HL Deb 20 June 1951 vol 172 cc237-54

4.50 p.m.

EARL STANHOPE rose to call attention to the Report of the Joint Select Committee appointed to inquire into Accommodation in the Palace of Westminster (H.L. 26 of 1945) in so far as it affects the precincts of the Abbey and of Parliament Square; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, a short time ago, on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Mottistone, your Lordships discussed the erection of the building which it was proposed to put up on the site of the old Westminster Hospital. Thanks largely, I think, to the able way in which he put his case, your Lordships agreed—and so did the Government—to consider very seriously the effect of that building on the precincts of Westminster Abbey. There is a further precinct to which I wish to draw attention to-day—namely, Abingdon Street. In my opinion, it is just as possible gravely to impair the view of the Abbey of Westminster by inappropriate buildings erected in Abingdon Street as by buildings on the site of Westminster Hospital.

In the second place, I want to put right an expression of the views of the Joint Committee, of which I happened to be Chairman, because those have been put, I think, in a way which the Committee certainly did not intend, in a reply to a Question asked by my noble friend Lord Halifax, on November 19, 1947. Lord Henderson then said: Following the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Accommodation, 1945, it is proposed eventually to erect a building for members and officials of both Houses of Parliament on the Abingdon Street site which bas recently been acquired with money voted for that purpose. The Committee said nothing of the kind. If your Lordships will turn to paragraph 19 of the Committee's Report, you will see it stated that: The Committee recommend that, pending a decision being arrived at as to how this increased accommodation shall be found, premises in Abingdon Street and Bridge Street be acquired so that parliament will be in a position to make such use of them here-after as may be desired. What the Committee had in mind was this. The Committee had already agreed that it was essential that a senior officer of each House of Parliament should reside within the Palace of Westminster. So far as this House was concerned, it was felt that that officer should be the Yeoman-Usher of the Black Rod, because he is the Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain, who is responsible for the whole Palace of Westminster. When Parliament is not sitting, his jurisdiction includes the House of Commons. There is only one part over which the responsibility of the Lord Great Chamberlain does not extend—and this is a matter which is always discussed and argued at some length, as I think Lord Morrison knows. It is claimed in some quarters that the minister of Works, as he is now called, is responsible for the Great Hall of Westminster; the Minister of Works claims to be Keeper of the Great Hall. Others claim that the Lord Great Chamberlain is responsible. But apart from this conflict, the whole Palace of Westminster is the responsibility of the Lord Great Chamberlain; and his deputy is the Yeoman-Usher of the Black Rod. We found accommodation for the latter official, but we did not find, as a Committee, that it was possible to provide accommodation for the Lord Chancellor.

We had evidence from a succession of ex-Lord Chancellors, and from the Lord Chancellor of the day, that in view of the very heavy work which the Lord Chancellor has to perform—and as your Lordships know he has to change his clothes in order to appear as we are accustomed to see him on the Woolsack, or when he sits as a judge when the House is carrying out its judicial function—it is necessary for him to be resident either in or very near the Palace of Westminster. Therefore, the Committee suggested that we should acquire this house in Abingdon Street with a view to having flats made to accommodate the Lord Chancellor, and possibly, also, such officials as would find it a great convenience to live near at hand. Your Lordships, too, would no doubt find it convenient to have living close by officials such as the Clerk of the Parliaments, and the Clerk of the House of Commons. There was no question whatever in our minds of putting up new buildings in Abingdon Street. I am not blaming Lord Henderson. In the first place, he was not replying for his own Department. Secondly, I have to confess to your Lordships that I am much more to blame than he was.

I say that for this reason. At the last meeting of the Committee when we were considering the various means by which we could increase accommodation in the Palace of Westminster, and discussing the proposal of Sir Charles Barry for buildings additional to the Palace, to my great joy a member of the Committee proposed as a Resolution that: The Committee recommend that this proposal"— that is, Sir Charles Barry's proposal for completing the Palace of Westminster— should be studied as a long-term project. That was the only recommendation the Committee made for new building. But, unfortunately, when the proofs were sent to the printer that sentence was omitted. Therefore, Lord Henderson naturally knew nothing whatever about it. I, as Chairman of the Committee, regret to say that I am responsible for the omission. And I did not find it out for a very long time afterwards—in fact, not until my attention was called to it by the member of the Committee who had proposed the Resolution. As he was a Member of the other place, I suggested that he should call the attention of his own House to the matter. But that was in 1945, when we had many other things to occupy our attention, and it was not done.

I think the whole Committee were unanimous in supporting this proposal of Sir Charles Barry, and I hope that your Lordships will look at what was proposed because we have included it as an Appendix to our Report. You will find it on page XXI, and the elevation on page XXII. My view is that it is a most attractive scheme. It would give an elevation on the side facing Parliament Square very much like that on the river side of the Houses of Parliament. It would provide a wonderful finish to Parliament Square, and it would hide that conglomeration of motor cars which is to be seen in New Palace Yard. It would make available 247 rooms for Members of Parliament or Government offices, and a further eighty rooms in which papers could be housed. I admit that it is a very expensive proposition. At the time when the Committee considered it, the scheme was expected to cost £2,100,000. I am afraid that it would probably cost double that amount now. To realise what it means, stand outside the Palace, look towards Whitehall, and visualise the prospect with Westminster Abbey on one side and such a frontage on the other. Of course, some of the plans would have to be slightly modified. I think your Lordships will agree that it is no longer necessary, in the place where the present Grand Committee Room stands, to have a covered place for horses. Not many of your Lordships ride down to the House in these days. You will also see there is a large entrance at the corner of Whitehall. Traffic in these days is very different from what it was, and obviously the entrance would have to be more or less where it is now.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the scheme should be put in hand now. A few days ago I had a letter from my noble friend Lord Schuster in which he said he warmly approved of my putting this proposal forward, and that the more he thought about this plan the more he liked it, provided it was not done now, because he did not think the financial situation of the country was such as to make it advisable. I go much further. I am in the happy position of having been opposed to the members of the Front Benches of all three Parties in the support which they gave to the erection of the buildings for the Festival of Britain on the South Bank. I am one of those who come into London by Hungerford Bridge, and as I watched those buildings going up, I found among those who travelled with me in my third class compartment almost universal agreement that they were a terrible waste of man-power and materials which could have been much better used in erecting houses for the working classes or for building schools. I am afraid we were rude about those buildings. We called the Concert Hall, which I think is one of the most ugly buildings I have ever seen, "Morrison's Folly," because it is much too large for chamber music and too small for any orchestral concert to be given at democratic prices except at a loss. We called the great top on the other side, "Morrison's Circus."

I am not going to suggest that we should put this building up now; nor do I expect the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, to pledge himself some day to the erection of Sir Charles Barry's scheme. I hope that long before that scheme is put into operation the noble Lord will be sitting on this side of the House, and not on that. What I hope he will say this afternoon is that he will agree that no building shall be erected in Abingdon Street until this House has had an opportunity of seeing a sketch of the elevation, discussing the proposal and approving it or otherwise. By putting this Motion now, I am giving an opportunity for the Ministry of Works to consult Parliament and not say that they have already called for tenders and any alteration is too late. Many years ago, I heard a story about the Lord Wemyss who was the great-grandfather of the present noble Earl. He met the architect who had been made responsible for building the new War Office in Whitehall and said to him. "You have a great opportunity now to complete the Palace of Whitehall." The architect's reply was, "But that would only be Inigo Jones over again!" The result has been that ever since we have had to endure the pepper pots we see on the roof, and the heavy columns and cornices. I suppose I am the only member of your Lordship's House who has been into every room in the War Office and can say that those rooms are just as bad from the inside as the building is from the outside. On this occasion we do not want it said that we had only made Sir Charles Barry over again.

As an old First Commissioner of Works, as the Minister used to be called, I used to say that the buildings erected by the Ministry of Works were often better than any others we could find in a provincial city. Their post offices, telephone exchanges and so on were admirable, and I mourn, not only as a friend but as an admirer, their chief architect, Sir James West, who died only a day or two ago. There are many fine architects in the Ministry of Works, but I think they have one failing they sometimes forget the importance of the question of elevation. I sometimes wonder whether somebody from the Ministry of Works went over to New York and thought it might be advisable to have some parts of London something like New York. If we tried to copy any part of New York in London, we should be committing an atrocity no less than if New York tried to copy any part of London. Let us stick to our own methods of building.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, was kind enough to show me the elevation which had been proposed by the private company who had originally intended to build in Abingdon Street. It is an extremely clever sketch, taken from about the Cœur de Lion statue, so that the new buildings were somewhere in the distance and naturally reduced in size owing to the perspective. But when we come to look at it carefully, we see that the buildings are two storeys higher than Nos. 6 and 7, Abingdon Street, which exist there now. My view is that these new buildings would have been two storeys too high. It is possible that the plan was approved by the Fine Art Commission. We expect something better from the Ministry of Works than we expect from private builders—I throw that as a gift to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, because I am strongly opposed to nationalisation. The Ministry of Works are responsible for historic buildings and it is their duty and privilege to see that the Abbey of Westminster remains for generations to come the place not only of worship arid praise, but of beauty and of admiration. I hope we may be able to open it up and make it even more attractive and beautiful than it is to-day. For that reason, and in order to say that any scheme to the contrary has not the support of the Committee of which I was Chairman, I have put down this Motion. I beg to move for Papers.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stanhope has asked me to say a word or two on this Motion. I am afraid that I am not entirely in agreement with what he has said. My noble friend presided admirably over the Committee, who were convinced that this House, and both Houses of Parliament, were due to expand it future and that more space was necessary. The proposal which my noble friend has put forward is at present the only way by which we can obtain more space. But there is another side of the question: there is the æsthetic point of view. Westminster Hall is one of few buildings in this country of its size, shape and history, and it is a legacy of two remarkable Kings—perhaps not very good Kings, but men of exceptional character. The result of building an arcade along the side of the roadway would be that the north facade of Westminster Hall would be entirely obscured: one would see nothing of it at all except by going on to the roof. That is my only objection to the noble Earl's proposal, but I cannot help feeling that it is rather an important one.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to confine my remarks upon the subject now before your Lordships' House to the question of Abingdon Street. Before doing so, however, I feel that I should declare to your Lordships that I have, in a way, a personal interest in the neighbourhood, though not in Abingdon Street itself, in my capacity as Architect to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster for the purpose of rebuilding the canonical houses which were destroyed or damaged in the war. I hope that this fact will not make your Lordships feel that I should not join in this debate. The houses to which I refer surround the Little Cloister, which, as I expect your Lordships know, lies near the Chapter House, to the west of Old Palace Yard, behind number five, which is usually known as Labouchère's house. It is this house which abuts upon the King George V Memorial, and which is eventually to be demolished, in accordance with the scheme approved by both Houses of Parliament in 1939 and confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in this House in 1947. The reason for the proposed demolition was to complete the Memorial, and to unmask the whole of the fine stone facade of the so-called Paladian House next door, which faces north towards Parliament Square and which is at present partly hidden by the projection of Labouchère's House. It is only when Labouchère's House is demolished that my professional interest will be apparent to the eye from Old Palace Yard; and even then it will have no direct bearing upon Abingdon Street itself. I therefore hope that I may be allowed to say a few words about that street, as, although I am not directly concerned, my close connection with the neighbourhood has furnished me with some knowledge of the problem.

With regard to any new buildings in Abingdon Street for I fear that there must be new buildings there—I believe we have an opportunity seldom vouch-safed to us. We have the opportunity for once of avoiding the accusation so often levelled against us, that we are too late in expressing our views about planning. I therefore feel that we should all be most grateful to the noble Earl for bringing this question into prominence now, before any detailed plans for the street have been laid. Now is the time for us to express any views that we may hold, and to put them forcefully before His Majesty's Government. If we agree that Abingdon Street will have to be rebuilt in some form—and I am afraid that we must; I think it would be asking too much, and the need for accommodation is too great, to plead successfully that the whole area up to the Abbey Precinct Wall should be left entirely vacant—then I suggest to your Lordships that there are four aims to be borne in mind.

First, the view of the Abbey from the south-east, from Lambeth Bridge and the other side of the river, must be preserved, by keeping the buildings in Abingdon Street low, no higher, in fact, than those which at present survive. Secondly, much-needed accommodation should be provided for some of those who work in the Palace of Westminster—a suggestion which has to some extent been pointed out in the Committee's Report, and for which Abingdon Street seems to me eminently suitable. Thirdly. the splendid 14th century Precinct Wall of the Abbey, and that remarkable building known as the Jewel House, which is at present almost entirely hidden, should be preserved and exposed to view. Fourthly, the ever-present need and continually expressed desire for a place close to the Abbey for memorials to the distinguished sons and daughters of our country and Commonwealth should be explored in this connection.

I believe that all these aims can be turned into realities if a long low building is constructed throughout the length of Abingdon Street: a building of three storeys only, above the ground floor level, these three storeys containing the accommodation to which I have referred. I put forward the suggestion that the whole of the ground floor should be open throughout its length and width, so that the building would stand on columns forming an open colonnade or loggia, on lines similar to the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, or the market hall of, appropriately enough, Abingdon, or High Wickham, and many other similar examples which I could call to mind. This loggia would provide a view of the Precinct Wall behind it, and would form an admirable setting for memorials and commemorative sculpture.

I would further suggest that the northern end of the new Abingdon Street building facing Parliament Square could be terminated by the white stone facade of the Paladian House in Old Palace Yard, to which I have referred, if this were taken down and re-erected a few yards behind its present frontage line. I read in the Report of the Joint Select Committee on Accommodation in the Palace of Westminster that, although the frontage of this House (No. 7) is fine, it has, to quote the words of the Report, "a perfectly abominable interior." Therefore, I can see no harm in preserving the facade only, and moving it as I suggest. If that were done, the Jewel House would be exposed to view, Lest any noble Lord doubt the practicability or wisdom of this manœuvre, may I recall to mind that an exactly similar feat was accomplished when the 18th century facade of 37. Great George Street, at the corner of Storey's Gate, was taken down and re-erected on the Horse Guards Parade in 1910, to form the front of the Paymaster General's office? It is next door to the Admiralty.

Finally, my Lords, may I put in a most earnest plea that, whatever is done with Abingdon Street, or, indeed, with all the sites and properties which adjoin this Palace, the Abbey and Parliament Square, the excellent plan, put forward as a longterm project, by the Architectural Review, and often referred to in your Lordships' House, should not be lost sight of, so that the through traffic routes may be sufficiently diverted to enable all who come here in their thousands, for work, prayer or sightseeing, to appreciate the beauty and significance of these time-honoured precincts—and, incidentally, to enable the Lord Chancellor and his successors in office, if they have a lodging built for them in Abingdon Street, to proceed there in safety, to the admiration of all beholders.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, so much and such interesting ground has been covered by the noble Lord who has just spoken that I will confine myself to one point, and that is strongly to support the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, that Abingdon Street should be cleared before any final decision is taken about what is to be re-erected on that site. In previous matters of this sort—I refer to the debates on the new Colonial Office and Carlton House Terrace—we were told in each case that we had come too late upon the scene; that we should have paid half-a-crown at Burlington House to see the proposals, and made our objections then. I suggest that those buildings (like St. Paul's Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral) are not the property merely of the citizens of Westminster, or of the Houses of Parliament, but that they belong to the Empire. It is not easy for people in Ottowa or Canberra to come to Piccadilly to see what proposals are intended.

The second objection was one of expense, and in these days that is a very real objection indeed. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, with courteous obstinacy or obstinate courtesy, stating that the expense involved put all these plans quite out of the question; and he produced as a trump card that one specific proposal would cost as much as, I think he said, £150,000, I suggest that we owe Westminster Abbey 1,000 years of recognition in the past and, I hope, another 1,000 years in the future, so that the £150,000 which Lord Morrison mentioned, albeit casually, represents only about £3 a week if we look backwards, or 30s, if we look backwards and forwards. I mention this because it is my own cherished hope that these houses in Abingdon Street will be razed to the ground, so as to give us a magnificent view of the East Wall of College Garden and the south-east view of the Abbey. When we remember that a hundred years ago Victoria Gardens, on the south side of Victoria Tower, were a huddle of ugly slums, should we not again do what our ancestors did a century ago and carry on to the west more green grass and more grey stones, and open up the Abbey in an even better precinct than it has now?


My Lords, your Lordships have returned, I hope for good, to your own House, renovated, I trust, to your satisfaction, and are already looking forward to further improvements to the amenities of this House. Not only that, but your Lordships are giving me, or any representative from the Ministry of Works who may be unfortunate enough to occupy this position in which I am now, fair warning that only the best will be acceptable to you. We have had an interesting debate in which four noble Lords have taken part. The noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, said that he is in favour of Barry's extension, but he does not want it done now. Well, so far so good. He also said that no building should be put up in Abingdon Street until the House had seen the plans and elevation. If I might put it in my own way, one of the things he said was that he was particularly keen that there should be no skyscrapers in Abingdon Street. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, who has now left the House, intervened to say that he was not in favour of Barry's extension. My noble friend, Lord Mottistone, made some useful Suggestions, to which I am sure he will not expect me to reply until I have had an opportunity of consultation with arehitects of equal eminence to himself. The noble Lord, Lord Rea was anxious that historical mistakes should not be repeated. In view of the general discussion, it seems that if I were to put the point of view of the Ministry of Works in regard to the issue which has been raised in so interesting a fashion this afternoon, perhaps that would be the best reply I could make to noble Lords who have spoken and to the House in general.

We are obliged to the noble Earl. Lord Stanhope, for raising a matter which must always be of interest to both Houses of Parliament: how best to provide the necessary accommodation for Peers and for Members of Parliament so as to enable the machinery of Parliament to function. I find that there is a tendency outside to think that when once a Chamber for each House has been provided, the difficulty has been overcome and that nothing else is required. This, of course, is a complete fallacy, and the ancillary accommodation required, such as committee rooms, libraries, refresh- ment rooms, et cetera, are just as important as the actual Chambers. The noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, has spoken much too modestly of the Committee over which he presided in 1945. That Committee made a number of valuable suggestions about accommodation in the Palace of Westminster, and I am only sorry—as I am sure he is—that the process of complying with a number of their recommendations is proving a rather long-drawn-out one. But that was foreseen by the noble Earl's Committee at the time. Of all those recommendations, I think posterity will be most grateful to the noble Earl and his Committee for the recommendation which led to the acquisition of the Abingdon Street site.

May I remind your Lordships of the circumstances prevailing at that time? This site, which consisted of a number of houses owned by various interests, was about to be sold to the National Association of Local Government Officers, who intended to erect a block of office buildings upon it. To comply with the provisions of the London County Council Improvements Act, it was necessary for the promoters to approach the Commissioners of Works for their consent to the elevation of the proposed building. The Office of Works, as it then was, consulted the Royal Fine Art Commission and exhibited drawings of the elevation in the House of Commons Tea Room. As no objections were raised, the plans were approved. In 1945, at the time of the noble Earl's Committee, the scheme of development was about to take effect. During the war the houses on the site had been severely damaged; they were due to be demolished prior to development and there was obviously little time to be lost if the site was to be preserved for Parliament. The Ministry of Works brought this state of affairs before the notice of the noble Earl's Committee and suggested that the site should be acquired for a building scheme in order to supplement the deficiencies of accommodation in the Houses of Parliament. It would, I think, have been a real disaster if the opportunity had been lost. Apart from land in Bridge Street, which would be difficult and expensive to acquire owing to interference with the trading interests concerned, the Abingdon Street site is the only land available for disposal in the vicinity of Parliament.

It is much to the credit of the noble Lord and his Committee that they saw the need for speed and advised the acquisition of the site before it was too late. Up to the present I have given credit to the noble Lord for this act of foresight. Your Lordships will, perhaps, remember Pope's line about those who: Do good by stealth, and blush to find it Fame. I think it was Charles Lamb who improved on this when he said: The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth and to have it found out by accident. The noble Lord, in his modesty, is going one better and now would have us believe that it was by accident that he did any good at all. What the noble Lord meant, I think, when he suggested buying the Abingdon Street site, was that we should revive Sir Charles Barry's scheme for completing the Palace of Westminster by a new building, extending it to St. Stephen's Porch outside Westminster Hall and New Palace Yard, eventually joining up with the Clock Tower.

May I examine exactly what the Committee did say? I quote from paragraph 19 of the Report: The needs of legislators in a modern democratic assembly are likely to grow, rather than to diminish, and these can only be met by new building, or by taking in and converting other houses outside the present precincts…. The Committee recommend that, pending a decision being arrived at as to how this increased accommodation shall be found, premises in Abingdon Street and Bridge Street be acquired, so that Parliament will be in a position to make such use of them hereafter as may be desired. A further proposal is to complete the plans for the Palace of Westminster as prepared by Sir Charles Barry by a building in the same arehitectural style as the rest of the Palace extending from St. Stephen's Porch along the edge of the roadway outside Westminster Hall and New Palace Yard to the corner opposite Whitehall and thence eastwards to join up with the Clock Tower…. According to the noble Earl, as he has told us this afternoon, a sentence was left out of the Report, which said: The Committee recommend that this proposal"— that is, Sir Charles Barry's extension— should be studied as a long-term project. Apparently, it is this long-term scheme which is to get us out of our accommodation difficulties. May I ask why, then, did the Committee recommend the acquisition of the Abingdon Street site? During the war, most of the houses had been so severely damaged by bombs as to make the ruins suitable only for demolition. Surely, the only possible justification for acquiring that site was to clear the ruins and erect a new building. That has been the development suggested to the Committee by the Ministry, and that was the project put to the House of Commons in 1946. The actual wording in the Houses of Parliament Vote, Class VII, was: Purchase of site in Abingdon Street for additional building. It was to acquire this land for the purpose of a building scheme there that the House of Commons voted the sum of £260,000: it was certainly not for a scheme for protecting the amenities of the Abbey or those of the Dean and Chapter.

Let me go back to the Barry scheme. In actual fact, it was studied by the Ministry at the time the Committee raised the matter, and the Ministry came to the conclusion—and I hope I shall be able to persuade your Lordships to come to it also—that it really is not a practicable scheme at the present time. If you look at a drawing showing the effect of building Sir Charles Barry's extension on the present layout of New Palace Yard and the roadway outside, you will find that some of the results would be something like the following. First, the extension would reduce the amount of parking space in New Palace Yard by 36 per cent. Noble Lords who have the advantage of parking in Old Palace Yard may not appreciate that the parking space in New Palace Yard is already inadequate for the needs of the House of Commons; and at times cars have actually to be parked on the pavement, and seriously interfere with foot traffic, so great is the shortage; and the suggestion has been made that cars of Members of the House of Commons should be allowed to be parked in Old Palace Yard.

Secondly, the extension would project thirty-three feet from the present boundary into St. Margaret's Street, reducing the width of the roadway by eighteen feet. Thirdly, it would, I suggest, be a serious blunder to enclose New Palace Yard by a high building. The effect would be, as the noble Lord, Lord Mersey, said, completely to blanket out Westminster Hall and to restrict the view from Parliament Square of the Clock Tower. There is yet another danger: members of the public who might want to see the time by Big Ben would have to go out into the middle of the road to see it. The familiar view into New Palace Yard would also go, and the sunken lawn with the statue of Cromwell would disappear. Incidentally, the Grand Committee Room and other accommodation on the West side of Westminster Hall would be destroyed. The plan provided for a single entrance archway for all traffic going into and coming out of New Palace Yard instead of the present pair of double gates.

May I return to the proposal regarding the Abingdon Street site? I must make it clear that this site is needed to meet the serious deficiencies, both for Lords and Commons, in the accommodation of the Palace of Westminster. The noble Earl has asked me what sort of accommodation we propose to provide there. The project has still to be worked out in detail, but, roughly, the Ministry of Works will provide accommodation which will either help to meet the deficiencies pointed out by the noble Lord's Committee or, by rearrangement, will free rooms in the Palace of Westminster required for other purposes. It is only in this way, I suggest, that we shall be able to provide essential accommodation in the vicinity of the two Chambers for those whose work necessitates their being there. I have been asked what sort of building, architecturally, we propose to erect on the site. I need not remind your Lordships, and the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, in particular, that the Ministry of Works are still working on the excellent tradition which he followed when he was in charge of the Ministry; and they are fully aware of the need for protecting the amenities of this important site. We shall take every step possible to do so, both by consulting the Royal Fine Art Commission, and by exhibiting our plans in both Houses of Parliament, so that there can be adequate discussion of them before the building commences.

We must, of course, remember that the site has cost £260,000 and that it was specially acquired for a building scheme. If noble Lords will forgive my saying so, I cannot help thinking that there has been some exaggeration in this talk of a threat to the Abbey. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Rea, to go with me and see what it is that is threatened. If a new building is erected on the Abingdon Street site, the passer-by in Abingdon Street will no longer be able to see the wall which surrounds the Chapter's garden. He will no longer be able to see the public lavatory which adorns that wall. He will no longer see the back of the Victorian building which, I believe, houses the Industrial Court. On the other hand, the scheme of development will provide for the demolition of No. 5 Palace Yard, which is on the site wanted to complete the set-up of the King George V Memorial Scheme.

In reply to the reference to the Jewel Tower. I may say that it is our intention to open up the approaches to the Jewel Tower, that interesting survival of the Old Palace of Westminster, to which, if my history is correct, Charles I resorted after his unsuccessful attempt on the five Members. The completion of the Poets' Corner clearance scheme by the removal of No. 5 Old Palace Yard, as approved by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament as long ago as 1939, will add to the amenities of the Abbey surroundings, and I am confident that it should be possible to erect a building on the site adjoining Abingdon Street which, whilst enabling us to overcome the deficiencies of accommodation in the Palace of Westminster, will not impair the amenities of this historic neighbourhood. In the light of what I have endeavoured to convey to your Lordships, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, will now be sufficiently satisfied to withdraw his Motion.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord opposite for what he has said. Perhaps I may be allowed to explain shortly one or two things on which I think the noble Lord is not quite clear. He asked us why the Committee suggested acquiring the Abingdon Street site. I have tried to explain that it was in order to provide a flat for the Lord Chancellor and, perhaps, for one or two other officers of both Houses of Parliament. In fact, the Lord Chancellor is now accommodated in the Palace of Westminster, but the Yeoman-Usher is not. Where he lives I do not know it may be miles away. So, at any rate, there is something that might be done there. One thing that was clear to every member of the Committee was this: that all Members of another place who came before us suggested that the House of Lords should have our Committee rooms on the other side of Abingdon Street, so that the House of Commons could take over our Committee rooms just outside this Chamber. Similarly, every member of the House of Lords suggested that Members of another place should find their accommodation for interviewing their constituents, and so on, somewhere outside the Palace, either in Bridge Street or elsewhere.

It was made clear to every member of the Committee that no member of either House of Parliament would be expected to cross the street and go very far from the Chamber. Otherwise, if an unexpected Division took place, it would mean that members would be unable to get back in time. Therefore, the only real way by which accommodation can be found for Members of Parliament so that they can see their constituents, consult people, have Committee rooms and so on, is by adopting something in the nature of Sir Charles Barry's scheme. The noble Lord said that the scheme would mean that the buildings would project into the roadway. I am not quite sure whether he is right. I have not a scale to measure the plans. He may be right and I may be wrong. He may not have observed that the present footpath would become a covered footway colonnaded. Those of your Lordships who went out yesterday afternoon, and saw the public waiting in the rain to get into the Houses of Parliament, will realise the advantage of having a covered footway.

It was the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, who objected to hiding the Great Hall of Westminster. I think, if noble Lords will go and look at it, they will agree with me that that would be an advantage, and not otherwise. At some period the roadway has been raised by something like twelve or fifteen feet, with the result that one looks down on the Great Hall of Westminster, instead of looking up. Unfortunately, the whole of the proportions of the Hall have been destroyed and, what is more, all sorts of excrescences have been built between the buttresses, completely ruining the outside of the Great Hall. I am strongly in favour of everybody being given a chance of seeing the inside of the Great Hall: it is magnificent. But in my view the outside has been ruined. Why Lord Morrison thinks that people would have to go out into the middle of Parliament Square to see Big Ben, I do not know. I can assure him—as he will see if he will look at the plans again—that Sir Charles Barry's scheme is for buildings that are low, and Big Ben will be a long way above them. Therefore, people will not have to go out into the roadway to see the clock. I will say nothing further now, except to thank the noble Lord for agreeing that both Houses of Parliament should see the future scheme. I hope that he now agrees that the knowledge and experience of this House are infinitely superior to those shown in another place. And that is why the scheme which was passed by another place has been criticised, and properly criticised, here to-day. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.