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Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to speak now. I imagine that these two amendments would have been grouped together had we had a formal Marshalled List.
I am getting a little worried about how we conduct our business. We have colleagues who serve on these committees who work conscientiously. We frequently do not have debates at all on the reports that come before this House--they go through on the nod--because our committees always try to move towards consensus. This is an unusual case because, on 22nd July, I moved the reference back of this particular part of the report and it was carried by the House. That was extremely unusual. At that time I quoted to the House what was said to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee when the matter was proposed:
On 22nd July, the House referred the matter back and once again it went before the committee. In the minutes of 3rd November it is said that the committee had had the benefit of being addressed by English Heritage and that it put the case very strongly for the proposal. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, my old colleague, for the wording of his amendment. With my natural innate diffidence I have simply put into my amendment:
As my noble friend raised the matter of the Division, I should like to look at that in a little more detail. I was there when the Division took place. The matter was carried by seven votes to five with two abstentions--this is after three years of being on the organs, going round and round. If we look at the two abstentions, one of those was by somebody who had changed their mind. That person would have voted against but felt that, in view of previous involvement in the matter, an abstention was better. Of the seven in favour, three included the Chief Whips. I do not complain about that because the job of Chief Whips is to push the business on--I have done it myself over a long period of time--but it does not exactly ooze the close scrutiny that we had been promised. We had a very close vote here even after all that consideration. I do not believe that it gives us the mandate or the authority in this House to spend £2.5 million of public money in this way.
I am a member of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, as your Lordships know, and I voted against the proposal in July. As to the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, his proposal does have the support of the Westminster City Council, English Heritage and the Royal Fine Art Commission. But if one reads their submissions to the
My concern with the amendments of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi and the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, is that we appear to be going ahead with the proposal to resurface the square and make it look like a square again, without any commitment in the short, long or medium term to reduce the number of cars at the front. We are not to discuss the car parking arrangements in your Lordships' House until the next meeting, which will take place in one or two weeks' time.
I have received some information from the Director of Parliamentary Works, who said that the number of cars in the front car park is probably only one-sixth of the total car parking spaces available to your Lordships at the moment. The House has taken steps to reduce the number in the Church House car park because they are not being used. I accept that some Members of your Lordships' House need car parks at the front because they may have difficulty in walking too far, but there are an awful lot of us who are quite capable of walking a few minutes further if that would reduce the number of car park spaces outside the front. That may start making the square look like a square rather than a car park.
I support the idea of a "world squares" project. I support the idea of making the square look like a square, but unless we take steps at the same time to reduce significantly the number of car parking spaces there, and make more space for pedestrians, then it will be seen by the outside world as resurfacing your Lordships' car park at the cost of £2.5 million. I cannot support that.
Lord Cockfield: My Lords, after the references to the Old Palace Yard being the most ancient public square in this capital, does it not follow that the roadway ought to be removed altogether? This is what is being done in a number of parts of Westminster along with the changes in Trafalgar Square. Surely the Houses of Parliament, on the basis of the eulogistic statements that have been made, is much more important even than Trafalgar Square. Should not the whole of the area be pedestrianised as part and parcel of the proposal now before your Lordships?
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees for introducing this debate. Following the very useful review of the plans that we had after the last debate in July, has the Administration and Works Sub-Committee in fact sought expert highway engineers' advice on the proposed layout of what will continue to be a major thoroughfare, running from Parliament Square to Millbank across Old Palace Yard? If my noble friend remembers, I raised the query about the road layout as it was depicted on the plans. They provided no facility for vehicular traffic travelling north towards Parliament Square to wait in the middle of the thoroughfare for a
Lord Ampthill: My Lords, I wish to make a brief point about granite setts. They were insisted on by the chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission for Black Rod's garden. They added £500,000 to the cost of the operation. They are excessively uncomfortable for men to walk on and I dread to think what they will do to noble Baronesses who may be on their stilettoes.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I did not intend to take part in this debate but I cannot resist coming to my feet on this occasion. The whole House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, for what he has done. He has reminded the House that it is the authority which decides whether plans brought forward by various committees of the House should or should not go forward. He is correct to remind the House that very rarely are committee reports scrutinised effectively by the House. From that point of view, I am grateful to him for bringing the matter forward. However, this is the second time he has done so.
My interest in the subject is that I sit on the Administration and Works Sub-Committee and have dealt with this issue twice. I was impressed by the arguments brought forward by the proposers of the scheme. Old Palace Yard, which is at the front of the palace, has become increasingly degraded over the past few years. The quality of the tarmac is poor. The new designs are aesthetically much more attractive for such an important site. Your Lordships will also have noticed that over the past few years an enormous amount of money has been spent on this palace and on Westminster Abbey. The contrast between what was before and what we have now is quite striking.
I think it is right that we should now agree the report introduced by the Chairman of Committees. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, who has provided a great service to the House, will feel that he has had a good go on the issue and that he will let the matter drop. I hope, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will feel that he does not need to push his amendment any further. But if he does, I shall be supporting him.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, we on these Benches, having considered most of the issues that have been discussed, have come to the conclusion that we support the plan although we recognise the concerns raised in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks.
We know that there are two matters that exercise noble Lords' minds outside this Chamber: their accommodation and their car parking. I do not think that anyone looking at the prospect of changing the nature of Old Palace Yard could disagree that at the moment it is a mess. It is a mess largely because of the car parking to the west of Old Palace Yard. Part of the scheme is to
The proposal, with the pedestrianisation, will be a return somewhat to the character of Old Palace Yard before the fire in 1834. It will make sense of the old Jewel House which to many tourists is a great puzzle. Most wonder why it is on the other side of the road. They think that the road has existed since 1066, which of course it has not. Some of the other buildings are also unique. As well as your Lordships' House, there is 6 to 7 Palace Gardens, the Jewel House and Westminster Abbey. I have it on good authority that the architectural adviser to Westminster Abbey, a Dr. Buttress, has given the view that if the plans were to go ahead one of his first considerations would be to remove the railings around Westminster Abbey, which would contribute to the enhancement--if that is the right word--of what is a unique collection of buildings and a unique site not only for tourists but for visitors of all kinds.
While parking considerations are important, it is possible, if not probable, that there will be fewer Members of your Lordships' House in the future and that one might be able to anticipate less demand for car parking space. I am sure that car parking can be dealt with separately from the issues we have before us. It is paramount to make good at last what is a unique English site. We have a collection of extraordinary buildings of great architectural value. Paving and pedestrianising will to an extent bring it up to the standards which are required by, for example, World Squares for All.
Taken overall, the cost seems quite in line with what one would expect for alterations of this kind. To assume that the cost is being incurred to enhance the parking outside the House of Lords is mistaken. That is probably what has concerned many people who have not thought deeply about the issue. We take the view that, at a time when we are undergoing constitutional change, if we take some of the living historical remnants from the Palace of Westminster we can at least retain some of the buildings and enhance their historical importance. If there is anything those of us who may be leaving your Lordships' House shortly can do, it may be to contribute to that. Having said that, I hope that once the report is agreed the work can go forward with expedition.
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