HC Deb 27 June 1974 vol 875 cc1877-905

10.28 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley (Middlesbrough)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in their First Report. I should like to draw special attention to certain points.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him. Are the reports being taken separately or together?

Mr. Bottomley

I think that for orderliness it might be preferable to take them separately, Mr. Speaker.

I hope that this time we shall be able to reach a solution. I think that the whole House will agree that it is necessary to clean up New Palace Yard in an appropriate and attractive way without further delay.

When the House last debated the issue it had before it a scheme prepared by the Department of the Environment for paving the yard with a uniform surface of granite setts, and with bollards separating the roadway from the central area. This scheme was recommended to the House by the last Services Committee. I understand that it was favoured by the Department's Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments, because it pre served the historical character of the area as an open yard. For largely the same reasons, it was preferred by the Department's architects and commended by the Royal Fine Art Commission.

It was also felt that visually such treatment would be more in keeping with its surroundings than any alternative involving grass and shrubs or water. I note that the Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission, in a letter to The Times recently, reiterated this view, which was shared by the Westminster City Council.

However, on 10th December 1973 the House decided that it did not want the yard scheme. Although no clear-cut alternative was suggested, the general view was that a scheme incorporating grass and trees or shrubs would be more acceptable. The Committee has faithfully tried to give effect to that general view in the recommendations contained in the report.

I do not think I shall be betraying any confidence by telling the House that, like the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Department was not very happy about our proposals. It naturally wanted its own scheme. When we first met to discuss the matter it produced a variant for the Committee's consideration. However, it was felt by the Committee that it would have been wrong to come back to the House with something which differed very little from what had already been rejected. For this reason the Committee instructed the Department to prepare the scheme described in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the report. I think that the scheme will add a new dimension to the Yard and will be attractive.

The Department would have reasonable latitude, in consultation with the Services Committee, to carry out the scheme in the most practical way. In our consideration of this matter we have had much help from the Department of the Environment, and I would like to thank all the officials who have given unstintingly of their service and time. I think the Committee would wish me in particular to pay tribute to the work of the principal architect, Mr. Ellis, who produced at short notice various schemes at our specific request. I should also like to pay tribute to the sub-committee and its chairman, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), who worked so hard to produce the report and its recommendations. Another point has been highlighted by the recent bomb attack. We have to ensure that whatever we do is consistent with security requirements and that there is always access for fire engines. The Services Committee will keep this matter under review.

Finally, I should like to strike a note of urgency. The Committee has been conscious of the need to restore the yard with the least possible delay. We have all lived for far too long in this untidy and unavoidable consequence of building the car park. For this reason I hope that the House will give our scheme its wholehearted blessing tonight and enable us to get the job finished as soon as possible.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

On 10th December last, when we debated this matter, I was one of those who opposed the previous propostion. I hope that the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) will not think me simply contrary if again I do not express approval of the new scheme.

I do so rather hesitantly because I am conscious that the Services Committee has an immensely difficult task. It has to decide on matters of taste, and that is hard enough for anyone to do. It is even harder for the Committee to obtain the approval of the entire House of Commons on a matter which is basically one of taste.

I can put my objections to the scheme simply. When I objected previously I did so on the ground, primarily, not just that it was an open yard but that it was a useless open yard. I can sympathise with the argument of the Royal Fine Art Commission that it has traditionally been an open yard and should remain so. I did not express a preference for a grass and water scheme. If we are to have such a scheme, the architects have done a very good job and it is an attractive proposal. But I cannot see that a pretty parkland effect is an appropriate feature for the Palace of Westminster. To that extent I go along with the Royal Fine Art Commission. To put a pond in the middle of the attractively landscaped area is inappropriate and a great waste of space.

I know that we are not debating the car parking proposals, but paragraph 3 of the Second Report reads as follows: One fact stands out clearly. This is that completion of the underground car park will not create a surplus of parking accommodation; on the contrary there will continue to be a shortage. Is it not extraordinary that we should use this valuable space in the centre of London for nothing, when there is, we are told, a continuing shortage of car parking space?

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that New Palace Yard should revert to being a car park? That is not what he said previously. There will always be a shortage of car parking space.

Mr. Moate

I think I can claim to be consistent. I maintained then, and have always maintained, that car parking in New Palace Yard is part of the Westminster scene. Complete elimination of cars from the site would give a dead impression. It is a matter of taste. I have nothing against orderly car parking on the site. I see that as part of the Westminster scene. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members clearly disagree, but that is a legitimate viewpoint. It would make far more sense, economically speaking, to use that space.

The cost of the new car park is £2½-million approximately. It accommodates 500 cars, which means that the cost of one place is £5,000. If 200 cars were parked on the surface the space would be worth £1 million. The pond will cost the ratepayers £1 million. If there will still be a shortage of car parking space, I argue that it is a misuse of that space to put it down to what is by general account inappropriate parkland.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that, for the same reason, we should convert the garden in the middle of Parliament Square into a car park?

Mr. Moate

The hon. Gentleman is being illogical. We are talking about the yard of the Palace of Westminster, which is a traditional historical setting and has always been an open yard. The Royal Fine Art Commission argued that it should be an open yard. As an open yard we should use it for a useful purpose. I argue that economically, and to an extent in historical and aesthetic terms, to keep it for car parking is a practical proposition, certainly in the interim period until another purpose can be found. I say, reluctantly, that it would make much more sense to think again. We could put down a temporary surface until we know exactly what we want to use the space for. For those reasons I hope that the Committee may find a reason for reconsidering this proposition.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)

I suppose I should be out of order if I argued the merits of the car park, to which I have always been opposed. At a time when we are trying to discourage car owners from driving their cars into central London, it is fantastic that we should embark upon the expenditure of millions of pounds to make it easier for cars to come into the Palace of Westminster.

I must concentrate upon the issue before us, which is the use to which New Palace Yard will be put.

The House is taking on itself a serious responsibility in completely disregarding the views of the Royal Fine Art Commission. That commission is a body of responsible people, and I should be surprised if in the course of this debate the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), who is representing the Conservative Opposition, says that the views of the Royal Fine Art Commission should be disregarded. However, that is what we appear to be doing.

I must confess that I am a traditionalist. New Palace Yard is a yard. Why should we start messing about having a bit of grass, water in the middle, and that sort of thing in what historically is a yard? If I may paraphrase Gertrude Stein, "A yard is a yard is a yard …". We do not want to mess about with it. It would be more appropriate if we forgot all about a lawn, and a pool and these extravagances which will add to the cost of the project, and allowed the granite setts to be installed so that we shall continue to have New Palace Yard as a yard not some other fancy extravagancies thought up by the Services Committee.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) will be persuaded to think again. We are old friends and I do not want to start quarrelling with him at my time of life, and indeed at his time of life. I ask him to think again and not force the House into a decision on what should appear on the surface of New Palace Yard.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Paul Tyler (Bodmin)

I did not have the privilege of serving in the last Parliament. Therefore, although I read with interest the previous debate, I had no opportunity to take part in it.

I am pleased this evening to see many of the Members who were present on that occasion here in the Chamber tonight. However, there are two notable absentees. One is the former right hon. Member for Sowerby, who is now Lord Houghton, who, I think, was then Father of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"]. I beg the pardon of the House. He was certainly a distinguished and long-serving Member of the House, and I shall quote his views in a moment.

The other absentee is the former Member for Birmingham, Handsworth, Mr. Sydney Chapman, who is an architect and planner, and who, I believe, was the only Member in the House at that time who had any professional qualification to judge the issue.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Is the hon. Gentleman advancing the case that an architect necessarily has some sort of taste? Can he really make such a statement when he looks around at some of the monstrous abortions which architects have inflicted on the country?

Mr. Tyler

I am not an architect, but as a layman I take an interest in architectural matters. Having worked with architects for some years, I think their voice is at least worth hearing.

I was depressed to hear the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) claim urgency as the reason for the choice made by the Services Committee. As I recall from reading the debate in Hansard, the same argument was then adduced for having a late-night debate on the car park. It was urged that something had to be done quickly—and, in my view, the wrong decision was taken. I hope that no hon. Member will feel tonight that he cannot vote against the recommendations of the Services Committee because the right hon. Gentleman says that the matter is urgent. What is more important is to get the right thing done.

There was throughout the debate on 10th December a general conviction that New Palace Yard should be used. It came out in many speeches, including those of Mr. Houghton, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), who has spoken tonight in the same terms.

It is important to ensure that New Palace Yard does not become a dead place when looked at from outside. It is not a dead place but part of the environs of the Palace of Westminster, which I regard as a place of work and not just as a backcloth for tourists to look at, or a quiet idyllic scene for people to walk round in and enjoy themselves.

I draw attention to the picture in the report. I am sorry hat it will not appear in HANSARD, because the point may not be apparent to people reading the debate without it. The picture is significant, and the most significant thing of all is that if one looks closely one can find only two people in the Yard.

Mr. Ben Ford (Bradford, North)

They are all under the trees.

Mr. Tyler

One can find a few cars in the picture, but the most important thing about it and the proposal that it represents is that it is dead. It has nothing to do with the working institution of democracy. It is a dead picture of a tourist scene. It may be that the artist drew the picture during the Summer Recess; if so, he misunderstood what this place is about. We are considering an integral part of the centre of British democracy. I do not think that a nice little row of trees round a croquet lawn with something like a municipal bandstand in the middle is appropriate.

Mr. Lipton

The hon. Gentleman will notice that the cars are stationary.

Mr. Tyler

The hon. Gentleman has made an excellent point, as only he can, in his inimitable way. Mr. Douglas Houghton on 10th December said: … New Palace Yard has been a courtyard since records were kept of the environs of this palace. That point has been repeated tonight. The hon. Member for Faversham said that it must be … functional, recognising the economic value of the site and its important position. … I believe that the site will be left sterile, dead and nattractive."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December 1973; Vol 866, cc. 109 and 112–13.] The hon. Gentleman's fears have materialised in the picture. The hon. Member for Derby, North said, rightly, that it would be quite wrong for the yard to be considered as merely a tourist attraction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) adduced the argument in that debate that during the recess the yard should have a function. He suggested it as a suitable venue for a son et lumière. Certainly one of the most effective ways of explaining what a building is about today is to explain its history.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Would the hon. Gentleman make a simple point? Was it proposed that the son et lumière should be profit-making?

Mr. Tyler

I do not recall whether my hon. Friend had views on whether it should be profit-making or not, and I do not have strong views about it.

Mr. English

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) wanted it to make a profit.

Mr. Tyler

My hon. Friend wanted the yard used. I have not discovered whether he wanted to make a profit. But, if there was a profit and that profit was used to provide better facilities for Members—

Mr. English

That is not his proposal.

Mr. Tyler

This is not a party point

Mr. English

A personal point.

Mr. Tyler

If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a personal point about non-profit-making son et luèiere, I have no doubt that he will seek an opportunity in the course of the debate.

I have said already that I believe that this proposal will sterilise New Palace Yard. There are many uses to which it should be put. The one which I find most objectionable is that it should become a quiet shady garden for tourists, which appears to be the proposal before us.

Mr. Whitehead

How does the hon. Gentleman know, even with his keen eyesight, that the two people whom he has discerned in the picture are actually tourists?

Mr. Tyler

The cars appear to be far too big to be afforded by hon. Members. That is why I suggest that they may be tourists.

I turn to the uses to which the yard should, could and always has been put. It has been part of the Palace of Westminster. It has been the normal arriving point since the palace was rebuilt after the fire in the 1830s, the place to which carriages and subsequently cars have come, parked for short periods, and gone again. I do not think that it is beyond the wit of this House to impose short-term parking restrictions upon those hon. Members—even some Government supporters—who find that they come in for a short period in the evening to exercise their democratic right at 10 o'clock and then depart again.

It is very important that New Palace Yard should be a centre of bustle and activity. It is wrong for it to be treated as a monastic garden with the sweet sounds of birds and bees. Moreover, it is totally misconceived to imagine that any water in the centre of London will remain respectable for any length of time. Even in the Palace of Westminster, water does not remain pure and attractive to look at. In a very short space of time it will look, as most municipal ponds in London and elsewhere look, squalid.

We should be seeking informality to set off the formality of the yard. Anyone with experience of architectural or landscaping matters will appreciate that the formality of the ring of trees shown in the picture will not provide a foil for the background of historic buildings. We require small groups of trees to disguise any short-term car parking which may occur and to give a real sense of a rectangle to the area surrounding it.

The proposal before us would be very attractive in a municipal beer garden somewhere in the South of England. It is inappropriate to the historic environment of the Palace of Westminster. I hope very much that right hon. and hon. Members will join me in the Division Lobby when I divide the House against this proposal.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I am not quite sure what the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) wants. I am clear about what he does not want. He does not want the scheme that is before us now. He wants something lively, active and, it seems to me, messy which is difficult to judge without knowing in more detail what he has in mind.

I rarely disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley). In fact, this is the first time that I have done so for many years. But I disagree with him about the merits of the scheme that he has presented.

In this important setting, what is wanted is something simple, grand and dignified. Nothing else will set off the very fine architecture of Westminster Hall and Parliament which surrounds it. Any erection in New Palace Yard, including a circle of trees or whatever it may be, is a mistake.

The proposal to place granite setts, and nothing else, in New Palace Yard was proposed by people whose advice we do not necessarily always follow but to which we must listen. The Royal Fine Art Commission, the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments, Westminster City Council, the architects attached to the Department of the Environment—all important people with considerable knowledge of these matters—gave their advice. Their advice was unanimous and correct. It was accepted by this House in July 1973.

When the Department presented a scheme in December last year to carry out those proposals, for a variety of reasons the House rejected it by a very small majority, by 42 votes to 35. Anyone reading the report of that debate can see, from the way it ranged over a huge number of proposals, that it was a messy debate. Having read it, it seems to me that many people voted against the scheme more from resentment of the fact there was going to be a very expensive car park under New Palace Yard than for any other reason. There was general criticism of the Department of the Environment for putting a car park there costing millions of pounds. The proposal was debated late at night, and that sort of feeling was evident throughout the debate. I believe it was partly for that reason that the proposal was turned down by 42 votes to 35.

I agree that the Department was in a difficulty. It had to produce another scheme. It has produced this scheme, which is an abomination. Just because a scheme which had been agreed to by all the authorities was turned down by the last Parliament by a small majority, I do not know why a new Parliament might not consider the scheme afresh. That is what I hope the House will do.

Mr. Moate

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the same principle—which I agree with—should be applied to the new Parliament building?

Mr. Strauss

I do not think that is a relevant comment.

I want the principle that was applied to the Great Court of Trinity, which is the best comparison, to be applied to this important setting. a simple fine layout with nothing on it except granite or grass.

The only way I am prepared to depart from the recommendations of the Royal Fine Art Commission is to suggest that instead of having granite setts over the whole area there should be grass. I think that might be an improvement. What is needed is something simple, not an oblong space in the centre of New Palace Yard surrounded by a line of pleached lime trees, which have nothing to do with the setting. It detracts from the simplicity of the place. It means nothing. Is it expected that hon. Members will walk round these trees in the summer? I do not know.

Presumably the public will not be allowed into New Palace Yard. It is desirable that there should be—indeed, there are now—large numbers of seats for the public in Parliament Square from which they can see the House of Commons and Westminster Abbey.

I do not know the purpose of having this line of trees. Anyone looking at this picture must agree that it detracts from the simplicity and grandeur of the place and is wrong.

I regret that the proposal before us is not a wise one. It is not put forward with any conviction. It is put forward in spite of the recommendation of the authorities, which we should consider although not necessarily accept. It has been put forward because the Department did not know what else to do.

The proposal of the Royal Fine Art Commission and the other experts was put before the House and defeated by a small majority during the last Parliament. Therefore, they hesitate to put forward that or a similar scheme to this Parliament. That is wrong. I hope that the House will turn down this scheme. New Palace Yard could be as magnificent a setting as the Great Court of Trinity.

I will therefore reject my right hon. Friend's advice, although this is the first time that I have disagreed with him. The Services Committee should consider the matter afresh, and try to come up with a simpler scheme more appropriate for this important part of Westminster.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I declare an interest as a member of the Services Committee.

I am finding this debate increasingly odd. The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), said that, because the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission, the City of Westminster and the Department of the Environment was turned down by the last Parliament by a small majority, the new Parliament should have been able to consider it again. He is saying that the new Services Committee should have listened to that rejected advice and not had a mind of its own. No Services Committee worth its salt should do that.

The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton) voted against the new parliamentary building on 25th June 1973, although it was recommended by the Royal Fine Art Commission. Because the commission does not recommend this scheme, he says that we should now follow its advice. He is a trifle inconsistent.

The House is being put in an impossible position. It will soon find no hon. Members willing to sit on the Services Committee if it always turns down the Committee's views without suggesting any constructive alternatives. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), in an unholy alliance, will be in the same Lobby as the Father of the House tonight, although what he wants to see is cars all across New Palace Yard because they have always been there. Old pictures do not show masses of carriages in the yard. As the Chairman of the Services Committee said, these days we must take account of security considerations. If the yard is covered with untidy motor vehicles, it will be increasingly difficult for fire vehicles to get through. My hon. Friend must be realistic, and not always put that sort of view, which does not take us any further forward.

The House should accept that this scheme is practical. No scheme could suit everyone, but it has been carefully thought out and accepted by the Committee, with or without expert advice. I do not believe in always accepting expert advice. Some of it is trashy. If we do not accept the scheme, the House will be committing itself to spending a considerable sum of taxpayers' money on temporary paving of New Palace Yard. That money will be slung away because some hon. Members are not prepared to accept that it is a practical scheme.

I believe that this is a practical scheme. The Services Committee would be dishonest if it came forward again with the scheme which was turned down last time. The House would be well advised to accept the scheme put forward by the Chairman of the Services Committee.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)

Like the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), I am now a member of the Services Committee, and I have certain sympathy with the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), upon whom the fickle finger of fate has settled tonight in making him reply to the debate, in which the House appears—or some hon. Members appear—to be taking a totally contrary view to the one vehemently expressed in the debate less than a year ago. There was absolutely no doubt last time, small majority or not in percentage terms—few hon. Members stayed until that hour—[Interruption.] It was a late debate. I realise that hon. Gentle men on the Liberal benches know little about Divisions and are rarely here for them. I shall in a moment deal with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) and his proposals, ludicrous though they were.

When the Division took place after the last debate, the hon. Members who were whipping at that time asked us, with their usual monosyllabic eloquence: "Are you for grass or cobbles?" That was the way the House divided. To put it no higher, those hon. Members who threw out the previous proposals were for grass in the courtyard, as tastefully arranged as it could be, and they were against Portuguese cobble stones which were to be imported at great expense to provide the paving setts recommended by the Services Committee.

Not all the suggestions in the new proposals are exactly what I would like, or what some other critics would like. I appreciate some of the objections which the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), raised about trees. That may be a matter of detailed argument which we could take note of or resolve.

The central issue is what we do with New Palace Yard—whether we keep it open, or put it to some new, more attractive use. I am convinced that the Services Committee's proposals offer something which the majority of the House ought to be able to accept—

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Can my hon. Friend say whether the Services Committee has ascertained if the trees can root in the position proposed? If we were instead to agree to have paving in New Palace Yard it would mean we could keep our options open, and the point about the proper rooting of the trees—the planting of which would cost a lot of money—could be properly looked into.

Mr. Whitehead

There is a difficulty concerned not merely with the inital rooting of the trees but with other things which would have to remain in the courtyard. The hon. Member for Bristol, West will be able to deal with this in detail in replying to the debate. There is an issue not so much about the additional catalpa trees to be put around the site but about the lime trees in the centre. There has been almost everything in New Palace Yard in its time. One of the reasons why I jocularly suggested a tennis court when the matter was previously debated was that we know from the discovery of tennis balls in the rafters of Westminster Hall that tennis was played in the precincts of the palace for a long period before those who govern our affairs decided in their wisdom that such recreation should not be allowed here.

Mr. Tyler

The hon. Member made the point in the previous debate that New Palace Yard should be put to some use. He has not yet explained what use is to be made of the curious bowling green. Is he proposing that hon. Members play croquet on it?

Mr. Whitehead

I keep telling the hon. Member for Bodmin, whom I have known for many years and for whom I have a high regard, that I will come on to his remarks. I hope that he will contain himself until I reach that happy position.

Recreation is itself a use, and recreation within New Palace Yard would be better suited under these proposals than under anything we have heard by way of an alternative from the critics. Recreation is an essential in the crowded, dense urban environment into which some people, like the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), wish to bring more and more motor cars. During the previous debate—the hon. Gentleman was in the House at the time—no one suggested that we should make New Palace Yard the same grubby car park as before.

Mr. Moate


Mr. Whitehead

If the hon. Gentleman did, I think he was the only hon. Member to do so. I hope that the position will be the same tonight. When we consider the few open spaces that are left in central London, to suggest that we should measure out space here in terms of the going rate per footage of motor car and consider those spaces in terms of the market price for parking spaces is a ludicrous suggestion in relation to this historic site. It has seen many uses in the past and no doubt there will be more in future.

The hon. Member for Bodmin, in the major statement of Liberal policy which we heard tonight, wanted the yard to be less sterile. I am sometimes called the father of vasectomy of the House, and I am able to judge as well as anyone else when something is sterilised. I do not believe that New Palace Yard, as the proposals suggest, will be a more and place or a more and environment because there are no people conspicuously working in it. Does the hon. Gentleman want to take his desk out into the yard and dictate to his secretary and become an additional tourist attraction? New Palace Yard, since the advent of the motor car, has been a fume-ridden enclave into which cars have come and gone, and all too often they have been parked in it for far too long. That at least is eliminated under the proposals before us, because there will be little room for motor cars to be parked.

I do not think that we should surrender at this late stage to the motor car. I do not think that we should return to the paved setts from Portugal, although Portugal is not in such a bad odour on these benches as it was a few months ago. I hope that the majority tonight, bearing in mind the hard work put in by the hon. Member for Bristol, West and his advisers to whom I pay tribute, will settle in the Division, as it did last time, for grass and not for cobbles.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton) told us that we should disregard the views of the Royal Fine Art Commission and act on our own belief. I suggest that before we consider that proposition we should look at some of the things of which the commission has approved—for example, the Queen Anne's Mansions, the Knightsbridge Barracks Tower and the New Parliamentary Building. I do not think that the commission can be judged as the supreme arbiter of taste.

Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)

My hon. Friend has missed out the most important example of the lot—namely, the Department of the Environment itself.

Mr. Allason

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central also said that hon. Members should set a good example to Londoners as we tell them not to bring their cars into the centre of London and park. There are spaces for 220 cars in New Palace Yard, but under this scheme they will not be parking in the yard but elsewhere. We shall later be discussing other places for parking, but under this scheme cars will not be parking on the surface. That will set a good example to Londoners. We shall be hiding our cars away underground. We work after midnight, after public transport has stopped, and, therefore, we need to have our cars here. That is not generally understood by the public.

Mr. Lipton

Does the hon. Gentleman think that when a Division is called at 10 o'clock and cars pour into the yard, they will all park underground and that cars will not be left on the surface to enable hon. Members to nip in the Lobby? That is just not on.

Mr. Allason

I do not think that 10 o'clock at night is the time when workaday Londoners are watching what we are up to.

We have the choice of the open scheme—simple, grand, and dignified—which will be a view of either 220 cars, the mess that is left by them and those ugly ramps that we are compelled to have into the building, or a bit of camouflage for those ramps.

The pride of New Palace Yard is not that it is open but that we have our curtain of trees. It will not be a matter of regret for me if we have more trees in New Palace Yard. In the middle we could have a fountain or, if the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) has his way, a beehive. I should prefer a reproduction of the old Tudor fountain. I am attracted to that for sentimental and historic reasons. On the other hand, it would be quite reasonable not to have it, because it is not an essential part of the scheme. On the whole, I believe that this scheme is a great improvement on the previous one.

11.17 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Charles R. Morris)

I should like to associate myself with the expressions of appreciation voiced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) about the work of the Services Committee, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), and the officials of the Department of the Environment, particularly Mr. Ellis and Mr. Mackenzie, regarding this scheme.

It is no secret that my Department would prefer to preserve the historic character of New Palace Yard. It is perhaps sufficient to say that, without accepting that the Royal Fine Art Commission is the final arbiter in taste in these matters, we are inclined to agree with its view that the paved area scheme would have been best and feel that it is a pity that the House did not see fit to accept the original recommendation of the Services Committee. But I accept that this matter was, and is, one for the House, and my Department will do all that it can to comply with the decision of the House.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that, in the light of the vote on 10th December 1973, his Committee could scarcely have come back with a mere variant of the scheme. I congratulate both him and the Committee on what is an ingenious and, if the illustration is any guide, attractive solution to the problem.

I do not accept that the scheme produces what the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) described as a sterile, dead, and unattractive feature for the setting of the Palace of Westminster. I was fascinated when the hon. Gentleman discerned two figures on the illustration. I should perhaps disclose that they were two worried, anxious, frustrated officials from the Department of the Environment suffering from a surfeit of good advice and a multiplicity of views from Members of this House on a scheme for New Palace Yard.

I accept that there are problems over certain details of the scheme, and I gladly accept the offer of consultation made by my right hon. Friend on the best way of solving them. As at present advised, I do not think it is impossible to implement the proposed garden scheme, but my officials will wish to examine the practical implications rather more fully. That is important if we are to secure uniform growth of the lime trees which were described in such disparaging terms by one of my right hon. Friends. It is suggested that there might be difficulty in growing these trees to a uniform height. If those difficulties subsequently prove insuperable we should like to have the opportunity of proposing alternatives to the Services Committee. This is, however, a matter of detail, and I agree that if the Committee and the House concur there should be no need to make further reference to the House.

We should also have regard to the security aspects in working out the details of the scheme. Access for emergency services such as fire engines and ambulances is particularly important, especially in view of the recent terrorist bombing incident which affected Westminster Hall, access to which was needed through New Palace Yard. There has to be access for the fire appliances, ladders and all other kinds of fire-fighting equipment, and we must bear in mind that if a bomb can burst a gas main, as it did in the recent regrettable incident, it may do the same to a water main. Accordingly, we must be prepared for all eventualities and ensure that the roadway is adequate to cope with them.

My right hon. Friend mentioned cost and time. The latest estimate of cost for the garden scheme, including what has been described as a pond, is in the range of £140,000 to £175,000. That compares with £180,000 for the paved area scheme. We had originally believed that this could have been accommodated within the £2,500,000 provided for the car park as a whole. Unfortunately, the general escalation of building costs now rules that out. As the House knows, there have been delays during the construction of the car park, most particularly to enable important archaeological research to take place. There have been other minor modifications which should add to the cost of the main contract, and it now seems, inevitably, that some additional provision may be required. It is far too early at this stage to be specific on the figures, and I have every reason to hope that in the context of about £2,500,000 it will eventually prove to be a marginal amount. In any case we shall have an opportunity to review the matter later in the year when we consider the cost of repairing the recent bomb damage.

The other point concerned time. As my right hon. Friend said, this is primarily the Committee's scheme, and its implications will have to be worked out in detail by the Department. The actual planning should not take long, and we shall do all we can to carry out the work as quickly as possible. There is the problem of long delivery dates for slate and granite, but we should be able to do a fair amount of preparatory work and tidying up during the recess, and, while I can give no assurances about dates now, the House has my assurance that we shall do our best to complete the whole job with the minimum of delay.

I want to end briefly by dealing with the Second Report of Services Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order."] I assume, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are taking the orders together.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

They are being taken separately.

Mr. Morris

In those circumstances I conclude by commenting on the point made by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) when he suggested using the surface of New Palace Yard for providing additional car parking places. There is a practical difficulty in this regard. I am advised that the air vents from the underground car park would make it difficult and undesirable to park cars on the surface. It would mean that fewer could be parked than had been parked there previously.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I do not think that anyone will disagree about the value of the project, but it is difficult for people who work in the House—not only Members—to find accommodation. If the vents could be covered, additional car parking space could be provided temporarily, until we have sufficient accommodation for hon. Members and those who work in the House.

Mr. Morris

I appreciate the difficulty of providing adequate car parking space for Members and staff who are obliged to attend the House over a period of 24 hours every day, but one must recognise the extent of the expenditure involved in providing such additional facilities.

Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

Why cannot the hon. Gentleman arrange with his Department to put a stronger surface on the vents to enable cars to be parked there, at least in emergencies? What would be the cost? Is it not possible?

Mr. Morris

I do not have this information available. Vents imply access to air. Strengthening them with additional concrete would inhibit the development of any scheme for enhancing New Palace Yard.

There have been a variety of views on whether we should have opted for the paved area scheme recommended previously. We now have before us proposals of the Services Committee for what has been described as a garden scheme. The issue has been under consideration for three years. Expenditure in providing the underground car park involves £2½ million. I have reservations about some features of the garden scheme, but we have an obligation to the taxpayers. Today is the day of decision for the House. It should face up to its obligations in this regard.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), who made a remarkably sensible speech, I find much of the debate totally mystifying. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not continue to make bravado interventions from a sedentary position.

Two points go to the root of the problem. First, there is the mind-boggling suggestion by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler). The use of the New Palace Yard for son et lumière seems to entail that in any circumstances there would have to be an audience to watch the lumière and listen to son. If the hon. Gentleman has attended son et lumières, he may know that it is almost impossible to enjoy either with the amount of noise that there is now in Parliament Square and the Bridge Street area.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

That would provide the son.

Mr. Money

Of a sort.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bodmin will find an audience for son et lumière in those circumstances, and at the sort of hour that is likely.

What is much more important is what has just fallen from the Minister, that we have lived with the scheme for far too long. We have to come to a solution soon. This scheme is basically civilised within its terms. It is basically far cheaper, and, considering some of the difficulties that this Parliament has, it might be as well not to have too many paving stones around.

I warmly welcome what the Services Committee has put forward, on the basis that at long last something is being done with an area that is rapidly degenerating into a slum. The sooner something is done with it, the sooner we can get on with the primary purpose for which the House is here, rather than have so much of the House taken up by the individual views of every Member.

It is sometimes said that Israel is a country with just over 3 million people and just over 3 million political parties. In the House, it is obvious that every Member will have his own views. This scheme will not only meet the duty to serve the public but will provide something that will not be objectionable to the majority view of taste and, therefore, it is to be welcomed.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I am in a similar position to the Father of the House the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). I hardly ever disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money), just as the right hon. Gentleman hardly ever disagrees with his right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) but I disagree with what my hon. Friend said this evening.

It is rather unfortunate that anyone should try to stampede the House into taking a decision. It may be that this has been going on for years, but the car park has been under construction, and we are to determine what, for the foreseeable future, will be New Palace Yard. It will be a complete change from anything that we have known before, and we must make the right decision. We and successive generations have to live with it, and if we take extra time to make a decision, so what?

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall was right when he talked about a certain guilt complex about the car park. There was such a guilt complex, and I still share it. I may be ruled out of order for saying so, but I still wonder whether these five storeys could not be put to better purpose than for the parking of cars.

I advanced that theory during the last debate on this subject and I am being consistent. If we are to have it as a car park, and if it cannot be used for other purposes, so be it. I raised this matter last time and the Minister said that he would investigate it, but I have never had a reply. I do not know whether a reply was ever given to anybody. One knows that in Congress there is an underground swimming pool, and so on. A swimming pool here might keep Members fitter and be a better use of the space.

But accepting that we shall have this area as a car park, it seems to me that the Father of the House said some sensible things. This is an extremely bitty scheme. Those of us who voted against the granite setts because we thought that they were austere and would not give the area the new character that we wanted to see had in mind a sort of Trinity Court, with an area of grass and a focal point in the middle. I even suggested a statue of Cromwell as being appropriate. There is one skulking around outside. There could be either a statute or a fountain as a focal point—it does not matter which, but I should favour a statue because it would be cheaper—with grass around and granite setts on the outside. That would be a delightful and pleasing prospect for many people.

Nobody likes trees more than I do, but to have these arboreal units of uniform size would not produce what we want. It is no wonder that the hon. Member is known as the Minister for urban affairs, when he talks about trees in this way. Such a scheme would produce a bitty effect.

I suggest that the Services Committee be instructed to think again, to take away these trees. After all, the Services Committee is there to serve this House. We all appreciate the hard work that it has done, but if the House as a whole feels unable to accept its recommendations there is nothing particularly petulant or undemocratic in that. We are entitled to say that to the Committee. I should like the Services Committee to take the scheme away and take away the trees. The Trinity Court concept would meet the requirements of most people.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I think I can legitimately claim that when I vote against the motion I shall be consistent, in that I voted for the Services Committee on the last occasion, but I recollect that the opponents, who then won, did not actually ask for trees. I shall join the opponents tonight, not because I particularly believe in their argument, but because I believed the argument of the Services Committee last time.

I should like to mention something a little more serious. The repute of the Services Committee and of the House has declined over the period the Committee has existed. It was once chaired by the Leader of the House. I mean no disrespect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) when I say that he is not the Leader of the House. The Committee used to have both Chief Whips on it. Now it has both Deputy Chief Whips. I could go on in detail, but I do not wish to do so. It is the case that the repute of the Services Committee has declined.

The Committee does not indulge sufficiently in consulting hon. Members before it reaches its decisions. In respect of its recommendations regarding car parking I see no reason why the Committee could not have sent out a simple questionnaire to hon. Members asking "What would you like to be done about New Palace Yard?" before we had a debate.

We are using sledgehammers to crack nuts. We have had two debates on this issue. It would not surprise me if both debates ended with defeats for the Services Committee. The first one ended that way. The Services Committee may win tonight, but it sounds as if it will lose. Is there any reason why the Services Committee, which is supposed to represent hon. Members, should not consult hon. Members about what it is doing?

The Services Committee meets in relative privacy, if not in total secrecy. I know that hon. Members have a right to attend and listen to the proceedings of the Committee, if they wish to, but most hon. Members do not do so. The Committee is usually defeated in the House. It used once to win.

I do not wish to delay the House at this hour. I merely suggest that in future, before the Services Committee arrives at a decision, it might conceivably send out 635 letters privately to hon. Members saying "What is your view?". It should ask after the fashion of a Gallup poll, what their opinions are and receive their opinions back. Then perhaps the Committee would arrive at a decision which would be acceptable to the overwhelming majority of hon. Members.

11.38 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Many of the speeches which have been made in this debate have been answered by other speeches. I will try briefly, in winding up, to cover the other points.

The Services Committee is the servant of the House. We recognise our obligation to the House. I think that every member of the Committee does his best to be in contact with as many Members as possible. Indeed, in the special context of the Services Committee, although there are various rules of privilege applicable to Select Committees, they are loosely applied in this context, for the Services Committee is there to carry out the wishes of the House. I have never noticed hon. Members being slow to tell me about what they think we should do or what they wish us to do.

The House rejected our previous report. In that debate we were asked to think again. We could not return to the House without making a real attempt to incorporate into a new scheme all the eminently helpful and worthwhile suggestions which Members of the House made, both in that debate and outside it.

The House has asked us for trees, for grass, for water, and for a design complimentary to the historic stone buildings and various dates and styles which surround New Palace Yard. The scheme outlined in our new report, which incorporates all that was asked for, will, we believe, turn New Palace Yard from a dusty desert cluttered with vehicles into a place of some tranquillity, which is surely no bad thing as the pounding traffic passes two sides of it.

There were questions about points of detail. I know that the House wants to come to a decision so I will not go into too much detail. The scheme is not perhaps well presented in the sketch. Sketches can never do everything. I am sorry that the cars are not moving for the benefit of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler). We cannot ask the Stationery Office to produce a coloured film strip of everything we want to show the House.

The centre embodies materials from practically every corner of the United Kingdom—Westmorland slate, Portland stone from Dorset, granite from Scotland. My Ulster Unionist Friends this morning told me that they could supply some Ulster granite from the Mourne Mountains. There is no reason why for historic reasons a great many parts of the United Kingdom should not help in doing this job in New Palace Yard.

We are adding to the catalpa trees. Those sacred trees have been very much part of the scene for more than a century. We are keeping to a minimum the stone paved area. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) is pleased about that. I am grateful for his support this evening during his first appearance as spokesman for the arts in the Conservative Party.

The stone paved areas will be far more pleasing than the dirty tarmac already referred to. We have contrived a central area embodying a carpet of green in contrast to such stone as is necessary. The historic site of the Tudor fountain is to be marked by a simple pool of the same dimensions.

Perhaps I should explain that what is shown in the sketch is a hexagonal reconstruction of the octangular medieval fountain found by archeologists below the Tudor fountain. It would have cost about £50,000 to reconstruct that, and it was questionable whether it was desirable, anyway. I can assure the House that the remains of the fountains found in the excavations have been carefully preserved and will be able to be put on view in some appropriate place. Members may like to suggest where.

The central area is shown in the sketch as being surrounded by a double line of lime trees, formally trained to provide a shaded walk and capable of hiding the ramps of the car park by lateral growth —from their stems along that stretch of the footpath only. One will not be able to see the hideous ramps to the car park and the walls that contain them. As one steps out of the great doors of Westminster Hall one will see merely a green area. There are ample precedents for such a feature in such a setting.

In Europe such things are extensively used, and when well cared for, as we can be sure ours will be by the Bailiff of the Royal Parks, they are a perfect complement to fine architecture. This is possible—

Mr. Spearing

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the trees, could he deal with the point I raised? What steps has the Services Committee taken to ascertain whether these trees in this position can take root and continue to flourish if the House decided to accept the recommendation of the Committee?

Mr. Cooke

I knew I should not have given way, not because I do not wish to answer the question but because I am coming to it. All this is possible and, if the House approves, could be a living reality by next summer.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) asked about the trees. The House will know that New Palace Yard is far from level. There are parts of the central area which have differing depths of soil. The part nearest to the colonnade would be a problem if the central area were to follow the contour of the yard. In other words, if the path round the trees were to follow the contour of the yard it would be askew. If the central area is to be laid out more or less level, or appearing level to the eye, which is what a landscape gardener would do, there will be ample depth of soil for the trees all round the central area. I do not think I am disclosing any confidence when I say that I have had expert advice to the effect that provided that the central area is treated that way the trees will grow perfectly well and can be properly maintained.

I come to the problems of the central area. This will help the House consider.

ably. Following the recent bomb and the fire in the area adjoining Westminster Hall, which happened after our report was published, we are advised that we should look most carefully to ensure that nothing we propose will impede the fire services and their appliances. We there-fore propose forthwith to take evidence from those best able to advise us and act accordingly, keeping the House informed. We do not believe that any major departure from our proposed scheme will be necessary, and I ask the House to approve it with this one proviso.

The House was clear on the previous occasion that it did not want a bare yard, and we believe that we are faithfully carrying out its instructions. Time is running on, and we are faced with the stark alternative of a temporary covering of tarmac, which, alas, can well be all too permanent and costly to change, or an imaginative scheme which will be a welcome addition to historic Westminster.

I commend the scheme to the House, and I would attempt to persuade those hon. Members who said that it was their intention to divide the House to think again and to approve the report in principle. I have made a proviso about the trees, which seem to be a problem in some people's minds, but let us get on with the job.

Mr. Cormack

My hon. Friend says that the trees can be looked at again. Does that mean that it is possible that he will accede to the suggestion made by the Father of the House and supported by some of us that the trees should go?

Mr. Cooke

No. I am asking the House to approve the principle. What I said about the trees was that in the light of the necessity of providing access for fire appliances, the question whether all the trees are possible must be looked into. It is the view of the Committee that it has carried out the instructions of the House in providing trees round the central area, and we stick to our proposal.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 76, Noes 31.

Division No. 59.] AYES [11.47 p.m.
Allason James (Hemel Hempstead) Bates, Alf Carter, Ray
Ancram, M. Boardman, H. Cocks, Michael
Banks, Robert Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Cohen, Stanley
Barnett, Joel (Heywood & Royton) Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Conlan, Bernard
Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, C.) Hannam, John Pavitt, Laurie
Cooke, Robert (Bristol, W.) Harper, Joseph Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Cox, Thomas Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Prescott, John
Cryer, G. R. Howell, David (Guildford) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Cunningham, G. (Isl'ngt'n & F'sb'ry) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Dalyell, Tarn Irving, Rt. Hn. Sydney (Dartford) Roderick, Caerwyn E.
Davidson, Arthur Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds, W.) Knox, David Sims, Roger
Dormand, J. D. Lamond, James Sinclair, Sir George
Duffy, A. E. P. Lawson, Nigel (Blaby) Skinner, Dennis
Dunn, James A. Leadbitter, Ted Tomlinson, John
Edge, Geoff MacArthur, Ian Townsend, C. D.
Emery, Peter Magee, Bryan Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Weatherill, Bernard
Evans, John (Newton) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Worsley, Sir Marcus
Finsberg, Geoffrey Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Ford, Ben Newton, Tony (Braintree)
Gilbert, Dr. John Oakes, Gordon TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grant, George (Morpeth) Ovenden, John Mr. Ernle Money and
Hall, Sir John Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Mr. Phillip Whitehead.
Hamling, William Palmer, Arthur
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Kerr, Russell Spearing, Nigel
Beith, A. J. Kitson, Sir Timothy Stanbrook, Ivor
Cope, John Lipton, Marcus Steel, David
Davies, Bryan (Enfield, N.) McLaren, Martin Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Moate, Roger Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
English, Michael Pardoe, John Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Freud, Clement Redmond, Robert Winstanley, Dr. Michael
George, Bruce Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Winterton, Nicholas
Glyn, Dr. Alan Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Heffer, Eric S. Royle, Sir Anthony TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Horam, John Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Mr. Paul Tyler and
Jessel, Toby Snape, Peter Mr. Patrick Cormack.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House doth agree with the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in their First Report.