Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness David: My Lords, as a member of the sub-committee who voted for the scheme, I should like to put in a word for it as several criticisms have been made. I do not think we can say that we are spending £2.5 million on improving the car park. That is nonsense. When we remember that it cost £4 million to clean the Victoria Tower, that puts it in proportion, and the cost is spread over three years. I walked on the granite setts that were put outside Chancellor's Gate. It did not seem uncomfortable to walk on and I thought it looked very good. I hope therefore that the House will show some imagination and think of it as a big project which will enhance the area considerably.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I wonder if I may say a few words as an ordinary Member of your Lordships' House

18 Nov 1998 : Column 1282

and as a member of the committee and not as the Government Chief Whip. As we have heard, we are now considering what is the oldest open public space in London. It is a unique site. We have a responsibility to the architectural heritage. Furthermore, the proposals before us have no effect on the House of Lords car park, which I know has concerned many of your Lordships. That is a matter for separate decision later and will be taken into account by the committee when we come to consider this proposal and its effect on car parking.

Those noble Lords who have seen the plan--I believe that it was available for all your Lordships to examine--will realise that it returns the square to something like the intention of Charles Barry. The plan is coherent in its own right and not dependent upon the World Squares project. It is worth reflecting that, in addition to the organisations referred to in the Motion on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, there have been consultations with the police, the Traffic Director for London, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Government Office for London, the Royal Parks Agency, the International Council for Monuments and Sites, Westminster Abbey, the Lord Chairman's Office and the Thorney Island Society. All of those bodies in one way or another have expressed support for this proposal.

Those of us who are lucky enough to come here every day and work in this building have a responsibility for the architectural heritage that we have inherited. I hope that there will not be a Division on these amendments and that the report of the Procedure Committee will be agreed to. If there is such a Division, as an ordinary Member of the House I shall be content to agree with my noble friend Lord Strabolgi but not my noble friend Lord Cocks.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I mention first the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I leave it to him to decide whether or not to press his amendment to a Division. Noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that given a free hand--I am not in that position because I am in your Lordships' hands--I would be inclined to leave my Motion as it is. But if, as the noble Lord has every right--I am sure that it would be perfectly acceptable to noble Lords--he decided to press his amendment to a Division I would support what has been said by the Opposition Chief Whip. He supports that amendment. I would not be voting on the amendment, but your Lordships will appreciate that I would be very sympathetic to the decision of the Opposition Chief Whip to support it. I make one other comment about the very interesting and pertinent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I thank him for his remarks about the report of the Offices Committee.

I refer next to the proposed amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. Here again I find myself in agreement with what more than one noble Lord said, in particular the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the previous proceeding and these proceedings. I agree with him that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, has indeed performed a service to the House. I told him as much

18 Nov 1998 : Column 1283

very soon after his victory on the 22nd July on which I congratulated him. I am sure that he will not object if I reveal to noble Lords--as I said to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee when it had a very lengthy discussion about this matter recently--that I told the noble Lord that there were both benefits and disadvantages arising from the reference back by your Lordships to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. The disadvantages are obvious. If the project is to go ahead we cannot now start work on it until later than we intended. On the other hand, the benefit is that it has given time for pause and reflection and for your Lordships' committee to hear representatives of the various bodies who have already been mentioned, not least English Heritage and Westminster Council. That has been valuable. Even though the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, will be disappointed that we have returned to the original recommendation made to your Lordships at least he has the comfort of knowing that a very thorough examination has been made with the help of those experts.

Since the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, has referred to the narrowness of the majority in the Administration and Works Sub-Committee--seven votes to five--it would be wrong to fail to point out that he has not indicated his unhappiness with the narrowness of the majority on his amendment on 22nd July which was 148 votes to 142 votes. That was a majority of six in a total vote of 290. The sub-committee's vote was a majority of two in a total of 12. I hope that that helps to put the matter into perspective. I am sure that I shall not offend the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, whom I value very highly as a Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chairman--for one thing he does late turns very frequently and performs a considerable service to your Lordships' House--if I say that as a distinguished Government Chief Whip in another place he would have regarded, as I do, a majority as a majority. Whatever the size of the majority that he achieved in his period in another place as Government Chief Whip I am sure that he would have been very happy with these majorities.

I do not want to take up more of your Lordships' time than is necessary because of the weighty business that is to follow. I reply as briefly as I may to the other points that have been raised. A number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to car parking. This proposal will not affect what we decide to do eventually one way or another. Those options on car parking remain open. I note his comment about the abandonment of some car parking spaces in Church House. He will also be aware that there are parking spaces set aside in the Abingdon Street car park, not all of which are fully used. Those are matters that your Lordships will also wish to take into account in due course in considering the overall provision of car parking. All of the options are left open.

The noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, referred to the roadway. I reveal that your Lordships' committees did not consider as an option the removal of the entire roadway. However, that is in any event a matter for Westminster City Council. Other matters have been referred to in this connection. For example the noble

18 Nov 1998 : Column 1284

Lord, Lord Monkswell, asked about highway advice. The matters upon which he touched are largely for Westminster City Council. I have no doubt that with that council's customary efficiency it will have sought all of the expert and technical advice necessary for that purpose.

The noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, referred to the granite setts. I believe that some comfort has been provided to the noble Lord by the noble Baroness, Lady David, who has tested them. They are not like the lumpy granite setts or cobbles with which your Lordships will be familiar. I urge those of your Lordships who have not already examined the granite setts at the south end of the car park to do so. Noble Lords will be thoroughly reassured that they will be both attractive and convenient to walk upon--far better even than tarmac. I do not believe that your Lordships need have any fear whatever on this matter.

I am also grateful for the points that have been made by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland--he referred to the value of the area--which have been endorsed in the evidence from the experts who appeared before your Lordships' committee.

As far as concerns the proceedings this afternoon, I am not allowed to refer to the Government Chief Whip as the Government Chief Whip for the reasons that he has given. I am not quite sure about the extent to which we should be guided by that. I find it difficult to divorce the noble Lord from his office, so I shall refer to him as the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I confirm his remarks about the support provided by the various bodies referred to during the course of this afternoon's debate. To have that support has been a very great comfort to those of your Lordships who serve on the committees as I hope it will be to the House as a whole.

I hope that I have answered sufficiently all those who have taken part in this short debate. It only remains for me to remind noble Lords, if noble Lords need to be reminded, that this is a major project. It is of national and international historic importance. I am in no doubt whatever that the project will assist and attract future generations in this country and that in view of the attraction of this area countless thousands of visitors from overseas will also benefit. It is for that reason that I have no hesitation in commending the Motion that I originally moved to the House.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate and for the support I received from all parts of the House. I noted carefully what my noble friend Lord Cocks said. He is my old boss, and I have the greatest respect for him.

As regards the sum being spent on the scheme, as my noble friend Lady David said, that should be seen in the context of the whole expenditure on the refurbishing of this wonderful building of which we are the custodians for future generations. I sense the feeling of the House and in view of that I do not propose to ask your Lordships to divide. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

18 Nov 1998 : Column 1285


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page