HL Deb 19 July 1965 vol 268 cc476-80

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient to your Lordships if I took this opportunity to read out, in his own words, a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Public Building and Works in another place today. It was as follows:

"Sir Leslie Martin and Professor Colin Buchanan were appointed in the spring of 1964 as consultants to advise on the redevelopment of the Whitehall area. Their reports are published to-day and are available in the Vote Office".—

Or, I might add, in the Printed Paper Office.

"The Government welcome these reports, and regard them as the broad framework within which future development of the Whitehall and Parliament Square areas should take place. They are in sympathy with the concept of a precinct in and around Parliament Square from which traffic not serving the area should be gradually withdrawn.

"The Government take the view that plans for removing traffic from Parliament Square must be looked at in the context of London traffic as a whole. They are inviting the Greater London Council, in their study of London traffic problems, to give urgent consideration to the proposed riverside road tunnel between the Victoria Embankment and Lambeth Bridge and also to the Horseferry Road route; and then to examine the proposal for a primary road network in Central London.

"The Government accept in principle the proposal for a new building for Parliamentary purposes on the Bridge Street site and recognise the need to develop the remainder of the site for Government offices as a necessary part of the redevelopment of the Foreign Office site. Planning will be set in hand as soon as possible. In general, Government building in Whitehall will be planned in accord with the general principles set out by Sir Leslie Martin. Arrangements for execution will be made in the light of the Government's policy of restricting the growth of office employment in London. Further study will be given to the remaining building proposals in the report.

"Implementation of Sir Leslie Martin's plan will not increase the number of civil servants in London. The Government are determined to maintain a policy of dispersing civil servants from London. But economy and efficiency demand that those who must remain in London should be concentrated in Government-owned buildings around Whitehall and ultimately removed from expensive leasehold property scattered in various parts of Central London.

"On behalf of Her Majesty's Government I thank Sir Leslie Martin and Professor Buchanan for their imaginative proposals. The redevelopment of this area, which is the heart of the Commonwealth, may not be completed in our generation. It must be governed by economic priorities. But we must now lay down the disciplines within which the development may be carried out."


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating this Statement in your Lordships' House. I am sure that your Lordships will not expect me to comment at any length on these proposals, quite apart from my desire not to intervene in view of our very important debate this afternoon. I have had only a quick thumb-through this Report, but I should like to say that in that quick thumb-through many of the proposals have struck me as quite admirable. I have in mind what is said about Whitehall and the traffic in Parliament Square, about the need to avoid high buildings in the Whitehall area competing with the Abbey and with this Palace, and also the desire expressed in the Report to make no change in the architectural layout of the Palace of Westminster. All this struck me as quite admirable, though, in passing, I must say that I was a little surprised to hear the sentence in the Statement, which reads: The implementation of Sir Leslie Martin's plan will not increase the number of civil servants in London. Having heard noble Lords opposite, when they were in opposition, pressing for a greater reduction in the number of civil servants in London, I think that seems a considerable watering down of their view.

That said, I should like to put three quick questions to the noble Lord. First, is it their intention to rebuild the existing Foreign Office building, a matter about which my noble friend Lord Bossom asked me on many occasions? Secondly, I gather that models have been prepared by the two consultants: is there any chance of their being made available for Members of the House to see? This is a very important subject. It is one of great concern to all of us. It is one on which your Lordships on many occasions have expressed your views, and I should hope that we may be able to debate it after the Recess. I hope the noble Lord will confirm that that will be agreeable to the Government.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl for his comments, which on the whole were friendly and constructive—except when he intimated that the Government's proposals would not make any difference to the number of civil servants required in London. That is not the case, as the Statement made clear. It is a question of bringing people in from outer London. If I may make a short comment, a Government which means to do something occasionally requires rather more help in doing it. Beyond that, noble Lords may wish to know that there will be a meeting at 5.30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 27, in Westminster Hall, when my right honourable friend will take the Chair and Sir Leslie Martin will expound his own Report. Perhaps it would be better, in view of the urgency of other matters to-day, if I left any further comments to be dealt with then.


My Lords, despite the urgency of other matters, this is a most important question and I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, for his Statement and to congratulate Sir Leslie Martin and Professor Buchanan on this remarkable-looking Report, which few of us have had an opportunity of seeing. My only regret is this: I personally have pressed this matter in your Lordships' House for at least fifteen years, and I think that these matters could have been completed in our generation, if only they had been started in the time of the generation before. I believe that a large opportunity was missed in that stretch of very ugly buildings between Lambeth Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, on the other side of the river, on which the Government could have made a wonderful terrace of Government offices. However, it is no use crying over spilt milk. As one who has lived in this area for fifty years, I welcome the suggestion that traffic should virtually be abolished from the lovely old village of Westminster, which surrounds the Abbey and stretches to your Lordships' House and up at least as far as College Street. May I wish the Minister and his planners the best of good fortune?


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, on behalf of all concerned? I personally think it is a magnificent Report.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the Statement. May I make a suggestion, based on a worldwide experience? Architecture is not the possession of any one man. Competition has developed to such an extent that some architects have improved on what was thought to be perfect. Will the Government give consideration to holding a proper competition for this area, before they make a final decision?


My Lords, this is an early stage for that matter, but, of course, the comments of the noble Lord will be brought to the notice of my right honourable friend.


My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware that extreme distress will be caused by the announcement of the destruction of the Foreign Office? May I ask whether it would not be possible, as has been suggested, to move civil servants out of the Whitehall area and so make the Foreign Office still workable?


My Lords, I think I must say to my noble friend that all relevant considerations have been borne in mind, not only by Sir Leslie Martin and those who assisted him, but also by my right honourable friend and other members of the Government who have had to consider the Report. Perhaps we could go into more detail about the fate of the Foreign Office at the meeting which I announced and which I hope my noble friend will be kind enough to attend.