HC Deb 31 March 1927 vol 204 cc1533-58

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £57,410, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for Expenditure in respect of Houses of Parliament Buildings."—[Note: £28,700 has been voted on account."]

Captain KING

In the unavoidable and most regrettable absence of my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs (Captain Hacking) I have been entrusted with the duty of introducing these Estimates. Hon. Members will realise that it is no light task to attempt to master the mass of detail in the Office of Works Estimates at very short notice, and I trust the Committee will extend to me its indulgence in my effort. I suppose that in this Vote for the Houses of Parliament Buildings the principal point of interest will be the sum of £20,000 which is asked for in respect of the restoration of the stonework of this building. We all realise that a great deal of decay has been taking place for years, even before the building was actually completed. Even before 1852, decay was already beginning to show. The decay has been increasing in amount, until in recent years the matter has become very serious. In 1920, a complete examination of the outside buildings was undertaken and within recent years a large amount of money has been spent in trying to preserve the stonework. For many years, even from the time of Sir Charles Barry himself, efforts have been made to find some suitable preservative which would preserve the stone which is at the present time crumbling. But so far no efficient preservative has been found. An expert Committee was appointed by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research with the idea of finding some method of preserving the stonework.

Failing any efficient method of preservation, it became necessary to resort to the method of hand-picking, to remove those loose fragments of stone which were a danger to the rest of the building and to passers-by. We have All got familiar with the view of this building with many of its ornamental pinnacles and cupolas removed. So far, it has been a question merely of removing broken fragments. In recent years, no less than £37,000 has been expended in merely removing unsafe fragments of stone. It is not really economical to continue that method. The removal of the stone does not help to preserve the building. It is only for the purpose of safety, and, therefore, it has been decided that it is necessary to undertake more complete steps for the restoration of the building. In coming to the question of restoration, the first point is to decide on a suitable stone. We know that great care was taken when these Houses of Parliament were built to select what they thought was a suitable stone. Their selection has not proved suitable, and it is for that reason we have now to undertake the restoration. In carrying out any future work we want to be quite sure that a suitable type of stone is chosen.

I hope most Members have taken the opportunity to read the Command Paper issued last year on the defective condition of the stone work of the Houses of Parliament. Those who have taken that trouble, I think, will have been amply repaid, because it is an extremely interesting document, and very fully explains a subject upon which I am only going to touch very lightly. In this Paper it is laid down that the factors which have to be considered when making a selection of stone are: first, colour. Members will appreciate that when we are restoring a building of that character we must be careful to see that we have a stone the colour of which will synchronise with the existing stonework. For instance, you could not have some dead-white stone put against the yellow tinge of the stone of the existing building. The second point is the texture of the stone, and also its durability. Its durability, of course, is of the greatest importance, if future generations are not to be put to the same expense to which we are being subjected at the present time. Another point that has to be considered is the adaptability of the stone for Gothic detail. We know there is a great deal of detail in the ornamentation of this building, and we must have a stone that will be suitable for that Gothic detail. The final point is that we must use a stone of which we can secure ample supplies.

After taking expert advice in various quarters, I might mention that my Noble Friend the Chief Commissioner of Works has had the advantage of the expert-advice of Mr. J. Allen Howe, Assistant Director of the Geological Survey, and also of Sir Robert Robertson, the Chief Government Chemist, and other experts. It is now proposed that the repairs should be carried out to this building with what is known as Stancliffe stone. I will not go into the chemical formation of this stone. Members who have read the book will have found the details there. This stone has been selected as being a hard-wearing stone suitable for the purpose. I believe there will be criticism during the Debate as to the choice of this stone, and I will defer any further details with regard to it until I have an opportunity of replying to any points that are raised.

In concluding these remarks, I would only remind the Committee that though £20,000 is asked for in the Estimates for this year, the total cost of the restoration is estimated to amount to £1,062,000 odd, to be expended over a period of some 12 to 15 years. Of course, it will be noted that in this year's Estimates, as in previous year it Estimates, there is also a sum of £5,000 for hand-picking. The method of hand-picking will, of course, have to be continued while the restoration takes place, but as the restoration nears completion the hand-picking will be reduced, and therefore there will be a saving on the usual outlay necessary at the present time. Having mentioned what I think are the more important details of this Vote, I commend the Vote to the Committee, and will be pleased to answer any questions as to details that may be raised during the Debate


I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.

I am disappointed with the statement that has come from the Government Bench with regard to this very important question. At first sight, it would appear as if it were a routine matter which ought to be passed without any question. Being a believer in Parliamentary government, and wishing to have a Parliament House, I think it ought to be one that should last, and I have no desire to oppose the voting of money for a great building. I am one of those who recognise that this House of Parliament is a great building; in fact, of its kind, the greatest building in the world, and it is recognised by Continental and American artists as being a great building, a class of work traditional to our people, and only to be found in this country. For that reason, it is of the greatest importance that if its preservation is to be undertaken, it should be undertaken in a proper manner. If we are agreed upon that, it will be appropriate to examine the question from the standpoint of those who claim to have some knowledge of what is required. In the first place, the Memoranda which have been prepared in a painstaking way, and give a considerable amount of information, although in some details limited, form, generally speaking, a very important document, and one which every Member of Parliament should peruse before he undertakes to commit himself to any expenditure of money with regard to the scheme.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman stated that the Government had selected some experts, and he gave the names of several gentlemen as pre-eminent in this subject. Governments in the past did the same thing. The Government, however, have not taken the trouble which a Government ought to do on any big question involving a large expenditure of money. The Government should consult every professional or other interest which may be involved in a scheme of this kind. To my amazement, when I read the Memoranda I found that no mention had been made of the Institute of Architects, which, surely, ought to be consulted on a question like this. The builders of the country have not been consulted, as I think they ought, and the workers of the country, who have to carry out the work, should be consulted as well. The Government have not attempted to do that. I suggest it ought to be their first duty, and I hope, as a result of this discussion to-night, they will change their point of view, and take appropriate steps to carry out this suggestion. When it comes to a question of this kind, the great experience of all the people engaged in the industry ought to be collected before any steps are taken. That has not been done. On the contrary, the Government have gone upon the same basis as the original Commissioners appointed by the Crown. They have gone upon chemical, geological and laboratory tests. The results of such tests made generations ago are to be seen on the outside of this House to-day. Common sense tells us that practical experience is far better than theoretical experience. I am one who bows down to the great work of people engaged in research, and I am always glad to learn from the results they have achieved; but in this case, having had the previous knowledge of laboratory tests, we are now recommended stone which, later on, I shall show has not stood the test of reliability.

The Memoranda relate that in 1861, which was not many years after the commencement of the work, a Select Comraittees was appointed and discovered that decay was rampant. What was more remarkable, they discovered that the decay in the fabric was more apparent in the plain than in the ornamental part. There are no proofs in the Memoranda or in any statement made anywhere that any change has taken place in the method of selecting stone sufficient to justify a departure from experience. If there has been, at any rate it has not been demonstrated either by the Crown advisers or by the Memoranda. Another point is that if the building wants patching, the assumption is that the remaining stones are sound. If that be so, and His Majesty's advisers are satisfied, then the building ought to be repaired with the same kind of stone. If they are not prepared to repair it with the same kind of stone, they must have grave doubts about the present stone, and if they have any doubts at all they ought to sweep it aside. I suggest that it should be refaced with whatever stone is used.

8.0 p.m.

It is very strange indeed to me His Majesty's advisers should recommend a stone of superior quality to repair a stone of inferior quality. It seems obvious that the ultimate outcome will be that you will have some sound stone in the building and some unsound stones. I could mention many Cathedrals where that expedient has been tried with disastrous results. It never has succeeded and it never can succeed. I am advised by people who are indisputably capable that the scheme recommended by the Government cannot be carried out upon the estimate of £1,000,000 odd. The memorandum very wisely does not give any indication as to where this stone is being used and where its durability is being proved. It is remarkable that not a single instance has been given of this stone being used in London nor of the years in which it has been in any building. It is true that St. George's Hall, Liverpool, is mentioned. That hall is reputed to have been up for 80 years, and a very sombre building it is. It looks like black ink, and I hope the House will not assent to a building of that kind disgracing the banks of the Thames. I have had occasion to learn that the Office of Works have considered the Land Registry Office in Lincoln's Inn Fields as a suitable example of the use of this material, but the first portion of that building is only 25 years old, and the second portion is only 12 years old, and those who have examined it, and are capable of forming a judgment, are of opinion that decay is setting in now and is likely to continue. Surely it is not suggested that Parliament is to be asked to conduct an experiment in a matter involving £1,000,000, upon laboratory tests to utilise material which has only proved itself in London in one Government building for 25 years. Everything suggests that the Government should look round carefully and consult those who have knowledge of the subject before they go ahead with the scheme.

Now I come to another aspect of the question, which from the Parliamentary point of view is more important even than the preservation of the building; that is the question of the men who will be called upon to work the Stancliffe stone. The name of the material is Darley Dale, and Stancliffe is the name of the quarry. It is amazing to me that, in the memorandum, the question of the health of the operatives has never been mentioned. It could not have been without the knowledge of His Majesty's advisers that that danger existed, because the Office of Works, when it has work to do on that kind of material, pays the men an extra sum per hour because of the danger of working it. That ought to have been taken into consideration and reported accordingly. That has not been done, and that is why some of us are greatly concerned about the proposed use of this stone. I will quote, as an illustration, something which is of importance and which has been written by a man who is prominent in his own Department, Sir Thomas Legge, who was till lately the senior Medical Inspector of Factories. This officer, during the whole of his Civil Service career, was engaged in reporting to the Government on work of this kind. He says: In Great Britain the quarrying and dressing of sandstone, whether in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, or round Edinburgh—Edinburgh is largely built of freestone—must have cost a holocaust of lives. The geology of Derbyshire, indeed, has been marked out simply by the death-rate from phthisis—high on the sandstone areas, low on the limestone. This point is convincingly summarised by the Registrar-General's figures, showing that, as compared with 142 of the average male population between 25 and 60 years of age who die of phthisis, there die 127 granite dressers, 129 limestone dressers, and 415 sandstone masons. These figures are appalling enough, and for the Government to embark upon a scheme of this kind without first taking them into consideration is, to say the least of it, negligent. Then he goes on to say: The ultimate effects of silicosis are even slower to show themselves than in the case of lead poisoning. Years invariably elapse before the shortness of breath—the result of the slow but sure encroachment on the air spaces—which is the cardinal symptom, makes work difficult, and, to add to the trouble, the tubercle bacillus is as likely as not to find a nidus in the weakened lung. At present, unfortunately, methods of removing the dust at the point of production in chipping and dressing by hand have failed, although invention may yet find a way. Wetting the stone is a very partial success. I am very much interested in the latter part of the statement, because it is often suggested that the masons have only to wet the stone and their death-rate would be lowered. But those who understand the work know that the man who wets the stone hinders his output, and, for economic reasons, he has to take a risk of disease and to get on with the job. I have some other figures which are in many ways illustrative. Unfortunately the Government cannot provide us with any figures, except those which are out of date, and the figures I am to give are those which were last compiled. In the areas where this stone comes from, the medical officer of the Derbyshire County Council conducted an inquiry. Taking the death rate per thousand in the years from 1901 to 1910, the rate among 124 persons, grit stone workers, was 13.7 from phthisis. Out of 426 stone workers, some in limestone, in the two Matlocks and the two Darleys, the death-rate was seven per thousand. Taking the gritstone and limestone workers generally, the rate was five per thousand. Among the persons employed in and about limestone quarries and works, the rate was 1.71 per thousand. Among limestone workers themselves, it was 1.52 per thousand. Among persons employed in and about coal mines in the same district, the rate was 68 per thousand, and among persons employed in agriculture 66 per thousand. The standard phthisis death-rate was 77 per thousand. Therefore, the workers engaged on this sandstone had to take the greater risk of a death-rate of 13.7 per thousand, as against the average phthisis death-rate of 77 per thousand.

If you compare figures compiled for the same years in respect; of the workers in Portland stone, you will find that the death-rate among the masons was 1.4 per thousand, among the labourers, 1.9, and, for all other trades, 1.1 per thousand. I could quote more if I cared, but I do not want to weary the House. Dr. Brown the medical officer who worked for the Home Office and who, I believe, still does so, gave a report in 1922 to the Home Office. He said that the development of this disease is remarkable. It grows in slow stages, and the men who are suffering from it appear to be the same, but ultimately they die of it and die very quickly. I hope the Government will take some steps to give us the death-rate in this connection. If the Minister of Health cares to find it he could send a medical officer to the local districts, and get the figures up to date. I want to give all the advantage that the National Health Insurance Act may confer upon the victims, because this disease has been in operation during the interval after the period relating to the figures which I have quoted. If you are to introduce a stone of this kind into London, you will raise the maximum amount of disease among the men who will have to work it, or, alternatively, you will bring men from the area that the stone comes from, and you will have to send them back to their own districts and compensate them. It may be suggested that special tools, such as the pneumatic tool, could be used; but the operatives in London districts are opposed to this tool, and rightly so, because its only utility is to expedite the work, and it aggravates the disease.

The only thing the Government have succeeded in demonstrating is that we have a very fine colour scheme. The Houses of Parliament are beautifully coloured, but it is remarkable that the stone that was used was not the stone that was originally chosen. If you are to have a beautiful colour in stone, you are bound to have oxide, and, if you have oxide, you are bound to have decay. The proper thing to do is to recognise the results of experience. If you do so, you are bound to recognise that Wren when he started the building of St. Paul's had insight when he chose Portland stone. St. Paul's was built of Portland stone, and it has been standing for 300 years. Greenwich Hospital, which has been standing for nearly the same time; the Monument which commemorates the Great Fire; and every Government building in Whitehall, has been erected in Portland stone. Yet, in spite of that experience, it is suggested that we should take a stone which will cost more, which will cost the ill-health of the operatives and which will not add to the dignity nor to the beauty of the building. Darley Dale stone will be best recognised by people who travel in the North, where it is used for railway bridges, and, if they think the tint of it is beautiful, they are welcome to do so. Portland is proving its durability, and it is being used in place of sandstone even in the sandstone areas. In Liverpool, Manchester, and other places they are adopting this material, and architects are finding it much better for their work. All the theory in the world may be beautiful, but practical experience is outstanding.

The other thing you have to take into consideration is the completion of the work. It is a wise procedure and one to be commended, that when the Government undertakes a large expenditure like this it should be spread over a long period of years so as not to create a high peak of employment and consequent unemployment afterwards. If Portland stone is utilised you would stablise trade, and the work could he completed in a shorter time, even the patching process. Rut the most important thing is that the Government should take first into con- sideration the health of the workers. The Government has no right, with the statistics and knowledge already is their possession of the terrible death-rate among the people concerned, to utilise a material which is known to be dangerous and reject a material which causes no risk to the persons employed. The stone that is selected has not been demonstrated, either here or in the North of England, to possess the durability required. Anyone who visits Manchester or Liverpool can look at the cornices and caps which are dropping off the buildings; the whole thing is deplorable.

The Government have been badly advised, and if we are going to have a costly experiment then I think it should be conducted not at the expense of the public but at the expense of the people who create the disease. The experience of people in the building industry and architects should be utilised to the full. The best brains of the architects and builders, and of all the workmen, should be called in before the Government spends any money. I am certain that as a result you will be able to find better means and bettor material. There is no scarcity of the material I suggest. Unfortunately, there is no alternative to these two stones. The advice I get is that it lies between these two stones; whether that is true or not can be inquired into. If you do this you might come to a point of view which may not be acceptable to the Government. I have a great admiration for the Civil Service. I think the British Civil Service is the most wonderful institution in the world. I believe as a Socialist that we ought to have State control everywhere, but at the same time I recognise that there are some questions which, during the present transition stage from the system we know to the system we hope to know, prevents a Government Department always getting the best advice, and in this ease I think they should go outside the Department for advice.

I want to say this one thing more, because of a remark I overheard in the Lobby yesterday. I have no interest in the Portland quarries. I know nothing of the interests connected with the building trade, and I have nothing personally to gain in the matter. I am glad to say also that those who have co-operated with me in this question have nothing to gain at all; either builders or masons. It will not matter to them what material is used. There is nothing going into their pockets which would not go in the ordinary way. I maintain that any scheme which is adopted should be referred to the Royal Institute of British Architects; that an architect of eminence, sympathetic to the original design of the buildings, should be appointed, that the builders, masons and workers, both masters and men, should be consulted; that no stone, however durable it may be, which is acknowledged to be dangerous to the workers should be used, and that when patching is to be the process a stone best fitted to the London atmosphere should be used.

Marquess of HARTINGTON

I do not intend to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken into the question as to whether or not his stone is injurious to the health of the workers concerned. I am concerned to repudiate the suggestion he seems to make that the durability of the stone suggested is not absolutely above reproach. He quoted in support of his contention St. George's Hall, Liverpool, and said that it is a sombre building. I suggest respectfully that it is not the fault of the stone but of the Port of Liverpool. The stone has no protection against the smoke of Liverpool. You might almost as well reproach the bricks at the back of a fireplace for being black. The proposed stone is of a warm and rich colour, and will harmonise admirably with the rest of the building, and its durability is absolutely above reproach. It is still acknowledged that what Manchester thinks to-day, London will think to-morrow, and I hope North Hammersmith will think next week. I should like to inform the hon. Member of the immense number of buildings which have been built in Manchester of this stone. I will not inflict the whole list on the Committee. They include the Royal Infirmary, the Royal Exchange, the Assize Courts, a large number of hotels and practically every bank, as well as a majority of the large buildings in Liverpool, including St. George's Hall which has been standing for 80 years and which shows no sign whatever of decay. Another important building is King Edward's Grammar School and the muni- cipal buildings and Art Gallery at Birmingham which has been up since 1833 and shows no signs whatever of decay.

The statement that the stone is liable to decay is absolutely without foundation, and its adoption to an increasing extent in the smoky damp districts of the North of England is because it has been found to resist the climatie conditions better than any other stone. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member into the question of the health of the workers in this stone, but I should like to say that I think he has slightly exaggerated the risk to the workers. My interest in the stone is that it comes from the constituency which I have the honour to represent, and if the story he has told of the nature of the stone is correct, I should find my constituents deploring the fact that they are condemned to death in a few years. But I find, however, that there is widespread satisfaction. not so much at the prospect that they are to be assured of employment for some years to come—the Stansfield quarries have been doing extremely well for some time—but because they are proud of their stone and the fact that the House of Commons is going to come to their quarry for its stone.


Can the Noble Lord give us some examples of London buildings?

Marquess of HARTINGTON

I cannot give many example;- in London, though there are a few. London thinks invariably some way bound Lancashire and Yorkshire. I have here two examples. The base of the Crystal Palace and the base and steps of the Albert Memorial are made of this stone, and there are many other jobs which have been done later. As the hon. Member has asked me a question, I way as well tell him that the stone was used locally and in the North of England when the quarry was first developed. Then there was a period when the quarry was not worked at all. The quarry was then bought by the late Sir Joseph Whitworth, but it was not until his death that it was brought into use again. That is the reason why there are no recent buildings in London constructed of this stone.


I doubt whether the interest of hon. Members in what they call their own building is deep enough for them to understand the tragedy that we are now witnessing. I should have thought that a question so grave as this, affecting an edifice such as this is, would have resulted in each bench being crowded. I am sorry for the reason of the absence of the Under-Secretary for the Home Department, though the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the matter has done very well, indeed. Had his speech been longer perhaps some of the questions now being put would not have been put. Having read all the literature that has been produced on the subject, including the booklet that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has before him, I wish to know whether, since the publication of these things, there has been any further consideration. Is there any further Report or any Report from the Fine Arts Commission? I understood from what took place over a year ago, when we went over the roof and the building generally, that the final decision would rest with the Fine Arts Commission. Has there been any change in regard to the methods to be adopted? Are there to be any changes in the architectural features of the building? Is there any truth in statements in papers like the "Times" that certain turrets are to be taken down and replaced by something lighter or different? The recommendations that are made in that relation are not definite enough for anyone to accept them. I want to know also in what form the repair system is conceived? Is it to be general for the whole of the building, or is it to apply only to the facade facing the river and that on the opposite side facing the street and that part facing Bridge Street? If it is to be confined to these, is there to be any method adopted with regard to the internal uncovered corridors? To me, the design of the House always appears to be a number of corridors joined up by two small things called houses.

It should be made quite clear that when we are discussing stone we are discussing two things, so far as this building is concerned. When we are discussing the stone of this building we are discussing a latent defect. That is number one. Number two is the attack of the atmosphere upon the stone. There is a difficulty to be faced. When you read the newspapers published during the time that the stone was being chosen for these buildings you realise the huge interest that was then taken in the subject. I say that because of the leading articles and the letters in the Press. We are now discussing an expenditure of £1,200,000. The original Estimate for this building was £800,000. It was to have been built in six years, but the work lasted 20 years and cost £2,000,000. The choice of the stone used was made after what is described in all the papers of that period as protracted examination. The reason given for not using Portland stone was that the pillars at Hyde Park were showing signs of decay. All that great care and investigation were given to the subject, and yet we are discussing this tragedy to-night. Have we any greater guarantee in the recommendations now made than the people had when this building was about to be built?

I have read with interest that part of the booklet which relates to artificial stone, and while we can say that there have not been many big buildings built of artificial stone and the time has not been sufficient to test the stone's durability, yet we ought to have had some report upon the resistance to the atmosphere of artificial stone. There are many such stones made. We might have some information in regard to that because to-day is the day of the chemical scientist and we might have had the results of tests that had been carried out. You could ascertain in a laboratory the effect of 50 or 100 years' concentration of atmospheric effects on artificial stone. Where defects in stone are lateral and at the angles. they can be seen, but if they are internal we might set about the repair of the top of one of these walls and go on spending money in putting up scaffolds to carry out the repair, and then in a month or two we discover that an unanticipated defect has shown itself.

In connection with the' expenditure of this sum of £1,200,000, has it been arranged to have every stone tapped by an experienced man who is capable of telling whether there is a defect in the stone or not? That is a most essential thing. It is no use starting to do repairs at the top, if there are latent defects underneath. I do not care what you expend, if you are going to do the thing at all, let it be done properly. We ought to start at the bottom and make a thorough examination. You can get experienced men to conduct such an examination. There are people who work in minerals and who, by tapping a stone, can give you the thickness of it up to 4 feet. There is no difficulty about getting this work done. I suggest, seriously, that every inch of the building should be gone over in this way to ensure that we shall not spend money uselessly. I know that it will be a tedious process, but it is the only way to safeguard against latent defects which may afterwards develop. A suggestion has been made about re-facing the building. I do not dispute that suggestion, but before refacing the building we ought to know whether these walls, carrying the weight which is upon them, have not latent defects which may be such as to burst the facing and develop faults which might bring about more serious disaster. I can see nothing for it but a thorough examination of every foot of the building.

Coming to the question of cost, I think it is unfair to ask anyone, in the circumstances I have just described, to make an estimate. I do not think it can be done. I have been watching closely, since I was over the roof and since the dismantling of the turrets began, the-manner in which the work is being-carried out. The up-and-down form of scaffolding which is in use is very expensive, and I should like to know if a suggestion which I made previously is likely to be carried out. I suggested that, instead of having the continuous cost of pole-and-tie scaffolding, instead of the continuous work of putting up and taking clown scaffolding, we should have a moveable trestle on the Terrace capable of providing room for 10 men to work. Such an arrangement could be quite artistic and it need not interfere with the movements of those who use the Terrace. I make that as a practical suggestion. With such a trestle you could reach any part of the wall from the base to the top; you could always do so in safety, and it could be so constructed as to prevent accidents being caused by falling stones. I cannot repeat too often that we must face this matter not on the basis of saving money but on the basis that the thing must be done right and that, if we do not do it right, we are only wasting such money as we spend upon it.

We are here, I presume, discussing only that part of the Estimate which deals with the stonework, but I do not think I shall be out of order in saying that there are many other things in connection with the building which require to be altered and which could be altered cheaply while the scaffolding is there. Take, for instance, the question of the ventilation of this House. We take in the air at the lowest level at which we can get it,, namely, on the Terrace. That seems absurd. Every heavy gas is attracted by the surface of the river, and in the hot summer weather, during an all-night sitting, it is always easy to know when a barge passes by carrying something which is not good for the olfactory nerves. I suggest that in this scheme, which I think we may call a reconstruction scheme, consideration should be given to the inlet of air to the House. I know there are a great many people outside who would like to have poison gas put in, and that might not be a bad thing for the nation, but I am not discussing that point. It seems to me there are various methods which could be very cheaply adopted in the building as it is at present constructed to bring the air in at such a level as would render it free from these contaminations. I hope that this reconstruction will include not only the question of the air supply, but will also deal with a great many other features in the arrangements about the House which require attention. Before concluding,, I wish to refer to the condition of many of the gargoyles which are not visible from the front or the Terrace but are hidden in behind. These, I think, ought to be removed. There is one in which the defect is horizontal and the head of that gargoyle can he lifted off in the same way as a stranger to the House would remove his hat at the request of the Serjeant-at-Arms. Other gargoyles may develop similar defects, and if the head of one of them fell off and struck a Noble Member of the other place as he was going into his work it would be a serious matter. On the question of hand-picking, it is suggested that this will become less and less as time goes on. I do not think so, and the Department ought to ask for more money with which to continue it. Hand-picking is not going to diminish in the ratio suggested. I hope the hon. and gallant Member in charge of the Estimate will be able to give answers to the various points which have been raised and will endeavour to interest the Department concerned in the suggestions which I have made.


I wish to say a few words on this subject, partly in criticism of my colleague the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Gardner), who suggested the use of Portland stone. I admire Portland stone as much as anything, but this stone was very carefully considered by Sir Charles Barry, who came to the conclusion that it would be much too white for the purpose of his design, and he turned it down. In my opinion, Portland stone has another drawback, namely, that the magnificent detail of the carving essential to this building is such that it would be very difficult to work in Portland stone. When I was a boy I recollect hearing that if you poured 10,000 gallons of vinegar over this building, the whole building would be turned into Epsom salts, which would supply the Empire with Epsom salts for 10,000 years. I do not know whether that is true or not, but the stone being magnesian limestone, I believe that would be the effect. I mention this because the Staneliffe stone is a remarkable stone for withstanding the atmosphere. In the Midlands it is a favourite stone for making the stone troughs, which are cut out of a solid block, for the purpose of holding and storing sulphuric acid, and that is a fairly good answer to the effect of the acids in the air here. The present architect has taken an enormous amount of trouble in investigating this question, and has travelled in order to discover which is really the best stone for the purpose under present conditions. I do not think it is possible in these days to consider refacing the whole front of the building, and, as the last speaker said, it has other dangers, namely, that if you attempted an entire refacing of the whole of it, it might show latent defects, which would be very serious indeed. On the whole, I want to support the Government with regard to this Staneliffe stone. I am one of the informal Committee which considered the subject, and I support the recommendations of the Committee with regard to the Staneliffe stone, as I do not think there is any other stone which will fit the circumstances of the case so well. It is amazing to think that the original builders, instead of putting in proper standards to go down into the pinnacles, put in iron, with the result that, in the course of time, the iron got wet and rusted. The iron has been responsible for splitting a great deal of the stone, and that, I hope, is something which will not be repeated. I hope we shall have all those standards of proper stone which will not be liable to split. Considering all the circumstances of the case, I think the Government have come to a wise conclusion in recommending Stancliffe stone.


I have been very interested in reading the recommendations of the Committee, the more so because I, with others, had the privilege of going over the roof and the building generally, and I might say that I am not in entire agreement with the right hon. Member for South Hammersmith (Sir W. Bull) on the question of our having to reface the whole of the building. In reading the Memoranda, I note that the advisers of the Government have gone to great lengths in considering the question of colour. Personally, I do not think that needs all the attention that has been given to it, for we read that within nine years after the stone had been, put in place, they found out that a great proportion of it was already decaying, but I believe that defects in the stone were discovered even during the course of the construction of the building. They anticipate that 15 years will be necessary for repairing the building, and it has been admitted by the hon. and gallant Member in charge of the Vote that hand-picking has to be continued at the same time. I am of the opinion that during those 15 years we shall find that other defects will have revealed themselves, and that where the scaffolding has been taken down we shall have to put it up again to repair the stone.

I do not think we ought to consider this matter lightly. The advisers have a very responsible duty to perform, and this House ought to be more full than it is, and be giving far more attention to this matter, because it would be preferable that the anticipated repairs should continue for 20 or 25 years and that the work should be thoroughly done. I do not think we ought to be concerned with colour at all, because I feel convinced, in my own mind, that the whole of the face of the walls will have to be dealt with, and I think we ought to make provision for dealing with it in a very thorough manner. The recommendations do not deal with the position as thoroughly as I think they should. I am not going to argue the merits of the different stones, but I do not think we ought to be so much concerned about the colour, providing we get a stone which is durable, and which will enable us to hand these buildings down to the generations that are to come.

Another point that I want to make is this, that when we are judging the stone, in addition to taking into consideration its durability, I think it will be expected of us that we should give some consideration to the effects of the use of the stone upon the operatives. The hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Gardner) quoted the death rate that results from the use of the Stancliffe stone, and it was very alarming, and I think the advisers of the Department would be very well advised to reconsider the position and to take these death rate figures into consideration before embarking upon the scheme. A definite decision ought not to be taken, in my view, until more advice has been sought, and I would strongly support the recommendations of the hon. Member for North Hammersmith to the effect that advice should be sought from a wider field than has been the case up to the present. In view of those facts, I hope the Debate will be continued in such a way that we shall recognise the importance of being prepared to grant whatever money is necessary, and of extending it for a longer period in order that the money may be obtained. I trust we shall conduct the whole business in such a way that we shall really give value for money and feel secure that we have done the best possible thing for the nation.


I do not propose to follow the line of criticism which has been embarked upon by hon. Members who have spoken hitherto in the Debate. I think the majority of Members will probably feel that this is essentially a question for experts to deal with, and most of us feel that the experts should be given the freest possible hand, and that we should be prepared to foot whatever bill may result, if only they will give us a sound House of Commons, worthy of the traditions of the past and of the work which is done in this building. As this Vote covers not only questions affecting the structure of the building, but also minor things, I would venture to draw attention to one or two matters which are rather domestic, perhaps, but none the less important as affecting the efficiency of the House. I would like to draw attention to the fact that the telephone boxes in this House—


The hon. Member informed me of his intention to raise this matter. Since he expressed that intention I have given the subject anxious consideration, and I have come to the conclusion that this is primarily a matter concerning the Post Office, and should be raised on the Post Office Vote.


May I suggest that it is a question of furniture, and that the supply of further telephone boxes might be dealt with?


A telephone box may be a piece of furniture, but it would not be worth much if the Post Office did not fix a telephone inside it, and so I think the subject must come under the Post Office Vote.


May I take it that the same consideration would apply in regard to secretarial accommodation in this House, and to ' lighting?


That, I think, would come under the Office of Works Vote.


Then I must defer raising these questions until other Votes come up for consideration.


There is one matter I wish to raise, but in view of your ruling I do not know whether it can be done on this Vote. It is with regard to the discharge of men employed in connection with fittings, and especially with gas fittings in this House.


That cannot be raised on this Vote.

9.0 p.m.

Captain KING

In these days of economy it is not often the Government are urged to spend more money when they present their Estimates. I can assure the Committee that the Office of Works, in preparing this Vote, as with all their other Votes, have exercised the most rigid economy, and that is why some of the suggestions which have been made in previous years, and which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir I). Newton) was desirous of bringing forward again, have not been dealt with this year. With the rigid need for economy, it was quite impossible to comply with all the wishes which have been expressed in times past for the improvement of the ventilation of the House, and other matters of that sort. With regard to the structure of the building, I realise perfectly well that there will be some opposition on behalf of the supporters of Portland stone. The two schools of thought have more or less answered each other during the Debate, but I would like to pass a comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Gardner). He regretted that the Office of Works had not consulted with members of the trade, working masons and so on, before coming to a decision. Quite recently he himself headed a deputation to my Noble Friend the First Commissioner of Works, and it is rather odd, in view of his complaint, that before taking that deputation of masons and others interested in the stone trade he should have omitted to consult in any way the masons and others who actually work in this building. I have here a letter, though I will not trouble the Committee with it, signed by the masons and other workers employed on the repair of this building, stating that they had not been consulted before that deputation was brought to the Office of Works by the hon. Member. One would think that if anyone should express an opinion, it would be the men working on the building, that they might have been consulted before action was taken.

With regard to the refacing work, it has been suggested by one hon. Member that we should either continue to use the stone which has already proved a failure for repairs, or reface the whole building. in Portland stone. I understand that the cost of refacing the building with Portland stone would amount to somewhere between £3,500,000 and £4,000,000. That is a very large sum, and, as the hon. Member for South Hammersmith has pointed out, Portland stone is not considered to be a suitable material for this building. The most important point raised this evening and the point which has been most carefully considered by the Department, is whether the health of the men who work with this particular type of sandstone is affected. I think it is a matter in which all Members of the House will be equally interested. It has been carefully considered, but, to my mind, there are no really conclusive figures about it. Some of the figures quoted deal with the last census.

The hon. Member for North Hammersmith quoted figures from the medical officer of health in the Darley Dale neighbourhood. Sandstone quarry owners in Derby decided in 1922 to have an examination of their employes. They instructed the local medical officers of health to examine all their operatives, consisting of 291 men. Out of this number five were found to be suffering from silicosis and seven from lung diseases. Eighty-four of the men were between 40 and 49 years of age, 51 were between 50 and 59, and 21 were 60 years and over. The fact that only five were suffering from silicosis and seven from lung diseases shows that the working of that sandstone was not very injurious. All the medical officers of health reported favourably on the condition of the men they examined. The medical officer of health of the North Darley Urban District Council also supplied a statement of the death rata from phthisis in his area from the years 1909 to 1920, a period of 11 years. The figures for 1919 and 1920 are representative of the remainder. In 1919 the death rate per 1,000 from phthisis was 34; the number of deaths from phthisis was one, a female.


Females do not work in sandstone quarries.

Captain KING

I am pointing out that no male was included at all.


Yes, but those are figures for men working with that material.

Captain KING

I am giving the total figures; I am giving you the actual returns of the medical officer of health. I am comparing this with the death rate in England and Wales. In the North Darley district the death rate from phthisis in 1919 was only 34, whereas for England and Wales it was 1.55.


You cannot make comparisons of that kind and you must take it in connection with the men engaged in that particular area.

Captain KING

I think it is necessary to consider the state of health in the whole of that area, I do not consider that there exists any really satisfactory statistics to prove what is being contended either one way or the other. There is no doubt that those who work sandstone do suffer to a certain extent from silicosis and this complaint is not unknown amongst those who work limestone.


It is also known in the Portland district.

Captain KING

I had the figures of the last census, but I do not consider they are accurate enough for our purpose to-day. I admit that silicosis exists amongst the workers of sandstone and that point has been considered by the Office of Works and the Home Office. It has been carefully considered and we intend to take every possible precaution to secure the health of those who work on this stone not only by damping the stone, but also in other ways which have been suggested. The workshops in which the men will work within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster will have roofs which can be removed and opened completely in fine weather, so that the men will be working practically in the open air. By taking all these precautions I hope that no bad effects on the health of the workmen will be experienced at all.

The hon. Member opposite is really asking the Government to set up a self-denying ordinance in the case of this particular stone. I would like to point out that on this point the Home Office has never been approached to bring in any Regulations or to regulate the use of this stone at any time. The Home Office have carried out part of their general investigation of this question, and there has been a comprehensive inquiry in regard to this disease in connection with the use of this particular stone. In each case special regard has been had to precautionary and preventive measures. Again I wish to repeat that hitherto the Home Office have never been requested to prohibit the use of silicious material. I think it is unreasonable for the hon. Member opposite to suggest that while all other buildings and organisations in this country may still be allowed to use this particular type of sandstone that we should be denied the use of it, because it is considered to be the most serviceable stone that can be found for this building. I assure hon. Members that every precaution is going to be taken and we do not think that any injurious effects to the workmen will ensue from the use of this stone.

With regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) I may say that we are working in close touch with the Fine Arts Commission in regard to this business. The hon. Member is aware that in many quite inaccessible and invisible places there is atone worked in very intricate detail, and the Fine Arts Commission is being consulted in regard to some of these high elevations as to whether they can be modified, and, if so, in what form. I can assure hon. Members, whose natural anxiety in regard to the restoration of this building I fully recognise, that all the expert advice which is available will be consulted. It is not desired to take any false step in regard to the restoration of this building, and I feel sure that with the advice at our disposal and the plans already made that the restoration will be complete when it is carried through.


Do I understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that the masons employed in this building have not been consulted on this question?

Captain KING

Yes, that is so.


Then I will read to the Committee a letter which gives me authority for taking part in this discussion. On 28th March I received the following letter from the Divisional Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers of Great Britain and Ireland:


Re: Restoration of the Houses of Parliament.

On behalf of the London Divisional Council of this union, I am instructed to solicit your support in the following matter:

As you will he aware, the Office of Works hare had under consideration the restora- tion of those parts of the Houses of Parliament which have become decayed, and a Report has been presented suggesting the use of Darley Dale stone for the purpose. Immediately this Report came to the notice of our mason members they made an overwhelming representation through their various branches opposing the use of this stone. The Divisional Council made exhaustive inquiries in regard to the matter, during the course of which not a solitary mason could be found who favoured the use of Darley Dale stone. The Divisional Council was accordingly instructed to take all steps to raise objection to its use mainly on the ground of its detrimental effect upon the health of the workmen. The statistics which we have show a lamentable early age at death in the case of masons employed working Darley Dale stone, which is deplorable and striking when compared with the average age at death of masons employed working other stones.

In view of your practical knowledge of masonry, I am instructed to request you to assist us by opposing in the House of Commons the use of Darley Dale stone in the Restoration of the Houses of Parliament with a view to impressing upon the Office of Works the advisability of employing other stone which is not so injurious to the health of the workmen.

Thanking you for your assistance in this matter,

I am,

Yours faithfully,


Divisional Secretary."

I may add that, after getting that letter, I made further inquiries, and found that the organisation in question consists of representatives from each branch, called the Divisional Council, and, if any mason can say that he has not been consulted, it is probably because, as happens in a great many cases, be did not attend the branch meetings and took no interest in the matter. I want to assure the Committee that I have that authority for stating that the masons oppose the use of this stone. The only other point that was dealt with is the question of health statistics. May I again say that comparisons as to diseases can only be made between the people engaged in the occupation and the general statistics, and, as far as Darley Dale stone is concerned, the figures I have quoted are the only figures available. The Government could get figures—

Captain KING

I have some, too.


I have been endeavouring for some weeks to get some, but have not been able to do so. Perhaps I ought to have put down a question. Not wishing to trouble Ministers, I have tried other means, but have been unsuccessful. So far as regards the proposed use of preventive measures, I wish them every success, but I would remind the Committee of the remark I made in the earlier part of my speech, that silicosis goes on for a long time before it is discovered; it is not like lead paint. If the Government persist in using this stone, what will happen will be that the building will be completed and the men will be dead, and the preventive measures will be of no avail. I hope that the Government, in the light of the discussion that has taken place, will make further inquiries and will not rush into any hasty experiments which will be detrimental, not only to the operatives, but to the public purse.


The hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Gardner) is, I think, mixing up the work of the mason with the work of the quarry-man, which is entirely different. There is no danger to any mason who uses stone of this description. The danger is from getting small pieces of stone into the lungs, and that only happens amongst quarry workers who are constantly quarrying the stone. In preparing the stone for building, or in using it in building, the danger is non-existent. [HON. MEMBERS:"NO!"]

Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £57,310, be granted for the said Service," put, and negatived.