Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [9th June],
That this House doth agree with the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in their Fourth Report.—[Mr. R. Carr.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
When we debated this matter for a short time on Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) made some comments on the Select Committee's Report. I shall not pursue any of them, other than to remind hon. Members that my hon. Friend pointed out that there was a possible alternative site for the proposed car park; namely, under Parliament Square. I hope that the Under-secretary intends to deal with the point.
I understand that the Under-Secretary is not necessarily responsible personally for the report. It is a report of a Select Committee of this House. It is not a matter of party controversy. But it could be said to be a matter of internal bureaucracy. While the Committee presents us with reports which we may discuss, it has a great deal of influence and power with regard to the comfort and discomfort of this place.
I want first to draw attention to the procedure surrounding the production of this report, and possibly to one or two of the difficulties which some of us are experiencing. Yesterday afternoon the Leader of the House, discussing whether this matter should be taken now or whether it should have been dealt with in the early hours of this morning, said in his expansive way that this was a matter about which the House had already agreed in principle, and that the recommendation contained in the Sixth Report of 1970–71 had been accepted by the House on 30th July of last year. That is so. However, that report was ordered to be printed on 8th June. So some time had elapsed.
While the right hon. Gentleman was correct in what he said, I think that it is right to draw attention to some of the surrounding circumstances. On 22nd July of last year, a week before this item of business was taken, the then 1413 Leader of the House listed the following items of business for Friday, 30th July:Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill. Consideration of Amendments to Bills which may be received from another place. Motions relating to Codes of Recommendations and the Welfare of Livestock, Farm Capital Grant (Variation) Schemes, the Price Stability of Imported Products (Poultry Meat) Order and the Housing Subsidies (Representative Rates of Interest) Order, and the Medicines (Retail Pharmacists) Order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1971; Vol. 821, c. 1682.]Any hon. Gentleman with an interest in these matters would have made a note in his diary to attend. Anyone interested in the matter of the car park would have noted that it was not down for debate and would have made no arrangements to attend. In fact, it was taken "on the nod" at 11 o'clock on Friday, 30th July, without objection.
That is not surprising. The 13th volume of the Notices of Motions, 1970–71, shows that the item did not appear on the list of remaining business for the previous day, Thursday, 29th July. It was not until the Order Paper was available at about 8 or 9 o'clock on the Friday morning that we saw this item had been put down and that the Leader of the House was going to move "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Report ".
That was all the notice that any interested hon. Member could have had, and he would have had to shout "Object" at the right time. I am not questioning that procedure. We all know that business has to come on the Order Paper in a hurry. It is a good thing that the House can move fast when required. We are not perhaps so slow as some of the detractors of this House make out. What I question is the propriety of this business, first of all, not being notified by the Leader of the House 10 days beforehand, as is provided—after all, it was printed on 8th June, so there was plenty of time—and, second, of its not being put on the Order Paper until the very morning—Friday at that—when it was to be debated.
We have just been discussing the powers of the House, and it is worth pointing out that it is no good the Minister saying that the House agreed this matter when the circumstances were as I have described. On the merits of the matter, I will not necessarily oppose it, 1414 because we have been placed in an impossible position by the procedures adopted. The Sixth Report is two pages long, containing an artist's impression of this car park, no diagram and very little technical detail.
It was not until the following 23rd December that the planning authority for the area, the GLC, was apprised of this proposal. As traffic authority for the area, it is responsible for the circulation of traffic, particularly parking control in London and the degree to which public and other buildings should have parking accommodation.
Of course I would not say that the GLC should have powers over this House. I declare an interest, as a Co-operative member of the committee concerned. But it shows discourtesy on the part of those responsible that it was many months before the GLC was officially informed that it was the intention of the House to build this car park.
Things have improved a little. I believe that the notorious Circular 100 gave the GLC virtually no powers in this respect. Since then we have had Circular No. 80, which gives the GLC the right to comment. We are told that this House is the bastion of democracy. It was most unfortunate that its servants should wait that time before informing the planning authority. Although the planning authority did not discuss the matter until after Christmas one of the things it mentioned, as was mentioned earlier, was that it was suggested that there were alternative sites.
The second point about this car park is its location relative to the square and the amount of cars in it. The GLC made no comment on the quantity of cars concerned and the difficulty of egress from and exit into the square. But has the Select Committee thought out the complications of getting 500 cars out of that car park into Parliament Square at 10 p.m. after a three-line whip plus the existing numbers of taxis which wish to use this circular system? Traffic engineers have not been given the opportunity to comment on this point. I am sure that the police will do their stuff, but can we get 500 cars up the ramp in the time available without hon. Members having an intolerable waiting time with engines running and so on?
1415 The next question relates to cost. In the Fourth Report of this Session—we have to refer to this—we still have not got a diagram of this car park and we are told that it will now cost slightly under £2 million. But from page 3 onwards we are not told of the number of cars. We have to turn right to the back of the Report, to Annex 1. "Annex" is an ominous word; apparently we are going European already and not using the word "Appendix". Annex 1 says that the new car park will be for 500 cars. But 220 are there at present. I should have thought that with a little more rearrangement, probably using the space paved over to take a few more cars, we could probably accommodate 250. So all we are doing is increasing the number from 250 to 500—producing a net gain of 250. For that, the public—not we Members—will pay slightly under £2 million, which is about £7,000 to £8,000 per car place. That total will include the cost of construction, ventilation, lifts, or whatever is installed, and no doubt the cost of someone to look after the machinery and the parking. That is slightly expensive for what we are to get.
The GLC has another interest in this matter in the question of car parking facilities in general in central London. This House does not sit for many weeks in the summer when there are many public spectacles and when many wish to visit this part of Westminster. This matter was raised at a committee meeting of the GLC. A suggestion was made of using Victoria Tower Gardens as an alternative. There has been correspondence between the GLC and the Government on this matter. I have a copy of a letter from the Department of the Environment explaining why Victoria Tower Gardens will not do. It strikes me as being rather lame in its reasons. It is dated 19th May, 1972, and it states:With regard to the suggestion that we consider the space below Victoria Tower Gardens as an alternative location there are a number of objections, for example, distance from the House of Commons, the existing boiler house which at present occupies space, the North/South tunnel proposals and the serious problem of coping with ramped entrances within a relatively small garden area which has a high amenity value.I take those points one by one. A letter of this importance should not say 1416 "for example". We should be given the reasons. Regarding the distance from the House, firstly, it may not be Members of the House of Commons who would use the bigger area, which would cost less, in Victoria Tower Gardens. We could, perhaps, put the other place's car park there and make everyone a little nearer here. There are Officers of this House who do not have to attend Divisions who would use that and, therefore, Old Palace Yard may be available for this House. So distance from the House is not necessarily a factor.
The existing boiler house is not in the gardens. It is next door to the Lord Chancellor's residence. The north/south tunnel has no relevance. Whether it is a tunnel or water outside, the car park would not have any great relevance. The ramped entrances would take only a small portion of the garden area which would remain.
I hope when we have a reply, therefore, that we can be told why this was not considered in greater detail. In the absence of a convincing explanation of why this space is not suitable, we must conclude that it was not considered as carefully as it should have been. No doubt Victoria Tower Gardens would provide a much bigger space and would provide accommodation for visitors'cars—perhaps for the Westminster City Council—when the House is not sitting, including every weekend and not just in the summer. It would be a much more economical use of public money.
Therefore, I object to the proposal. I cannot vote against it because obviously time is against me. We have been tricked up to a point, first on the procedure. I do not think there was any need for the House to be given two hours' notice of a debate on the Motion when it has been published for a month. The second respect in which we were tricked concerned the lack of time given to the local authority which is responsible for traffic and transport in London. Are the official reasons which have been given to the authority—and presumably to this House, because we have heard no other reason—good enough and was the matter given adequate consideration?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), I shall courteously inform the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) 1417 that as he was not here at the beginning he has lost his right to speak again. Mr. Cooke—
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had not concluded what I had to say when the debate was adjourned on Friday last and I therefore consider that I am entitled to conclude the speech I began with.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I appreciate the hon. Member's feelings, but I must ask him to accept from me that he cannot speak again. I would like him to conclude his remarks, but I cannot allow him to do so. The rules of the House expressly lay down that if an hon. Member is not here to continue his speech when he is called, as I called the hon. Member, he cannot continue his speech. Unfortunately, I shall have to ask the hon. Member not to persist in attempting to do so because that would be out of order. Mr. Cooke—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
If, as I hope, my hon. Friend asked leave of the House to speak again, he could do so, could he not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, subject to no hon. Member objecting? I hope that no hon. Member will object and that if you accept what I have said you will allow my hon. Friend to speak—but perhaps after I have caught your eye.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) is an expert in the procedure of the House and he is perfectly right. For the moment I am calling Mr. Cooke.
§ 11.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I am happy that we have begun on such a good-humoured note.
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) expressed some irritation, but with a little more time perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House could have explained the position to him on the last occasion this matter was raised. No doubt the House, with matters of international importance to discuss, is reluctant to give a great deal of time to a domestic matter of this sort. I hope 1418 the reply from my right hon. Friend will do something to soothe the hon. Member's irritated feelings.
I have served on the Services Committee for a short time now and on its predecessors for a longer period, and I would hope to be able to put the matter into perspective. I have one or two questions for my right hon. Friend on which it might be helpful to have answers at the outset. The hon. Member for Acton has mentioned a figure for the cost of the scheme. It would be helpful to have the latest estimate of the cost. I believe that since the estimate that the hon. Member quoted was published various factors have come into play which have slightly increased the figure. If my right hon. Friend is in a position to give that figure, perhaps he would care to do so now. Although it is not way out compared with what the hon. Gentleman says, there is the possibility that it is more than he indicated.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robert Carr)
The latest estimates, as is so often the case in these matters, do show some degree of escalation. In fact, the latest cost is about £2.2 million for the car park, which is about 5 per cent, more than the Department was expecting. The rest of the increase is mainly due to leaving the steel liners in the shafts originally sunk for making the partition wall.
§ Mr. Cooke
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
Perhaps the House will try to look at the scheme in a wider context. I suppose there is no hon. Member who would not wish to improve the environment of Parliament Square, it being the very centre of the Commonwealth. There is 1419 a great deal of argument about what buildings should be erected in this part of London. I must not stray into that matter, because the House will want to debate it at great length. No one will disagree that Parliament Square should be improved. Perhaps we might even have a greater Parliament Square, with the removal of all the excrescences, other than the Middlesex Guildhall, which is held in great affection. But the Chartered Surveyors and the architectural junk on that side of Great George Street might go, and we might have a much improved open space—I would hope an open space pedestrian precinct in due course. No one would argue against the proposition that all the through traffic through Parliament Square should be removed eventually. Perhaps the House can do something, with the help of the Greater London Council and the Westminster City Council, to see that that comes about. Having done that, how can we get rid of the service traffic without various underground routes?
The underground car park, which some might think is suggested just for the benefit of Members, is the key to the whole problem. If hon. Members study the report they will see that it has immense possibilities in that direction. The whole of New Palace Yard could be vastly improved. Instead of being cluttered with cars of all shapes, sizes and colours, as it is now, it could be a great addition to the open space in the area. During recesses it could be enjoyed by the public, and I would hope that even when the House was sitting it could be enjoyed by a much wider circle than the few harassed policemen and trapped Members who try to wend their way through the cars.
In the wider context, if we had an underground car park in New Palace Yard it could be linked with other underground areas for vehicle movement or parking. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Victoria Gardens. There could be a place underground for cars there. Distinguished engineers have put forward a scheme for an underground parking area on the other side of Parliament Square, away from New Palace Yard, over towards the Middlesex Guildhall. Underground access from various places—Victoria Street, the park, Whitehall, the 1420 Embankment—could be linked with underground areas. Instead of the charming picture of the corporation dustcart wending its way through the present channels through the Palace of Westminster and into the sunlight it would go underground, which would be very much better.
The present proposal should be viewed in that context. The parking spaces to be provided will not necessarily be a great convenience for hon. Members. I realise that discipline will have to be exercised. Getting into and out of the underground car park will not be as easy for hon. Members as the present slap-happy method of driving one's car into New Palace Yard, abandoning it there and hoping that a friendly policeman will deal with it.
§ Mr. Cooke
At least Nab 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are safe from vicious attack in New Palace Yard.
It is not just a question of Members' cars. The impact on all the staff who work in the Palace of Westminster—and there are more of them than there are of us—will be considerable. As someone who has hopes that in his lifetime Parliament Square will be cleared of traffic and will become a pedestrian precinct, which would be the finest thing in the Commonwealth, I support this scheme, even though it might cost £2 million. It could be part of much greater things, and I hope that the House will support it.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) will have the opportunity of speaking and that he will be able to continue the explanation which he began last Friday, which was drawn to a hurried conclusion. He is to be congratulated on initiating this debate because it is important. The only trouble is that the Government, as always, slapped the Motion on the Order 1421 Paper as the last Order on Friday, but, because of the objection of my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) and one or two others of us who were present, it has been brought forward again.
The Chairman of the House of Commons Motoring Club, the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro)—and I am pleased that he had a very happy day yesterday—will recollect that he and I had the opportunity of appearing before the Services Committee. It would have been a privilege had I been allowed to remain a member of it. I was on it for only six months, and I was taken off it because I was not one of the "yes" men. However, that is digressing. I had the opportunity, together with the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South, of going before the Committee and putting forward the view, which is borne out by the professional report referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton, that the car park should go under Parliament Square.
One of the points I made to the Committee was that it would be better from all points of view if the car park went under Parliament Square and there would be three or four ingress and egress areas without interfering with the free flow of traffic. But the Committee said immediately, without being informed of the detail of our suggestion, that it was not possible or practicable. We were not then advised or qualified to argue. We had to accept this report, and that is why I should like my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton to develop the point he touched on briefly, because he says he has a consultants' report which says that this is a practical proposition which in engineering terms is feasible.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I know the hon. Member has taken this seriously, and I have heard of this proposal, and no one would quarrel with the technical feasibility of an underground car park in Parliament Square, at the other side from the underground railway. That would be a useful addition to what is now proposed. But, even if the car park were built, in order to provide a link with this building it would have to be considerably deeper than the underground railway. One might very well proceed with the present scheme and then with that 1422 scheme later, but that would not solve the immediate problem.
§ Mr. Lewis
I would not quarrel with the hon. Member, because I have not the technical knowledge, but my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton on Friday had a report and I hope he still has it with him. If not, surely he will be able to give us some information on it? I will leave that to him to develop.
The other point I want to deal with, which is mentioned in the report, is the temporary arrangement for parking hon. Members' cars. It is inadequate. Again, when I attended the Committee with the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South I suggested that I could not see why Members of Parliament could not temporarily park cars in old Scotland Yard. Only today I went again to old Scotland Yard and the annexe thereto and saw literally hundreds—certainly dozens—of private cars parked there. I cannot see why Members of Parliament should not be allowed to park there during the temporary period. At the moment, it is used by the Metropolitan Police, but they have an underground car park at New Scotland Yard.
There is also Cannon Row, the cul-de-sac or one-way street, where at present there are parking bays where members of the public park by putting money in the meters. Strangely enough, members of the police force, who are illegally doing this every day of the week, are parking private cars on the parts marked "For solo motor cycles only" and on parts where there are yellow bands, where they are not allowed. If hon. Members will look they will see that stuck in the windscreens of the cars there are plain Metropolitan Police memos. I have seen police in uniform and traffic wardens looking and walking by. When they see the police memo in the windows of private cars they take no notice. I have reported this to Scotland Yard, to the Commissioner of Police. I have reported it to the police at Cannon Row, but, of course, no action is taken.
Members of Parliament are not above the law, nor should the police be above it. The police have their private cars. I know they are police cars because I found three of them, unlicensed, with police uniforms and helmets in the back. Only today I saw one of them—a brand 1423 new sports car, numbered JW1, not NAB1—with a police memo inside the windscreen. It was allegedly broken down—a brand new car. I do not object to the police being there. All I am saying is that if the police can—I do not know whether they can—park their private cars, without licences, on a yellow band road, in places marked out for solo motor cycles only and in places where no parking is allowed, Members of Parliament should have the same rights, no more, no less.
§ Mr. Lewis
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is illegal for Members of Parliament, but the police, whose job is to enforce the law, should enforce it against themselves. If they do not do it and if a Member of Parliament asks them to do it, the Commissioner of Police should see that it is done.
The situation could be helped if the police suggested to themselves that they shift their cars out of old Scotland Yard into New Scotland Yard, because they would then be on the premises of their building.
§ Mr. R. Carr
Will the hon. Member help the House by telling us how many cars he thinks might be parked in the area he is talking about?
§ Mr. Lewis
I have not worked it out, but only today I saw, in the small area of what I term the gateway entrance to old Scotland Yard from the Thames Embankment, about 20 cars. When I looked inside old Scotland Yard itself I saw about 40 or 50 cars—I did not count them—and in the Cannon Row area I saw another 10 or 15. That would probably add up to about 100, which might well be a useful total.
Hence I suggest that these are points which the Committee could have considered but did not consider because it might have been inconvenient to the police at old Scotland Yard. I agree that it might have been inconvenient, but it might have been more convenient for Members of the House and ultimately more convenient for the police had they accepted the suggestion.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
This is a rather awkward controversy, not least because I understand that we are hard up against time. If I read the programme aright, we are within a matter of days of when the programme of works which is being discussed is due to begin. That is a very unfortunate atmosphere in which to discuss what I think is rather more than a domestic matter for Members of the House.
I want to strike a slight cautionary note on my reading of the two reports, the one of last year and the one of this year, of the Services Committee. It is easy to be critical of Committees which report in the service of the House. I stress at once that I think the Committee was entirely within its rights and properly fulfilling its duty in reporting as it did in both reports on the project under consideration. Within the context of what the Committee was asked to do, what it reported to us seemed to me to be entirely justified.
The question that arises is whether we have a duty to consider the matter in a rather wider context than that in which the Select Committee was required to view the matter. My doubt arises in terms of the proper scale of what we are discussing.
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) used figures which were pretty near the mark. In terms of last year's estimate we are talking about a figure of about £2 million and an increased capacity of not 250 but 200 cars, and 500 cars when the project is completed. Let us take the difference of 300 cars and assume that the figure is not £7,000 a car but £6,000.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not wish to mislead the House. The present accommodation within the Palace of Westminster provides for 355 cars; the increased capacity is of the order of 550.
§ Mr. Deedes
We are not talking about quite the same thing. I am talking about the number of car places in New Palace Yard, which provides overall for 200 cars—or 220 if carefully parked. We are discussing the matter in a wider context and within a range of what is publicly acceptable.
1425 We have to consider the duty of a Select Committee to do this work for us and the judgment of this House on a matter of this kind. What is required of us is not the approval or disapproval of a Select Committee report, but judgment of the overall effects. We are not discussing an entirely domestic matter. We have two tasks. One is to consider our own needs. The second and greater task is to consider our needs in relation to other people's needs.
I am not concerned about the physical risks which have been alleged by the GLC in terms of Big Ben or anything else. I am not deeply concerned about the disruption that this operation will undoubtedly cause.
§ Mr. Spearing
I should make it clear that the GLC made no such aspersion; I think that aspect was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). The GLC was concerned with the very point made by the right hon. Gentleman, particularly the capacity for other public use when the House is not sitting and the situation involving a five-storey structure near the river, which has its difficulties.
§ Mr. Deedes
Wherever the observation came from, there certainly has been mention of possible risks to the structure. I am saying that I am not concerned with that aspect since it is not relevant to my argument. Certainly the disruption—which will be extensive and will, we are told, last 18 months—will not add to the tourist attractions in Westminster.
I have never been in favour of doing things here on the cheap. It should be explained to the public that it is not always possible to relate our special needs in this place to other needs. Indeed, we must distinguish between the needs of this place, which works in a peculiar way, and the needs of a working establishment. There remains a duty to keep the matter in perspective.
I wish to ask three questions. Let us assume that this will cost around £6,000 per car. First: will it add to the efficient conduct of our business? I take leave to doubt that. I have a vision of cars arriving at this proposed car park on a busy evening. Even allowing a quarter of an hour for this operation, my vision of a three-line Whip with a lot of cars arriving at a quarter to ten does 1426 not afford me very ample reassurance. I will leave it at that. The second question is: will it improve the environment of the precincts? This again I take leave to doubt. I do not see where we improve the open space facility. I do not see what space now cluttered by cars will be free by the creation of this park.
If we take the realities of the situation, we employ within the Palace of Westminster 2,000 people, in addition to ourselves. That is a large working force, much of it quite properly running its own cars. If it does not now it will do so in five, six or more years' time. This is absolutely proper, but it must be taken into account if we are talking about an underground car park which is to contain 500 cars. We ought to look ahead. A project costing £2½ million should look into the future. Let us take a working force of 2,000, and ourselves, making 2,500 people and think of the motor cars in relation to that working force and ask what contribution a car park of five storeys taking 500 cars will make. I do no more than put the question. We ought to weigh it before reaching a decision.
The third question is: does this, overall, improve the assets of the Palace? Again I take leave to doubt this. It really makes no case to say that if we do not do this we will have to park cars on the grass in Parliament Square, which again would be most unacceptable for all sorts of reasons. It will not greatly improve the amenities or the assets of the Palace. It will provide a proportion of the car parking space which will be required, but a good deal more will be required than we think now. It will do no more than that.
I ask hon. Members to weigh carefully the future quantities of cars likely to be parked, against the overall parking space provided by this great structure. Does the gain look like being equalised by the outlay and by the temporary disturbance which we will suffer? I am bound to say, in moderate terms, that I do not think that this is a very good example of our capacity to manage affairs. It is in respect of our own affairs, but I do not think that this will be held widely to our credit and that is why I urge hon. Members, in the most temperate terms I can conjure up, to think very carefully before passing this conscientious report by the Select Committee.
§ 11.48 p.m.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Does the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) have the leave of the House to speak again? Mr. Lipton.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely hon. Members who have not spoken in the debate have precedence over hon. Members who are seeking to address the House for a second time?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think that the hon. Member must await his turn. There is no question that he will not be able to speak. As far as possible the Chair tries to go from one side to the other. It makes for more orderly debate. If the hon. Member for Brixton has the leave of the House, and he obviously has, then he may speak.
§ Mr. Lipton
I thank the House for granting me this privilege of speaking for a second time in the debate.
I find myself in full agreement with what the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has said. On Friday last I tried to express my misgivings about the whole project. We started with an original estimate of £1.3 million. Then—I quote from the fourth report—that moves up to slightly under £2 million, and tonight we are told by the Leader of the House that it will be about £2.2 million. I am convinced that if this project goes forward it will be possibly nearer £3 million than £2.2 million. The cost is bound to escalate. When one starts to excavate one never knows what one will find.
There are certain intangible factors with which we shall have to deal. The Leader of the House has said that technical advice has been sought and obtained, and the result is that the structure of the clock tower and the other buildings will not be endangered by the proposed car park. The House is entitled to further details regarding this technical advice, and to know from whom it was obtained. If we are put in possession of further information we shall be in a better position to judge the tests which were carried out which enable the Leader of the House to say that there is no 1428 danger to the existing surrounding structures.
I now come to the matter which was touched upon by the right hon. Member for Ashford. Some Government Departments are playing with the idea of discouraging private cars from coming into central London. We have reasonable means of access by Underground. We have a subway leading from Westminster Underground Station into the Houses of Parliament. We should not do anything to encourage more cars to pour into central London, particularly Westminster, than already do so.
The Government cannot speak with two voices on this matter. The Government cannot, on the one hand, say that private cars must be restricted in access to central London, and, on the other, spend anything up to £3 million to provide car park accommodation for 500 cars, which will be only 280 more cars than can now be accommodated in New Palace Yard.
This venture will not be worth while. We are claiming to ourselves a privilege at the taxpayers' expense of about £7,000 a car, if not more, before we are finished. We are not entitled to ask the taxpayer to spend that sum to enable any hon. Member to park his car under New Palace Yard.
I asked the question about the catalpa trees. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some information about that aspect. I understand that some risk is involved. I hope that my fears about the catalpa trees are not well founded and that they will not suffer any damage as a result of excavations which might take place.
We are taking a gamble. We are digging down storeys below New Palace Yard. It is true that various surveys have been made, but we may be in for some expensive surprises.
I am obliged to the House for allowing me these few minutes after what I said the other day. I hope that we shall seriously consider the implications. I am not criticising the Select Committee; it had a job to do and it did it. However, I criticise the way the Government have handled the matter. The manner in which the Government have put the report of the Select Committee before the House 1429 is open to the severest censure. The Government have put the House in a difficult situation and they must accept responsibility.
For those reasons I hold to the misgivings I expressed the other day, which are shared by a number of hon. Members and which will be shared by the general public when they realise what is going on.
§ 11.55 p.m.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
I object to these proposals because of their inadequacy. We are suggesting that we build a very expensive underground car park for a small proportion of the vehicles which will wish to come to the Palace of Westminster within five years from now. I estimate that the need, five years hence, will be 1,300 vehicles. In fact, we are estimating that we can fulfil our need in the near future by providing for only 500 vehicles.
At present, if there is a three-line Whip on both sides, the number of vehicles trying to get into New Palace Yard is of the order of 380. The number of vehicles I have counted on occasions of a running three-line Whip on both sides is generally slightly less than 400 and probably an average of 380. In the next few years no doubt that figure will grow as we climb to a position where every Member of Parliament brings a car here. Moreover, a fairly considerable number of cars is brought here by Members of the House of Lords. I have estimated the number as being about 200 at a maximum.
Provision will be needed, within five years, for about 2,000 people employed in or around the Palace of Westminster. On occasions a few hundred of them bring cars here. The rules about employees within the Palace of Westminster who are not Members of either House of Parliament leaving their cars here are very sketchy, inadequate and inexact.
I have sometimes inquired who owns the 80 motor cars which stay here all night. This morning at half-past eight there were 78 motor cars here. I walked round and counted them. I understand that Officers of the House have rights equal to Members of the House of Commons in leaving their cars here. An Officer of the House includes a person so lowly as a temporary acting assistant 1430 Librarian. We can therefore gauge that, particularly on Fridays, there is a large number of cars here which are not owned by hon. Members.
Not only is the present provision wholly inadequate to serve the needs of Members of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons, members of the staff and Officers of the House, but the deficiency is likely to grow apace during the next few years.
The Select Committee's Report and the Motion, if it is passed, recommend providing for only 500 cars in the proposed underground car park. Those 500 cars have to come through the same ingress as the present method of approach to New Palace Yard. The maximum number of cars coming into New Palace Yard at present is about 380. We are therefore aggravating what is already a bad ingress and egress position by trying to channel approximately 30 per cent. more motorcars through the present inadequate entry and exit.
Many of us who do not have ministerial cars with chauffeurs provided for us have had the excruciating experience, after a three-line Whip Division, of taking 20 minutes to half an hour trying to get out into Parliament Square. That position will be greatly worsened when we build the underground car park. That is the first point I want to make.
The second point I want to make about this proposition concerns the inadequate consideration which has been given to it by the whole House. It is entirely insufficient to put down a Motion to be passed through on the nod, as was done 12 months ago when the House had only unimportant business and hardly any hon. Members were present. The Motion was then put down last Friday by the Government in the sure knowledge that there would not be anybody here at 4 o'clock on a Friday afternoon.
Before we embark on this scheme I should like to see a full-scale debate in the House, not only on this inadequate proposal but on the long-term implications of what we are doing. When I said, taking a five-year look at it, that facilities would be needed for 1,300 motor cars by 1975–80, nobody in high official places quarrelled with me. The Serjeant at Arms, the House of Lords and the Department of the Environment did not quarrel 1431 with me. With the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), I gave evidence to the Select Committee and quoted and justified the figure of 1,300 and nobody quarrelled with me. Now we are providing for 500, plus Old Palace Yard, perhaps 600 or 700 in all—
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
My hon. Friend is surely not suggesting that the House should devote a whole day to discussing the parking arrangements for Members and others. He said that he put up a case to the Select Committee for all the places he wants—1,300 or 2,000 I think. The point of my speech was that this must be taken in the wider context that all the other people who will want to park near the Palace of Westminster can be accommodated in due course in other places. A start has to be made somewhere. This proposal is the result of representations he and others made to the Select Committee, but not all they ask for can be done at the present time; this is at least a beginning.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
My hon. Friend is a member of the Select Committee and can argue the case upstairs. It is not usual when a proposition of this kind is debated in the House for the whole time to be occupied by interventions from members of the Select Committee.
This matter should be looked at in a wider sphere than the parking of Members' cars. I am not suggesting that we should at this moment provide for parking 1,300 Members' cars, but I want to be sure that we do not spend millions of pounds providing an underground car park which by the time the matter is resolved will be wholly inadequate to the needs of Members of this House, Members of the other House, the staff and Officers of the House.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
I do not understand how the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) can say that the parking of Members' cars is a minor matter. It is a major environmental question which concerns one of the most important areas of the capital. If we cannot, after due consideration, make a decision which will stand for many decades I do not know what the House of Commons is about.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
What I mean by "wider sphere" is dealing with traffic problems in and around Parliament Square at the same time as we deal with the parking of Members' cars.
Even if we build the car park, we leave wholly unresolved the question of the increasing vehicular traffic from Whitehall through to Millbank, to and from the Palace of Westminster and Victoria Street, to and from George Street and St. James's Park. Not one of these acute traffic problems is tackled by virtue of voting through the underground car park. If we have to have the car park in its present form, I hope that facilities will be provided for Members in addition to parking facilities. I know of no employer anywhere who is as bad as the employer of Members of Parliament; nor do I know of facilities as bad as those in the place we are called on to work.
Why are there no petrol pumps provided for Members? Why do they have to drive a couple of miles away in order to fill up their cars with petrol? Why should they not have facilities for washing their cars without having to go miles away for the purpose? If we are building a five-storey car park under the Palace of Westminster, there should be facilities not only for filling up with petrol but for servicing and washing cars in addition to the parking. I regard this as a wholly reasonable suggestion.
In the past when these matters have been raised with the authorities of the House during the whole of the last 20 to 25 years, we have always been told that the fire risk is too great to have a petrol pump, that if a fire resulted from a petrol pump it could have disastrous results. I find no difficulty elsewhere among major centres of employment in providing petrol facilities for the cars of employees and visitors. I hope therefore that my right hon. Friend will not regard this departure of an underground car park only as a means of accommodating cars but that it will provide services as well.
We are all going to suffer the most acute discomfort and dislocation during the period of building this car park. It will be seen from the schedule at the back of the report that during a certain period later this year there will be no facilities 1433 at all for parking cars within the precincts, and that next year, after 1st January, there will be facilities for only 100 cars out of the 400 that are wanted. All of us will have to chase to and from Broad Sanctuary or, as I suggested, Horse Guards—although that has been ruled out—causing very great inconvenience.
In that period, my right hon. Friend might arrange two or three things for the convenience of hon. Members. The first is that Officers of the House and members of the staff should park their cars in Broad Sanctuary, because they are not concerned with rushing in and out for Divisions. If anyone has to be incommoded by parking cars some distance from the House, it would be healthy for Officers of the House and members of the staff to park their cars over there first and leave all the small amount of parking facilities that are available here for the use of Members.
The second point is that Members who bring their cars here on Monday morning from some distance and leave them parked in New Palace Yard until Friday evening ought to be prevented from doing so and should take their cars away and park them—compulsorily park them—on Broad Sanctuary or elsewhere outside the precincts, thus leaving the small amount of parking space available within the precincts for Members who are in and out on Divisions.
I do not like these proposals at all. I hoped that this evening the Motion might be negatived, although I fear that it will not be and that it will be passed through in a very thin House without due consideration by the whole of the House. When the time comes later on this year and next year, I hope I shall not receive in the House of Commons Motor Club huge numbers of complaints that we have done nothing about car parking in the period of reconstruction. We get a host of complaints today about parking facilities in New Palace Yard, and when they are nearly extinguished, as they are going to be during the next few months, I fear that the volume of complaints will be immeasurably greater. For myself, I shall direct the lot to the Leader of the House.
§ 12.10 a.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
I make only two brief points in what is a thinly-attended House. The first is that I do not think that we can confine ourselves to the report of the Select Committee. I am the last person to disagree with a Committee which has, in accordance with its terms of reference, produced a scheme for car parking. However, we have to consider a very large number of people in this House, not only Members, but servants of the House who have to use their cars to come here—
§ Dr. Glyn
Because the hours that this House compels its staff to work mean that frequently there is no other method of getting home. Therefore, we have to look very much further into the provision of car parking facilities.
I do not quarrel with the Committee's report, but I emphasise that we have to consider this matter in a wider context. First, we must consider it from the environmental point of view. But, secondly, I hope that we shall consider it as merely the first stage, and that we shall also investigate the possibility of using what is a very nice site—the garden adjacent to Victoria Tower. It is an extremely pleasant garden which is used and enjoyed by the public. But, properly planned, it could be used for an underground car park, leaving the garden relatively undisturbed, and even for a multi-storey car park while still preserving the amenities of the locality—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may say what they like, but how else are we to find additional parking space after we have constructed this underground car park?
The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) suggests Parliament Square. Some hon. Members have suggested other sites. In any event, I ask my right hon. Friend to consider regarding the Committee's proposal as the first stage in providing sufficient accommodation for the cars of Members and of the staff of this House with two considerations in mind: not spoiling the amenities of this area, and making it clear at the same time that we have to provide proper access and egress not only for Members of Parliament and members of the staff but for members of the public as well.
1435 With those two provisos, I am happy to accept the Committee's recommendation.
§ 12.14 a.m.
§ The Lord President and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robert Carr)
For the benefit of one or two hon. Members, I must make clear at the outset that I speak on this matter on behalf of the Services Committee of the House of Commons and not on behalf of the Government. It is one of the duties and privileges of the Leader of the House to preside over the Committee, and that I do. It is on the Committee's behalf and not that of the Government that I speak.
I have been Leader of the House and Chairman of the Services Committee for a few weeks only. Therefore I have not been involved in this matter from the beginning, and there may be points about it of which I am not aware and which I do not understand to the full. However, in the few weeks that I have chaired the Committee I have seen the obvious care and detail with which the Committee, which is representative of all parties, has gone into this matter on behalf of the House.
The members of the Committee would be the first to admit that they are not perfect, all-wise or all-seeing. We are no better and, I hope, no worse than other hon. Members. However, I assure hon. Members that we did not make our recommendations lightly; nor do we believe that they are perfect. We simply believe, in the interests of the House, that among a lot of difficult choices and imperfect solutions this is the best one that we can put forward at the moment. That is why, on behalf of the Committee, I advise the House to agree with this report.
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) mentioned the planning authorities. I do not want to get involved in arguments about Circular 100 or Circular 80—I would not be very expert at it if I did—but in fairness to the Services Committee it should be reported that proposals were submitted to the planning authorities viaWestminster City Council as long ago as 20th December, 1971. It is not the fault of the Services Committee if the planning authorities took over five months to reply with some 1436 comments. It may be a difficult process, but hon. Members should feel that their Services Committee tried to do its best in this matter. It would not be right to suggest that it was regardless about it.
The hon. Member also mentioned Victoria Tower Gardens as an alternative site. He rather easily dismissed some of the objections to it. This matter was considered before I was Chairman of the Committee, but I have looked into what the considerations were here. I believe that the considerations against Victoria Tower Gardens were pretty substantial.
The distance of the gardens from the Chamber and the new parliamentary building is a substantial disadvantage. Hon. Members are concerned about the distance from this Chamber of Broad Sanctuary as a temporary parking place. I have not stepped it out, but I suspect that Victoria Tower Gardens is not all that much nearer. If hon. Members object to Broad Sanctuary as a temporary parking place, how much more would they object to Victoria Tower Gardens as a permanent one?
We were also, of course, concerned with the need to safeguard this small public garden, which is of high amenity value. It may be true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) put it, that this could be done and the gardens put right again. Perhaps, but it would mess it up for a considerable time. But perhaps the clinching argument was the difficulty, because of other traffic, of siting the access ramps in the limited space.
The Committee did not dismiss this alternative site at all lightly. Of course our judgment of the various factors may be questioned but I assure the House that, after going into it, we felt that on balance it was not a very satisfactory proposition—certainly not as satisfactory as the one we propose in the report.
I cannot help feeling—although I do not complain of this—that in this, as in so many other matters, it is very easy for those who do not have the responsibility to make positive recommendations to criticise the recommendations that others make on their behalf. The only other positive alternative canvassed is the one mentioned, by the hon. Members for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) and for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). That 1437 was the possibility of excavating a new car park under Parliament Square. Again, the Services Committee at least considered this—without, it is true, the benefit of the latest engineer's report. It seemed to us to be a more technically complicated site because of the difficulties presented by the Underground railway which runs across there. I am not saying that that would be insuperable, but we would have had to go much deeper.
There were other questions of the disturbance caused to central London, which would have been even greater while it was going on. It may be worth while if it is of greater benefit in the end, but if people bother about the disturbance caused to the environment by digging in New Palace Yard they do not have to think very hard to realise the difficulties and the disturbance to the environment by digging in Parliament Square. So there were serious difficulties.
As the scheme which has been put forward by the engineers has been referred to, it should be made clear to the House that the first official contact of the consulting engineers with the Department of the Environment about their proposal came in a letter dated as recently as 24th May. It is difficult when one gets new proposals put forward. On the one hand, one does not want to cast any aside if they are at all serious; but, on the other hand, if every time we get a bright new proposal from some bright new engineers we put aside all the work that has been done and start again, I suspect that it will be a very long time before we make any improvement in the facilities for the House of Commons in this respect.
I am in no position to question the costs put forward by the engineers because I confess to the House that in the few weeks available it has not been possible to carry out a full technical appraisal of their proposals. But on the advice we have, it is our impression that in view of the difficulties presented by the Underground railway running across Parliament Square and the deeper excavation that would be required—and, as far as we know, no proper soil testing has been done by the engineers putting forward this proposal—the price they put on their proposal is rather speculative. 1438 If it were properly investigated and costed, we should be very surprised if it were all that much cheaper. On purely common sense, prima faciegrounds, it is difficult to believe that this could be any cheaper, and one might at least fear that it could be more expensive.
That leads me to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke). We should think about the relation of this car park to further possible developments. As my hon. Friend indicated, there is the possibility of the linkage of what we are proposing to the House now—underneath New Palace Yard—with other underground car parks, for example, under Parliament Square, and linking it with other underground underpasses and so on as part, over the years, of a much larger scheme of getting traffic out of Parliament Square altogether. There is nothing exclusive about the scheme we are proposing. It is the first step.
That brings me to one of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). Is the provision proposed in the report adequate to the prospective needs? I suppose that it probably is not. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is right in his estimate of 1,300 cars to be parked in a few years' time. That may well be so. But if our proposal goes through, on the same ground space on which at present we can park 220 cars we shall be able to park 500 by going down. If this was a scheme which excluded those others which may come at a later date, perhaps there would be a case for looking at it even more carefully. My feeling is that over the years my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford may well be right when they say that we shall have to think in bigger terms. But tonight I have heard no alternative suggestion of the bigger way in which we should be thinking and planning at the moment. I do not believe that to proceed with this scheme excludes other additional schemes in the future.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
But does it prejudice them? Does it prejudice a complete traffic scheme for the approaches and exits from Parliament Square? That is the scheme I want to see.
§ Mr. Carr
I do not believe it does. Certainly the Committee does not believe it does, and that is why I picked up the point by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West about the possibility of the proposed scheme linking up with further underground works, both of a car park nature and for the passage of through traffic.
We have been advised that these things can be connected with the underground car park as it is now proposed. The Committee was faced with a difficulty here. Soon we shall be putting a report before the House about the new parliamentary building. There we shall see the same sort of difficulty in another sphere. If Parliament never makes a proposal because it cannot see the complete problem over the next 10 or 20 years, the great danger is that it will never make any practical proposal and never do anything because it is always waiting for the big perfect overall plan. The years go by and nothing is done.
§ Mr. Deedes
My right hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point when he says that some of the critics have failed to put forward a practical alternative. The kind of thing we have in mind is the possibility of a cut and cover scheme for Victoria Tower Gardens as was constructed in Hyde Park to be used for all-day parking unrelated to the needs of Members of Parliament. This would leave New Palace Yard free for the rapid entrance and exit of traffic concerned with the business of the House. That is not the perfect solution but there are also other alternatives which are not altogether impractical.
§ Mr. Carr
I cannot deny that my right hon. Friend's suggestion is a possibility. I can only say that I am satisfied that the Services Committee looked at these things and made a judgment about them. My personal judgment is that in due course, perhaps by the year 2000, or even 1990. We may have to make provision under New Palace Yard and under Victoria Tower Gardens as well. In the time we have available I believe on balance we are right to recommend the scheme we have put forward at the moment.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford asked me certain questions, including whether the scheme would aid us in the conduct of our business. He had 1440 a vision of a lot of cars arriving at the underground car park. I would not like to promise him that his vision is incorrect but I ask him to have another vision about what will happen on top of New Palace Yard in two, three, four or five years if we do nothing. I suspect that that vision might be even more alarming than his vision. I find what is happening now in New Palace Yard lather difficult, and I notice how quickly that difficulty has escalated.
It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South to talk about us lucky and favoured Ministers who arrive in our chauffeur-driven cars. He also talks about the privilege of parking in Speaker's Court. That is a privilege for which we are grateful to Mr. Speaker. But sometimes we are lucky if we can get as far as Speaker's Court because the melée, the crush, on the surface of New Palace Yard is already so great—and it is getting greater—that it is not an unusual experience for Ministers to have to disembark from our wonderful chauffeur-driven cars, take to our feet and thread our way with difficulty through the solid mass of cars which cover the whole surface of New Palace Yard. That is no doubt very good for our health, but it shows that there is a big problem.
§ Mr. Carr
I am not feeling sorry for myself. I enjoy walking, and it is good for us, but what I have described shows that the picture of there being no problem at present is a false one.
I believe that what we propose, although it is by no means perfect, will present lesser difficulties in a few years' time than those we have now or those we should have if we did nothing substantial about the situation.
People ask about the environment. I do not believe that the Palace of Westminster and we as Members of Parliament contribute very greatly to the general pleasure and amenity of the area. When people look into New Palace Yard they see it packed with cars. I ask the House at least to think about the prospect that the whole surface of New Palace Yard will be free of motor cars. I believe 1441 this will add to the environmental pleasures and amenities of the area, and will be preferable to the present situation. It should be one of our objectives to try to remove the clutter of our motor cars from the surface of New Palace Yard.
At this time of night I must not be carried away in my spokesman ship for the Services Committee, but, filled with enthusiasm as a new Chairman, I should like to deal briefly with one or two other points which are of importance. The hon. Member for West Ham, North mentioned the position of old Scotland Yard. We were informed that about 40 or 50 cars can be parked there. But let us say that the true figure is 100. That still does not begin to cope with the difficult parking problems for Members while the works are going on. I doubt whether it is all that much nearer than what is proposed in Broad Sanctuary, and once the buildings in Bridge Street begin to be knocked down there will be difficulties in the use of that site.
The foundations of Big Ben were looked at very carefully by engineers, and soil tests have been taken. I am not technical, but I can vouch for the fact that the matter was looked at very carefully. We received professional advice, and we are sure that the construction proposed will stabilise the foundations. Careful measurement of Big Ben is being carried out and will continue.
We realised there was danger to the catalpa trees, and skilled root pruning of them has already been undertaken by the experts of my hon. Friend's Department. When the underground car park is built special provisions in the partition wall will be undertaken, and we are assured by experts in these matters that the catalpa trees should be safe-guarded.
I assure hon. Members that the Services Committee in no way resents criticisms and questions—far from it. But I hope they will believe that we have wrestled with some of the problems they raised and that it is our genuine belief that on balance the proposal is the best one available to us. It does not exclude further developments. In the end, we must act and get on with something. A start must be made somewhere. If we go ahead we shall be doubling the car parking capacity on this area of land, and I see no reason why it should ex- 1442 clude further developments such as those mentioned by hon. Members. Therefore, I hope the House will approve the Report.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in their Fourth Report.