HC Deb 10 July 1967 vol 750 cc1-7
The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. Reginald Prentice)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about my plans for extending the external cleaning of Government buildings in London and Edinburgh.

A number of buildings have been cleaned in the past, but it was prudent to proceed on a limited scale and from time to time to test methods and reactions to results. For example, it was always necessary to consider whether the cleaning would be successful. Whether staining would occur and whether the result would be acceptable.

The results which can now be achieved by current methods are clear for all to see at Admiralty House, No. 36 Whitehall, the Horseguards and Dover House.

I am satisfied that a start should now be made with a more extensive programme. After a review of the major buildings for which I am responsible, I have decided to have the following build- ings in London cleaned: the Old Treasury Building in Whitehall, the National Gallery, Admiralty Arch and the Mall facade of the Admiralty; and to make a start with the Old and New Register Houses in Edinburgh. I have been in touch with the Royal Fine Art Commission and the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland on this.

This represents a large increase in the scale of cleaning activity. We shall be trebling expenditure on this work, raising it from £20,000 in 1966–67 to £60,000 in 1967–68, and the size and nature of the buildings will ensure that the cleaning has a strong impact. I hope to be able to continue the work at least at this level in subsequent years.

I am aware that the growing interest in cleaning is shared by local authorities and by private owners. I hope that what is now to be done for Government buildings will encourage them further in this activity.

Mr. Channon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be general satisfaction and welcome for his statement both from those who live in London and those who visit it?

Further, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the success of the past programme leads us to be very pleased with the fact that he has decided to extend it? Can he tell me what have been the criteria which have governed the choice of the buildings that he has announced? Can he say whether there is likely to be an increase of cleaning in the Palace of Westminster, especially on the Terrace side, which many hon. Members would like? Finally, can he say whether he has put some of this work out to tender, and if so, how many contractors will be taking part in it?

Mr. Prentice

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his general welcome for the statement. The choice of buildings was based on two considerations: first, the state of the building at the moment —how badly it seemed to need cleaning —and, secondly, to some extent the position and importance of the building. As I said in my statement, we are concerned to make a public impact and hope to set an example to local authorities and private owners. As to the Palace of Westminster, over several years there was a process of replacement of the stonework by new Clipsham stone. At that time the Department considered whether to do general cleaning but decided against it. The older stonework was brushed down, and it was decided to allow the old and new stone to weather together. I do not think that general cleaning is necessary at the moment, but I should welcome the views of hon. Members. All this work goes out to tender. None is done by direct labour.

Mr. Whitaker

While warmly welcoming my right hon. Friend's announcement, may I ask him whether he would consider compelling private owners to participate in a cohesive plan such as that of M. Malraux in Paris, and since the cost is soon recouped in tourist revenue, can he give a date for completing the whole of Whitehall and other important buildings such as the Bank of England?

Mr. Prentice

So far as private owners are concerned, I do not think I have any powers to do as my hon. Friend suggests. It is something which we might think about, although at the moment I do not thing it is very feasible. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to develop his ideas on this and we could have a talk about the matter. As to the date, I am not sure that there will be a date on which we can say that the work is completed. At what stage have we completed the cleaning of buildings? They all need to be done from time to time. Certainly what I have proposed will make an impact in Whitehall, which suggests that we would take up the rest of what is needed in a relatively short time.

Mr. Sandys

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement will give very great satisfaction to all who care about the good appearance of their town and its dignity? May I pursue the point raised by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker)? Will the right hon. Gentleman also realise that this may well be the moment to try to give a lead to the whole country to do the same thing? Will he consider, with his right hon. Friend, what might be done, perhaps by cooperative action, to get large-scale cleaning done in this country?

Mr. Prentice

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said at the beginning of his supplementary question. I will certainly give further consideration to his suggestion. It has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I appreciate its importance. Perhaps there are other steps we can consider to give encouragement to local authorities, but I remind the House that some of them have already been doing this job. For example, the previous Mayor of Westminster issued an appeal to private owners. To some extent, the initiative should rest with the municipalities, but I will consider the extent to which the Government should take a further initiative.

Sir J. Rodgers

The right hon. Gentleman's statement has given great pleasure to both sides of the House. Will he consider the steps that were taken by M. Malraux in Paris, both in regard to the public sector and the private sector, which have made Paris a sparkling jewel bringing joy not only to tourists but to the Parisians themselves? Will he look into what has been done there and consider what action might be taken to encourage private enterprise to do this cleaning as well?

Mr. Prentice

It was the example of Paris that led me some months ago to give thought to what further steps we should take in this country. But our problems are rather more difficult. The atmosphere of London is worse than that of Paris from the point of view of cleaning buildings. By washing its buildings, Paris can get fairly good results. That is not so here. In recent years, we have been experimenting with new cleaning techniques. The main technique is blasting with grits. It has proved successful, but it is a bigger and more expensive operation than is necessary in Paris if we are to get lasting results.

Mr. Costain

Is the Minister aware that a large number of private owners are concerned about cleaning for the reasons that he has given? In order to help them, will he give publicity to methods of cleaning, whether by steam or grits, and also report on how the stone work stands up after cleaning?

Mr. Prentice

I will consider that. I want to be helpful to private owners in this matter. Until comparatively recently the method normally used was water spray or steam. But, as I have said, we have now gone on to a blasting process using, first, soft grits and now harder grits. Of course, one thing to be considered is the effect on the fabric of buildings. We are fairly well satisfied so far, but we must watch this aspect. We shall certainly pass on the lessons learnt to other building owners.

Mr. Monro

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement will give great pleasure to the people of Edinburgh? When will the cleaning of the Old Register House be completed? What other buildings has he under consideration for similar treatment?

Mr. Prentice

I cannot give dates without notice, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman. We made a start in Edinburgh in the previous financial year. The Old Register House will be started in this financial year, and there may be others to come.

Mr. Ridley

I, too, welcome the statement. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the buildings that his Department will clean are confined to buildings under public ownership? If that is so, will he give consideration to extending the principle to buildings under private ownership or are owned by local authorities?

Mr. Prentice

The buildings I have referred to are in Government ownership. My Ministry is responsible for Government buildings. In relation to buildings owned by local authorities or in private ownership, what the hon. Gentleman has said follows up the point made by several other hon. Members.

Mr. Iremonger

What is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to do about Nelson's Column and statue? Since what we are considering is the highlighting of the elegance of our most beautiful buildings, will he get his right hon. Friends to look at buildings occupied by their Departments when it comes to painting and decorating? For example, the Parliament Street Post Office is a beautiful Queen Anne building, but its exterior has been totally ruined by careless painting and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions must be brief.

Mr. Prentice

Nelson's Column and statue are not in our preliminary programme. They present very great difficulties and the experts take a cautious view of the prospects of cleaning them. But, of course, I will bear the point in mind. My Department takes care of Government buildings in general, although Post Office buildings are exceptional in that the Post Office itself is responsible for them. However, the Post Office has expressed a wish to co-operate with us in this general approach.

Sir E. Boyle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most encouraging passages in his statement referred to the encouragement he intends to give to local authorities to co-operate in this work? Has he consulted any of the local authority associations—for example, the A.M.C.? Will he work closely with the Minister of Housing and Local Government in giving every encouragement to local authorities to make their contribution?

Mr. Prentice

Yes, Sir, but I would not want to take the attitude that the Government are to a too great extent telling local authorities what to do. It may well be, however, that some consultations would be useful with the A.M.C. and other bodies. I think that, on the whole, the local authorities want to take their own initiative on this. I remind the House that we are trying to promote economy in both Government and local authority spending, but I have found that this work forms a very small proportion of maintenance costs. The programme I have announced means that we are increasing the proportion occupied by cleaning in our building maintenance from one-eighth of 1 per cent. to three-eighths of 1 per cent. Therefore, my statement is not inconsistent with the general policy of economy in public spending.

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