HL Deb 19 January 2005 vol 668 cc775-8

2.54 p.m.

Lord Elder: moved the Chairman of Committees:

What factors lay behind the decision to change the name of Fielden House to Abingdon House.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, the Administration and Works Committee decided to rename the building as the name "Fielden House" had no particular connection to the House of Lords. The origin of the name is not certain, but the building was probably named after the developer who backed the project in the 1930s. The name "Abingdon House" is politically neutral and will assist visitors and others to find the building, located, as it is, just off Abingdon Green.

Lord Elder

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer, and I congratulate whoever was responsible for the research that went into producing it. Might I suggest that it would be more appropriate in future were such changes to be the subject of a more open process and perhaps a degree of consultation? I also suggest that it might be appropriate to choose to name houses within the parliamentary domain after distinguished past parliamentarians. In that context, we might have suggested that that hugely distinguished parliamentarian, the radical 19th-century reformer who made an immense contribution to British national life, Mr John Fielden, would have been an appropriate choice.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, on the noble Lord's first point about having an open process, this decision was made unanimously—there was no argument, as I recall—within the Administration and Works Committee, which your Lordships have tasked with dealing with this kind of thing.

With regard to parliamentary connections, my research, which the noble Lord was most kind about, has led me to research the Member of Parliament for Oldham—to whom the noble Lord referred—Mr John Fielden. He was a great campaigner for factory reform and wages. However, the Dictionary of National Biography notes that apart from a certain tenacious loyalty, Fielden, was not otherwise an impressive or effective MP", whose thoughts, seldom ranged beyond the uninspiring realm of industrial statistics".

The Lord Bishop of Chester

My Lords, I suggest to the noble Lord that there is another connection between this House and Fielden House in as much as the property was owned by the Church of England and was sold to the government at a good price. It was the place where the Archbishop's appointments secretary worked, so I guess that all the names of those who appear on these Benches have, in times past, been discussed within Fielden House. Given that we have the Bishops' Bar where, as I understand it, bishops used to dress and undress before it was turned into the Bishops' Bar, I wonder whether a more ecclesiastical title might have been appropriate.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate refers only to the last occupants of Fielden House. When it was first built in 1937, it was occupied by the London Midland and Scottish Railway, so perhaps it should be named after a prominent railway person. It then became the Scottish Office, as it then was, between approximately 1940 and 1955, so no doubt various Secretaries of State for Scotland—if that is what they were called in those days—might have liked it to be named after them. Since then, until we bought it in 2001, as the right reverend Prelate said, it was leased to the Church Commissioners.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it seemed to those of us on the committee entirely appropriate that the house should be renamed, when it came into House of Lords occupancy, after the Earl of Abingdon. He had a house approximately there and the green is named after him. Abingdon House is a very welcome addition to the accommodation available to your Lordships and their staff, and we appreciate it very much indeed. We are very grateful to the Church of England for being willing to sell it at an appropriate price.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip is absolutely right. Abingdon was a distinguished person; both the green and the street were named after him in 1750, after the road was widened and improved. The Earl of Abingdon's residence stood on the site around 1700.

I believe that the building has been a great addition to the properties owned by the House. It provides accommodation for 66 Peers and eight staff, and there are three new meeting rooms. I understand from those who have moved in, which happened only at the beginning of last week, that everybody there is very happy with the building and thinks that it is a great addition.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

My Lords, could not the noble Lord be a little more generous to Sir John Fielden? He hailed from Todmorden, just down the Calder Valley from me. It seems to me that someone who introduced the Ten Hours Act 1850 demands a little more attention and consideration than that which the noble Lord has given. I have to say that I would have stuck with the name—I understood what it meant.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, when I spoke about John Fielden MP I made it clear that I was quoting from the Dictionary of National Biography. I was not inventing the phrases that I used; they are from that book—and who better to describe a person than that?

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, in the context of the explanation given by noble Lord the Chairman of Committees of what underlay the connection with Abingdon Green, is he aware that the winner of the architectural competition to redesign this palace after the Great Fire of 1834—Mr Charles Barry—was born in Bridge Street, across the road from the Houses of Parliament? Therefore, the principle of propinquity has a good pedigree on the parliamentary estate.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is right. As a matter of interest, as noble Lords have mentioned the practice of changing names of buildings during their history, the Scottish Office was housed in Fielden House—or Abingdon House as it now is—between 1940 and 1955. It then changed to Dover House, which was the third name that that building had had, having originally been called Melbourne House, then York House and then Dover House since 1831.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I am sure that the Chairman of Committees would want my appreciation. We have gone from the situation when I was introduced in 1998 and for two years had no office and no desk to that which applies now, which is so different. Will he agree with me that we should put on record our appreciation to all the staff, who made the move so smooth, shifted all our numerous papers, connected our computers and provided tremendous artworks on the wall to boot?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, and I am sure that the many members of staff involved in the move and in the process of refurbishment of Abingdon House will be much appreciative of what she has said. The noble Baroness mentioned the artworks, which have been very well received. The Works of Art Committee purchased 22 original travel posters, which noble Lords may have seen exhibited in the Royal Gallery before Christmas. I have further good news in that Shell has kindly donated a further 20 reproductions of its 1930s posters, for which we shall also find a place.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

My Lords, while welcoming the addition to the accommodation as a user of it and having no objection to the change of name, I must ask the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees whether he will get up on his stepladder and change the name above the door, which still says Fielden House.

The Chairman of Committees

Yes, my Lords, that will happen—but sorry, no, I will not get up on a stepladder and change the name; somebody else will. The point is that we have had to make an application to Westminster City Council so that the emergency services are aware of the change of name. Once the formal registration is completed, which should not be too long now, the name on the building itself can be changed.

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