HL Deb 12 November 1997 vol 583 cc212-34

7.12 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lourrose to call attention to the need to take into account historical considerations, ease of access from all parts of Scotland and the convenience of Members and the public when deciding the site for the Scottish Parliament; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, until the past few weeks it has been assumed in Scotland that a Scots parliament, if it ever came about, would be sited at Edinburgh's Calton Hill, using the handsome building which was once the Royal High School, the fine 1930s Scottish Office building across the road and buildings and lands adjacent to both. It is well known that the chamber for the parliament's meetings already exists there. It was created for the Scottish assembly planned for 1979, but since that was turned down in a referendum it has been used from time to time for meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee and other bodies. Therefore, most people know from television what that chamber looks like. People have also seen on their television screens devotees earnestly keeping day and night vigils on the hill, packing up in celebratory style only when the referendum result was announced.

Therefore, there was some astonishment when recently the Secretary of State for Scotland expressed the view that Calton Hill. so long taken for granted, was too expensive. It was said to be an awkward site and the Government believed that a bright and purpose-built parliament at Leith, close to a building recently erected for civil servants, would be cheaper and more convenient. There was an immediate outcry against that idea. The Government did one of their swift somersaults and said that three sites—Calton Hill, Leith and one near Haymarket—would be examined and costed as possible options.

In Written and Oral Answers in another place, at cols. 107 and 157 of the Official Report of 4th November, the Secretary of State announced the commissioning of design feasibility studies for the three sites, costings and transport and environmental impact assessments. The firms involved were named and it was said that the work was to be completed by mid-December at a cost of £250,000.

That was probably a necessary decision, although the timescale looks tight. Since the existence of three options was revealed, the machinations of competing vested interests, not least within the Edinburgh local authority and the Port Authority, have made it difficult for the public to assess the true pros and cons. I just hope that the Secretary of State will not do as the Government did in respect of university fees and Dearing; I hope that he will not announce his decision on the day the report is published and, because of haste, get it wrong. Perhaps the Minister will assure us that he will allow time for people to study the report before any decisions are made. I say that because this is an important decision for all of us in Scotland.

Of course, cost matters greatly, but it has to be said that the whole devolution exercise will not come cheap. Comparatively small differences in the cost of the options should certainly not be the only deciding factor. If devolution is to give the satisfaction that is intended—and we must all hope that it does—surely the parliament building must be a worthy focus: a prominent building of quality on a first-class site; a beacon—as Mr. Blair likes to say—at the centre of Scotland's national life; a symbol of Scotland's particular place within the United Kingdom that benefits us all.

Obviously, it must also be as accessible as possible from all parts of Scotland and beyond for elected members, civil servants and the public. I quite see that an exciting new building has attractions, but to site it down by the sea at Leith, attractive as Leith may be, would be like asking everyone working at or visiting the United Kingdom Parliament to come and go to London's Docklands. I suggest that only the group of civil servants already housed at Leith would find that idea convenient.

To site a new building near Haymarket would certainly make more sense than Leith. Trains from the west and north stop there, it is on the right side of the city centre for the airport and space is available. But it seemed to me—I may be wrong—that the site cannot be prominent or give a feeling of "specialness", unless the Secretary of State has Donaldson's Hospital building in mind. However, I do not believe that that has ever been mentioned.

On the other hand, Calton Hill is already special. It is even more accessible by rail than Haymarket, being five minutes walk from Waverley Station where all trains to Edinburgh arrive. It is marginally less easy to reach by road from the west and north but easier from the east and south. Calton Hill's real specialness is in its position and existing buildings. On a hillside visible from much of the city, with a magnificent view of Arthur's Seat, the old Royal High School is an impressive pillared classical building, solid and unadorned in Scots style, designed by Thomas Hamilton and completed in 1829.

Inside is the 1979 debating chamber. It is U-shaped and thus appropriate for the not-so-confrontational style which we are told proportional representation will produce. That and the accommodation around were designed for an assembly of 144 members, so it should easily contain the 129 members now proposed, particularly, I suggest, as new technology demands less manpower.

Over the road in St. Andrew's House is the Scottish Office, designed for that purpose by William Tait in the style of the 1930s and opened in 1939. There will be no need for the Scottish Office any more so, with a bridge over the road or, some suggest, a tunnel, that building could house the elected members' offices and perhaps any conferences too large for the intimate high school chamber.

Appropriately, over the doors of that building—and some of your Lordships will know this—are statues by Reid Dick. They represent health, agriculture, fisheries, education and architecture or housing, all powers to be devolved to the parliament. A sixth statue seems likewise to be tailor-made: it represents statecraft. I have not seen it but I understand that there is room in a courtyard behind St. Andrew's House for some extra accommodation; for example, a media centre could be situated there. All that would mean relocating a comparatively small number of civil servants now based in St. Andrew's House. I suggest that that should not be too much of a problem since the Scottish Office departments are already scattered in various parts of the city besides Leith—at South Gyle, Saughton, Sight Hill and so on.

Apart from those buildings, Calton Hill has other features representing Scotland's key role in United Kingdom and European history. On top of the hill, visible from most of the city is the memorial to Scots who died in the Napoleonic Wars, the first memorial to Nelson erected in 1819, long before London's Nelson's Column, a Carnegie, I may say, having commanded the van at Trafalgar. There is the old City Observatory, a house by James Craig who laid out the New Town of Edinburgh, a monument to Hume and down the road, a statue of Burns. There is also, it must be said, some shady activity at night which badly needs cleaning up, high on the hill.

The Prime Minister is keen to emphasis that which is new, fresh and modern about our country. I agree with him wholeheartedly. But when you possess a site like Calton Hill, convenient to reach, sitting splendidly above the capital city, full of the past 200 years of Scotland's story and for 20 years the focus of expectation for the next chapter of history, is it right to cast aside that site? I believe that it is at least a debatable question. I much look forward to hearing the views of other noble Lords and, of course, to the Minister's reply. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

7.25 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, for introducing this debate about the location of our longed-for Scottish parliament. I welcome also the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, to a speakers' list of what is otherwise made up of the usual suspects.

It is a strange feature that the issue of the site has become a crisis only since the highly satisfactory referendum result. There was a sense of relief at the central count at the EICC when the first result, from Clackmannanshire, proved to be a magnificent 80–68 in favour, which set the tone for that long night. It is worth saying that I believe that the Scottish electorate was extremely impressed by the formation of the broadest coalition that Scotland has seen in recent years. The level of consensus achieved was noteworthy and much approved of.

I turn to the discussion of the site of the parliament. This is not the first time in this century that the UK and its Parliament has had to face up to the issue of selecting the site of a new parliament. After the Government of Ireland Act 1920, locations were sought in both Dublin and Belfast. The issue of tradition was certainly present in the consideration of a site for the admittedly ill-fated parliament of southern Ireland. However, there were no such considerations in Belfast when a greenfield and peripheral site was chosen at Stormont Castle for the parliament of Northern Ireland. I make the observation that Belfast had never previously been a capital city.

In terms of Scotland and its parliament, I believe that the arguments for a location outside of Edinburgh are now all lost. That does not mean that the claims of, for example, Glasgow, Falkirk, Sterling, Perth and Dunfermline, are not valid. They all have merit in either historical, economic or geographic terms. I accept that Edinburgh has the acceptable claim both in terms of tradition and reasonable public transport. Yes, the Scottish parliament met in Edinburgh on most occasions in the years leading up to the Union of the parliaments: and yes, Scottish public transport is reasonably orientated towards Edinburgh, although it must be said that Glasgow Airport has a greater volume of traffic and a wider network, particularly from the islands. Rail communication, where it exists, is possibly better for Edinburgh. However, it remains a long way from the remoter areas of the north and north west Scotland.

Within the city of Edinburgh, there are sites with various merits. Calton Hill has good public transport links but may be rather congested. Leith has the merits of a brownfield site for, I suspect, a shiny new parliament but at present has poor public transport links. Morrison Street car park has trains rumbling underneath it. Having suffered that phenomenon for 39 days of the Strathclyde tram inquiry at Charing Cross in Glasgow, I do not wish that on the Scottish parliament. It must be said that the Morrison Street car park has admirable links with Haymarket railway station but now with the buses from outwith Edinburgh.

Whichever site is chosen, there must be room for the parliament and its inevitable range of facilities. It would be sensible to ensure that the parliamentary estate is adequate for more than just a devolved parliament with limited powers. It would be wise to do that now as I believe that progress will be made towards either federal autonomy or independence within the next two decades, and that based on the confidence gained from home rule.

In support of that, when I see the Barnett formula being tossed aside and the President of the Board of Trade trying to stamp out internal competition, I can see that there is still along way to go in learning how to run a Union. The loss of incentives to stay in the UK will play a significant part in loosening the Union ties. We are supposed to be developing a United Kingdom that is not dominated by any one part. The benefit of UK membership is always under review and continuously needs to be proved.

I return to the parliamentary estate in Edinburgh. Will this be a physical presence chamber or will electronics be allowed in? Will we be taking the necessary steps to allow the members (or "commissioners" as I would call them) to participate from their constituencies on occasions? Alternatively, will we be insisting that the distant members have to leave home for parliamentary work on every occasion?

If I thought earlier that the Calton Hill site might be constrained by lack of space, that will ultimately be determined by the range of facilities that the parliament has. I do understand that this site includes the use of the old Scottish Office and the old GPO building. It is not just the range of offices and meeting rooms, it is also to do with the scale of the refreshment department—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

Indeed, my Lords: I would even agree with that myself!

Perhaps the facilities should be minimal and rely on the local commercial provision. I would hope that the parliament, committed to consensus politics, will adopt, from this House, the use of the long-table principle and avoid eating by political party. The prospect has to be that, if about 5,000 people work in this building in Westminster, then I suppose that 1,000 will work in the Scottish parliament buildings.

My final points are about the parliament and its symbols. First, I hope that the Scottish version of the UK coat of arms—yes, my Lords, that is the one with the motto Nemo me impune lacessit (two lions rampant with three leopards and a harp)—will be used throughout the parliament and on all its legislation. Of course, it is already used by the Scottish Office.

I also hope that the officers of the parliament will have the historic names attached to the new titles. This would be similar in style to the Leader of the House of Lords, who is also known as the Lord Privy Seal, a historic title. So, the presiding officer would have the title of Lord High Chancellor appended in brackets to his title. The first Minister, whose modern title might well be the Convenor, should have appended the title of Lord High Commissioner. So, too, might the ministerial titles of Principal Secretary and Chief Principal Secretary.

Moreover, as I have already said, I hope that the members will be referred to as, for example, the Commissioner for Clackmannanshire—or, more correctly, Ochil. Those historic links should act as an aide mémoire that this is not a parliament in the mould of the Westminster Parliament, but a new creation drawing strongly on its own historic parliamentary traditions. I wish Donald Dewar and his team well in this venture. We owe them a great deal. I hope that this issue of the site can be resolved soon so that we can get on with designing the parliament to meet the needs of the people; the first of which must be to make it accessible, both physically and politically, to the electorate and its interest groups.

7.33 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, the importance of the decisions as to where to site the new Scottish parliament, and what form of design it should take, cannot be underestimated. Therefore, my noble friend Lady Carnegy is to be congratulated upon initiating tonight's debate. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, referred to the "usual suspects" being on the list of speakers. I am not sure that that is entirely correct as some of those usual suspects are missing. In particular, when one looks at the Benches behind the Minister, one notices not only that there are no speakers but also that there are no listeners. It is a matter of some regret that those who have promoted a devolved parliament with, one has to say, a measure of eloquence and a considerable measure of success, have not found it possible to be with us tonight to give us the benefit of their view; and, indeed, to give the Minister the benefit of their support. One can only wonder why they are not present. However, in the hope that this might be a constructive debate, I shall refrain from speculating as to why they are not with us. But, as I said, it is a matter of some regret.

As the parliamentary Answers last week made clear, the Government are currently considering three options. They are to be congratulated on their decision to consult widely on those options. I have seen some of the preliminary papers and clearly much more detailed work needs to be done. However, the wish to consult with other political parties and other interested parties is to be welcomed.

If a decision were to be taken as to location and design, I understand that it would not be possible to have the building complete and fully operational by the date when it is anticipated that the new Scottish parliament will start its work. For that reason, some temporary accommodation will be necessary and that will need to be fitted out to allow for a parliamentary chamber, committee rooms and all the ancillary offices required by a parliamentary assembly. I hope that the Minister will be in a position to confirm in his reply that that is likely to be the situation. If it is, I venture to suggest that another option ought to be considered; namely, to wait until the parliament is up and running before any final decisions are taken, certainly so far as concerns the overall design of the building.

Much was made during the referendum campaign—and understandably so—of how this would be a new form of parliamentary assembly which would evolve new techniques for dealing with parliamentary business. That theme has already been mentioned by the noble Earl. If that is correct, it seems to me that there would be great value in waiting to see what those procedures are, how the committee structure evolves and what role non-members of the parliament are to have in the work of committees. There are also less important matters, such as whether members will wish to dine together or separately to be considered. Indeed, various aspects of the functioning of the building ought to be put into the design and construction of the new building that will be required.

I say a "new building" because in my view it is impossible—and regrettably so—to alter the old Royal High School building and make it into a suitable parliamentary chamber. I worked in that building for about four years in the early 1980s as an advocate depute. Noble Lords will recall that, in anticipation of an assembly coming into being at the end of the 1970s, the building was purchased by the then government and fitted out to a very high standard for the proposed assembly. In the event, it was not required and, having lain vacant for a while, the Crown Office, the Lord Advocate's department in Scotland, occupied it. In a way it was a pleasant building in which to work. It had wonderful car parking facilities, to which even the lowliest members of staff had access, especially on a Saturday morning when they wished to shop in Princes Street. However, it was quite obviously unsuitable. Many of the rooms are very large, while others are very small. Without completely destroying the character of the building, both internally and externally, I see no way in which it could be used, however regrettable that may be to those who are committed to the success of a devolved parliament. Accordingly, a new building is required. Drawing on my experience regarding how long it takes to design, construct and bring into operation new courts of law, it is easy to understand how that cannot be achieved by early in the year 2000.

I hope therefore that if my understanding of the position is correct, the Government will at least give some consideration to this fourth option of deferring any final decision until the parliament has been elected. That is not to suggest that work should cease. Clearly much work could be done in the interim on issues of land ownership, planning and the traffic management of the various designs that are being submitted. But, ultimately, I believe it is for the members of the new parliament to decide what building they wish to occupy and in particular what design it should have. Normally if people are buying a house or moving into new offices, it is they who take the important decisions rather than others on their behalf. I suggest that there might be some prudence in following such a course notwithstanding the importance of the decisions which lie ahead.

7.40 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, in the debate on the Motion that the referendum Bill should pass in July, I poured scorn on the idea that any new building was going to be ready by January 2000, and I am amused to discover that now I am not alone in holding that view. But four months on, I am wondering whether there is really any necessity to have the building ready for January 2000. After all, the devolution Bill, which we were told last summer was drafted and all ready to start in another place in October—hence the rush to hold the referendum—has apparently not even finished being drafted yet, let alone started its journey through Parliament. At this rate it will have to be put off until next Session, unless this one is prolonged possibly into 1999.

At that time, last summer, many possible sites were being canvassed, and now we appear to be down to three possibilities. The trouble is that we do not have enough information. We are told that the Haymarket could be developed for £26 million, by January 2000, with a glass building. I cannot help wondering what the quality of the building would be, if it can be run up so quickly and cheaply. What would it be like to work in a glass building? Rather like working in a goldfish bowl, I suspect. Most of the glass buildings I see are remarkably characterless, and I should not like our parliament to be just like another multinational corporation's headquarters. I think that the unattractive surroundings of the Morrison Street car park are a considerable drawback. No doubt with time, they could be acquired, bulldozed and redeveloped, but is the cost of doing that included in the £26 million? Where are the cars at present using the car park to go? Where will the cars of members of the Scottish parliament and staff go? An underground car park would seem to be the answer, but—as, I think the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, pointed out—the railway runs through a tunnel underneath the site, and quite apart from the annoyance that the noise of the trains would cause to the members of parliament and those others working there, that could make the creation of a car park difficult, and there could be a security problem in a car park shared with the public. Again, was the cost of a car park included in the £26 million? Admittedly it is central, but that is the only advantage I can see, not being sold on the idea of a modern building.

Turning to the Leith site, again I ask what was included in the £30 million? What sort and quality of building was contemplated? Was the acquisition and demolition of all the seedy tenements round about included? Was the construction of a new road, and possibly a rail link with the Waverley Station included? I suspect not. And we have to consider how long all that would take, as well as the cost.

The Calton Hill site is undeniably the most expensive on the face of it, at £40 million. Again we need to know what we are getting for that £40 million. What we already have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, has said, is a very fine building by Thomas Hamilton, with a fine dignified debating chamber. I think this is more important than might at first appear. If the buildings and debating chamber of our parliament do not have dignity and some degree of gravitas, the conduct of its members will be likely to leave much to be desired. Surroundings do make a difference to people's conduct, just as formal dress leads to better conduct. If Members of another place were allowed to wear jeans, sweatshirts and trainers, they would be brawling all over the place like a lot of playground layabouts.

But then we are told that there is inadequate room for the public or the press. I wonder whether nowadays that is as important as it used to be. After all the public need not attend a debate now to hear what is going on, it can all be televised. The public only need access for amusement, and that could be rationed. I wonder whether the press could not work by video link, possibly even from another building, such as St. Andrew's House or even further afield. What kind of link with St. Andrew's House is envisaged? What car parking facilities are envisaged?

I know the motor car is no longer politically correct, and that it is hoped that everyone is going to arrive by public transport or on foot. Most of the staff, who will be local residents, probably will, but quite a lot of MSPs will not. They will use their cars to come from their constituencies on Monday, with their luggage, and to go back to them on Thursday or Friday. They may need them for parliamentary business during the week too. You really must allow for that. Taxis are not easy in Edinburgh. You can easily queue for one for 20 minutes or half an hour at Waverley Station and the same applies at the airport, where the organisation is abysmal, and you stand in the rain too.

No site is ever going to be ideal, but I certainly come down heavily on the side of Calton Hill and the High School. If we were doing this 200 years ago, and the services of those two greatest of British architects, Robert and James Adam, were available, it would be quite a different matter. Then I should plump possibly for the Haymarket site. But they are not, and I doubt whether there is an architect in the world today whom I should consider capable of designing a suitable, dignified building. Last, but by no means least, it appears to be the option which the people of Scotland favour, and I think that some attention should be paid to their wishes.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is to be warmly congratulated on raising this issue. If I may, I wish to support the conclusion of the noble Lady who has just spoken in favour of Calton Hill. I was for some 25 years an elected representative in Edinburgh and I believe that the people of Edinburgh have a strong preference for Calton Hill for three reasons.

First, Calton Hill is at the heart of Scotland's capital and there is excellent access to it. Not only are the central railway station and central bus station extremely close, but before long there will be a guided busway from the airport to St. Andrew's Square. The citizens of Edinburgh want to have a parliament which is readily accessible to people from all over Scotland and elsewhere. No other site can compare with Calton Hill in terms of ready access.

Secondly, Calton Hill is the obvious city centre site with the magnificent backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the cupola of St. Giles Cathedral, the Royal Mile, the City Council and Holyrood Palace, as well as the National Gallery and the Princes Street Gardens. Much of the city centre near Calton Hill is a world heritage site. Calton Hill itself is a dramatic site. It can be seen from every direction in Edinburgh. It has been described as, an upthrust of volcanic rock rich in national symbolism at the heart of the capital". We have already heard about the unfinished parthenon standing as a memorial to those who gave their lives in the Napoleonic wars. As for the monument to Nelson nearby, the view from the top of it is one of the most impressive in Europe. The Scottish Office itself at St. Andrew's House with its huge bronze doors with Scottish saints engraved upon them looks like a place to which men and women would wish to come to make representations and to obtain redress of grievances. Calton Hill has the atmosphere and the aura associated with national affairs and as one would expect Edinburgh Council supports a parliament on this site. Here is a site in the Athens of the north to which the people of Scotland can journey with ease and in which they could have great pride.

Thirdly, the proposals of the EDI Group, the development and investment group owned by the city council, has identified an effective solution to the problem. Its proposals would link Calton Hill and St. Andrew's House and would create a debating chamber behind St. Andrew's House with a panoramic view of Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Palace, right up to the castle. The plan would have parking arrangements on site and appropriate media provision, accompanied by facilities for the best use of information technology.

St. Andrew's House is a splendid, Grade A listed building, with a capacity to adapt to Scotland's needs. Adjacent to it is the governor's house of the old Calton Prison. It could be converted into a Speaker's residence.

The Royal High School, although not part of the parliament plan, is an important building, and there is no doubt that it could, and would, be adapted to other related uses associated with the needs of the public.

Also, there are many vacant buildings in Waterloo Place, including the GPO building. A positive decision to locate the parliament in Calton Hill would mean that those wonderful buildings would have significant and relevant roles during the next century.

I understand that the proposals put forward are well within the White Paper budget of £40 million. I venture to suggest that the Scots are looking for quality, but also expect value for money.

I hope that the Government will press ahead with the design and feasibility study in relation to Calton Hill, to meet the required specification and operational needs of the parliament and the traffic and environmental needs.

So far as the site is concerned, in terms of Scotland's history and image abroad, there is one compelling and extremely awe-inspiring site which looks the part of a Scots parliament. That site is in the city centre—it is Calton Hill.

7.52 p.m.

The Earl of Kintore

My Lords, I come from Aberdeen; I am afraid, therefore, that I can add very little to the excellent knowledge of Edinburgh displayed by the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk.

I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, for initiating the debate this evening. In preparing for the debate, I sought the views of a number of people, including my dentist, who is an Aberdonian, trained in Edinburgh. He was firmly of the view that the parliament should be in the former Royal High School because of the public money already spent on its adaptation. In answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, he went on to say that, if the building is too small, then the number of members of the parliament should be reduced. When I was next able to speak, I suggested that although a reduction in members was still politically possible, it was, equally, highly unlikely.

A parliament building must register in the consciousness of its citizens. They must be able to have a memory of the place. I suggest that most people in the United Kingdom are aware of this Parliament; and the people of Scotland will be aware of their own parliament, provided it is housed within a building which has day-to-day visibility as an obvious parliament. That is why I suggest that, of the three options, Calton Hill appears the best. It was certainly favoured by everyone to whom I spoke last weekend.

One query that arose, and which I was unable to answer, related to the problem of security. I think most noble Lords were first made aware of this at the Report stage of the referendum Bill on 22nd July 1997. when the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said: An issue which now has a higher profile than formerly is that of security. Those who know the location of the Royal High School will recognise that it poses significant problems for security. It may he possible to overcome those problems".—I Official Report, 22/7/97; col. 1368.] Provided that it does not comprise security, is it in order to inquire where the threat to security is coming from, and whether much the same threat would apply to both of the other locations?

The convenience of members in getting to the parliament is important. On a good day it takes me just over three hours to cover the 500-plus miles from my home in Aberdeenshire to your Lordships' House by car, plane and Underground. But if travelling by car, even from parts of Aberdeenshire, one would be well short of Edinburgh for the same travelling time. Members of the parliament living in the remoter areas would have many hours to travel. A solution for those, say, needing to drive for more than four-and-a-half hours, could be to use a helicopter. That would not apply to that many members; and if the helicopter could also be used for public service, for example as an air ambulance or in support of the police and mountain rescue at weekends and during recesses, the cost might not be as high as at first appears. I hope that the Minister does not regard that suggestion as pie in the sky, but more as MSPs in the sky, and a perfectly reasonable method of getting to parliament in the 21st century.

In conclusion, let us be characteristically frugal and house the parliament within existing buildings, possibly linking, by an overhead bridge, old St. Andrew's House to the old high school. New buildings are always over budget and late on completion; and they take time to achieve the character which a parliament building requires and deserves.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Rowallan

My Lords, I must declare a minor interest in this debate in so far as I have already declared that I hope one day to be a candidate. It is an uphill struggle to be a candidate for this particular parliament—especially, I fear, when one sits on this side of the House. Nevertheless, I have declared that as my intention. It is sad that many of those who should be taking part in a debate to decide the seat of the new parliament are not present. The absence of Members on the other side of the Chamber has already been mentioned. I seem to remember the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, stating strongly that this would be a marvellous occasion for women. It is sad that we have not had the benefit of hearing the noble Baroness's views on what should be done.

This debate is divided into two parts—historical considerations, which immediately take us from Stirling to Edinburgh, Perth, and to a lesser extent Dumbarton; and ease of access, with Glasgow and Edinburgh being the two most accessible places in Scotland. The name that occurs on both sides is Edinburgh. I believe that we all now accept that that is probably where the parliament will be. And that is where it should be, because it is the capital of Scotland—much as Glasgow would suit me a great deal better, living, as I do, in Ayrshire.

All three suggested sites—Leith, Calton Hill and Haymarket—as we heard, have pluses and minuses. To me, Leith has no pluses at all. It is out of the way, there are no direct rail connections, and it is a backwood. I cannot see any future there at all unless people want to travel there by boat—not the form of transport that one normally thinks of!

Lord Sewel

My Lords, if Leith is so unattractive, will the noble Lord explain why the Scottish Conservative Party has its headquarters there?

Lord Rowallan

My Lords, I cannot answer that; I have no intimate knowledge. No doubt it will be answered from my Front Bench, whose Members will be very much involved in that decision.

Calton Hill exists and, as the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, pointed out, has already had a great deal of money spent on it. It must therefore be considered. However, it is very expensive to change; and getting a car into the centre of Edinburgh is becoming more and more difficult. The Haymarket has a great deal going for it, but much against it, as we heard during the course of the debate.

I seriously wonder whether the best answer is to go for a complete greenfield site and a completely new location—near Ingleston, for example, or somewhere such as that, where there is a ring-road and links to the M.8 and M.9. There should be a spur on the railway to the airport, and everything could come together there very nicely.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon says that we should wait to decide how and where until the Parliament is to sit. I believe that that would be a mistake. We must show the people of Scotland that we are moving towards the parliament which the people of Scotland have indicated that they want.

As I said in an earlier debate, the parliament will start sitting at about the time of the millennium. Would this not be a good project into which to put the millennium money? Would this not be a perfect opportunity for the new Labour Government, with its vision of a Britain with parliaments of different natures throughout the country, to build a monument to the Scottish people, a future for the Scottish people, a chamber built specifically for the use of the most modern parliament in Great Britain, probably the most modern parliament in the world today? I believe that that is something worth considering. There are plenty of sites to be considered. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to find an architect to design a building of which we could be proud?

8.01 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I have enjoyed the debate and congratulate my neighbour, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, for introducing it. It is very nice to see the Tory party taking a real interest in the Scottish Parliament, or at any rate in the site for it.

I was delighted to see a comment in the newspaper by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that the Parliament will last a long time and £ 1 million or £2 million of capital expenditure should not stop it being placed in the right position, both historically and as regards access. That is a real conversion, which I am delighted to see. I welcome him to the ranks of supporters.

Perhaps the Minister will speak to his Back Benchers. There is not one present. It must be quite shaming for him.

As regards the site for the Parliament, I agree with the criticism of Leith. Leith is a wonderful place. There are bits of rocks at the pier of Leith. I dare say that Sir Patrick Spens "sailed from there to Noraway" across the foam. But it is not an attractive place, I am afraid, in spite of the fact that the Tory Party headquarters are there. The building would be on a derelict site, mainly owned, I understand, by the port authority. It would be a difficult place to get to. It is true that there are one or two good restaurants, but the attraction stops there.

Haymarket is not a bad alternative. It is near the Scottish Liberal Democrats' office, which I have no doubt would be extremely helpful.

However, there is no question but that everyone favours the historic site of Calton Hill. I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, is against it, having worked there. He said that it was a very pleasant place in which to work. I believe that that is an argument which far outweighs the one about such things as large rooms and small rooms. As with a house, if you like the place in which you work, it is better to work there than in a highly efficient building on which you look with dislike.

When the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said that surroundings were important to the quality of debate, I thought of the Chamber of the House of Commons along the corridor: the surroundings there do not always influence the quality of debate all that much.

There is no doubt that the historic site of Calton Hill has a lot to recommend it, being in the centre of Edinburgh. The noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, knows it well from his period in office. He put the matter eloquently and with a great deal of knowledge. It is all there; and it is there, undoubtedly, that we should be.

There is no doubt that a greenfield site is cheaper. The noble Earl, Lord Kintore, and others have said that money had been spent already. There is nothing more expensive than altering an old building. A new building is much cheaper, as I know perfectly well. My wife and I recently bought a house and altered it considerably and we know that that was more expensive than building a new one. However, in this case the expense would definitely be worth it. It is right and proper that history should be considered. We shall be providing a centre for a new type of parliament. I am full of hope that we might devise something unique.

I have heard that a large number of directors of Scottish businesses are thinking of standing for the parliament. In the past I have found that people are busy and when you ask them to be a candidate they say, "I approve of your policy, but I have no time; I must develop my career".

Calton Hill is an attractive building. If we can provide proper facilities—including, for example, a good dining-room for members and their friends—1 believe that it could house a parliament of which the people of Scotland could be proud.

8.07 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am sure that all those who have taken part in the debate and who have stayed to listen are grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour for introducing this important subject. I cannot resist the temptation—a temptation not resisted by one or two previous speakers—to note that the debate has been engaged in by the Liberal Democrats, the Cross-Benchers and the Conservatives. Until the Minister speaks, not a single Labour Back-Bench Member of your Lordships' House will have taken part. Indeed, not a single one is present to listen to the debate. Many of the Government's Back-Bench friends have been outspoken in their advocacy of a Scottish Parliament. I should have thought that they would want to engage in a debate about this important decision. I do not intend this to turn into a party political point, because it is not: it is about where we site the parliament, a parliament to which all the parties will send members, a parliament for the people of Scotland. It is a shame that, for example, the co-chairman of the Constitutional Convention on the Labour side, who normally graces us with her presence and her opinions on these matters, has chosen to do neither. Unlike my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, I cannot resist being uncharitable enough to wonder if they have not been given instructions as to the line to take. Perhaps their bleepers have not gone off and they are therefore totally unable to get up and make a speech. That said, I shall leave the point aside. I hope that the people of Scotland will notice that the Labour Party do not seem to wish to engage in this debate.

I was surprised, as I think many others were, when the new Government indicated that Calton Hill would not necessarily be the site of the Scottish parliament. After 20 years in which the party opposite has advocated a Scottish parliament and given us all to believe that it would be based in Calton Hill, it seems a little odd that suddenly, once they have achieved power and started to think about putting it into effect, they say that that may not be the case. As my noble friend Lady Carnegy said, people have looked on Calton Hill and the old Royal High School as the potential site for this parliament since 1978. News bulletins in Scotland have used the façade of Calton Hill as part of their introduction. As my noble friend said, from 1992 a vigil took place 24 hours a day outside the old Royal High School in favour of having a Scottish parliament. So it seems a little odd that it has taken the Government 20 years to decide that this site is not suitable after all. I find that very hard to believe.

I agree with one of my noble friends who said that perhaps this ought to be left to the Scottish parliament itself. After all, this is what devolution is about, I kept being told, and I should have thought that there was an argument for saying "We will prepare the plans, we will ask for the various suggestions to be worked out but the decision at the end of the day ought to be taken by the people who will be entrusted with the government of Scotland for the years to come." That seems to me to be perfectly reasonable because whenever a decision is taken by the Government now, unless it is to use the existing debating Chamber and facilities, they will not have a building ready for 1999, spring of, when I suspect the elections will be held. Dare I say, it will probably not be ready until well into the year 2000 or 2001 so, for a year or two's delay, I should like to hear the Minister explain why this decision ought not to be left to the Scottish parliament itself.

We are told in Chapter 10 of the White Paper, at 10.6, what is wrong with the Calton Hill site and I shall deal with one or two of those issues. The noble Lord, the Earl of Kintore, mentioned security. I must say that I take air or refreshments on the terraces of this Parliament in the summer time and I cannot see that the security in Calton Hill will be any different from the security here: we are certainly overlooked by busy bridges and by people opposite. I do not believe that it would be impossible to move the public fences on the Calton Hill back from the immediate environment of the Royal High School in order to deal with the problem, if indeed there is one. Perhaps more flippantly, I wonder who they think they are when they think there will be a terrific danger to their security.

My noble friend Baroness Carnegy gave a clear exposition, as did my noble friend Lord Selkirk, of the historical importance of this particular site. There it is: it stands in a very prominent place, the second most prominent site in Edinburgh after the castle, seen by everybody—and I am not even talking about the views out the way, I am talking about the people looking up. They will see their parliament on its hill, and I think that is very important. I suspect that unless you are sailing about the docks in Leith you will not see a parliament based at Leith. But you are going to see it in Edinburgh. It is an important place. It has St. Andrew's House adjacent to it. I worked in St. Andrew's House for some five-and-a-half years as a Minister. It is an excellent building, an excellent example of the architecture of the 1930s. I am satisfied that it would make perfectly good accommodation for Scottish Members of Parliament and their staffs. Perhaps the officials at the Scottish Office do not want to move out of St. Andrew's House and that is one of the reasons why the Government have been persuaded to think again about this issue.

Access is one point that I want to deal with, because I do think it is very important. I visited Edinburgh last Friday. I walked to the City Chambers from Waverley Station because I had to meet somebody there. I then had to go to Leith. The Conservative Party headquarters are at Leith partly because it was a good economic bargain but I have to say that the one thing which was not taken into account was transport. On my way to Leith the taxi driver said quite quickly, "The traffic down here to Leith is diabolical, sir." So that, I think, is a good point. It would not be a convenient site for members drawn from all parts of Scotland. That is a serious defect which the Government will have to address when looking at Leith. It is a motor driven site, whereas for most of Scotland, most people would not dream of going to a site at Calton Hill other than by railway, which is hugely convenient and no hassle. Leith will be difficult to get to and will involve driving through Edinburgh. That is a city in which, whether for good or ill, the local authority wants to reduce car use. Frankly, they will not be helped to reduce car use if the parliament is built at Leith. So I am sure, all other things being equal, that the Calton site is by far the best site.

Cost may be a problem for the Government. I can see that that is one of the difficulties the noble Lord, the Minister, is going to flag up. I am not sure whether it would be worth saying to somebody "What can you do for £40 million?" and then making the decision of whether the advantages of being sited in central Edinburgh are worth the disadvantages of what you might lose if you only have £40 million to spend. We have to look carefully at that. Of course I understand that the Government will say that they do not have a vast amount of money to throw at this. We did warn them, I have to say, during the referendum, that setting up this parliament was going to cost them money. They cannot now walk away from it and somehow pretend that it will not cost them any money. It has to be done properly and correctly. It seems to me that under that £40 million price tag we ought to be able to get a good enough building in Calton Hill to do the job properly for Scotland—for all parts of Scotland.

I have nothing against Leith, although I notice that in their little pictures they have sited "Britannia" in the dock. I have to say that Glasgow will have something to say about that when they register this proposition. I favour the "Britannia" going to the river of her birth rather than being docked in the port of Leith. That is another matter but we must think about history: Leith's historical importance in Scotland is great but nothing like that of Edinburgh. Those of us who do not come from Edinburgh and frankly have little affinity with it, view it as the capital city. I, for my part, and I think an awful lot of people—and the noble Minister has heard the clear message from their Lordships this evening—feel that this parliament ought to be in the capital city. That means in the centre of Edinburgh and not on the edges.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, on giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue and, of course, the various different views that have been drawn out during the course of our debate. I am reminded of the old adage in politics that one's opponents sit opposite you and one's enemies sit behind you. For most of the evening, I have had no enemies.

It is also customary in a debate such as this to say that one has found it interesting. This evening that would be a gross understatement. I have been sitting here in utter amazement. It has been, in a way, a surreal debate. From time to time I have pinched myself to make sure that I am still in touch with reality. Two months ago the party opposite were warning us that a Scottish Parliament was a threat to the Union, the end of civilisation as we knew it, and not even worth a marquee on the meadows. Now it is to be an adornment, an adornment that is to be cherished: put the price to one side, with no restraint at all.

I, of course, welcome the constructive and positive approach being taken by members of the party opposite and do so in the spirit of inclusiveness and consensual decision-making. And that is proper. In all seriousness, I recognise that the party opposite has reflected on the decisive endorsement of the proposals made by the people of Scotland and are now reacting, quite rightly and quite properly, in a positive and constructive way, and I wish to pay tribute to that. But in some ways it makes the conversion on the road to Damascus appear as a long considered and deliberate decision. I want to be as generous as possible and not to be churlish, but members of the party opposite would have greater credentials in arguing their point if they showed a little humility with regard to getting it wrong to start out with. They should let a little time pass before they present themselves as the guardians of the Scottish parliamentary heritage. But now I welcome them to the project. It is good to have them on board.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I wonder whether, after the debate, the noble Lord might like to consult his right honourable and honourable friends at the Scottish Office—some of them at least—who, since the referendum result, have gone out of their way to express the hope that the Conservative Party will engage positively in this debate and accept the result of the referendum. Being a democratic party, we have done the latter, and we are now doing the former. I should have thought that the noble Lord would warmly welcome that. Certainly, I hope his honourable friends will do so.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I thought I was doing that, in a kind and generous way. We shall talk about it afterwards—down some dark alley.

It may help your Lordships if I set out briefly the background to the issue of where the parliament is to be sited, the latest position and our proposed next steps. In the White Paper, Scotland's Parliament, which was published during the summer, we announced that the parliament would be located in Edinburgh. The point has been made by noble Lords that any idea of not locating it in Edinburgh is now out of court. Edinburgh is the natural centre of government in Scotland and therefore the fitting home for the parliament. We also announced that we would be considering various options for a suitable site for the parliament building. That has not been seriously challenged. It is quite proper to look at a range of possible options.

Many people understandably assumed that the Old Royal High School building on Calton Hill would be the automatic choice for the site. As I say, that is perfectly understandable given that it was prepared for a similar purpose, to house a parliament in the 1970s. During the wasted years of the previous Administration, it remained a symbol of hope in Scotland. Clearly, there is great sentimental attachment to it in the hearts of the people of Scotland. However, time has moved on since then, in much the same way as our vision of a parliament has evolved.

We want the new parliament to be accessible to the public, both in terms of physical accessibility and also in terms of making the workings and activities of the parliament accessible. Making the best use of modern technology and electronic communication will also play an especially important role. The parliament should be a place where elected members can meet, in a suitable environment, to carry out their business. They should he able to meet their constituents, to discuss local matters of concern, and also representatives of various lobbying groups and organisations. It is also important that the accommodation should be as flexible as possible to be able to adapt to the changing needs of the parliament in the years to come. We are embarking on a new venture and we must allow for the fact that those leading that venture—that is, the elected members of the parliament—will want to influence the outcome.

The old Royal High School building, I am bound to say, is severely disadvantaged in these respects. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, drew our attention to some of the disadvantages. In particular it is unsuitable at present as a permanent home for the parliament and lacks the flexibility needed for successful conversion. The noble and learned Lord made the point that once one starts trying to convert it in order to make it suitable, one loses the whole ethos, charm and grandeur of the place.

Of course, this is not to say that we have discounted the area around the old Royal High School or, indeed, its possible use as part of a wider development. My right honourable friend has considered many sites in and around Edinburgh, and these have now been narrowed down to three leading sites, to which many noble Lords have referred. First, a development centred on Regent Road, which would probably involve making use of St. Andrew's House, the headquarters of the Scottish Office since the 1930s, and its rather lavatorial interior. This has been put forward by Edinburgh Development and Investment. Secondly, a site at Leith near to the new Scottish Office building at Victoria Quay has been proposed by Forth Ports Plc. A third site at Haymarket is proposed for development by Kantel MacDonald Orr.

My right honourable friend has already received presentations detailing the proposals for the sites at Calton Hill and Leith. Officials have met with those promoting the Haymarket site and a presentation is scheduled for later this month about the Haymarket proposals. The main opposition parties in Scotland have been briefed on progress to date and my right honourable friend has undertaken to keep them informed as developments progress. I am sure we can progress this issue in that bipartisan and non-partisan way.

It is clear from the information we have received that each site presents both advantages and disadvantages. There is not one clear runner where all the advantages stack up on one side. We are, of course, aware that public opinion, expressed in letters to my right honourable friend and to the Scottish newspapers, is very much in favour of siting the parliament in the city centre, most probably on Calton Hill. Equally, there are important questions to answer in terms of the feasibility, within acceptable costs, of converting historic buildings, the point that was alluded to, although in part dismissed, by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. Once one gets into an old building one does know what one is going to find and what will be the costs involved in conversion and rectification.

The sites at Leith and Haymarket are both cleared and would therefore enable a new building to be constructed. As a number of noble Lords indicated, the Haymarket site is rather more constrained than Leith and it might be more costly but it has good rail and bus links, in particular to west and northern Scotland. That is why my right honourable friend also wishes to look at options for building an entirely new building, purpose built to house the parliament.

There are many other factors to consider and my right honourable friend has therefore decided to seek more detailed information before making any decision about the eventual site. Noble Lords will be aware that an announcement was made last week in the other place that design feasibility studies on each of the three sites have been commissioned. These studies, which will be carried out by separate architectural practices, will be subject to independent comparative costings.

The cost of the parliament building is clearly a key factor. It is essential that we achieve value for money. The White Paper acknowledged that it was not possible to say precisely how much the parliament building would cost until the location and the nature of the parliament was settled and until the most suitable funding option was chosen. In the White Paper we identify a budget of about £40 million. We have to bear that in mind when we make the final selection.

We hope to stick to that estimate but, based on the information which we have for the three different sites, the costs do vary quite considerably. There is also some variation between some of our own estimates and those of the organisations promoting the various sites. This, in part at least, reflects the different assumptions which are being used. By commissioning the design studies we will be given a more accurate view, in particular as to whether the proposals put forward are feasible. Subjecting the feasibilities to independent scrutiny of the costs will also provide us with a clearer indication of the final costs. The choice of site for the parliament has environmental impacts and, certainly today, when sustainability and the environment are key issues, they cannot be put to one side.

We are committed to putting the environment at the heart of government and we expect the building itself should make as small an environmental impact as possible. The environmental impacts of the decision fall under two main headings—the impact of the building itself, and the effect of its location. On the first of these, different buildings will have different total energy use and energy efficiency, and they will have varying effects in terms of the amount of material used in their construction.

On the second point, people will obviously need to come and go to the parliament building wherever it is situated. That is the point of physical accessibility, as a number of noble Lords have said. That will have implications for the transport system and also for air pollution, which is now one of the most pressing problems on the environmental agenda. All these studies are expected to be completed in December, after which we hope to be in a position to reach a final view taking into account all these important considerations.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will these studies be made public?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I shall write to the noble Lord on that matter and clarify it to him directly.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, that is an absolutely critical question and it is one that I asked as well. If it is really uncertain, that makes a difference. The people of Scotland must be involved here. It is absolutely no good confronting them with a final decision without publishing the report. That is very important indeed.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, the basis on which the Government make any decision will be subject to scrutiny and debate and, quite properly. questions can be asked at that time. We shall have to see the extent to which, at the end of the studies, information can be made broadly available. I take the point that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, have made. I shall return to that issue subsequently. I can give an assurance at this stage—and not 10 seconds ago!—that we shall be in a position to publish at least a summary. So the basis on which the decision is made will be available.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, as the Minister has been unable to give as full an answer as some of us would like, will he undertake to look at the legal implications of the environmental assessment? It is my understanding that a project of this magnitude will not only require the assessment to be made public, but must afford an opportunity to the public to comment on it in order that the Government comply with their obligation to the European Union.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I> certainly would not wish to tangle with the noble and learned Lord on a matter of law. It is certainly a matter that I shall take up with my colleagues.

In successfully calling for this debate the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, rightly drew attention to accessibility. As I said earlier, the White Paper stated that the parliament building must be secure but also accessible to all including people with special needs". I hope that reassures the noble Baroness that accessibility is something which we accept needs to be addressed very carefully, both in terms of travelling to and from the parliament and accessibility within the parliament building itself for those working in and visiting it.

One thing which I have not mentioned is timing. It has always been clear that permanent accommodation for the parliament is unlikely to be completed in time for the first full sitting in 1999 or early 2000, though we are, of course, aiming to have it ready as soon as possible thereafter. We are already looking for suitable interim accommodation. Once a decision on the site has been made, a competition will be held to ensure that we have the best possible design for the building to meet the needs of the parliament.

I close by addressing the point made about historical considerations. I understand them and I am sensitive to them. Scotland has a proud and long history. That must not be lost sight of. Indeed, it should be properly reflected in the parliament building itself. The new parliament building must also, however, reflect the modern world of which Scotland is such a successful part. It must be a parliament which future generations can be proud of. A careful balance must therefore be struck.

My right honourable friend has made it clear that his mind is open on the most suitable site and, until the results of the studies which have been commissioned are known, there is little point in predetermining the eventual site. The good, strong and new points that have been made during this debate will feed in to that discussion and the eventual decision. I can assure all noble Lords that their points of view will be very much taken into account.

8.36 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in this debate. It has been a very interesting one because we have heard a number of different points of view. Some noble Lords knew more about the state of the research and the internal conversation on the subject than others. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay knew more than I did and so did my noble friend Lord Selkirk. That was interesting because they had developed their thinking rather further. My noble and learned friend clearly did not much like working at the high school and I understand that. I believe that something can be done about it if it is necessary.

The general vote of all noble Lords was, I believe, either for Calton Hill or to wait until the members of the Scots parliament have assembled and then decide. There was not a great vote for Haymarket. In fact, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, gave us something of a warning about what will happen if trains run underneath the parliament. I hope that the Minister will take note of that. It will no doubt come into the environmental assessment which he is hoping to receive.

The Minister certainly told us some things which I did not know and we are very grateful to him. He was totally unsupported by his colleagues on the Labour Benches who are supposed to be keenest of all on this project. It was difficult for him. He did his best. He gave us a lot of extremely useful information. He expressed surprise that noble Lords on this side of the House were interested in this project. I believe that he underestimates us as people. A number of us have been in politics for a long time. When we believe that an idea is likely to be difficult to work we warn and point out the difficulties. We have been doing that for some time. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall be very energetic at looking at the legislation when it comes. We shall do our very best to make it workable for the people of Scotland. If we believe that it is not workable we shall not hesitate to say so. We shall also look at the plans for the parliament because they must be not only suitable, but workable as well. It is very important indeed that this parliament is exciting for people.

I hope that the noble Lord will convey to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister that we of course understand that modern buildings can be exciting and that the parliament should also be exciting, forward looking and good for a long time, but that does not mean that it cannot be in old buildings. Any Scot knows that. Any Scot with any sense of history knows that. I hope that we shall not be too carried away by modernism because that could be a mistake. I do not say that it would necessarily be a mistake—only that it could be. I thank all noble Lords who have participated and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.