distinguish between current expenditure and capital expenditure--in thinking about investment when this is the ministry responsible for PFI, and, indeed, for putting money back into public services--gives us considerable doubt as to whether the Treasury should not be rethinking some of its underlying ideas about funding and long-term investment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, on the wider issue, as the noble Lord knows, the Treasury is in the process of increasing the use of resource accounting rather than cash accounting. However, I do not think that the noble Lord's comments apply specifically to the question of the Treasury building, where proper economic, financial and, of course, managerial considerations are being taken into account.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister confirm that in the early 1960s there was a plan

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to demolish the whole of Whitehall and rebuild it in a modern style, and that it was only the advent of a Labour Government which stopped those horrendous plans going forward? Can my noble friend also confirm that the Foreign Office building next to the Treasury has in fact been modernised and is now a major national asset as a result of that investment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the history of London over probably 2,000, not just 1,000, years, has been full of grandiose plans for demolition and renewal. Some of them work, like those of John Nash, but some of them do not. As far as concerns the Foreign Office building, yes, as I occasionally work in the Foreign Office as well as in the Treasury, I can confirm that the physical condition of the interior of that building is very much better. The World Squares proposals actually involve a pedestrian route through both the Treasury building and the Foreign Office building. I believe that that would be extremely attractive to visitors to London.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as monetary policy is now to be the responsibility of the Bank of England and as I see that excise duty may soon become the responsibility of the European Court of Justice, do we need a Treasury building?

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Secondly, when I passed the Treasury building on Tuesday it was surrounded by fire engines. Can the Minister say whether that is a sign that the economy is overheating?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the setting of short-term interest rates is not the same as setting the whole of monetary policy, and there is no truth in the noble Lord's allegation that excise duty is to become a matter for the European Court of Justice. There was indeed a small fire in the Treasury on Tuesday. However, it was well controlled by the fire brigade. The fire happened in a store-room in that part of the Treasury building which is occupied by the Cabinet Office--for which I also speak.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that any private individual who had the privilege to own a Grade II* listed building would find himself having to maintain it almost without regard to the financial burden imposed or the actual utility of the building, as, indeed, happens in some cases? Therefore, does the noble Lord consider the application of Treasury criteria to this situation to be somewhat of a privilege, if not inappropriate?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Grade II* listing of the Treasury building does at the very least protect the facade and the site lines. Indeed, subject to the views of English Heritage, it may well protect other features of the Treasury. I do not believe that there is any conflict there.

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Lord Ezra: My Lords, is the magnitude of the problem facing the Treasury due to many years of under-maintenance? If that is so, can the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to ensure that that does not happen with other public buildings?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord is right about under-maintenance. As I understand it, the electrical wiring in the building is 50 years old. Therefore, on any normal planned maintenance basis, something ought to have been done about it some time before now. As regards the steps that the Government are taking--or rather the steps that the previous government took and with which we agree--they include giving greater responsibility to government departments for their own buildings. Clearly that is a safeguard against continued under-maintenance.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that I had occasion to visit the old Admiralty building this morning and that I was depressed at the legacy that we have inherited--presumably another one? Indeed, it really is in a shocking condition. Can my noble friend give me an assurance that refurbishment of the old Admiralty building will be placed well ahead of that for the Treasury, because that might encourage the Treasury to get on with it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says. I have no doubt that officials and Ministers will hear it too, coming from the source that it does. However, as my noble friend well knows, I am in no position to give him any assurance that one building will move ahead of another.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, in answer to my noble friend, the noble Lord chose to inform this House that the setting of short-term interest rates is not by any means the whole of monetary policy. Could he please inform the House which aspects of monetary policy are being reserved to the Treasury? That will be news to the House and, I suspect, news to the financial markets too.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord's question is, of course, wide of the original Question. Having paid great attention to the passage of the Bank of England Bill, he will know that the circumstances in which the Bank of England sets short-term interest rates are themselves constrained by the objectives set by the Treasury for the Bank of England.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, do the Government exempt themselves from the payment of VAT on repairs to ancient buildings, as they refuse to exempt the Church?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the only consolation I can give to the right reverend Prelate is that the same rules apply to the Treasury as to the Church.

Lord Annan: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that when the plumbing and other fundamental infrastructure problems of the Treasury have been

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solved, it should be decorated in a manner consonant with the dignity of that building, as indeed was rightly done with the apartments of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, which maintained the dignity of this great Pugin building in which we live?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful--as is the whole House--for the noble Lord's well justified remarks about the apartments of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. However, the problems in the Treasury are greater than ones of decoration. The building itself is ill adapted for modern office use and almost certainly has room for far fewer people than could work efficiently in it in a redesigned and refurbished building. That is the object of the present investigations.

Adoption

3.14 p.m.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they would support the establishment of an independent and accountable adoption authority in the United Kingdom to oversee the practice of inter-country and domestic adoption.


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