HL Deb 21 March 1991 vol 527 cc781-800

7.5 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 31 [Listed building provisions, etc., not to apply to works]:

Lord Elton moved the following amendment:

Leave out Clause 31.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment which stands in my name and the names of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Park and Lady Birk. I do so in the absence of my noble friend Lord Montagu, who is unavoidably detained abroad. My noble friend is chairman of the Historic Monuments and Buildings Commission, otherwise known as English Heritage. He would have spoken with those interests principally in mind. I thought it proper to seek to protect those interests and the interests of the public as a whole because I share his concern and was for a time the sponsoring Minister at the Department of the Environment for English Heritage. However, I speak on my own behalf and not on behalf of any organisation.

The amendment seeks to delete Clause 31 from the Bill. The effect of this clause on its own is to remove the whole area covered by the Bill from the planning legislation designed by Parliament to protect listed buildings in conservation areas, leaving the promoters free to alter or even to demolish the buildings in question without interference. Normally such treatment would require the consent of the local planning authority. This was the form in which Clause 31, as it is now numbered, was introduced into your Lordships' House.

At this point I believe I should say two things. First, the purpose of the laws passed by Parliament to protect listed buildings, which would be set aside by the clause, is not—I repeat, not—to preserve second-rate buildings in aspic for ever; nor is it to frustrate desirable development in any way. The laws were passed by your Lordships in order to ensure that where a building was of some merit the pros and cons of knocking it down or altering it should be properly weighed up in the light of the views of qualified people before the action was taken.

That is a reasonable safeguard which acts in the interest of the local community as well as in the national interest. However, it is extremely tedious for developers, who have both to justify any plans they have for change and to forgo the saving otherwise open to those who are prepared to drive a bulldozer through our heritage. That was the form in which Clause 31, as it is now numbered, was introduced. Since its introduction the effect has been narrowed by the introduction of Schedule 6, which specifies those buildings to which these provisions would apply; that is to say, to which the protective provisions would be disapplied.

The effect now intended is to permit total demolition of only one building, as I understand it, and the alteration for agreed purposes but to a completely unlimited extent of the remainder. That is certainly an important limitation. Even though the proposal remains very substantial in its effect, I might have been minded to let it pass uncommented on were it not for the much larger effects that setting such a precedent would cause.

Why, your Lordships may well ask, if this was so important did not English Heritage formally petition against the Bill before? Why was it not represented before your Lordships in Committee? A full answer to that question is necessary and useful because it teaches us a great deal about the proposal which is before us. The proposal is not new in the form it came to us. It was made before in another Bill—a much bigger and more controversial Bill—which became the King's Cross Act. The attempt to free the developers in that case—

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I am very sorry but I wonder whether I may ask my noble friend Lord Elton to repeat that remark. He referred to another Bill which became the King's Cross Act. I believe there are two points which should be made. The first is that it has not actually been in this House yet and so has not become an Act. Secondly, the clause to which my noble friend is addressing himself was withdrawn in another place.

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend nearly makes my point for me. I take his point about the Bill not being enacted. The withdrawal of the clause was precisely the matter to which I wished to draw your Lordships' attention, but I should not have done so in such a vigorous tone as my noble friend has kindly interjected into the debate.

The attempt to free the developers in that case from the tiresome burden of keeping the law was made before another place. The reasons your Lordships have not seen it and will not see it is that the other place threw it out. The attempt in that case appeared as Clause 19 of the Bill as then presented. The effects were similar in their intention.

The reaction to it by the committee in another place is instructive. First of all, in paragraph 48 of its report it says: We have unanimously decided to delete Clause 19 from the Bill, for two reasons. First, the exemption from normal planning procedures conferred by the clause would have resulted in the function of planning authority devolving upon Parliament, and in practice, upon this Committee".

In the next paragraph it says: We further note that had we chosen to assume the role of planning authority, we would have been handicapped by the fact that English Heritage, who have statutory obligations as the Secretary of State's advisers in these matters, were not entitled to appear as a party before us; their locus standi was challenged by the promoters on a technicality, and disallowed by the Court of Referees".

I hope my noble friend will bear that in mind when he comments on this amendment and gives his reaction to it.

The second reason given by the committee was: in our view it would set a deplorable precedent".

My last quotation is: We consider that the enactment of Clause 19 would have placed in jeopardy the whole existing system of safeguards for listed buildings under the general law. We observe with concern that despite the promoters' assurances that Clause 19 will not constitute a precedent, similar clauses have been included in several of the private hills deposited in the present Session";

and in heavy type, We urge that committees dealing with clauses which are open to the criticisms which we have made in respect of Clause 19 should have no hesitation in deleting those clauses".

In the light of that precedent history, of the fact that it operates with constraint of funds and that the cost of being petitioned against and being represented in the King's Cross case was of the order of £60,000 —I think it was £57,000— in fees additional to those it would have incurred by normal listed building procedures, I think that English Heritage would have been open to criticism had it incurred a further £40,000 or so in this case, feeling that the point had been made for it.

Were this a Committee stage, as I wish it were, I would rest my case there, but as it is Third Reading and we cannot cut and come again in debate, I suppose I should briefly look at what powers might nevertheless be open to the promoters for maintaining this otherwise wholly objectionable provision in the Bill. First, I would hope that the promoters would undertake that the guidance of English Heritage on the buildings listed in Schedule 6 would actually be adhered to. If that were the case, I think in the short term the damage would be minimal. I shall come to the long term in a moment. If they cannot do that —and I presume it is through my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes that they will do it, but she may be unable to do it on their behalf —I suggest that the costs of the representation of English Heritage which must follow would be considerable and ought to be borne by those who would benefit from it, or at least from some funds other than those supplied by the taxpayer for maintaining planning law.

Either of those provisions would protect the position as it would be immediately after the enactment of the Bill, but the precedent is more dangerous, as a committee in another place made clear. I hope that my noble friend will agree that the voice of English Heritage, appointed by the Government and funded by the Government to protect the built heritage from depredation, should have a right of being heard in proceedings on Private Bills of this nature. Will he bear in mind that the costs, as I have said, of appearing are considerable? The costs of parliamentary agents in the King's Cross case were, as I understand it, of the order of £20,000, and of counsel of the order of £27,000. That is nearly £50,000, and there are four or five such Bills liable to come through every year.

We are actually talking about that undertaking, if it is given, costing English Heritage £250,000, which is a sizeable slice out of its annual budget, which we provide out of central funds provided by the taxpayer. That money, and the effort that could be bought with it in the normal procedures of English Heritage, are not something for which you can make a contra account entry against the £50,000 or the £47,000. It is additional. I think that we, as beneficiaries of the work of English Heritage, have a right to expect that its budget is protected from this additional burden.

If those two things could be arrived at I, for one, would be greatly reassured. I hasten to add that I do not in any way wish to belittle the diligent work of your Lordships' Committee, very succinctly and well put in its special report, although I have to say as one with a close interest in the heritage that I differ from the balance of desirability it applied in the case of what is now Clause 31, although it was not then. I shall listen with great interest to the promoters and to my noble friend—indeed to all other arguments. I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, it may be helpful to your Lordships if I intervene at this stage to briefly state the Government's view on the Bill. The Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers being sought by London Underground Limited. As the House knows, the Bill will enable major works to be undertaken at London Bridge, Holborn and Tottenham Court Road Underground stations to relieve congestion and improve conditions for passengers. The works at London Bridge are essential if the Jubilee Line extension is to bring more passengers to that station. Moreover, the works at Tottenham Court Road will have to be carried out before an East-West Crossrail station could be opened there.

I must make it clear at the outset that the Government oppose the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Elton, but I hope that what I have to say will be of some comfort to him.

I know that the committee that examined this Bill was understandably concerned about the provision in Clause 31 —originally Clause 28—of the Bill which seeks to disapply listed building consent controls. In the Bill as introduced the clause provided a blanket disapplication. During the committee proceedings, London Underground submitted amendments which have the effect of specifying those buildings which will be affected by the works, and showing whether they will be demolished or altered. Only one listed building (at Holborn) would be demolished. The other buildings that are specified for demolition are not listed but are situated within conservation areas at London Bridge and Tottenham Court Road.

However, the planning authorities for the sites affected by the proposals in the Bill withdrew their petitions against the Bill. In their special report on the Bill the Select Committee inferred from this that these authorities were content to allow the disapplication of listed building consent to be retained in this case. Your Lordships' Select Committee consequently concluded after very close and careful scrutiny of this issue and of the other provisions in the Bill that the Bill should proceed. The Bill now includes a schedule of buildings affected by the works so that the intention of the promoters is clear.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was also concerned about upholding the normal statutory arrangements for protecting listed buildings and reserved his position on the clause in a report to your Lordships' Select Committee. His view now—in common with mine—is that there has to be a very compelling reason for making an exception, given the forthright condemnation of the provision in the King's Cross Railways Bill by a committee in the other place, to which my noble friend Lord Elton has referred.

However, we believe that there is a restricted class of strategically important developments being promoted in pursuance of government policy objectives that could be at risk if promoters were not able to secure all the consents necessary for their projects from one procedure. There is some force in the argument that if Parliament sees fit to authorise such schemes it will be unreasonable for the promoters to be required additionally to apply for listed building consent to demolish or alter the required buildings. This is a sensitive issue and in accepting this compromise solution the Government are concerned to safeguard English Heritage's position as expert advisers on conservation issues. That means in practice establishing a mechanism for English Heritage to contribute to the consideration of works private Bills by parliamentary committees so that they are in a position to make informed decisions about the listed building aspects of the proposed development.

This would mean that, first, English Heritage should have a right to appear before Select Committees on matters within their competence; secondly, clauses of a Bill should contain details of the buildings which would be affected and in what way: blanket clauses would not be acceptable; thirdly, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a project —which we plan to make compulsory for a Bill of this kind —would contain an account of its effect on the built heritage; fourthly, promoters would be obliged to consult with English Heritage; and, finally, the Government would expect to report against Bills whose promoters seek a blanket disapplication of listed building controls or who do not consult English Heritage on these matters.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has today written to the chairmen of London Regional Transport and British Rail advising them of these compromises.

In line with this, for these cases—which will be few and far between—the Secretaries of State would be prepared to support clauses which disapply the controls in respect of particular specific buildings and for particular works. We therefore find acceptable the amended clause which has emerged as a result of the deliberations of your Lordships' Select Committee. As I have already said, the works at London Bridge and Tottenham Court Road stations are essential for the construction of new proposed underground lines for London; respectively the Jubilee Line—the Bill for which is before a committee in the other place—and the proposed East-West Crossrail route. We believe that for this Bill the compromise clause maintains the proper regard for the legislative controls designed to protect the national heritage while averting any duplication of effort and the potential risk of Parliament's wishes being overridden by a planning authority.

Against that background I urge the House not to agree to the proposed amendment and to allow the Bill to pass in the form in which it emerged from your Lordships' Select Committee. Congestion on our transport system is an important matter of public interest. If we were to stop this Bill from making progress we would be holding up, perhaps for some considerable time, measures which we all recognise are urgently needed to relieve congestion on London Underground.

Lord Elton

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask him to consider between now and the end of this short debate my point about costs and whether the procedures that he suggests would be in some way less expensive than the normal procedure of petitioning and representation. If not, has he anything to offer on that score? I thought that I ought to ask him now rather than in my reply.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I may or may not be able to give my noble friend a reply before the end of this debate. I certainly take careful note of what he said. I shall ensure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is made aware of his concern.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I shall try to keep my contribution short because I agreed with everything he said.

Perhaps I may take up one point raised by the Minister in opposing the amendment. He spoke of it being a compromise position. It is not. It is not the blanket clause that existed in the King's Cross Bill until it was taken out by another place. However, the provision still does a great deal of damage. The Minister stated that the listing of buildings is covered in Schedule 6 of the Bill. But that refers simply to the listing of buildings and does not provide any justification for the works or any mechanism whereby the competent authorities can ensure that the scope of work is strictly limited. Nor does it leave with the Secretary of State, the local authority or English Heritage any control over the extent, design, structure or materials of any alternations or extensions. It is merely a list of what is supposed to happen under the Bill.

I find the provision very strange and disturbing. For five years I was responsible for heritage in the Department of the Environment. Since then I have spoken from this Front Bench on the subject. In this debate I am putting forward entirely my own views. We do not treat it as a party matter. It worries me how easy it is to erode the protection of listed buildings and conservation areas unless the legislation which is consolidated in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 is strictly adhered to.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out succinctly and strongly what happened with the King's Cross Bill. The Minister did not think that there were other such Bills. However, the committee in another place thought that there were a number of such Bills. A number of London Transport Bills and other Underground Bills are on the way. What is the point of passing legislation to protect parts of our heritage —some of which, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, are of higher quality than others—just to ride roughshod over it? I find that quite appalling.

The King's Cross Bill has been referred to. It has not yet reached us. The Minister said that it was up to Parliament to take a decision about these matters. I believe that the Minister was taken by surprise. The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, asked a Question in February 1989. I intervened to refer to the King's Cross problem. In April 1989 the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, asked a Question. Many of us felt that in both cases the answers were unsatisfactory.

I consider that the amendment is right. I am glad to hear that action will be taken in the future. I believe that something could have been done before now. The letter to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, from the Secretary of State for the Environment dated 14th February listed the points that the Minister has now made. However, that does not alter what will happen to this Bill unless the amendment is agreed to, or unless our strong feelings are made clear to another place so that it can consider the measure with the utmost care. I am not happy that the Bill should proceed with Clause 31 included.

7.30 p.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I shall not detain the House too long. I rise to support the amendment. I listened with great interest to the reasoned approach of my noble friend Lord Elton and to the passionate oratory of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. It is sad that my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu cannot be here tonight. It is a case of Hamlet without the Prince because he has been so robust in his defence of the rights and duties of English Heritage and the tradition of supporting buildings of outstanding architectural merit by listing. If it is Hamlet without the Prince, at least we have Hamlet with the ghost, even if it takes such substantial form as my noble friend.

The Royal Fine Art Commission also supports the amendment. We are not a conservationist body. Our job is to promote good, contemporary architecture. Let us have listed buildings, yes, but not listed buildings at any price. I make that point because, while it might be thought that English Heritage had a vested interest in the matter, the Royal Fine Art Commission is not open to such a reflection. We believe that if a listed building is inferior to the building that is promised the listed building should be allowed to go. The commission supported the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, in his efforts to secure planning permission for No. I, Poultry. I congratulate the noble Lord on his perseverance and stamina in pursuing the cause of that building. Even my noble friend Lord Montagu might congratulate him on that aspect of his activity. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, and Poultry is a contemporary version of the story of Bruce and the spider and had an equally happy ending.

If one supports the amendment one should make clear the fact that the Select Committee has greatly improved the Bill. There is no doubt about that. Clause 31 is a major advance on Clause 28. That overrode all listed legislation and was an intolerable proposition to be put forward yet again, particularly in the light of what was said about, and what happened to, Clause 19 of the King's Cross Bill.

In addition to the constructive work of the Select Committee I also recognise the important statement that was made tonight by the Minister. It was contained originally in a letter to my noble friend Lord Montagu from the Secretary of State and was dated 14th February. That was suitably so because it was a Valentine on this issue. No one should underestimate the importance of what my noble friend has said tonight. The four propositions constitute a new charter in this matter and will be welcomed by all who are concerned with the future of listed buildings.

The objection in principle remains. The objection to the clause is that it effectively excludes many normal planning procedures, not only in relation to listed buildings but also non-listed buildings which may have architectural merit. Unlisted buildings can also be aesthetically important; for example, buildings in conservation areas. Listing is an imprimatur but there is nothing exclusive about it; it is an additional support.

I do not believe that the promoters of the Bill have produced a case for creating a situation in which no justification is needed for the demolition of a building, no limitations are set and which excludes the Secretary of State and English Heritage from having their normal say in the matter. It also excludes the Royal Fine Art Commission. We are part of the planning process and exist precisely to advise on such matters as design, structure and materials. That is not in respect of old buildings as such but of extensions to old buildings and new buildings which may replace the old.

The most powerful argument before your Lordships' House was presented by my noble friend Lord Elton. It is the argument of a precedent. If the Bill were accepted we should have precedent for inclusion of similar clauses in other Private Bills. That is the important point. We can see what has happened because the fate of Clause 19 has not deterred the promoters of Private Bills. They are trying the same game over again. At the risk of producing a further explosion from my noble friend Lord Mountevans, I must point out that, when Members of this House and of the other place have made their views so plain on the matter, it is extraordinary that we should be back at square one.

I trust that my noble friend Lord Elton will continue robustly to pursue his views. It is important that there should be a deterrent to other people who wish to follow the same Star Chamber course in this respect. Of course it is up to him and to the other movers of the amendment to decide what to do, but I believe that the argument for setting a precedent is decisive. I hope that this precedent will not be set by the House.

Viscount Hood

My Lords, as chairman of the Select Committee I wish briefly to give the reasons why we issued our report and took such decisions. We were much influenced by the amended Clause 28 —Clause 31 as it now is. It was well restricted in respect of the building and what could be done to it. We were conscious not only of the vital importance of the scheme, which was not in argument before our committee, but also of the urgency which we saw in all the justifications of the Underground plan. Tottenham Court Road in particular is already overloaded. The dominating argument in our decision was time; we did not want any unnecessary delay in getting the scheme started. As the Minister said, if the matter goes back to the local authorities delay, and possibly substantial delay, is inevitable.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Birk prefaced her remarks by saying that she was speaking in a personal capacity. I must make it clear that the Opposition is completely neutral on the matter and that my remarks too are made in a personal capacity.

My position is one of division. I too am keen to enforce environmental and conservation provisions. Equally, I am concerned with the problems of transport and congestion. I was greatly influenced by paragraph 7 of the report which pointed out that the planning authorities had withdrawn their petitions and were satisfied with the Bill as it now stood.

It is interesting on Second Reading that apart from myself only three other noble Lords spoke on the Bill —the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and my noble friend Lady Phillips. The question of Clause 28 was not referred to. We were dealing with the pertinent questions raised by the Bill; that is, safety and congestion issues and a need to get on with the work. I appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on expense. However, the question of English Heritage and listed buildings was not mentioned on Second Reading. I raised two issues concerning the London Bridge and Holborn works. I said that I hoped that the Select Committee, to which the Bill was to be referred, would take those matters into consideration. No one asked that the question of listed buildings and English Heritage should be taken into consideration, which is rather unfortunate.

From the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I can understand that a petition was not presented on grounds of cost. I believe that the Minister's statement is helpful for the future, and also as regards the point that the Bill should go forward as the chairman of the committee, the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, said. From my standpoint it is important that the works should not be delayed.

The problems of congestion at London Bridge, Tottenham Court Road and Holborn are such that it would be a tragedy—and I believe that one can use that word—if these works were delayed because of the need for considerable discussions before a new decision could be taken. I believe, as does the Minister, that these works should proceed, providing as they do safeguards for the future.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I too found what the Minister said extremely helpful, as was the statement by the chairman of the committee. However, I wish to express my strong support for the principle behind the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton.

I speak as chairman of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Thus I share fully the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord on behalf of English Heritage. The Royal Commission's interest is that it has a statutory right under the planning legislation to be notified of listed buildings which are to be demolished, and also has a right and a duty to make records and take photographs of such buildings before demolition takes place.

I understand that an exclusion clause proposed when the first King's Cross Bill came before the appropriate committee in another place met with strongly adverse comments. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, quoted what I was going to quote about the committee's view that no such clauses should be permitted in future.

On that occasion, the Royal Commission was granted the right to petition the committee in order to secure the withdrawal of the clause—Clause 19. In the event British Rail inserted a protective clause which respected our interest and Clause 19 was rejected by this House.

Since then, on the advice of our legal advisers, the commission has had to seek to secure the insertion of similar protective clauses in this and no less than three other Private Bills because of the precedent created by the procedure adopted in the King's Cross Bill. That is a very time consuming exercise and costly for the taxpayer, as my noble friend Lord Elton said. However, we are obliged to do that to protect the interests of the commission. We too have a limited budget. Surely it is unacceptable that such Bills should repeatedly be framed to circumvent the existing planning and listed buildings legislation which Parliament put in place and from which we derive our statutory powers.

I understand from a letter which I received this afternoon that Camden Council remains as anxious as the commission about the proposed diminution of its powers. I was reassured to note that the Select Committee of this House views with anxiety any proposals to reduce the protection given by general legislation to historic buildings. While I must reluctantly accept the committee's final conclusion that the inclusion of Clause 31 is justified since the committee was anxious about a possible delay to an important project—and I see that point—and its members have clearly weighed very carefully the arguments for and against, I urge the House strongly to note the dangerous implications of what can only be the creation of a damaging precedent.

We are seeing a progressive erosion of the statutory powers which the planning and building legislation was designed to assure to us. This makes it difficult, and could ultimately make it impossible, for the commission to fulfil its recording role and for English Heritage to act to protect threatened buildings.

I was reassured by what the Minister said, and, should this amendment he withdrawn, I hope that a message will go back to the other place which may in the long term produce a decision of principle in our favour. That would mean a general agreement that such exclusion clauses will not be accepted in future.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, perhaps I may introduce my speech by apologising to my noble friend Lord Elton. I was not seeking to shout him down but I was putting forward a point which I may put again; namely, that the King's Cross clause is irrelevant to our debate today. That was a blanket clause and our debate this evening on the deletion of Clause 31 is very specific.

As a first-time buyer on one of your Lordships' Select Committees I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Hood and other Members of the Committee sitting in this Chamber for making my first committee such an instructive and enchanting experience. I believe that that is a duty which we should all undertake from time to time and I am grateful to the committee for its support.

I shall continue to urge rejection of the amendment, and at the end of my speech I should like to comment on the Minister's speech which probably wrong-footed or flat-footed many of us who had planned to speak this evening.

Having sat on the committee, I was anxious about this issue and I did some research. My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara will recall the occasion on 13th April 1989 when I spoke in support of the Second Reading of the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill and my noble friend put the views of the Government. That Second Reading was moved by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu who, alas! is not present this evening. Perhaps I may quote some of the remarks he made. He said: It may be appropriate if I now speak as chairman of English Heritage … Although we shall wish to express concern over the detailed design of this scheme and the actual route where it affects Mayflower Park and the city walls"—

and it is worth adding that the city walls of Southampton are a conservation area— we are confident that the matters can be resolved. We certainly should not wish to oppose the scheme in principle. The detailed evidence of the petitions is of course a matter which can be examined by a Select Committee. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in expressing great faith in the ability of the Select Committee procedure of the House of Lords to give petitioners a fair hearing and to produce an objective and politically unbiased report on the scheme. [Official Report, 13/4/89; col. 452.]

As my noble friend Lord Hood explained, after we produced our special report I began to wonder about this matter. I did some research and asked myself some questions. As I understand it, our authority—and after all it was Parliament which gave to English Heritage its authority, and I believe that Parliament can take that away if it so wishes —was based on Section 42 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 which provides that local Acts have effect subject to the provisions of the town and country planning legislation.

I was concerned that those who had the opportunity, such as English Heritage and the Royal Fine Arts Commission, did not petition your Lordships' committee although there was an opportunity to do so. Therefore, my reading of the law, as it is, is that the decision which we took was within our legal power.

I appreciate the arguments which have been made about "gang-bang" clauses. We were not looking at a "gang-bang" clause but at a very specific clause. I then wondered, discussed and read about possible reasons for seeking dispensation, as Clause 31 does, from what I call conservation area consent. I came to the conclusion that the first is that there is an interlocked transport and conservation issue.

I fully support those who argue for conservation. But noble Lords will be aware that I have frequently argued for the viability, well-being and safety of London Transport. Where the issues interlock, I felt it right that the safety issues came first; after all, we are discussing a Bill entitled the London Underground (Safety Measures) Bill.

I accept the conservation issues. Our attitudes towards conservation are very personal. We tend not to be too concerned if the area in dispute is not adjacent to our own; if it is on our doorstep, we become concerned. It is a kind of reversed NIMBY-ism. I feel that the committee, and the evidence before it, addressed the conservation issue. When I was looking through the Order Paper of another place a few days ago I discovered an Early Day Motion which referred to 930-odd endangered buildings in central London. I wondered whether the Astoria Theatre and other sites were on that list, or whether they were only included when this Bill was introduced.

The promoters opted for the Private Bill procedure. One of the matters of which they were aware was the need to avoid the repetitive process of consideration within Parliament by the two Houses—one could call it overlap—and decision-making by the local authority manifesting itself in terms of clauses such as Clause 31, in its disapplication of a conservation area rule.

I return to what I said earlier. The planning authority had the opportunity to object. It did not do so. In a way I would have been happy if it had; it has more expertise than I as to whether the buildings covered by Clause 31 genuinely merit conservation area status. I should have liked to hear the views of the local planning authority.

There is also a matter of timescale involved. If a duplicate process exists, if one deletes Clause 31 and goes to a planning inquiry, slippage will occur. I believe that Tottenham Court Road specifically, while not a matter of national importance, is a matter of regional importance. It is not a pleasant station to use. I am not convinced that it is safe. I am sure that noble Lords are mindful of the recommendations in the report on the King's Cross disaster. That is one of the points that underpins the Bill.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. Is he aware that paragraph 42 of the Select Committee report on King's Cross deals specifically with the question of delay? It states that there has never been any delay in a Private Bill because the matter has been discussed and all the points considered. Has the noble Lord considered also that if it goes to the other place, and they take the view that was taken in regard to King's Cross station, that it may be delayed then? The question of delay should not be taken into account in these circumstances. It is not a matter that is particularly urgent and the process could work both ways.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I was not aware of the specific clause mentioned by the noble Baroness. The report suggests that there has been no instance of delay. I would argue that if we go down the road we are asked to go down tonight by those who propose the amendment, there could yet be delay on the Bill.

As I said earlier, I am not convinced that King's Cross is a relevant example. It is dead and gone; I have a different attitude towards King's Cross. I hope that the Bill will shortly come to this House and progress will be made on it for different reasons.

The statement of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara was interesting. It probably compromised several speeches that had been premeditated this evening. Several of us who work the transport scene in the House are anxious that reform of the Private Bill procedure is slipping. Only six months ago my right honourable friend the Leader of another place spoke of it being a matter for the next Queen's Speech. It is now a matter of when parliamentary time permits.

Promoters of Private Bills—not only transport Bills which is my favourite subject—and others, want firm rules and guidelines. They may not be happy with the reform proposals but at least they will have a level and defined playing field.

The first point made by my noble friend, that English Heritage shall have the right to be consulted, is an excellent one. That would pre-empt the debate this evening. As have other noble Lords, I have argued on King's Cross. I think that Clause 31 is specific; whereas the King's Cross clause, which we have been discussing, is not. It is a blanket clause. The demand for specific clauses is essential.

The environmental impact study is important. The requirement that the promoter shall consult English Heritage —which slightly overlaps the first one—is important. Reserving the right of the Government to reject is equally important. Therefore I welcome what my noble friend called a compromise. I hope that it is not only circulated in a letter to the chairman of British Rail and LRT, but also to others in the business.

Finally. I come to the title of the Bill. It is a "safety measures" Bill. I appreciate that conservation is important; but safety is much more important. In urging your Lordships to reject the amendment, perhaps I may express a personal view. There is only one place where conservation should come before safety, and that is in the dictionary.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I listened with interest to the points made on the amendment, with which I cannot agree. I agree with my noble friend Lord Elton on one matter, and that is my regret that my noble friend Lord Montagu is not present. We went to great trouble to ensure that the debate came after the 20th, when we were advised that he would be back in this country. Evidently his plans must have changed.

I have a great interest in historic buildings. I am a member of the Heritage of London Trust; before that I served for many years on the Historic Buildings Committee of the Greater London Council. Therefore I do not take lightly any damage or change in historic buildings. Likewise, I do not believe that every listed building is as marvellous as we like to think. In London many marvellous buildings were listed and then the list seemed to grow non-stop. Many people on the Historic Buildings Committee were not so impressed by the later listings; but that is another matter.

As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, the aim, is not … to preserve second-rate buildings",

but buildings of some merit.

Lord Elton

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to intervene, it is important. I did not say that it was to preserve them. I said that it was to ensure that proper consideration by qualified people was given to demolition or change before it was carried out. That is quite different.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I wrote down in quotes that what he said was that, "it was not the aim to preserve second-rate buildings but buildings of some merit".

The question of speed is important. It must be appreciated that the Second Reading of the Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred, took place on 8th March 1990. It has taken a long time to reach this point. There were 36 petitions lodged. Why did English Heritage not lodge a petition? We were told that there was a problem with money. One does not need to be represented by counsel; anyone can appear and act as one's representative before these committees. It could be done in a more economical way by an officer of English Heritage, or the Historical Monuments of England Commission appearing.

There has been much talk regarding whether or not this will create a precedent. In one way everything creates a precedent. However, the argument of the promoters of the Bill is that each case should be treated on its merits. My noble friend the Minister made the same point in his contribution.

Clause 19 of the King's Cross Bill is a parallel to Clause 28, but it is not a parallel to Clause 31. All the discussion directed towards a parallel with Clause 19 is irrelevant because that provision is not the same. The King's Cross Bill is a very much bigger scheme and time is not so important on that. It is not a provision which is designed to bring in safety measures for people. Therefore, I believe that there will be continuing consultation on King' Cross. My noble friend Lord Elton also referred to the Court of Official Referees disallowing the King's Cross Bill. That does not apply to this House. There are similar Bills which are referred to in paragraph 50. After tonight's debate we shall find that the tone of the clauses in these Bills will be amended and in future specific properties will be listed. Discussion will go on, and I do not think the same blanket situation will ever come back.

Everyone who has a relevant interest should have the right to be heard. Individuals can petition a Standing or a Select Committee on the Bill. The Government said that if there was a blanket measure, or a complete lack of consultation, they would oppose. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that she did not feel that this Bill was justified. It is important to establish that point; though noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who had been at the earlier proceedings had gone into the matter at that stage. It should again be drawn to the attention of noble Lords that the Fennell Report contained 157 recommendations. The recommendation relevant to this matter was that: London Underground shall undertake an investigation of the problems of passenger flow and congestion in stations and take remedial action".

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I said that that particular clause was not justified. I did not say anything about the whole Bill not being justified. As regards not taking up the matter earlier, the noble Baroness is right. I agree that in this instance English Heritage has been slow off the mark and negligent.

8 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. The purpose of this Bill is to bring into effect the recommendations for three of the busiest stations; namely, London Bridge, Holborn and Tottenham Court Road. These are cul-de-sac or dead-end stations. They are stations with an exit at one end. They are an enormous hazard which has to be dealt with. These three stations have only one route to the street yet the Fennell Report said that two independent means of escape other than by train are required for new stations. We believe that greater access for safety purposes has to be provided.

Congestion is a regular occurrence. For London Underground and passengers, congestion and lack of safety go together. London Bridge station was built in 1900 and since 1981 the use of the station has increased by 92 per cent. I shall not go into detail on this because I know that noble Lords would prefer shorter comments. The present ticket hall at Holborn was built in 1906. It served the Piccadilly Line and it was altered in 1933 to serve the Central Line as well. It was used by about 35 million people in 1990; an increase of 50 per cent. since 1981.

Tottenham Court Road station we all know. It is one of the least attractive stations in London. It dates from 1900. It was built to serve the Northern Line and it now also serves the Central Line. Every year 35 million passengers use that station and it is the sixth busiest station in the whole system. Use of that station has grown by 57 per cent. between 1981 and 1989. It is quite clear that all these measures are very much needed, and needed rapidly.

The promoters of the Bill are perfectly happy to go through full planning procedures with local authorities for what is to be built above ground. I say to my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley that his interest lies in the replacement of buildings. He will certainly have an input in that regard in terms of the contemporary architecture which will replace buildings which have to be demolished. He said that the House had made its views very clear. He referred to the King's Cross Bill. I reiterate the point made earlier by my noble friend Lord Mountevans; namely, that this House has not made any views clear on the King's Cross Bill because it has not yet reached us. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is aware of the need for progress in this matter. I was interested in what he had to say.

The name of my noble friend Lady Park is often confused with my own. I do not know whether she is aware that an advance clause has been agreed with the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England. That gives her all the assurances that she sought and is to be included in the Bill in the other place. It would have gone into the Bill already but for the fact that the unopposed committee was discharged and therefore there was no opportunity to include the clause, but it has been agreed.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, perhaps I may comment on that. My noble friend is perfectly right in saying that that is the point I made in my speech. We had been obliged to negotiate on the advice of our advisers about the clause and to initiate similar negotiations as regards three other Bills. That is why I said that I support the principle behind this amendment. I still believe that the question of precedence is an urgent one. We were advised by our legal advisers to go for negotiating a protective clause because that that was all that was open to us to do effectively. That does not alter the fact that we feel strongly that it makes good sense for the principle to be accepted in future.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, it is Third Reading and noble Lords have been popping up everywhere which is rather contrary to our processes. My noble friend Lord Elton made the point that he would like to see costs awarded. As I have said, I do not think that would be reasonable because there are much less expensive ways of putting one's case. Entirely apart from whether or not I like the idea, the technical position is that costs are only awarded under the Parliamentary Costs Act 1865 where a Select Committee decides unanimously that the promoters for, or the petitioners against, a Bill referred to the committee have behaved unreasonably. Unless that has been changed a formal procedure therefore already exists.

It has to be appreciated that this Bill has gone through a full committee over a long period. Thirty-six petitions have been presented and considered, some of which have been withdrawn. English Heritage has not put its case, which is a great omission on its part. It has failed to do so to this day. The chairman of the committee has spoken very clearly about the considerations that his committee has given this Bill. It is entirely appropriate tonight that the Bill should go forward to the other place where there will be a further opportunity to raise any points that have not been covered in this House. I hope that my noble friend Lord Elton will not press his amendment.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, although it would not be proper for me to express any views on the merits of Clause 31, I should like to make a few factual observations that concern Private Bill procedure. I was very glad that tribute was paid to the work of the Select Committee under my noble friend Lord Hood. As the House has heard, the Select Committee which considered the Bill did not, in, the event, hear any argument or evidence against what was then Clause 28 of the Bill. The special report from the Select Committee explains the reasons.

Opposition to the clause was specifically included in the petitions lodged by the London boroughs of Southwark, Camden and Westminster in respect of the sites within those boroughs affected by the Bill. All three petitions were withdrawn before the committee came to hear evidence on the clause. The clause, as originally drafted, as your Lordships have heard, contained a blanket disapplication of the general statutory provisions concerning works affecting listed buildings and buildings within conservation areas. In committee the promoters submitted amendments which have the effect of specifying the buildings which are to be demolished. Clause 28, as amended in this way, has become Clause 31 in the present Bill. The Select Committee therefore took the view that the opposition to the clause had been withdrawn, at least so far as concerns proceedings in this House.

Erskine May, on page 942 of the 21st edition, makes it clear that Private Bills are occasionally debated at Third Reading and may, less frequently, be opposed. It gives some recent examples. This Bill is not opposed and has been given its Third Reading. But it is perfectly proper that this amendment should have been tabled. It is not the practice in this House to have a Report stage for Private Bills and Third Reading is therefore the only opportunity the House has to review the decisions of its Select Committees. If your Lordships wish to overturn the decision of a committee you are of course entitled to do so.

Where a decision of a Select Committee is in issue on Third Reading the House would expect to hear from the committee the reasons for its decision. I am sure the House would not lightly decide to overturn the decision of one of its committees. We have heard this evening from the chairman of the committee and from one of its members explaining the reasons for their decisions in this case. I am sure the House will consider carefully what they have said.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend and I hope that the House will consider carefully also what I am about to say, though I say that in all humility. The Bill before your Lordships is about safety. I should make it clear that nobody whose name appears on this amendment wishes to do anything to obstruct the proper course of safety. It is my belief that nothing proposed in this amendment would so obstruct the proper course of safety. I shall explain why in a moment.

I begin by referring to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, who questioned what I said about the purpose of listed building consent procedures, because that is what this is about. She had misheard me. I read from the same manuscript and in the same tone of voice I hope: the purpose of the laws passed by Parliament to protect listed buildings … is not—I repeat, not—to preserve the second-rate buildings in aspic for ever; nor is it to frustrate desirable development in any way. The laws were passed by your Lordships in order to ensure that where a building was of some merit the pros and cons of knocking it down or altering it should be properly weighed up in the light of the views of qualified people before the action was taken".

I shall be very brief, because I am sure that your Lordships are not as hungry as I am for dinner but hungry for the next stage of the main legislation before the House. May I briefly say therefore that time appears to be the essence of the argument against this Bill. It is suggested that, by depending on established, tried and trustworthy procedures, the development which is necessary to save lives would be frustrated. This Bill was introduced in 1989. The King's Cross Bill was introduced in another place in November 1988. I do not think the parliamentary procedure is any quicker than the planning procedures in other legislation. That in fact uninterlocks the planning and safety issues which were interlocked by my noble friend Lord Mountevans.

My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes skilfully sought to seduce my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley—with what success I know not—from his support of the amendment by saying that we were not talking about precedent. I think that this is a question of precedent. It is that I am most worried about, because precedent entails cost.

In a moment I shall give way and hope the Minister will tell me what he has decided in the interim. We must all pin very great importance on his statement that any procedure of the sort he suggested, which is attractive, would be exceedingly rare. I am not sure how that is to be secured—I presume by an instruction to committees —because I am sure it will not be secured if an attempt is made to secure it by exhortation to promoters.

The question of locus standi also arises because, as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes has pointed out the representations by English Heritage, which has been lambasted by not being here, could only be made in this House, which would be a disadvantage for a Bill starting in this House and a disaster for Bills starting in another place.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I ask the noble Lord to give way. That is not correct at all. English Heritage will be just as entitled to make representations in another place.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, perhaps I may also pop up, with your Lordships' leave, and say that the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, which now seems to have become a recurring theme in this debate, is a question of les absents ont toujours tort.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not know about that, but popping up has certainly become a sort of mushroom experience in this debate. I wonder whether my noble friend could at this time, if I were to sit briefly now, take an opportunity to pop up, since the precedent is now well established in this debate, and tell me something about costs.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend invites me to intervene briefly. I would emphasise that this is my preliminary advice on the matter only. We would need to discuss with the House authorities how to ensure the automatic right for English Heritage to appear before Select Committees, which would avoid the expense of petitioning. Alternatively, English Heritage could present its views in a report submitted through the Department of the Environment—a procedure which I understand was followed in the past by some public bodies. I emphasise that those are only my preliminary views.

Lord Elton

I am most grateful to my noble friend. We started with a blanket. We then had a blanket with holes in it. We now have a blanket with holes in it which is not to he used very often and, it is to be hoped, a blanket with holes in it not to be used often and the expense then to be minimal or elsewhere defrayed.

My views, which remain strong against the precedent in this Bill, are to some extent allayed by what my noble friend has said. I believe there is more work to be done in another place. I hope another place will read our proceedings as carefully as we have read its proceedings on the King's Cross Bill and that it will come to the right conclusions.

I am most grateful to your Lordships. I am sorry that it has taken so long but I think it has been worth making the point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass. —(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.