§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Lord Soames)
My Lords, late yesterday evening, while the House was sitting, a wooden ornamental boss in the ceiling of the Chamber fell to the floor. No one was hurt, but had the boss hit anyone, death or serious injury could have been caused. On investigation, the boss was found to have been held in position by little more than a tight fit reinforced by glue. There are about 40 such bosses in the Chamber ceiling, dating from the mid-nineteenth century, all of which must clearly now be inspected in the interests of your Lordships and made good in the interests of safety. This work could take three or four days.
In the meantime, and with the gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen, arrangements have been made for the House to sit in the Royal Gallery, where the seating has been laid out to be as close as possible to that of the Parliament Chamber, including seats below Bar for guests, and also some seats for the press and the general public. The Property Service Agency of the Department of the Environment hope to have the Parliament Chamber back in use for next Monday's sitting. Until next Monday, the line of route within the House of Lords is temporarily suspended.
It is proposed that the House should continue to use the Division Lobbies as usual when the House wishes to divide. The only procedural changes are that the Lord on the Woolsack will say, in the case of a Division:The Contents will go to the right through the Prince's Chamber, the Not-Contents to the left through the Prince's Chamber".190 It will no longer be possible to lock the doors after six minutes, and Peers who have passed through the Division Lobbies will have to return to the House via either the West Front corridor or the Library corridor.
Since there is no convenient exit from the Throne end of the Royal Gallery, Members of the House who are sitting at that end may make their way to the Prince's Chamber, it is suggested, by the Back Benches on either side of the House where a gap has been specially left for this purpose. Temporary microphones have been installed, and it is hoped that they will prove satisfactory. Peers who are speaking are asked to position themselves immediately by one of the microphones. Accommodation has been provided below Bar for the Press, distinguished Strangers and the public, to the best extent possible. Those who are entitled to sit on the steps of the Throne may stand at the Bar of the House.
I could not conclude this Statement without expressing (and I am sure all your Lordships would like to join with me in so doing) the warm thanks of the House for the work done by Black Rod, the Yeoman Usher, the staff of the House and many members of the Property Service Agency staff of the Department of the Environment in fitting up this temporary Chamber at such short notice. It might interest your Lordships to know that they started work at 6 o'clock this morning and it was completed by lunchtime. I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in expressing our sincere thanks to them for having done such a remarkable job for the House in so short a time.
§ Lord PEART
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his Statement, and I am sure the whole House would wish to echo the noble Lord's gratitude for Her Majesty's gracious permission for us to use the Royal Gallery. May I, too, pay tribute to Black Rod and his staff, the servants of the House and the workmen who have made this possible. It could easily have been something much more serious. Fortunately, as the noble Lord said, we are very lucky that nobody was injured. However, there it is. We pay tribute to the staff and the workmen. It is an unusual experience being in another Chamber, and I hope we enjoy it.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, from these Benches I, too, should like to express our very sincere thanks to Black Rod and his staff and the Property Service Agency, and all those who have managed this remarkable transformation in such a short time. We in this House are very well served by those who look after our comforts, and those who enable us to despatch business as usual in the face of an emergency or even a semi-crisis. I hope there is no connection between the judgment from above which took place last night and the fact that the Government were defeated four times on the Floor of the House yesterday, because I must warn the noble Lord that it is going to happen again, and I hope this Chamber is more secure!
§ Lord SOAMES
My Lords, I really do not know why the noble Lord should go so far as to say that he does not think there was any connection. I should think there most probably was.