HL Deb 04 December 1985 vol 468 cc1299-302

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Lane-Fox

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they have taken to improve the attractiveness, as tourist destinations, of historic buildings in England for which they are responsible.

Lord Elton

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are responsible for a number of such historic buildings, including this one. Your Lordships will already be aware of the work being done in this Chamber, the cleaning of the exterior of the Palace and the very successful renovation of the Clock Tower. Other projects include the opening of the Wall Walk at the Tower of London in 1983, of the Cabinet War Rooms and the Court Dress Collection at Kensington Palace in 1984 and of the Privy Council Chamber and the Queen's Withdrawing Room at Osborne House this September. We have also produced more attractive guidebooks for Kew Palace and the Banqueting House, Whitehall, as well as for Kensington Palace and Osborne House.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend the Minister for that very enlightening reply, may I ask whether the success of the opening of the Cabinet War Rooms might lead to the refurbishing of, for instance, the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, and even to the expanding of the shop at the Tower, all of which I understand would be very welcome to tourists?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think that on reflection it will be recognised that the Banqueting Hall is not in bad order, having been extensively refurbished early in the last decade. As to the shop facility, that is something which interests me very much. I hope that we shall be able to improve on the facilities available to the public to buy souvenirs and so on at the Tower, but there is intense pressure on the available space and it will take some time to organise this.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, although we are all anxious to encourage the noble Baroness in this very desirable objective to boost what we can show them, why do we not also at the same time direct tourists who are coming here and who want to see what is happening in our great country to the thousands of houses no longer capable even of being "disrepaired?" Thousands of them are falling into decay. If the tourists want to see the best side of the picture they might also see the other side at the same time.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think that tourists on the whole do not come to this country so much for social and historical research as for enjoyment. My noble friend asked what we were doing to show to them the plum pieces of the national heritage which are in the care of central government. That is a worthy cause and one to which I address myself in this answer.

The noble Lord suggests that they should then go elsewhere. I do not think it is our business to give them a Cook's tour of the whole country to give them sociological lessons which would be regarded as political whoever organised them.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the cleaning up of the Palace of Westminster is a great joy to anyone who comes into Parliament Square and looks at it, but that it is rather spoilt by the fact that progress on the Abbey is extremely slow and that nothing appears to be being done to clean up St. Margaret's? Would the Government not consider helping the church perhaps with a grant? It would be worth it for the tourist industry to speed up the work on this great monument, would it not?

Lord Elton

My Lords, your Lordships seem to be bent on spending the entire afternoon bringing me into collision with the Church of England, and I shall not allow it.

Baroness David

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for what he said, and we are all delighted with what is going on, may I ask for some information? Are there adequate numbers of craftsmen to do the work which we have seen going on above the Throne here, and indeed of stonemasons who must be repairing the stonework of the Palace and other buildings? Is there an adequate supply and will the supply continue?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the supply at present is adequate to the rate of progress that the noble Baroness can see. As to the future intentions of the people working on this project, I cannot say how long they wish to do so, but I am not aware of any danger that the work will come to a halt through lack of suitable skills.

Lord Henley

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that there are some places—I was thinking particularly of Hadrian's Wall, parts of which the department looks after—which are getting far too many visitors and which are suffering as a result? Possibly the department ought to be discouraging this.

Lord Elton

My Lords, care for a huge spectrum of buildings such as Hadrian's Wall—which is an ancient monument rather than a building—is in the hands of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, otherwise known as English Heritage, to which, if the noble Lord is really anxious, he should address his queries.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, further to what the noble Lord said, is he aware that many of us believe that far too much has been spent on this building in recent years, a great deal of it on decorations and furnishings which are, to say the least, in dubious taste? Indeed, far too much is being spent on buildings in London. Does the noble Lord not think that a good deal more ought to be spent on historic buildings and sites such as the one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in the rest of the country?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the balance of expenditure on buildings in the care of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission is a matter primarily for the commission. As to expenditure on this House, I think that, given the enormous number of people who see this, it is a good investment. I doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell—whose place was assaulted by a descending piece of ceiling—would agree that the money spent on seeing that it did not happen again was wasted.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, in addition to the great buildings which have been discussed, his department and the Welsh Office are responsible for an enormous number of old castles and abbeys throughout the country and that their care has been exemplary? Everything is done to attract tourists and to see that they are well informed with literature and so forth when they get there. The care and restoration devoted to these buildings are a credit to both departments.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. A great deal of the credit reflects on the commission, but I shall see that his compliments are passed on where they are due.