HL Deb 12 March 1970 vol 308 cc972-90

7.2 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the interests of the aged and impoverished, they will represent to the G.L.C. the undesirability of proceeding with proposals to hand over the Orangery, Holland Park, to J. Lyons and Company as an extension of the Belvedere Restaurant and so deprive the public of the free use of this resting place of great architectural beauty. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the issue I raise this afternoon is one of local government and not of national importance. It is indeed an issue over which the central Government have no executive powers at the moment. Nevertheless, I believe that Her Majesty's Government now have a position, for this matter affects the comfort and the amenities of the aged and the impoverished, whose voices are hard to hear and who patiently live their declining years. Because this Government designate and take unto themselves the label of a Government of compassion, I bring forward this Question, and ask Her Majesty's Government to use their great influence to protect those whom I have described from the deprivation now threatened.

My Lords, the Orangery at Holland Park is a lovely, mellow, red-brick building erected in about 1810. The proposal is that it should be taken away from the general public and, with a green lawn outside, handed over to J. Lyons and Company for the exclusive use of the patrons of the high-class Belvedere Restaurant. This the G.L.C. propose. For a description of the Holland Park Orangery I cannot do better than quote from the G.L.C.'s own guide which says: For older people the Orangery, heated in winter, provides a pleasant shelter and reading room, and affords a charming view over the park. I assure your Lordships that in summer, when the heating is not necessary, it is an absolute sun trap, much enjoyed by the old folk.

Let me make it clear that I have no complaint at all against Messrs. J. Lyons and Company. The Belvedere restaurant has high prices; a cover charge of 3s., or Steak Diane at 18s. 6d. is not a tariff which will allow entry to the Orangery or to the lawn for those who now enjoy the humble cup of tea and a biscuit. Locally there is strong resistance to this proposal. A petition containing several thousand names has been presented to the Greater London Council; and there has also been a deputation to the Greater London Council. I believe that this position need never have arisen, and that this evening's Question and other noble Lords' comments would have been rendered unnecessary, if there had been reasonable consultation before the Greater London Council announced what they were about to do. There was not notification through the local Press; there was no consultation with representative societies, such as the Kensington Society, the Camden Hill Preservation Society or the Kensington and Chelsea Arts Council. To my mind, this lack of consideration and failure to communicate savours far too much of "Big Brother"—that "'Big Brother' knows best what is good for you."

The matter goes back to 1963, when the then London County Council decided to offer to Messrs. Lyons the use of the old ballroom and the adjoining Orangery. This is recorded in the minutes of the L.C.C., but it aroused no public comment. Nothing more happened until 1965, when agreement was entered into by the L.C.C. and Messrs. Lyons (it was either in the form of a lease or agreement; I do not know which) for the use of the ballroom only. There was in this agreement nothing about the Orangery. Indeed, it is interesting to note that Messrs. Lyons have paid five guineas an evening for the 20 evenings they have used it since 1965; so it is not likely that they were paying for something which they already possessed.

At the time of the 1965 agreement— I repeat, I use the word "agreement" because I do not know whether it is in the form of a licence or lease—the Kensington Society was assured of the continued public use of the Orangery. It was not until November, 1969, that Messrs. Lyons asked for the Orangery on a permanent basis, as can be seen from a letter to The Times of March 4 from the Chairman of the Arts and Recreation Committee of the Greater London Council, who seemed to me to be trying to imply that in the 1965 agreement there was some provision for the disposal of the Orangery. The letter to The Times was very carefully worded, and I think one can read it as one wishes, according to one's particular views. Perhaps the closing words of that letter are worth reading: … without offending against the obligations to the company, which we feel we have inherited from our predecessor the L.C.C. From those words one might think that there was some provision in the 1965 lease or agreement. In fact there was not.

I have had some difficulty in obtaining such facts as I am able to give to your Lordships. But even here, it seems to me that "Big Brother" is a little disjointed. For while the Arts and Recreation Committee propose to respond to protests by representative bodies, the Greater London Council Historic Buildings Committee (a different committee) visit the Orangery and the chairman of that committee, a most distinguished and charming lady, is reported as saying that she knew nothing about the proposal. The report says: She said later that her committee had decided to defer any decision on the use of the Orangery. 'We are very worried about the prevention of public access to the building and we have had I suppose about 700 letters and petitions from local residents who are anxious about it. We are also very worried about the destruction of the camellias outside.' It seems to me that there has been rather a lack of communication within the Greater London Council on this matter.

I think I need spend no time at all in disposing of the alternative which the Greater London Council are offering the aged and impoverished, instead of this delightful Orangery. It is a dark, un-heated, wooden hut, part of a small cafeteria looking on to a brick wall, and a quite unworthy proposal as an alternative to what the aged and impoverished at present enjoy. I understand that the position now is that the proposal has been deferred. It is really a suspended sentence, because no work is to be done this summer, for the obvious reason that no restaurant owner would wish to open any extension in the winter. But there is every indication that the proposal may be revised later at the end of the summer.

Finally, my Lords, I should say that my appeal is twofold. First, I appeal to the Greater London Council to stop the dictatorial "Big Brother" attitude of, "What we want, we will do; and, after all, we know best what is good for you". When they propose to do something like this affecting amenities and public rights, they should first notify the public and consult with representative bodies of citizens. If any proposals are brought forward, let those proposals safeguard the public use of the Orangery and the surrounding ground. My second appeal is to Her Majesty's Government to discharge their responsibilities to the aged, the infirm and the poor by using their position, and their influence, to prevent, now and for all time, any such action as has been proposed. It is possible that at some future time the Minister may have a judicial function in this matter, if he is called upon to rule on an appeal for planning permission, and therefore I do not expect the Minister who is to reply to-night to say anything which might have a bearing upon the future judicial position which the Minister may occupy. But my appeal to him is to prevent the matter from ever getting as far as that, and to use the Government's influence now on the G.L.C. to see that the present Orangery is preserved for those for whom it is intended and who enjoy it at the present time.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to those of your Lordships who have acquiesced in my speaking out of turn in this matter, which really is a local controversy but has some wider aspects. I speak in the main because I do not wish the position of the Kensington Society, of which I have the honour to be President, to be misunderstood. They are against depriving the general public of the use of the Orangery which they now enjoy; not only the aged, infirm, or old-age pensioners, but people of all classes, ages and sexes, who do not want to sit out of doors in the park in the kind of weather we are having now.

When some weeks ago I met Mr. Sebag-Montefiore, the Chairman of the Greater London Council Committee concerned with this matter—and I wish to be completely fair to him, because I may have misunderstood what is rather a complicated position—he courteously explained to me that under an agreement made by the old London County Council in 1963, Messrs. Lyons were accorded the use of certain buildings as a restaurant (and it is a very good restaurant) and that this concession included the use of the Orangery, which they had not in fact in recent years used except in the terms which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has described. I was not, and am not now, aware of the exact nature and precise terms of the agreement, whether it was a lease or a licence, or just what it was; nor did I appreciate that this year, after seven years, there is a break in it—though it may not be clear how far this gives each party to the bargain an opportunity to review the whole position. In these circumstances, I felt bound to accept Mr. Sebag-Montefiore's view that an existing agreement, if it was binding and if Lyons were insisting, had to be honoured. At the same time, I expressed strongly the view that no encroachment should be permitted upon the gardens or paths to which the public now have free access, and which includes the very attractive garden, with its little pond, on the East side of the restaurant. I urged also that, in the interests of many young people, improvements should be made in the present cafeteria, and Mr. Sebag-Montefiore assured me that it would be kept open all the year, and warmed as necessary. In all this, I made it quite clear that I was not committing the Kensington Society or any other local body.

On merits, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that there can be no doubt that the Orangery should be open for the use of the public. It was bought out of public money, and it ought to be open for use in that way. Its architectural quality, in spite of what the noble Lord says, does not compare for one moment with the marvellous Wren structure in Kensington Gardens itself, but it is part of what remains of Old Holland House as it was in the 19th century; a house famous in our politics, our literature, and surrounded by remnants of wood and open country so jealously maintained by the late Lord Ilchester. It is greatly used not only by those who are aged and infirm, but by people of all ages, sexes, and classes, who do not like sitting outside in this kind of weather.

What is the real position? I saw, and I still see, the Greater London Council's point that they cannot slide out of a binding obligation which they inherited from their predecessors in office. But is that the case? There is a break in the agreement, whatever its nature. Lyons have not claimed the Orangery for seven years, even if they were entitled to do so; they have made other and separate arrangements for its occasional use, which seem to be quite outside the agreement. Is it not, therefore, open to the Council, without embarrassment, to negotiate a new agreement confirming the use of the main building, but excluding the Orangery? I hope so, and I hope that that will be done. I hope also that im- provements can be made in the cafeteria, which is in other hands but which is, and ought to be, available to younger people who cannot afford to pay the prices charged by Lyons.

I cannot conclude without saying that it seems to me most regrettable that in the past the London County Council should ever have made, or offered, concessions involving the Orangery without. so far as I know, consulting any local interests, and certainly not the Kensington Society. But I think it would be more regrettable if it were the case that the Greater London Council had repeated that error until the facts began to be known.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I feel that this is really a local controversy. How far Her Majesty's Government are really involved in it, or need to become involved in it, or may eventually be in some appellate position, I do not know. But the fact that the issue has been raised in this House this evening ought to have some effect upon the minds of the Greater London Council.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will allow me to intervene out of order at this stage, but I have a pressing engagement. I think it has the agreement of the other speakers. It will mean that I shall be very brief. It is perhaps right that I should intervene at this stage; first of all, to say how much I welcome the initiative of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye in debating a local but very important matter in your Lordships' House; and, secondly, to declare an interest, because my house backs on to that part of Holland Park which sees the Orangery. I should not like to enter a great controversy, but I do not think there is very much architectural merit in that part of the Holland Park complex which we are discussing; namely, the Orangery. In my view, it looks like a rather cheap edition of a Lancashire cotton mill of the early 19th century. That is from the outside, but the outside is not going to be altered if the proposals to extend the restauarant go through; it is only the inside. Now the inside is at present very ugly, in my opinion, and also it is not used very much.

I did a little census on Saturday, and there were seven adults and three children there. Contrary to what my noble friend Lord Balfour may have indicated to your Lordships, it is not possible to have a cup of tea and a biscuit in that rather gaunt, dreary room, unless you bring it in yourself. There are a few uncomfortable chairs. It is not very well-patronised and is not available to the public after 7 p.m. in the evening; so that in the evening neither the wealthy clientele of the Belvedere Restaurant nor the old and impoverished are able to use it at all. I should like to make a plea for its extension and use as a restaurant. First of all, I would pay tribute to Messrs. J. Lyons and Co. for running an extremely good restaurant there at present. It is, to my mind, one of the best in London. I shall declare another interest: that I occasionally go there myself, although I also go to others. The restaurant is well-run and it is unusual in that it looks out over parts of the Orangery—


My Lords, the noble Lord will no doubt immediately agree with me that his remarks are also unusual in this House.


My Lords, in what way unusual?


They sounded to me like a commercial plug.


In that case, my Lords, I should naturally with-draw them, but I am certainly not making a commercial plug. We are discussing this restaurant. My noble friend Lord Balfour has talked about the prices and the tariff, and it has to be run by somebody; it might have been run by some other commercial restaurateur. But the fact is that it is being well-run, and I think that should be known. I think, furthermore, that there is a great need in London for good restaurants, and the experiment of the then Socialist controlled L.C.C., in permitting the use of premises in parks for higher-priced restaurants was a very good one, because it produced diversity of catering opportunities. In this case it has worked out well. It is an amenity for London and is particularly appreciated by visitors to London, not only from the Provinces but also from overseas. So I think that that ought to be considered as against the amenity which it at present is. It is an amenity used by very few people indeed, it is not available in the evenings, and I think that some support should be given to the G.L.C. in what they are intending to do. Furthermore, I think that the G.L.C. could quite well look at the other amenities in the Park, where there is also scope for improvement. But that would mean taking the debate rather wide to-night, and I do not wish to detain your Lordships with that topic.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, this is a debate which my noble friend Lord Balfour said is not going to be of world-shaking import but is of local significance. Nevertheless, to those who are local it is of great importance. Speaking for myself, I consider that Holland Park has always been one of the few attractive green spaces which we have managed to maintain, other than the Royal Parks, and anything which goes to the enjoyment of those parks by the public must be encouraged. I cannot help feeling that the G.L.C. are causing a certain amount of confusion by not giving details of the agreement made in 1965. At one moment they told us quite firmly that the agreement included the use of the old ballroom, a room above and the adjoining Orangery; that the rent was agreed and that so much would be spent by the Council on repairs. Then we were told, as the scheme progressed, that the company had decided that they did not wish to use the Orangery. But as a seven-year break approaches with 14 years still to run, we understand that the company now say that they wish the original agreement to be implemented and that they want the Orangery.

But instead of saying, "Of course; here it is", the G.L.C. go into committee again and decide that there will be a further arrangement with the company, Messrs. J. Lyons and Co., who must pay another £12,500. That is to be done in agreement with the Architect's Department of the Historic Buildings Division, and the Council will meet and agree further rents. That seems to support the view of my noble friend Lord Balfour that the original agreement did not include the Orangery. I find myself very confused, on the one hand, by the statement that the agreement included the Orangery; and then, on the other hand, by the fact that a committee is now having to decide what rent should be charged. We were not told that the original rent was reduced. So the G.L.C. have a certain amount of explaining to do, because they are not explaining enough to the public.

I have no local interest at all to declare, and it would be far-fetched to say that a great matter of public principle is involved. The letter of Basil Bartlett and his distinguished friends to The Times a couple of weeks ago stated that the principle was public amenity versus lucre or mercenary gain, but I think that is putting it too high. Even if the company is not making a "go" of the Belvedere Restaurant upstairs, with a few tables downstairs, it is not quite true to say that the tables downstairs have no view out. I looked in only this morning and put my nose to the window pane, and I saw the downstairs tables quite clearly. So that light obviously gets in and one can see out.

Nevertheless, the Orangery is a pleasant place and it is used and enjoyed by people. If, as is the case at the moment, it is not being misused, then I think it is in the interests of the local public to allow them to go on enjoying its use, if that is possible. If, in the course of time, it was found that the public were misusing it and the gardeners and caretakers could not keep it clean and neat, then I should immediately change my view and fully advocate that somebody who could look after it properly should have the chance to do so. At the moment, however, there is no reason to suppose that it is not being looked after properly or is being misused. There is no vandalism and every-one seems to be enjoying it. The gardens outside are neat and the care-takers are taking great trouble. So my own personal feeling is: leave well alone.

Now what happens if we are told by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that he has to inform the House that the G.L.C. must abide by an agreement of which none of us know the exact details, and hand it over to Messrs. Lyons's restaurant? I think the suggestion that the existing cafeteria, which is at the moment closed in the winter, should be made available during the winter is not at all acceptable, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has already said. I do not really like the phrase in my noble friend's Question, "aged and impoverished" people. I think it applies to all members of the public, be they aged and impoverished, middle-aged and impoverished or young and wealthy. All who want to go there want to enjoy this. I think the description my noble friend gave of a small hut with no view is dead right. It is a temporary-type building with a very low ceiling. I paced it roughly this morning, and the inside measured 33 feet by 18 feet. That is not going to hold many people. At the moment, it has about 12 tables in there, although I suppose you could push it up to 20. But it is a very poky affair, with no view. It is a prefab-type of building with the ceiling right on top of your head.

The alternative, I would suggest, if Messrs. Lyons had to have the Orangery, would be the colonnade which runs along to the East and South sides of the Orangery, part of which is open colonnade on both sides for a few feet. Then, on the South side of the colonnade, you get a wall on which they have undertaken, I understand, to let the arts boys and girls have an exhibition once a year. If that could be glassed in on the North side with glass swing doors on the West side and the East side, one would then have quite a respectable alternative place where everyone, including the aged and the impoverished, could sit. It would not be quite as nice as the Orangery, I agree, but nevertheless it would make a possible place, and you would have a view of the Dutch Garden, as I think it is called, to the North; and it would be 72 feet by 15 feet, and everyone would have a near-window seat. I would strongly press that if Messrs. Lyons have to be given the Orangery, the idea of the G.L.C. of confining the public to this miserable, almost lavatory-like position building, tucked away behind bushes with no view, should be abandoned and that they should really put their minds to the possibility of glazing in what I call the built-up part of the colonnade. It could be quite easily done. Your aged and impoverished and everybody else, as I keep on saying, would then be able to go to the kiosk or the cafeteria, bring their cup of tea there and sit in very pleasant surroundings. I do not see why this should not be done. It would be an alternative, and you would not be pushing the public into a nasty part of the building.

I noticed early this morning that the kiosk was doing little business, and there is no reason why this colonnade, which is right next door to it, should not be used. You would not need to open the cafeteria. The cafeteria is such an eye-sore that I loathe the idea of seeing it extended. If one wants the G.L.C. to do something useful, I suggest that they should consider pulling it down and putting up something else somewhere else —anyhow, something better than they have.

I end by reiterating that my own view would be to support my noble friend Lord Balfour. The ideal would be to try to get out of this commitment, if commitment it is. If the company does not have a viable asset, all right. Let us be honest: let them reduce it. The ratepayers would then be subsidising a pleasant place, where people can go and have their steak diane at 18s. 0d. But if not, if Lyons have to have it, for Heaven's sake, please, let us not put the people in this cafeteria and kiosk, but in the colonnade. There would be no architectural damage at all, and it would be pleasant.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am not completely covered by the category mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, because, though aged, I am not yet, thank God! impoverished. But I must declare an interest. I have no shares in J. Lyons and Company—at least, I do not think I have, but with these unit trusts you never know. I am not moved, I think, by prejudice. But I must plead guilty to one of the three sins which we are recommended to avoid in the familiar prayer to the House of Lords; that is to say, partial affection. I am moved to a considerable extent by partial affection: affection for London as a place where people can live and educate their children, shop and move about; and especial affection for the Holland Park area of Kensington, which is my native borough. I was born and bred in it; I have retired into it; and I shall, I hope, live the rest of my life in it and, in due course, die in it. Kensington Gardens was my play-ground; Holland Park is now my eventide recreation. Therefore, I have that interest, and it must be declared. It is not only the young who dream dreams and have visions. I have a vision of London, and my vision of London as a place where people live is somewhat obscured by the vision of London as a gigantic, swinging tourist centre, crisscrossed by six-lane motorways in all directions. But, meanwhile, I still have my vision of that part of London as a place where people can live and where they can enjoy the kind of amenities which we enjoy in Holland Park.

Then, suddenly, out of the blue, we, the ratepayers of Kensington and members of the Kensington Society and others, are told of this arrangement to transfer the Orangery to the Belvedere Restaurant. Why were we not told officially? I do not know how it leaked out, but it did, thank godness!, leak out in time for the campaign to which reference has been made to be worked up. That campaign was led, I think, by the Kensington Society, of which Lord Hurcomb is president, but it has been followed up by very many people who are not members, never have been members but ought to be members of the Kensington Society. The position has now been explained, as several speakers have indicated, by Mr. Sebag Montefiore, chairman of the G.L.C. Arts and Recreation Committee. He explained it very fully in a letter to The Times.

He pointed out, as I think Lord Hurcomb has reminded us, that the whole business began in 1963 when, under the L.C.C. General Powers Act, the Park and open space restaurants were allowed to exist and to offer what he described as "a high standard of catering". There is no doubt that Messrs. J. Lyons and Co., can produce a high standard of catering, as they do, I believe, in the Savoy Hotel. I have had the honour of dining there, happily always on somebody else's expense account. They also undoubtedly provide a very high standard of catering in the Belvedere Restaurant. But it is not the standard of catering to which most of us, even the less impoverished users of Holland Park, are normally accustomed, and it is not the kind of standard of catering that we require in Holland Park.

But then the question arises—and several speakers have asked this—what exactly was the agreement by which J. Lyons and Co. took over the buildings which now constitute the Belvedere Restaurant, with an option, apparently, on the Orangery, an option which was not, as has been pointed out, taken up until quite recently? We do not really know. If you look at the explanatory letter which Mr. Sebag Montefiore wrote to The Times on March 4 you will see that he speaks of "an agreement". Lord Hurcomb has asked the question: was it an agreement? Was it a lease? Was it a contract which has some force? We do not know. He speaks of it as "an agreement". He speaks of it somewhere else as an arrangement. We do not know. It is high time we did—because really unless we do know, the letter that Mr. Sebag Montefiore wrote to The Times tells us nothing effective.

There it is. If it is an agreement, we do not know what exactly the agreement covers. It appears to cover the incorporation of the Orangery itself in the Belvedere Restaurant, but I gather that it also covers the incorporation of that row of camellias now about to be in bud and which Mr. Montefiore describes as "past their maturity". Like many of us they are aged, but there is no sign that they are impoverished. It is possible that this arrangement or agreement, or whatever it is, covers not only the West side of the Orangery but the East side, which would cause it to impinge on the Dutch Garden in the form of a terrace to which only clients who can afford the high standards of catering have access. If that is so, what do we, the ordinary walkers in Holland Park, lose of our Dutch Garden? We do not know. It is high time that we did.

The other question in doubt is whether it would be necessary, if the agreement goes forward, for the company to obtain planning permission from our borough council under the Town and Country Planning Act 1968.

It may be that the company requires or will require that permission. I am certain that if it asks for that permission from the Kensington Borough Council, it will get it—as an act of revenge on the part of the Kensington Borough Council which greatly resented the action which the Kensington Society took in attempting to persuade the G.L.C. to retain Holland Park in its own hands under the auspices of its own excellent Parks Department instead of handing it over to Kensington Borough Council. The Kensington Borough Council, if asked for permission, is in a position to say, as one of its committee chairmen said, "Ha, ha! See what we can do to you now after what you did to us!" I do not think that if the agreement goes forward it is in any danger from the Kensington Borough Council.

There it is. We do not know what the future holds. I have great fear that a project which might be described as "development"—and I use that word in inverted commas for it means something peculiar when applied to the growth of London—may go forward. It will be very sad if it does. I shall quote the words of one of our English philosophers —I cannot remember which—when applied to another context. I would apply it here: When the great God Mammon sees a chance of profitable enterprise, he leaps to his prey like a tiger chained with cobwebs. I have an awful fear that we, the resident ratepayers of Kensington, are the cob-webs.

7.44 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for venturing to address your Lordships twice in one afternoon but I promise to be brief. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has tabled this Question. I must say that I never thought I should find myself in the same Lobby as the noble Lord. While I have always listened to his speeches with the greatest interest over many years, I never thought to find myself in agreement with him.

The subject of the Question is a matter of great interest and moment to me, particularly on sentimental grounds because, like my noble friend Lady Stocks, I was brought up in Kensington and I remember the park and fields in their original state. I can remember our house in Addison Road where the gardens went down to the old park long before Abbots-bury Road was built. It was a wonderful place, with meadows and fields, with cows and sheep grazing; and it was a real piece of country in London. For me it was always a place of great mystery and fascination, particularly since one was never allowed in. One could get in about once a year when the owner opened the house in aid of a local hospital. That was always a very exciting day for me as a child.

During the war it was completely destroyed by fire bombs. Nothing remains and the Guermantes have departed. I should like to pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, the last owner, who did so much to research the history of this great house and who wrote and published two books on it and also for his tremendous generosity in allowing the L.C.C. (as it then was) to buy it for a very moderate sum of money. I should like also to pay tribute to the late Lord Attlee. It is really due to him that we have our Holland Park in its present state. It is often forgotten what Lord Attlee did for London. We owe the Regent's Park Terraces to his intervention when the Crown Commissioners were going to pull them down. Holland House, too, we owe to his intervention when it was going to be built over.

The grounds have been restored with great taste and sensitivity by the old Parks Committee, as my noble friend Lady Stocks has said. I particularly admire the way in which the formal garden has been done. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, who has had to leave the Chamber did not like the Orangery. I was surprised when he compared it with a Lancashire cotton mill. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that it is a very attractive place, and one that is used not only by the elderly but by young lovers, too. It is made of glass; people are able to shelter there, and if the sun comes through they are protected from the wind. This great Whig house, with tremendous historical associations, was intended for the people of London. I think it is for the people of London that it should remain. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I am sorry to have to say this—I say it in the friendliest way; but I am afraid that this is what happens when you trust your parks to a Tory local government.


My Lords, that last remark is most unfair, if the contract which is the basis of the trouble was made by the Socialist L.C.C. But I wish only to associate myself with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, speaking for the Kensington Society. The Kensington Society is a constituent body of the London Society, of which I happen to be the President. I cannot say whether the London Society has considered this matter: I do not attend all the committee meetings. But I think it likely that it would associate itself with what has been said on behalf of the Kensington Society.

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a most interesting short discussion— and to me a remarkable short discussion, because I think I should record that it is the first time in my nine years in this House that I have heard, and the first time in my life that I have heard of, or will have read, a straight commercial "plug" being delivered in Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale has used this House for the purpose of commercial advertisement and has departed. I will leave it at that.


My Lords, I think that is a bit unfair. The noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, said that he had to go. He explained that one of the reasons advanced against this measure was that it was going to be a measure of a rich person's pocket and not a good place. He was merely pointing out—and he admitted that it was going to be a high-class restaurant—that, as such, it was a good one. I do not think that he was making any point. The name of Messrs. Lyons has been used time and again. The quality of the service offered there is in question, is a point at issue; and I think it is rather unfair to attack him on this matter. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, as he pointed out, raised the question because it is part of the point at issue.


My Lords, of course it is part of the question at issue, what sort of service is rendered by the company in given premises. But I repeat, and I stand by what I said, that the noble Lord's remarks sounded to me like a straight commercial "plug" for a named branch of a named firm.

My Lords, to come to the issue itself. Life is very hard. Sometimes I am told by noble Lords opposite that Socialism cannot tolerate the growth of local independence and initiative in local authorities; and sometimes I am told by noble Lords opposite to prevent local authorities from exercising their normal powers and carrying out their normal functions in the way they think best. Indeed, some noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, from the Opposition Front Bench, went into great detail about what the Greater London Council ought and ought not to do; and, by implication, about what the Government ought or ought not to advise or induce it to do. Of course, in such matters one's attitude depends entirely on whether or not one likes what is proposed: if one does not like it, one wishes central Government to intervene; when one does like it, one wishes central Government to keep out.

Many noble Lords have asked, or speculated, about the nature of the agreement, or understanding, or whatever it is, between the Greater London Council and J. Lyons and Company. These questions, of course, could more properly be ventilated in the Council Chamber of the Greater London Council than in Parliament. This is an agreement between the local authority and a firm, and I do not know about it. On the question of Government intervention. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, himself who said that he expected I should have to say that it would be improper for the Government to take any attitude; and that is indeed so. If the Orangery were to be used in this way, as an extension of the restaurant, a planning application would be required for the adaptation of the building for that purpose. This planning application, according to the present lie of the land (of course, interests are sold), would probably have to be made by Messrs. Lyons to the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council. If the Borough Council, or indeed the Greater London Council behind them, as it were, were to have a change of heart and were to refuse that application, then an appeal would lie to my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

Moreover, the Orangery in Holland Park enjoys, as a building within the curtilage of Holland House (which is a Grade 1 listed building) the status of a statutorily listed building. This means that if any changes are intended that would affect the character of the building as one of special architectural or historic interest, listed building consent would be required. Once again, my Lords, if the Greater London Council, or the Borough Council, were to have a change of heart and were to refuse that consent, an appeal would lie to my right honourable friend. Equally, my right honourable friend could call in either matter for his own decision in the absence of a refusal and an appeal.

So, my Lords, you will see that in many possible ways these are matters that may have to come before my right honourable friend in his quasi-judicial capacity, and for this reason it is not possible for me to express any opinion on what ought to be done on behalf of the Government.