HC Deb 09 June 1972 vol 838 cc952-4

Ordered, That the Fourth Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) be now considered.—[ Mr. R. Carr. ]

Report considered accordingly.

3.55 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robert Carr)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Report.

At this hour I am sure the House will realise that I cannot go at any length in expounding this report. I simply express the hope that the House will agree to what its own Services Committee has recommended after very careful consideration. We were very conscious of the fact that it was an extremely difficult problem. We realised that there was no ideal solution to it. We looked at what seemed to be all reasonable alternatives and we came to the conclusion on balance that the proposals we have put forward were the best available.

The only other point I would make is in regard to the proposed starting date of 1st July. The date was chosen and recommended by the Committee because, after careful consideration, it was concluded that this date would ensure that the most inconvenient part of the work, from the point of view of noise, dirt and dislocation of traffic, would be most likely to be carried out when we could expect the House to be in recess and, therefore, the work to cause least trouble to hon. Members.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I must express my considerable misgivings about the proposal for a five-tier car park in New Palace Yard, and I am not the only one who feels misgivings about it.

It was regarded as a bit of a joke when I questioned the Government about the safety of Big Ben a short while ago. The Government spokesman then revealed that Big Ben was tilting 9½ in. in a north-westerly direction. We have been given no firm guarantee that this deep excavation close to the foundations of Big Ben will not endanger the structure. The condition of these foundations cannot be accurately known, and the behaviour of the clock tower, when subjected to the disturbance and vibrations of drilling and earthworks, cannot be confidently predicted. In these circumstances I hope it is not too late for the Government to reconsider the proposal.

I am informed that an eminent firm of engineers submitted alternative proposals for resiting the car park in Parliament Square. The report was sent to the Department of the Environment but the firm was informed that the proposal was received too late for consideration. The consultants argue with some force that there has to be no danger, to the Palace of Westminster. Is the risk to the fabric a risk we can confidently undertake?

I would like to know whether the catulpa trees which lie in New Palace Yard will be preserved when the new car park is constructed, if and when it is constructed. The trees are one of the sights of London, and it would be a tragedy for them to be destroyed or removed.

The other point is that the present scheme was conceived before the proposed new Parliament building in Bridge Street had been agreed, and other considerations now have to be borne in mind. I know the Greater London Council is very unhappy, in view of the construction of the new Parliament building, about the car park being built in New Palace Yard.

It seems that the GLC's representations have been completely ignored by the Government and that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. According to the consultants, it is possible to place the car park in Parliament Square without any disruption of traffic. That would be a very great asset because it would be possible to construct a subway from Parliament Square into New Palace Yard to give hon. Members easy access to the Palace of Westminster.

For all these reasons I believe the scheme should be looked at again. There is a curious observation in the Report of the Services Committee: The design of New Palace Yard should be decided in relation to that of the new Parliamentary building. Your committee have, therefore, deferred final consideration of the details until they have examined the outcome of the architectural competition…

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.