HL Deb 03 November 1965 vol 269 cc802-9

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it will be convenient if I make a short Statement on quite a different matter. I am repeating the words that have just been used in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Public Building and Works. His Statement was as follows:

"With permisison, I will make a Statement about the Government's plans for the redevelopment of Whitehall. On July 19, I announced to the House the Government's attitude towards the Martin/Buchanan Reports, and made a declaration of intent about them. I have recently received a letter indicating the strong general support of the Royal Fine Art Commission for the recommendations.

"The Government now propose to take firm second steps about the architectural arrangements for three main buildings which will form the first stages of the development. These are the new Parliamentary building and the new Government offices on the Bridge Street and Richmond Terrace site, and the redevelopment of the Foreign Office site.

"These three projects must form a coherent development. Careful co-ordination is therefore essential, and I am glad to say that Sir Leslie Martin has agreed to continue to work with my Department as planning consultant for the area as a whole.

"For the individual buildings we need a range of architectural talent. We shall keep in close touch with the views of Parliament about proposals for the Parliamentary building. We propose that the architect for this building should be selected by means of a competition open to the whole Commonwealth. The assessors would include at least one distinguished Commonwealth architect. Consideration of the results of the competition would be entrusted to a small Committee of this House"—

that is to say, the House of Commons.

"The design of the Government offices on the Bridge Street/Richmond Terrace site will be entrusted to my Department. For the new building on the Foreign Office site we have in mind that it would be appropriate to commission a distinguished architect in private practice.

"The design of all three schemes should be based on a close study of the users' needs and on planning principles evolved in consultation with Sir Leslie Martin. In this work, my Directorate General of Research and Development will take a prominent part."


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, for repeating that Statement. I should like to say straight away that I welcome the announcement that the Government are going ahead with this proposal, and I also welcome the Government's decision to appoint Sir Leslie Martin as planning consultant for the overall area. I am sure that most Members of your Lordships' House will agree that there could hardly be a better choice.

There were few questions on the last Statement which was a very important Statement, but I should like to ask the noble Lord a few supplementary questions on this one. The first is that I notice that the Statement deals only with architectural arrangements. Can the noble Lord give us any idea of the programme for the actual building, the timing for the construction of the three important buildings? Secondly, can he explain why different methods, for the selection both of architect and of design, are being chosen for these three buildings? If one method is right for one, I should have thought that, in logic, it might well be right for all three.

Thirdly, can he tell us whether I am right in assuming that the new Parliamentary building will be part of the Palace of Westminster; and, if so, should not the views of this House be taken into account regarding it, as well as the views of another place? After all, we can field a fairly strong team on these architectural matters. Fourthly, can he tell us about the recommendation, which I think was made by the Royal Fine Art Commission, that there was an urgent need for a single comprehensive study of the Trafalgar Square end of Whitehall? Fifthly—and, the noble Lord will be glad to hear, finally—can he tell us anything about how the urgent road studies associated with this whole plan by the Government Commission of the Greater London Council are progressing?


My Lords, may I be allowed to add one more, making six supplementary questions to the Minister? Can he assure us that the Martin/Buchanan plan for the precinct in Parliament Square, down to Lambeth Bridge will not be shelved in any way, and that that part of the programme, which to many of us is most important from an æsthetic point of view, will be carried out?


My Lords, if I may answer first the last supplementary, I do not think that there is anything in this Statement which goes beyond the three projects I mentioned, and I see no indication in it of shelving anything or changing from the position as outlined in July. As to the other matters, the timing of the building seems to me something which can hardly be dealt with yet. The first stage, a very important one, is to get beyond the general planning we have had from Sir Leslie Martin to the architectural studies that my right honourable friend has in mind. I feel very doubtful whether he can say anything as yet about the phasing and timing of that part of the programme.

The second note I have is about method, but for the minute I do not quite remember what the question was.


My Lords, it was a fairly simple point. I noticed the different methods proposed for selecting architect and design of these three buildings.


My Lords, I, too, noticed that. I do not think that this is a question of abstract logic. It may well be—I imagine it is—that my right honourable friend has wished to have this particular machinery with Commonwealth connections for the buildings here because of the association of the Palace of Westminster over long years with Commonwealth activities, its links with the Dominions and so on.

The third question was about the Parliamentary building and it came to this: ought we in this House to have a say in the matter? I hope that I am not being indiscreet in saying that I went to my right honourable friend and asked, "What about this?" His answer satisfied me, and I hope that it may satisfy your Lordships. What we are considering here is purely an extension and adaptation of the Commons part of the building. It is nothing else. It is entirely for Commons activities and connected with their end of the building. Your Lordships will remember that recently a division was made between those parts of the Palace that were devoted to this House and those parts devoted to the Commons, and this is the Commons part entirely. That is the reason. May I add that I feel, as did the noble Earl, that we could have fielded a very good team indeed. Obviously, "No names, no pack drill", but one can think of them at once.

The other two points raised were about road studies and about the Trafalgar Square end of the scheme. All I can say is that that must come later. The Statement I have made to-day is concerned with something different. Here again, as I said in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I do not think that there is any intention whatever of abandoning anything that was accepted in the July Statement and covered by the plan that was then accepted in principle. If I remember rightly—and here I am speaking from memory—even in that plan the Trafalgar Square end and the road studies were not covered so fully or immediately as various other parts of the scheme. I hope that I have answered the noble Earl's questions.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord will be aware that a large number of distinguished architects, both in this country and abroad, are unwilling to enter public competitions of the kind which has been suggested from which the architect will be chosen to design the Bridge Street building, partly because it involves a lot of extra work and partly because not all of them like competition. Will the noble Lord ask his right honourable friend to ensure that the list of architects who enter for this public competition is really representative of the best architects and that we are not going to be fobbed off with second choice in this matter? I think that this is very important.

Though I accept what the noble Lord has said about the part of the building concerned being solely for the use of the House of Commons, it will, of course, be a most important building in London. We are all going to look at it, whether Members of the House of Commons or not. And the decision of the Committee of another place which originally reported on this matter, and the taste which they showed on that occasion, were, to say the least of it, not encouraging.


My Lords, I do not think I can possibly associate myself with the noble Lord's last remark, as I was a Member of the other place at the time. The matter on which the small Committee of another place is to be consulted is consideration of the results of the competition. I noticed that, as regards the proposals for the Parliamentary building as a whole, the phrase my right honourable friend used was that: We shall keep in close touch with the views of Parliament. There may be some distinction; but, of course, the views of the noble Lord will be conveyed fully and personally to my right honourable friend.

On the question of the architect, here, too, I will convey his views to my right honourable friend but I notice, as did the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, that the method is to be slightly different. In the case of the new building on the Foreign Office site, the Statement says: We shall have it in mind that it will be appropriate to commission a distinguished architect in private practice. Perhaps that was a concession on my right honourable friend's part to the point made by the noble Lord.


My Lords, what worries me about it is this: that if one method is right in one case, one would suspect that it might be right in all three.


My Lords, I am not quite sure that that follows. There are different considerations.


My Lords, I only want to ask a question on this matter of the proposed alterations applying to the House of Commons only. It seems to me that this House ought to be taken into consideration at the same time. It must be remembered that the numbers of another place are constant. The numbers of this House, on the contrary, are steadily rising, and the accommodation which will be required here, therefore, will rise also. It would be a great pity if the whole requirements of another place were satisfied and then we were to be told at a much later date that there is no room for further expansion in this building, and your Lordships' House should have no consideration whatever. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, to put this point to the Minister and to ask him whether it would not be wise that, if further accommodation for another place is to be under consideration, this House, also, should be mentioned as part of a comprehensive scheme.


Yes, my Lords; I will certainly and gladly put the views of the noble Marquess to my right honourable friend. It seems to me that what is under consideration here is a physical extension and alteration of some buildings that are already in existence, and one cannot very well justify one's right to be the Upper House by going and living in the attics on top of the Lower one.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether his Statement means that it has now been irrevocably decided to destroy Richmond Terrace?


My Lords, in answer to that question, I think I should have to refer the noble Lord to the plan. Some of the area is going and some is staying. The noble Lord will find it rather fully set out in Sir Leslie Martin's plan. So far as I remember—and I speak from memory—Richmond Terrace is likely to go. But I should not like to charge myself with that.


My Lords, may I ask one further question? The noble Lord said that it would be wrong for this House to seek to take accommodation which is above the other place. Is it not a fact that accommodation above this House has already been taken by the House of Commons?


My Lords, perhaps it was rather a bad joke on my part.


My Lords, I want to ask a similar question to that asked by my noble friend Lord Ilford. Has it now been definitely decided that the Foreign Office is to be pulled down; and have those of us who are opposed to the destruction of this particularly beautiful building now no further course of action open to us? The second question I should like to ask is this. Since we are talking glibly about pulling buildings down all over Whitehall, is any action being taken at this stage to erect a building on the only open site available to us—namely, the Stationery Office site?


My Lords, on the first point, I think the previous Administration came to a decision in principle about the Foreign Office and intended that it should be pulled down, and I have not announced, either to-day or previously, any change from that decision. So far as I remember—and again I must plead that it is only my own memory—the plan itself contemplated this. I am afraid I cannot add to that. I did, however, check the point with my right honourable friend.

The other question was about the Stationery Office site, and that again is covered in the plan in general. I understand that what is being proposed now is what my right honourable friend calls the "second steps", as regards three groups of buildings. That is the first action. None of it concerns the Stationery Office. One must begin somewhere, and I would suggest that my right honourable friend is right in beginning where he is beginning.


My Lords, referring to the noble Lord's first answer, may I ask whether he would please accept one lone voice of protest, in memoriam?


My Lords, I should like to ask one question on the important matter of the rebuilding of the Foreign Office. Am I to understand that the Minister will select an eminent architect, advised by Sir Leslie Martin, or will it be entirely at the Minister's discretion to try to pick out an eminent architect? There are many eminent architects in the country, and it is difficult to select one, without perhaps some small Committee of Parliament, for such an important building. Is the recommendation of the architect to be left to Sir Leslie Martin?


My Lords, I am sure we all agree on the importance of the Foreign Office building and what is going to be done about it. As to the selection of the architect, I cannot add to what was said in the Statement. If one is carrying out a plan devised in its broad outline by Sir Leslie Martin, I should have thought that in practice any Minister would feel bound to consult Sir Leslie Martin, whomever he might also consult in selecting his architect.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord—


My Lords, perhaps I might intervene.


I have been waiting five minutes to put this question. May I ask the noble Lord whether the Government and their advisers and all those concerned in this matter will have regard to the original Inigo Jones plans for the Palace of Whitehall, which were, to some extent, incorporated in the present Foreign Office, and of which the Banqueting Hall forms only a part? My second question is also important. Will they, in regard to any buildings which are to be put up, be sure that they are harmoniously related to the eighteenth century buildings of the Scottish Office, the Horse Guards and the Admiralty, with its famous screen?


My Lords, as to the points the noble Lord has put, surely these are questions for the planners, for, in fact, Sir Leslie Martin, whose plan has been approved in principle by the Government and who, I thought when I saw the plan, had paid great regard to the past of the area—past buildings, past traditions and so on—as well as to the rather urgent requirements about the future of the centre of Government. I do not think this is a question for the Government in that form. They have said already that they accept the plan in principle, and, if I may say so with respect, I should have thought that was the right way to do it.


My Lords, as office building has been banned by the present Government, how can they build a new Foreign Office?

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