HL Deb 27 October 1994 vol 558 cc640-2

3.25 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked the Chairman of Committees:

What plans there are to preserve the Indian Bean Trees (Catalpa bignonioides) in Black Rod's garden.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

My Lords, as a result of a decision of both Houses that Black Rod's garden should become the main entrance to the Palace of Westminster for vehicles and the public, sadly it will be necessary during the construction work to cut down four of the five Catalpa trees. Three of them will be replaced and there will be five new Prunus and three Magnolia trees, as particular regard is being paid to landscaping and aesthetic factors in planning the new entrance.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for that moderately satisfactory reply. Can he tell the House whether the central tree—the one which is so beautifully framed by the arch from the Lord Chancellor's courtyard and which can be seen the whole length of the Palace of Westminster—can be left where it is?

The Chairman of Committees

Alas, no, my Lords. The one that is being retained is the one nearest the river. The four which have to go will be replaced but set slightly further back. I will ensure that the point made by the noble Lord is taken into account. We are receiving most excellent advice on how the new garden should be laid out. The current president of the Landscape Institute has been advising us throughout. Westminster City Council has the most admirable expert on trees who is also giving us his help. I am quite certain that the final result in Black Rod's garden, when it is completed next summer, will be infinitely preferable to that which prevails today.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, in these days it is possible to move trees of a great size. Indeed, it has been done in the past. Will the people who have contemplated the cutting down consider whether it would be possible to move one or two of the Catalpa trees to another place and so continue their existence, recognising that it may not succeed but would be worth while?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl is a far greater expert on Catalpa trees than I am. But it is my understanding that in London their life is very rarely beyond 50 years. To the best of our knowledge, these trees were planted at the time that the dreadful contraption was built in Black Rod's garden to conceal the boiler house beneath it which serves the whole of the Palace of Westminster. The trees were planted to obscure it. If it is true that the trees have a life of only 50 years, they will not be with us for a great deal longer because that construction was put up about 40 years ago.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, the Catalpa trees in New Palace Yard must be considerably more than 50 years old. Is the noble Lord aware that they are in considerable need of attention and loving care? Will he see that that is provided?

The Chairman of Committees

Alas, my Lords, I have no responsibility for what takes place in New Palace Yard. I shall certainly convey the noble Lord's views to the other end of the Palace of Westminster. But I have a nasty feeling that the trees may be coming to the end of their useful life. Alas, they do not live for so long as, fortunately, do so many of your Lordships.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the whole House will grieve that those four Catalpa trees must be cut down. I am concerned about their replacement. Does the noble Lord agree that in such a historic setting we would be far better advised to consider British trees rather than exotics such as Magnolia and Prunus which the noble Lord mentioned?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I do not think that I disclose a secret when I say that the noble Lord has a vast knowledge of market gardening. I dare say he may have something in mind to suggest. Without wishing to imply that he has an interest, I shall certainly take note of what he said.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what will now hide from the public gaze what he described as a dreadful construction?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we are seizing this opportunity to reduce that rather birdcage-like construction. It will be altered as a result of all the other works that we are doing and will be less offensive. It has to be there because in four or five years' time the boilers below Black Rod's garden will have to be replaced. The only way to extricate those boilers is by lifting them through Black Rod's garden. Therefore I am afraid that for eternity there will have to be some form of construction over that particular area. However, I believe that it will be possible to make it a great deal less offensive than it presently is.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, can the Chairman of Committees advise us as to whether some of the windows can be cleaned so that we can see some of the trees?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the cleaning of the windows of the Palace of Westminster is an enormously expensive operation. They are extraordinarily difficult to reach. However, we do it as frequently as we feel we can afford.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I appreciate the Minister's concern and the concern of the House for those trees. Is he equally concerned that the Forestry Commission's planting programme for new trees in this country declined from 30,000 hectares to 1,000 hectares last year?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for promoting me to ministerial status. He has also taken advantage of the fact that I shall not have to answer questions for more than another few seconds. Unfortunately, I cannot answer his question.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that the tree should perhaps be renamed the "has-been" tree?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, it is impossible to cap that "joke".

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