HL Deb 28 July 1981 vol 423 cc649-50

2.35 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made on the repairs to the ceiling of the Chamber of the House.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, work on dismantling the carved woodwork is now in hand and will be completed during the Summer Recess. Known wood consolidation techniques are being reviewed, and wood carving requirements are being assessed. The overall timetable is going as planned.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask whether he is aware that, accompanied by Black Rod, I was able to inspect both floors above your Lordships' Chamber last week and was horrified to see the amount of damage that has taken place over the years, including the degrading of the wood on both levels? Is he further aware that in this country there are apparently only 15 carvers who are capable of repairing the woodwork that has been damaged?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her supplementary question. Yes, I was aware that she had indeed been above our heads and I congratulate her on her expertise. We also agree with the figure which she has given; namely, that there are about 15 to 20 carvers in the country available to do this kind of work.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister whether we are safe in this House now, or is this part of a plot to abolish this House?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I share with the noble Baroness the feeling of safety with this ceiling above me. However, it is, I am sure, nothing to do with a plot to abolish this House.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is it not correct that at the time of the original Statement reference was made to the possible necessity of inspecting other ceilings? If that is correct, have such inspections been carried out and what are the results?

The Earl of Avon

Yes, my Lords, that is indeed the case. The ceilings of the Robing Room, the Royal Gallery, the Prince's Chamber and the Peer's Lobby have been examined and been found to be in sound condition. The Peer's Lobby ceiling will be surveyed properly during the Summer Recess.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is there no method of replacing carved wood with moulds of some other substance and using that instead of wood and making it look a perfect verisimilitude?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, there are, indeed, other solutions available. We hope very much that they will not be necessary and, judging by the sounds from the Chamber, the Chamber agrees with me.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, is the noble Earl not aware—probably he is not—that I have a number of friends who are engaged in the exact occupation of making moulds for plastics to replace some of the woodwork in this House?

Lord Davis of Leek

My Lords, why not have a couple of gnomes!

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I was not aware of the noble Viscount's attributes, but I am pleased to hear of them.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, when does my noble friend expect the work to be completed?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, at the moment the timetable is for completion in 1984.