HL Deb 04 August 1980 vol 412 cc1266-9

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will make a Statement.

Arising from a meeting of the Administration Committee last Thursday, I can now give a further report to the House on the position concerning the state of the ceiling of our Parliament Chamber.

The committee were in no doubt that every effort must be made to get the Chamber back in use in time for the return of the House after the Summer Recess. The committee were advised, however, by a team of officials from the Property Services Agency that, while the condition of the cast-iron roof trusses and main timbers was quite sound, the state of the decorative ceiling was such that the job of repair and restoration would be long and costly, and more examination and more time would be necessary before firm plans could be made. The committee were told that, subject to this further study, the job could last well into 1982.

The PSA team therefore proposed a solution in two stages. The first is a what you might call "get us back" service of the installation of a protective working platform-cum-temporary ceiling some few feet below the present ceiling and covering the whole House. This would serve two purposes. It would enable the House to resume sittings in safety on return from the Recess, and it would also provide the working platform from which the further examinations of the old ceiling could be made and also from which, as the second stage, the eventual remedial repairs would be undertaken.

The technical intention is that this working platform should be supported by beams, girders and scaffolding, to which I am sure your Lordships attach a great deal of importance; and while some of the scaffolding would be visible from inside the Chamber, most of the supporting structure would be outside. In other words, the lateral beams would extrude through specially made gaps in the tops of the side windows, and would connect with external vertical supports.

The PSA have an assurance from the scaffolding contractors that the platform could be in position some few days before the end of September; and your Lordships' Administration Committee have, indeed, specified the weekend 20th–21st September as the target date. This has been accepted by the PSA, and would give sufficient time thereafter for our own PSA staff to get things back in order and ready for the Lord Chancellor's usual annual reception in the Royal Gallery on 1st October for the start of the legal year; for the Law Lords to sit in the Parliament Chamber on 2nd October; and, of course, for your Lordships to resume sittings on 6th October.

Costings have yet to be properly worked out, and your Lordships will understand that costs for the whole project must await the further examinations and detailed planning. The PSA are estimating a rough order of costs for the initial stage, Stage I, of some £150,000 during the current financial year.

The Administration Committee were clear that the priority requirement was to get the Chamber hack in use well in time for the end of the Recess. The committee have therefore approved the installation of the working platform by 20th September as Stage 1 of the action required and will give further consideration to Stage 2—that is, the programme to complete the remedial action to repair and restore the ceiling—following the further examination to be put in hand by the PSA thereafter.

We can therefore be hopeful, barring accidents and the unforeseen, that we shall be back in our usual Chamber under the protection of the working platform above our heads on return from the Recess. I think that the House will agree that the Administration Committee were right to settle on this as the first step.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will welcome this Statement and thank the noble Lord the Lord President and Leader of the House for making it. It is an important Statement affecting the House. I am glad that there is a measure of optimism; and if we can achieve the target, that will be something well done. Black Rod and his staff have done a wonderful job; so have the property agencies. We pay tribute to them all. Let us hope we can get back soon!


My Lords, may I say from these Benches how grateful we are to the PSA for the speed with which they have carried out their inspection and for the solution that they have devised, which appears from the plan and sketches that I have seen to be nothing like as unsightly as might otherwise have been feared. We all look forward to being back in our proper Chamber immediately after the Recess.


My Lords, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for the remarks that they have made. I know that the House will join with them in thanking the PSA staff, indeed the whole staff and Black Rod and, I think, the Administration Committee for having taken this matter in hand and providing what I think is the proper and probably the only solution to suit your Lordships.


My Lords, as one of the Members of this House whose wisdom is always limited to matters after the event, may I ask whether it is a fact that the decorative state of the ceiling had not been inspected for many years? Indeed, I have heard one version which says that it has not been inspected since 1834. Have we at least learned the lesson—and I see the gesticulations of the noble Lord the Leader of the House; and I may say that I am referring to our own Chamber—which appears to be a very expensive one in this instance, that regular inspections hereafter should be carried out?


My Lords, this might be a wise suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I am afraid that I cannot comment on his assertion that the ceiling has not been inspected since 1834. I do not think that anybody in this House goes back in memory quite as far as that. Once it has been inspected and redone, I should like to think it will last for quite a while before having to be inspected again. There are probably other lessons to be learned about other chambers in the Palace of Westminster which might need inspection.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether these adjustments that are to take place are likely to affect the acoustic properties of the Chamber as they were? They could hardly have been considered completely effective despite every effort on the part of those who service the House and Chamber; but if there are now certain adjustments to be made, it is just possible that the acoustic properties might not be as satisfactory as Members of your Lordships' House would like.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, there will, I think, be a marginal effect on the acoustics in the Chamber while the false ceiling is in position. I am hopeful that it will not be anything with which we cannot all comfortably live. The acoustics were excellent before. I hope they will be at least good when we go back with a false ceiling. They will be better than they are here, anyway.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say when the ceiling of this Chamber was last inspected?


My Lords, I suppose that if the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was right, it would have been 1834.

Viscount St. DAVID

My Lords, in view of the fact that it is found necessary before the opening of each Parliament to investigate what is happening underneath our Chamber, might we now not add an investigation of what is happening above each year?


Yes, my Lords, it is inspected every year underneath. I do not see why that should not continue.


My Lords, can my noble friend say whether, at the time we are debating in the other Chamber after the false ceiling has been put in place, work will be going on above us, and what will be the effect of that on audibility?


My Lords, we shall have to see what it all looks like at the end of the day. The inspection process will go on when the House is not sitting and not while the House is sitting.

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