HL Deb 15 July 2004 vol 663 cc1351-3
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

asked the Chairman of Committees:

Which body was responsible for approving the erection and design of the ticket booth on College Green.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, Westminster City Council, after consultation with English Heritage, approved the erection of a temporary ticket booth on College Green and gave advice about the nature of the final design. Within that limitation, the design was approved by the joint visitor route steering group, in conjunction with the Parliamentary Estates Directorate. The booth is the same as that erected during the Summer Recess in 2003. Options for a permanent ticket office continue to be explored.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some people have described the booth as a cross between a hot-dog stand and a hoopla stall? I would not go that far myself, but does he believe it to be in keeping with the dignity and beauty of the Houses of Parliament?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I quite appreciate that the design of the booth may not be to everyone's tastes; presumably, the architect liked it. However, given security considerations and the pressure of space within the Palace, a ticket office outside it is necessary. None the less, I assure the noble Baroness that options for creating a permanent ticket office are being taken forward, so that the temporary structure can be removed.

Lord McNally

My Lords, the demand for visits to this beautiful Palace is a great wonder. Would it not be better if the Palace were turned into a museum of democracy, with plans set in hand to build a 21st-century parliament? Such a place would not turn our thinking into old thinking, but would invigorate our whole democracy by putting our parliamentarians in a 21st-century and radical frame of mind.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Lord's question probably goes slightly outside my brief and, on the whole, I do not agree with him. If this were not a working Palace, presumably a lot of the visitors would not want to come.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees aware that there will not be universal agreement with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord McNally? After all, he was calling for this Parliament to imitate the Scottish Parliament in setting up a new building. Apart from the expense— as I recall, it has risen from£40 million to£400 million so far—it has not enhanced the behaviour of the Scottish Parliament.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Lord probably tempts me slightly beyond my brief again. However, I am sure that there will be lessons to learn from the building of the Scottish Parliament, and no doubt from the building of the Supreme Court when we get one.

Lord Lawson of Blaby

My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, does my noble friend agree that the Prime Minister has in fact done a remarkably fine job of turning this place into a museum of democracy without any of the expenditure that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, envisages?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, is the Chairman of Committees aware that I am provoked to point out that, after the building of this Palace, Mr Disraeli suggested that the architect be hanged?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I do not think that we would go that far with the architect of the ticket booth across the road.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that architects usually like their own work and have to be kept under control, like all other experts?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, that is true. It might be useful if I gave a little of the history. The Palace was first opened to the public during the Summer Recess in 2000, at which time tickets were only available off-site by telephone or the Internet and had to be picked up from the British Tourist Office in Regent Street. That rapidly became obviously unsatisfactory, and a ticket office was then set up in Westminster Hall. Unfortunately, that meant that people had to go into Westminster Hall through security, buy their tickets, go out again, go along the pavement and go in through Black Rod's Garden and again through security. That was obviously unsatisfactory as well. The following year, a temporary tent or Portakabin was erected. That proved not to the liking of English Heritage and such people, so the new booth was erected. As I said in my Answer, we hope to have more permanent facilities in due course. The permission to put the booth where it is lasts only until 2008.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees agree that the site on College Green is extremely badly managed? During the winter, it was dug up and was plain earth. In the spring, it was regrassed, presumably at vast expense. The grass that was put down in early spring is now covered with a type of carbuncle that has come to revisit us again this summer.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the booth is on only part of the grass.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that we could have the ticket booth in Parliament Square, on the site of the current tip?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, that is a possibility. The only problem is that most of the visitors would probably be run over crossing from Parliament Square to the Palace.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, do I understand that, because our business takes place in this ancient and wonderful building, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, proposes that we are incapable of thinking in the 21st century?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Lord must ask the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about that.

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