HL Deb 24 July 1935 vol 98 cc842-6

THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW moved to resolve, That it be an instruction to the House of Lords Offices Committee to consider the provision for this Chamber of an up-to-date air conditioning plant. The noble Marquess said: I shall not at this hour and in this atmosphere detain the House for more than a moment in moving a Resolution which will, I am sure, commend itself to all your Lordships. The progress of science is constantly extending man's command over his physical environment. Thus, the temperature and, quality of the air in confined spaces, including its moisture content, are now within control. In the United States, dwelling houses are supplied, at reasonable cost, with appliances which keep them warm in winter and cool in summer; and in that country you may travel in the transcontinental expresses in perfect comfort in the hottest weather. Air conditioning is rapidly coming to be regarded as indispensable for ordinary comfort. We in this country are behind the times. True, we do what we can for inanimate things. Bananas travel to this country in perfect comfort; the mortal remains of South American cattle are spared the slightest inconvenience during their passage through tropical seas; while we are accustomed to supply the Antipodean apple in transit with an atmosphere which protects it absolutely from the deleterious effects of a long voyage, so that it is able to appear upon our table sound, fragrant, and rosy! To ourselves we are less kind, and it is within the experience of all of your Lordships that attendance during three days' debate in this House induces in the Peers of this Realm symptoms of that decay, that 'pallor, and that loss of condition from which, by scientific devices, we save the chilled banana, the frozen joint of beef, or the gassed apple.

It is really a scandal that your Lordships should have to suffer a severe headache because you are so public spirited as to leave the fresh airs of your country homes to do your duty in this House. Yet that, to my certain knowledge, is the experience of not a few Peers. Recently, in connection with the ventilation of two extensive buildings used for commercial purposes, both of which contain very large rooms, it has been my duty to make myself familiar with modern practice in this direction. I will not weary the House with technical matters, but content myself with the definite assurance to your Lordships that any one of the several British firms catering for this class of work is to-day easily capable of supplying apparatus which will enable this House to prosecute its labours in conditions both healthy and entirely comfortable, whatever the climatic conditions outside. This is one of those cases Where everyone grumbles but nobody does anything to remove the thing complained of. I submit that the time has come to end this nuisance, and I can think of no more suitable beginning than that your Lordships should pass the Resolution that stands upon the Paper in my name. Thereafter I hope that the appropriate Committees of the House may set about the business in a spirit of thoroughness and resolution. If they will do this, they will prolong the existence of this generation and even earn the gratitude of those to come who, though haply they may wait a little longer for their patrimony, will, in the fulness of time, be able to discharge their legislative duties in conditions of reasonable physical comfort and normal bodily efficiency.

Moved to resolve, That it be an instruction to the House of Lords Offices Committee to consider the provision for this Chamber of an up-to-date air conditioning plant.—(The Marquess of Linlithgow.)


My Lords, when I saw this Motion on the Paper I thought that your Lordships would no doubt agree with my noble friend who has put his case before you so forcibly, And that possibly your Lordships' experience may have led you in the same direction. But all that the Offices Committee could do in the initial stage would be to refer the matter to the Office of Works, the Department of the Government which has charge of the conveniences and amenities of your Lordships' House. So I ventured to communicate with the Office of Works and to ask that the representative of the Government who is in charge of that Department might give the noble Marquess an answer in regard to the matter. When we hear from the Office of Works what the state of affairs is it will be possible for the Offices Committee, if your Lordships should consider it necessary to refer it to them, to go further into the matter. I think that the Offices Committee will not meet again until after the Recess, and it would save time if it were referred to the Office of Works forthwith rather than wait until it had passed into the hands of the Offices Committee.


My Lords, the present precautions which are already taken in your Lordships' House for the ventilation of the House are as follows: The air is drawn in at a low level from one of the courtyards, and if the atmospheric conditions outside render it desirable it is passed through water sprays. It then goes through canvas screens with the object of eliminating excess moisture and impurities and a certain amount of fog. The vitiated air in the Chamber is withdrawn by a fan in the roof. This installation is in advance of what is done in any except the most modern luxury buildings, cinemas, theatres, etc., where of course the conditions of occupation are undoubtedly more congested than in your Lordships' House. The objects of air conditioning are two-fold: first, to ensure control of temperature and humidity; and, secondly, by a thorough washing of the air to ensure the maximum degree of purity. During the summer months, when the outside temperature is higher than that required in the interior, a certain amount of cooling is arranged for by means of the sprays, provided the windows are kept shut, but on the opening of windows and the admission of warm external air in quantities very much greater than that required to prevent vitiation, the temperature approaches that of outside. For instance, yesterday, when the external temperature was 71 degrees Fahrenheit at 4 p.m., it would have been possible by means of the sprays to keep the interior temperature at 68 degrees, but as the windows were opened the temperature was 71 degrees, which was the outside temperature; and I think it was the noble Marquess himself who asked that the windows should be opened.

As regards washing the air to ensure purity, this aspect of the problem has been dealt with in the Chamber of the House of Commons where, as the result of very careful investigation by the Government Chemist, he reported that "we can find no indications of impurities in the air of the House." There is no reason to suppose that the air in your Lordships' House falls below this standard. A modern air conditioning plant, having regard to the nature of the building, would be very costly to instal, and great care would have to be exercised on the grounds of noise, but its design presents no engineering difficulties. It would, however, mean the replacing of the existing system, and the cost would amount to several thousands of pounds for this House alone. I would make this suggestion to the noble Marquess—namely, to ask my right honourable friend the First Commissioner of Works to request the Government Chemist to conduct an investigation similar to that which he conducted in another place, and this re- port, when received, would be submitted to the House of Lords Offices Committee for their consideration, and their Report would ultimately come before your Lordships' House with their suggestions and recommendations.


My Lords, I am very greatly obliged to both noble Earls who have spoken. I have been interested to learn what the Office of Works do with the air after they take it in. I am bound to say, although they do their best, by the time it arrives in this House it may be described by the word "beastly." I agree entirely that an open window becomes unnecessary where you have a satisfactory air-conditioning plant. We have to get the windows open here because we have not got a satisfactory air-conditioning plant. I contend that the atmosphere has been greatly improved since the air came through the windows instead of being drawn through the paraphernalia described by the noble Earl for which the Office of Works is responsible. I am very anxious, if I can, to get this matter put right and to make any contribution I can in that direction, because we should all be grateful if the air in this Chamber could be made reasonably breathable. I fully appreciate the suggestion of my noble friend that we should short-circuit this matter and go straight to the Office of Works. I note with interest and approval his suggestion that the First Commissioner of Works should be invited to send the Government Chemist to examine the state of the air here. I think that is an admirable scheme. I have not the slightest doubt that the officer in question is a very valuable servant of the Government, and I hope that the only gas-mask which, I believe, is in possession of the Government, will be placed at his disposal, and that he will wear it on that day.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at a quarter past seven o'clock.