New Palace Yard (Landscaping)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th December 1973.

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7.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I beg to move, That this House approves the Sixth Report from the House of Commons (Services) Committee in the last Session of Parliament on the Landscaping of New Palace Yard (HC Paper No. 424). My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has asked me to tender his apologies to the House for being unable to attend the debate.

The Services Committee recommended that the entire yard should be paved with a uniform surface of granite setts, the centre area being separated from the roadway by bollards. It also considered that cars should be excluded from parking in New Palace Yard.

The Committee did not favour the proposal for a Tudor-style fountain about 50 ft. high and costing about £100,000 on the site of the original medieval and Tudor fountains. However, it did recommend that the necessary water services should be incorporated beneath the surface of the yard so that, if the House wished, a fountain or a simple pool could be constructed to mark its historic position.

The arguments are summarised in the Committee's report, which also contains an illustration of the recommended solution. This has, of course, also received the support of the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Greater London Council and Westminster City Council. I commend the Committee's solution to the House. The House will agree with the Committee that it is right to align the two ramps to the car park on an east-west axis rather than on a north-south one, and to exclude cars from parking in the yard.

Generally, the keynote of the favoured solution is simplicity. I am sure that the Committee is right in rejecting the suggestion that we should spend a relatively large sum of money on erecting a mock Tudor fountain and leave open the possibility of marking the historic position of the original fountain with either a modern one or a simple pool. In the meantime, it would be possible, if the House accepts the recommendation before it, to mark this position in the pattern of the setts.

If part of the original superstructure had been retained it might have been a different story, but, as the House knows, the remains which were located and excavated were all part of the substructure and it would not be appropriate to incorporate them in a modern fountain. These remains are, of course, now in the safe custody of the Department of the Environment's Ancient Monuments Inspectorate. Much of the foundation material used in the substructure has proved to be of great archaeological interest, consisting of nearly half a richly carved twelfth century marble fountain, about 5 ft. high and 12 ft. across. This fountain is believed to have been brought from Old Palace merely as hard core when the fountain in New Palace Yard was erected, probably late in the fourteenth century.

Much of the marble has deteriorated, and I am told it would not be possible to set up the remains out of doors. Consideration is being given to a suitable indoor site where it can be displayed when its restoration is complete—perhaps in one of the rooms in the Jewel Tower opposite the Victoria Tower.

Work on the interpretation and publication of the New Palace Yard car park excavation proceeds steadily. The fountain is currently being cleaned in the Vincent Street carver's shop under the most careful supervision, and results are awaited from the various specialist bodies who are assisting in the laboratory analysis of material recovered in the course of the environmental study. This latter study, while less spectacular than the discovery of the fountain, is of fundamental importance to our understanding not only of the immediate environmental context of the Palace but of the changing behaviour of the lower reaches of the River Thames as a whole.

The House will wish to know when the car park will be ready for use and how long after that it will take to complete the landscaping. About a year ago we thought that the car park would be finished around mid-February 1974. Unfortunately, there have been delays, including a nine-week strike at the works of the lift builders and about a month on account of archaeological work. We now expect the work to be finished by the end of the Easter Recess.

Landscaping of the type proposed by the Services Committee will take about four months, and if the present recommendation is approved this could be carried out between the beginning of March and the end of June 1974.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear that the Government do not resent the fact that archaeology held back the work a little? May we have, in quantitative terms, precisely how many weeks of extra work arose because of the archaeology it involved?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

It would probably be difficult to quantify that precisely. When I mentioned the reasons for the delay, which all hon. Members will agree is moderate in all the circumstances, I was in no way complaining about the archaeological work. Like the hon. Gentleman, I regard it as being of great importance as well as of considerable interest.

The cost of landscaping is expected to be about £110,000, within a total revised estimate of £2·5 million for the car park as a whole.

7.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Douglas Houghton Mr Douglas Houghton , Sowerby

We are grateful that the debate, which will probably not be a long one, is taking place at a reasonable hour. When the motion was put down in October it was on an evening when it may have gone to 3 o'clock in the morning. That would not be the way to treat matters affecting the House of Commons. Had the debate on the car park come up at a reasonable hour on 30th July 1971 the House might have had a better opportunity to judge whether that project, and the expenditure incurred was justified in all the circumstances. I regard the proposal now before the House as a smaller moonbeam in the larger lunacy.

What we are now considering is to be the top of a car park which will go down five storeys, and accommodate 500 to 600 cars for Members of Parliament and staffs of the House. The policy of building a car park in the Palace of Westminster was surely open to the strongest question at the time it was debated, yet the Services Committee made a proposal to the House, which was accepted with very little discussion late at night, which I much regret. However, it would not be in order now to hold an inquest on the car park proposals, the delays involved, how much or how little use is to be made of it, or how terrible it will be that more and more cars shall be brought into the centre of London. Nor, without the leave of the oil-producing countries, can we now discuss how many cars will be brought into the centre of London. These are important factors connected with the main project, but the landscaping is the matter now before the House.

Anyone outside the House who reads the report of this debate will probably wonder what on earth the House of Commons is doing talking about this matter this week. People will wonder whether we have got our priorities wrong, or are indifferent to the problems now besetting the nation. Does not the gloom of this place impress us with the gravity of the fuel situation? People will wonder whether we have taken leave of our senses because we are debating this matter at this time. Nevertheless, these are important matters from our point of view and we must give attention to them.

Any matter connected with the Palace of Westminster has to do with history. Tonight, we are being asked to approve the laying of a foundation stone of another phase in the history of the Palace of Westminster, and that is important. Millions of people come to see the Palace of Westminster. The numbers of visitors are increasing. We see them every day when we are working here. They are also here when we are away. Overseas visitors come to look at this place, which they perhaps regard as the most stable institution in the world. They look at what we are doing to it and consider whether it fulfils their dreams and expectations of what the British Parliament should look like, and they consider whether we have tastefully dealt with various matters affecting the place.

I am pleased to be one of the sponsors of the scheme for the Churchill statue in Parliament Square. That matter impressed upon those concerned with it how important it was to consider the placing of a statue, how it would look in relation to the environment, and whether it would dwarf other statues in the square. We also realised how important was its siting, in regard to how it would impress the public, and we also had to consider whether the statue had a fresh challenge which was not present in some of the earlier statues of Churchill.

Matters of this sort involve choice and judgment, which are important, because what we are doing will probably last a long time. The choice before us seems to be between a garden and a courtyard. Many hon. Members may ask, "Why not get in a landscape gardener? Let him have a go and see what he makes of it." Again, I stress that when we are dealing with matters connected with this place we have to take the best advice we can. It will be seen from the report of the Services Committee that extensive advice has been taken from those quarters which this House respects and will wish to follow.

I believe that the original idea was that there should be lawns, presumably with trees, and possibly flower beds. Anyhow, it was to be decorative. Probably in the centre of London and in Westminster, the more lawns and flowers there are the better it will look. Nevertheless, in dealing with New Palace Yard we are dealing with a very ancient courtyard. It is a yard and not a garden. I see that the Committee was advised that New Palace Yard has been a courtyard since records were kept of the environs of this palace. The advice that we are given now is that it should be simple and traditional and should reflect something of the gravamen of the Palace of Westminster.

One eventuality against which we must guard is the abuse by hon. Members of this courtyard when the new car park is completed. We all know the temptations. Members come in late on a three-line Whip and the bells are ringing. They want to rush in, stop their cars, jump out, leave them to the police to put away or get them out of other people's way, and run. Then, when other Members wish to leave they find their way blocked. We know from experience what a shambles it has been sometimes, when cars have been parked in all sorts of inconvenient places cheek by jowl and the police have been unable to check people's behaviour.

When it comes to behaviour we are no better than other people. We all do as people do everywhere else. If there is an opportunity to put our cars in spaces which look convenient to us, even if they block someone else's room, we stick them there. Hon. Members cannot claim any virtue in the way that they have used the courtyard up till now. When the car park is completed I hope that discipline, in terms of the use of the New Palace Yard, will be very strict. I shall not be affected because I do not bring a car into the yard or to London at all. I hope that what is proposed will achieve that object.

We are fortunate in having an illustration attached to the report of the Services Committee. We do not often get illustrated reports from that Committee. We see from it that there will be bollards. I hope that they will be unobtrusive and will not make the yard look like a kind of bull ring. I hope, too, that they will indicate clearly the way round to pick up and put down passengers, and show that the area is not a part of the car park.

Hon. Members have asked me a number of questions, which I hope will be dealt with during the course of the debate. The Minister has just told us that it is proposed to lay on water in the middle of the courtyard in case, later on, we wish to erect a mock Tudor fountain, re-erect the old Tudor fountain or, for that matter, do something else. The idea is to have water laid on. Perhaps that is a useful precaution, although I do not think that many hon. Members will wish to see that.

The other question being asked is whether, if in the end we decide to grass over the yard, it will be possible to do so without a great deal of additional expense. In other words, will it be possible to lay it on to what will be there already? I ask the question only because none of us has yet seen the final effect. The granite setts in the middle of the yard may look a bit empty and severe when we see them day by day. It is difficult to tell what it will look like and whether it will be useful for pedestrians. It is a little difficult to know what the centre will do, except be there. If we could be allowed a change of mind at some future date without in-curing a lot of expense I think that that would be a comfort to hon. Members, who feel that the last word on this may not have been said, looking to the fairly long distant future. Alter all, these are matters of judgment and taste, and of what one sees in opportunities of this kind.

That is the only real suggestion that I have to make. I do not think that anyone could advise the House to go against the recommendations of the Services Committee, especially as it has taken such sage, qualified advice on what it should do with the top of the car park. I deplore the fact that we are having to put a top on the car park. Nevertheless, that matter is not before the House at the moment, so I shall not go into that any further.

7.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

We all welcome the fact that we are debating this matter at a civilised hour, but it is ironic that we should be allowed several hours for this debate when the original decision from which all this flows, that on the car park itself, was taken at a very late hour when few hon. Members realised or appreciated what was going on and when the decision was taken without much debate.

We are in something of a dilemma. I find these proposals quite unattractive, but I recognise that they flow from the original decision and that it is hard to upset the work done by the Services Committee and to delay matters even further.

I do not believe that the proposals do justice to what is an historic, important and very valuable site. They flow from the decision to spend £2·5 million on an underground car park to cater for 500 cars—

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I regard that as an example of unnecessary indulgence which is exceeded only by the decision taken by about one-third of the Members of this House to construct a new parliamentary building—

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Cannock

That is even more outrageous.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Prior to that decision, New Palace Yard performed a useful economic purpose as a car park for 220 cars. No one will call the motor car, individually or collectively, a thing of beauty. Nevertheless, a crowded car park at that time, the bustle of cars, and the additional activity of cars coming in up to Division time represented part of the modern Westminster scene. It was a useful car park. It was alive. Now, by contrast, we intend to make it a waste space and by contrast it appears sterile—

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I prefer not to. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend will be able to catch your eye in due course.

The question is "At what cost are we leaving this space waste?" From the cost of the construction of the new car park we know that the average cost of a parking space is £5,000 per car. The site originally was a car park for 220 cars. Now the intention is to leave i; sterile at a cost of about £1,100,000. I find that very hard to justify.

As for the proposed layout of New Palace Yard, the intention is not landscaping, which is something of a misnomer, but paving it with a uniform surface of granite setts, the centre area being separated from the roadway by bollards. It is about the most dull and unimaginative scheme that could possibly have been produced.

Could we not use New Palace Yard for something more functional, recognising the economic value of the site and its important position? I do not pretend to know the answer to this question, but I should have preferred more exploration of this possibility by the Services Committee.

First, there is the possibility of more car parking space. The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) referred to the problems that sometimes arise at Division times when cars are left parked in odd positions. The right hon. Gentleman called it an abuse. Another way of looking at it is the necessity to provide car-parking space for last-minute arrivals. In the nature of things, many hon. Members find it difficult to get here until the last minute. For example, they might have speaking engagements in their constituencies. Anyway, there could be a large influx of vehicles at any given moment Therefore, it seems sensible to make car parking provision for such emergencies for a limited number of vehicles. It may be that even Ministers' cars will need space to park. Also, taxis come in and out frequently, so there could be a build-up of vehicles. Therefore, there may be more need for car-parking provision within the scheme for New Palace Yard.

Is it not possible for the site to be used for exhibition purposes—for example, archaeological displays of items discovered in London, whether in Westminster or not?

I believe that the site will be left sterile, dead and unattractive, whereas we could use it much more imaginatively.

It may be that we cannot use the site for a functional purpose, but let us accept that we want to make it attractive. Are we satisfied that this proposal offers the best solution to beautifying the site? I are not satisfied that it does, and I should like the Committee to think again.

I believe that the report disposes of alternative possibilities far too easily. For example, it says that grass-and-water schemes are incompatible with the tradition of New Palace Yard. I find that hard to believe, particularly when we see on the next page a reference to the Tudor fountain and its medieval predecessors. Did they not have water flowing through them? Therefore, a traditional feature of New Palace Yard has been a water scheme. I do not know whether a fountain or water scheme is the right solution, but I think that the committee disposed of grass and water somewhat glibly. The report does not make impressive reading.

I was pleased to hear from my hon. Friend that arrangements are to be made to display the remains of the old fountain in the Jewel Tower, but I think that it would have been better to find a way to display it on or near the original site. It would be better if it could be put in one corner of New Palace Yard rather than in the Jewel Tower.

The idea of reconstructing a mock Tudor fountain at a cost of £150,000 struck me as faintly ridiculous. I was surprised that the Services Committee felt that it could dispose of the argument about the fountain by putting in an Aunt Sally like that so that it could be knocked down.

I turn to the suggestion of putting the stones in one corner of New Palace Yard. I wonder whether my hon. Friend could explain one phenomenon that has occurred there. In the corner nearest to the tunnel to the underground station a large number of small granite blocks appeared recently. I thought that they were part of the future display arrangement for the fountain. They were beautifully arranged in a fan shape. A few weeks later they were taken up and then put down again some weeks afterwards, but this time they were embedded in the ground. They looked very attractive. I should be interested to know what present and future purposes they might serve.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. He saw a demonstration of what was intended. The stones were taken up because further works had to take place at that point. They were then put back again. I am glad that my hon. Friend saw them on both occasions.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I have seen them put back, but I have yet to learn what they are for.

I feel that the original decision was wrong. We are faced with a great dilemma to know how to proceed. We are creating a bad example to the general public regarding what we do with public funds. I regret that New Palace Yard will look the worse for what we propose. I wish that there were a chance for us to send the Committee back to reexamine the matter and to think again. If other hon. Members wish to pursue that line I will certainly join them.

7.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

I follow the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) only in that I also believe that a wrong decision was taken—taken in the wrong way at the wrong time in parliamentary terms—to build the car park which we are now topping and tailing in the debate.

I must say, if I can do so and still remain within the rules of order, that this is a fatuous debate. It seems absurd at a time of national crisis—the greatest economic crisis in my lifetime—to debate whether we should spend £100,000 on an imitation Tudor fountain in the centre of New Palace Yard which has had to be reconstructed as a new shrine and citadel for the motor car which we shall not be using much longer because of the economic crisis.

We all have to render to our constituents some accounting for the time that we spend here and for what we say in our debates. I do not relish going back and telling my constituents this coming weekend that the House of Commons spent as much time debating the fountain in New Palace Yard as it did on the problem of prices earlier. We are told that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. He played his fiddle perhaps for the amusement of the populace. We are deciding in this debate whether and where to play our fountains.

I want to refer to the whole question of what is to be done with New Palace Yard and to comment on the recommendations by the Services Committee, but without taking them as seriously as did the hon. Member for Faversham.

New Palace Yard is not a great thing of beauty at the moment. I did not recognise the idyllic picture of taxis coming in and going out, of hon. Members coming back from speaking engagements in their constituencies, and the hub of the Commonwealth and Empire being reflected at five minutes to ten o'clock as hon. Members arrive in their carriages, and so on, to take part in debates.

New Palace Yard is somewhat unimpressive at the moment. But I agree with the hon. Member for Faversham that it provided space for 220 cars and that, even at the height of the works which have been going on, it has seemed fairly easy for most hon. Members who came in cars to find parking spaces when space was very restricted. If one could not get into New Palace Yard, one could park by the House of Lords or across the road in Broad Sanctuary. It therefore seems absurd, looking ahead 10 or 20 years when fewer people will be using motor cars in the city centre, to spend £2½ million on a five-storey car park for 600 motor cars. The motor car is being forced into retreat in our cities, and our policies will have to reflect that situation. Therefore, it is the height of absurdity to spend that money here.

I have one suggestion to make to the Minister. We should use part of New Palace Yard for recreation. No sport, with the exception of chess, has been practised in the Palace of Westminster since Tudor times when the fountain was constructed. I believe that tennis balls dating from the reign of Henry VIII were found in the beams of Westminster Hall when it was reconstructed. Clearly the game of royal tennis was played in Westminster Hall, probably to the better health of those who frequented the Palace, until at least the end of Tudor times. I suggest that we should put two tennis courts in the middle of New Palace Yard. Hon. Members would then not need to go as the pensioners of Westminster School tennis courts down the road to which we are allowed access once a week. We should attempt to keep ourselves fit by playing tennis, for example, and discover that there are more things for which one's right arm can be used than in other places of recreation in this building.

A cobbled surface to New Palace Yard is no great thing. I think that we should put it to some use. Hon. Members would do a good deal better keeping fit playing tennis all the year round, as they could, for an insignificant amount of expenditure by the Government at this stage rather than having this curious landscaped effect that simply pretends at the end of the day that there is not an enormous car park beneath.

I should like to know whether any assessment has been made by the Government, in the light of the changed economic situation that we now face—our changed expectations of oil consumption over the next 10 to 30 years—about the use of motor cars by hon. Members. How many hon. Members will be coming into the Palace of Westminster in motor cars in 10 to 30 years? Are the estimates on which the Government are now working those which were put before the House briefly and unsatisfactorily when the decision to build the car park was first taken?

I do not believe that this is a very good use of parliamentary time. I dissent from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) at least in that. It does not seem to me that the time between seven and 10 o'clock at night should be used for this purpose. It seems the most absurd comment on current events since Louis XVI entered "Nothing" in his diary on the day of the storming of the Bastille.

7.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

I am sorry that hon. Members object to this time of day being used to discuss this matter, but it is precisely because of pressure by hon. Members that it is being debated at this time. Many hon. Members are prepared to discuss this matter at a late hour, and had more of them been present, as on a previous occasion, the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) would not be quite so cross as he is because we have a car park.

Some of us view that question with mixed feelings. If at some future time we find that we do not want a car park it can be put to all kinds of other uses. To have that amount of available space close to the functional part of the Palace of Westminster may be extremely useful at some future time. I am not suggesting that people should be buried underground there, but there are all kinds of pieces of machinery and other things which serve us in the Palace and which take up space, and it would be very useful to hon. Members and others who work here if those things could be put underground. Let no one say that this large amount of usable space is a complete waste, although it has been a pretty costly undertaking.

To get on to the subject of the debate and what this report is about, I am sorry that some hon. Members have misunderstood it. I do not entirely blame them for that; it is written in somewhat bald language, as indeed all Select Committee reports tend to be. As hon. Members know, if one wants a case put in an elegant fashion, one Member should do it. I forget how many members of the Services Committee there are, but there seem to be an awful lot of them when I attend, and when they have to have their say we get something like the Shell building—rather dull and not particularly explicit. That is what has happened to this report. I do not think that any member of the Services Committee will disagree with me or be cross with me for saying that.

It is because the report does not do full justice to what is possible within the various options that are open to us that I can perhaps help the House a little. The idea is to provide a fitting setting to the historic parts of the Palace of Westminster which adjoin the yard and, indeed, historic Whitehall as a whole. The entrance to Westminster Hall and the space leading to the base of the Clock Tower is an important part of the setting of the Palace of Westminster.

We have been given a certain amount of historical background. This has been a yard since the beginning of British history. It was, therefore, felt by the Committee, with all the advice that was offered to it, that the appearance of a yard should be preserved. The idea was to get the surface of this yard covered with something that was attractive to look at, permanent and useful. Hon. Members may have their ideas about what should have been used. I think that most people would agree that tarmac would be a little dull and prosaic.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

I am sure that is a very helpful suggestion. If hon. Members on the Labour benches suggest that it should be returned to a muddy area, that is up to them. Granite is a permanent material and yet reasonably flexible if laid in the form proposed, because one can take up parts of it if one wants to plant something, and one can alter the surface without much difficulty. This form of surface is referred to in the report as granite setts; I have heard it called pavé, a French term, and I hope hon. Members will not object to that. It is proposed to be laid in fan shapes, running into each other. This answers the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). If he had looked at the photograph with a magnifying glass—it is a badly reproduced photograph—he would have seen fan shaped groups of granite setts. If one looks closely at the photograph one can see this all over. I apologise for the photograph; it is not a good one, and it was reproduced badly. It was felt that that was a good way to carpet the whole of the available surface. By using the same material over the whole surface one gives a much greater idea of the spaciousness of the yard. It is not a very big yard, but it makes it look a good deal bigger and more impressive.

There is also the question of the differences of level. The yard is by no means a level place. It slopes in various directions. The use of an all-over carpet of granite seemed to be the most appropriate method. Those hon. Members who have studied the use of this material abroad will, I think, agree that it produces a usable and attractive surface.

Now I come to the small print in the report. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary indicated that a considerable number of options were open if we adopted the scheme as outlined in the report. It is possible to plant within the surface of the yard, in the central part which is surrounded by bollards in the photograph, a number of trees. These could be a kind of formal tree planting which one sees in town squares and cathedral squares on the Continent, an example of which we have near St. Paul's Cathedral—the use of lime trees trained to form a shaded walk round the centre of the square, or something of that kind. Many options are open here. It is perfectly easy by the use of such trees, to provide a shaded area in the middle of what might be a rather hot and dusty yard during the summer months. There is plenty of space for a considerable depth of soil in the centre of the yard. Hon. Members will see how the car park ramps have been constructed. Quite a number of schemes could be devised to hide them. As a result of to-day's debate, if there were strong enough feeling for the formalised use of trees there is no reason why they should not be planted when the yard is surfaced.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Birmingham Handsworth

Can my hon. Friend give any indication of the cost of completely surfacing the yard with granite setts or pavé? I think that not only would it be better to have a variety of surfaces, like water, granite setts and grass, but it might be considerably less expensive than surfacing the area with these expensive imported granite setts.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

It is up to the Minister to answer that question. I hope he will consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. My hon. Friend and I are both devoted to the use of trees. My hon. Friend wants to see water and grass as well. I submit that it would be extremely difficult to keep grass looking decent in this locality. However, it might be worth trying, and I hope the Minister will address himself to that question.

As regards water, all options are open. The plumbing is to be put in, and that would not cost more than about £100 if I did it. If the Department does it, it will probably cost £500. All it needs is a drain pipe and a tap hidden beneath the surface, marking the site were the original fountain was, so that if we want a formal pool or something else at a later date, no expensive work will be required.

Hon. Members have referred to the Tudor fountain. It was a water feature in a sense, inasmuch as it had water inside it, but one could hardly see the water. The idea of the superstructure was to keep the tampering public away from the water lest it should become polluted. I think that hon. Members would like something a little more available than that, were we to go in for a water feature.

I should have liked to see one or two other versions or possible schemes included in the report, but we were told that there was not time, or that the only photograph available was this rather dreary one, which has come out rather poorly. It would have been possible to show what the yard would look like with formalised trees, and perhaps some grass in the middle, though I imagine the House would prefer to decide on something rather more durable.

There could certainly be some stone seats, permanently fixed, in the middle of the yard, shaded by trees, and this could make an area of considerable value to the House and those who serve us, and, for all I know, to the public as well. A good deal more could be done to screen or obscure the ramps and the down slopes of the holes which the cars will have to use in gaining access to the car park.

I hope that I have said enough to show that the report could have done a good deal more to explain the options. But it is up to the House, with the report as a basis, to say what it wants. After all the fuss that has been made about having a debate at a businesslike time, in daylight, so to speak, it is rather depressing to find that hardly any hon. Members have turned up. But I hope that they will write in with their suggestions, and perhaps some illustrations, to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who, I am sure, will be most receptive.

7.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

On both sides of the House there is a general feeling that we are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. All of us who were Members at the time are to blame. Whether or not the decision was taken late at night, I accept my share of responsibility and I acknowledge at once that it is scandalous that the House of Commons accepted the provision of car parking spaces—between 500 and 600, at £4,000 to £5,000 a time—in the middle of London when we ought to have been discouraging people from bringing in their cars, and when, as we know, we should be the first to discourage others, apart from ourselves, from bringing in their cars. However, perhaps we can rescue something from this unhappy situation if we can get one or two decisions right today.

I come at once to the question of alternative uses. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) said that if, at some future date, the House had any ideas for alternative uses for the space beneath the courtyard, it would be perfectly possible to fill it up with old bits of machinery which might be got out of the way of other parts of the Palace of Westminster. I should like to know from the Minister whether the Government have any more far-seeing thoughts about alternative uses for the space underneath the courtyard.

If we, as a House, were to make the fundamental decision to go back on what we earlier decided, and frankly said we did not want the car park anyway, the temptation, I suppose, would be to fill it in, but that would be rather expensive. Are there any alternative uses apart from simply filling it with old bits of machinery?

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Accidentally, I hope, but perhaps deliberately, the hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what I said. I did not go into the matter in detail, but I never suggested that it should be filled with old bits of machinery. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that there are masses of stuff—I say "stuff", and he knows what I mean—which gets in our way in this place and which could well be put in the underground space.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I was just coming to that. It will depend upon other decisions not yet reached, but it is possible that at some future date we shall build for ourselves an extremely luxurious palace, so to speak, with new offices. [An hon. Member: "Never".] It may well be that that will never happen. But I imagine that if we were faced today with the decision which we made about car parking spaces some time ago, most of us would say that if the money was to be spent at all it would be far better spent on building office space for Members to do a decent job in controlling the executive rather than on building car parks.

What studies has the Department done on genuine and valuable alternative uses for the space underneath the courtyard? Can the spaces be converted into working places? Are there uses which are now taking up space within the Palace which could be put into some of the floors beneath the surface of the yard? In other words, could we, for example, put underground offices in the car park? If there is no alternative use but the putting down there of bits of furniture and things that get in our way, that does not seem to me to be a particularly sensible use of the place.

I come now to the question of the yard itself. Where will the granite come from? I hope that we shall have a categorical assurance from the Government that it will come from quarries in the United Kingdom—preferably the granite quarry which has supplied the stone for the new London Bridge, that is, Hanter Gantick quarry in my constituency of North Cornwall. If the Government dare to place the order for granite away from Hanter Gantick they will have some difficult questions to answer.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I am thinking of Cornish nationalism at the moment.

I come now to the question of trees. If we are to have a courtyard of this kind, the suggested use of trees seems very parsimonious. If we are to have them, we could have many more.

Next, what are the Government's ideas about the use of this courtyard not when the House is sitting but during the large part of the year—and especially during the tourist season in the summer—when the House is not using it? We are guilty of scandalous under-use of this building during the height of the tourist season. At the time of the Labour Government, I raised with the then Lord President the question whether we could use this place to a large extent—I do not mean the Chamber but Westminster Hall, some of the rooms in the House of Lords building, and so on—for a festival of Westminster.

What would the Government's attitude be, for instance, to using the courtyard during the Summer Recess for son et lumière, or as a sculpture park during the summer season? Would they tend to take the view that was taken by the then Lord President when I raised the matter, that it would somehow diminish the dignity of Parliament to use it for these purposes? I hope that we shall be given some idea about that. Obviously, it would not be in order for me to go into the general question now—

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I was on the Services Committee at the time. It is unfair to say that it was a decision of the then Lord President. It was a collective decision of the Services Committee, and, as I recall it, a unanimous decision. It had nothing to do with the dignity of this place. We simply did not want to use it for a private profit-making commercial organisation.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I am much obliged. I accept that although the letter I received came from the Lord President it was not entirely his decision, but it represented the outcome of his discussions with the Services Committee. However, what I should like to know now is whether the views of the House and the Government on the matter have changed. It is not a question of profit making. This place costs a great deal of money to run. The restaurants are highly subsidised. They could make a "bomb" if they were handled properly, and there is no reason why they should not be leased out to commercial concerns to manage in the summer, on a profit basis, perhaps, or, better still, be run by the Government's catering services or the House of Commons catering service.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

I can understand the Liberal Party's concern with catering nowadays, but is the hon. Gentleman so pusillanimous in his outlook as to see us for the rest of time taking five months' holiday a year as a House of Commons? If we had one month's holiday and worked 11 months, as most other institutions do, he would not be prompted into these notions about what could be done during the recesses.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not realise that I have signed the motion which calls for an entirely different approach to the working hours of the House. I entirely agree with him, and ever since I came to this place in 1966 I have advocated a change in working hours. But we are not debating that now. We are debating what should be done with the courtyard which we have, having in mind the likelihood that next summer we shall be in recess from the beginning of August to the middle of October. What I want to know from the Government is whether they would be prepared to allow this courtyard to be used, and would encourage it to be used, for the sort of purposes that I have mentioned.

8.0 p.m.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Birmingham Handsworth

I suppose that a cynic might say that the best point of this Sixth Report of the Select Committee is that it is short. It is for that reason that it is one of the few reports that I have read completely. It is a little unfair for my right hon. Friend the Lord President to be pilloried for arranging this short debate, which I understand need not go on until 10 o'clock anyway, when he was pilloried for putting on late at night the main debate on the question whether we should have an underground car park. I should have thought that it reflects not on him but on us all if we now decide that we never wanted an underground car park in the first place, for we were responsible for letting the proposal go through.

I suppose there will be as many suggestions for what we should do to the surface of New Palace Yard as there are hon. Members. It was perhaps for that reason that we asked the Committee to advise how the surface should be treated. My initial reaction was one of disappointment—if I may dare to say so—that it tended to consider three possible methods of treatment as if only one of the three could be chosen. In other words, we would have to plump for a grassed area with a roadway around it, a reflecting pool and fountain, or a uniform surface of granite setts. I should have thought that there was at least a fourth possibility, which consisted of two or of all three of these things. I recommend that it should be a combination of all three and I shall briefly explain why.

We must consider the area as whole. There is no doubt that Parliament Square is a formal area, albeit in the main grassed. There is therefore a case for a more informal treatment of this large area. The question remains how should it be treated if it is to be treated more informally. In a sense, the area will be broken up because of the need for a vehicular way around the courtyard, which I understand and recognise cannot be provided in four straight lines with ramps going down. There is also a good case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) admitted, for more trees to be provided, because in Parliament Square and New Palace Yard they soften the harshness of the surrounding buildings. I emphasise that aspect because we are concentrating on a national tree planting campaign this year.

I do not underestimate the importance of a pool area on a site such as this. The reflective qualities would be a great asset, since the site is surrounded on two sides by beautiful buildings which will be more beautiful when they are cleaned, as I hope they shortly will be. Therefore I ask the Services Committee to look closely at the possibility of providing a pool. It would be a waste of money to spend £100,000 on recreating the Tudor fountain when the one provided would not be the original, but there might be a case for putting a more modest fountain in the pool. I agree with the decision to realign the two ramps on an east-west axis rather than on a north-south axis.

I would ask that the question of the granite setts be examined most carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) has much more expert knowledge than I on the costs of materials and I hope he will agree with me that a conservative estimate of the cost of granite setts would be about £25 a square yard. That in itself is a reason for having the pool and a grassed area at least on part of the site. I cannot remember from where I got the information, but I was under the impression that the most suitable setts—and I hasten to add I do not agree with this—that the Services Committee considered would have to be imported. I am all "in favour of getting the best possible surface treatment but I should be grateful for any information that my hon. Friend the Minister can give on that point.

If there is a reason for having the underground car park other than for the provision of car parking space for hon. Members and staff, it is surely the environmental consideration that we should be clearing away the clutter and paraphernalia of vehicles which hitherto existed on the surface. I should therefore be very much in favour of prohibiting cars from parking on the surface—all the more so because we shall have spent £2½ million on the scheme. For that environmental reason I support the underground car park, although I agree it is too late not to support it. Once built, however, we should consider, as the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) suggested, opening the area to public access at least when the House is in recess. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the authorities to devise a system by which this could be done.

The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) mentioned the possibility of the surface being used as a recreational area. I suggest that this should not be for the more formal communal games that he may be better associated with than I am, but certainly it could be a place where people might sit, perhaps enjoying the view and talking. There are precious few places where that can be done in a civilised manner within the Palace of Westminster, even though it contains 1,100 rooms and two miles of corridor, and covers eight acres.

I hope, therefore, that ways of using this area, in addition to the obvious possibilities, will be gone into, and, with the greatest respect, I ask the Services Committee to look to the possibility of revising the surface treatment and including the pool in at least part of the area. I shall not vote against the report, at least at this stage, if these assurances can be given.

8.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I had not intended to speak in this debate until I heard some extraordinary sentences uttered around me, begining with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I agree with him in most things, except that this debate is not as important as he claimed. New Palace Yard has been in existence for a long time—from the beginning of history, I think someone said, or at least from the beginning of the recorded history of this Palace. It has been gravel; it has been mud; it has been covered and uncovered; people have put fountains in it and taken them away; and now beneath it is a car park. But I do not think it is the most important thing to have happened in the British Isles and I do not think it is as important as some of the crises which I suspect are developing around us.

We have had some extraordinary nonsense about the past history of the yard. The origin of the nonsense was the Committee itself, which says that it should be austere and covered in granite setts. One member of the Committee has said that he did not know what granite setts were until he joined in writing the report, when, presumably, someone told him.

It has been said that people were stopped from getting at the fountain. That was so with the Tudor fountain, but not with the mediaeval fountain. The fountain in mediaeval times provided so much water for the palace—this was in about 1440, I think—that the surplus was given away free to the citizens of Westminster. Those citizens were very pleased, and lots of people used to walk in to get free water. Water in those days cost money. I suppose it still does as we pay a water rate.

In those days the yard was not a yard in the austere sense. It was a little place surrounded by buildings. There were pubs. I think somebody mentioned that there should now be a hamburger stall. Indeed, there were once shops which sold food. Free water was supplied to Westminster citizens. At one time Cromwell lived across the road. There were houses, shops and pubs. They called them ale houses but they were basically pubs. It was a busy little place. I do not know how the idea of austerity crept in. I am grateful to the Committee for one thing, I now know that the trees along one side of New Palace Yard are called catalpa trees. I never knew that before.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

It is the man who writes in Socialist Commentary.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

We are told that the yard should be paved austerely with granite setts. I used to live in Rochdale, and I note that driving over granite setts has not been mentioned. I am not renowned amongst my colleagues as a great car driver. I remember distinctly taking a driving test and driving at a 40 degree angle on a road in Rochdale which was paved with granite setts. I did not pass my test. The granite setts will at least slow up the traffic. I hope that that is realised by the Committee.

There will be a little road round the yard. That has presumably been designed to slow up the people rushing in late at night. I also notice, having looked closely at the photograph, that there is a gap in the bollards. That makes it possible to park cars in the middle of the yard, despite what is said in the Committee's report. The photograph gives a demonstration of how that can be done.

As the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) implied, it would be ridiculous to spend such a large amount of money to provide parking for more than 500 cars underground, or whatever the figure is, and not to allow one car above the ground at ten o'clock when there is a Division. I sincerely hope that we shall not be so daft as to say that if the underground car park is full no one can park on New Palace Yard. People have been doing that for centuries.

Our ancestors used to have Divisions later at night than we do now. The standard finishing time for the House was long after ten o'clock. The parking of vehicles on New Palace Yard goes back to the days when there were coaches pulled by horses. The days of coaching go back to the seventeenth century. Presumably before that there were sedan chairs. They go back to the sixteenth century. Presumably before that horses were brought to the yard and hitched up there. In those days they had not invented sedan chairs.

In so far as the yard is a yard, it is one of the busiest places in Westminster. I hope that we shall not make a meal and an incredible nonsense over this stage of the arrangements. We are talking now about austerity and granite setts. They will have to be set in little fan-shaped scollops. To think in austere terms might be to think of straight lines. Incidentally, straight lines would look very good. I suggest that somebody should consider the design of the granite setts before they are put down.

The long and short of it is that we are making a rather long-winded nonsense about the matter. Having said that, I shall sit down.

8.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Idris Owen Mr Idris Owen , Stockport North

I rise not to delay the proceedings but to add a little weight. I cannot offer any more illumination on the subject than my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman). I am in agreement with him. I, too, am distressed and disappointed with the solution being offered by such a body as the Fine Art Commission. I am distressed and disappointed that it should be so austere. Austerity in itself may be worthy, but in this instance I feel that we must complement the House of Commons with something much more attractive than just a paved yard.

I echo the views expressed on the Opposition benches about the public use of the place during times of recess and at weekends. It is terrible that we should claim exclusive right in this place and that no one else should have the use of premises which the nation has had to pay for and which it will have to pay for.

I know that hindsight may be a wonderful thing, but I am appalled at the cost of the project. I understand that it will cost approximately £15 a car in interest charges alone, even if it is used for 52 weeks of the year and seven days a week. The cost of the project is frightening to contemplate.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth. He is a professional architect and planner. His advise to me has been sounder than the advice given by the Fine Art Commission. We should have more tree planting. We should have a floral background. We should have some water. I support the use of the pavings to a limited extent. I am frightened by what the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has described. The question has been asked, "What is wrong with putting an occasional car on to New Palace Yard at Division times?". Once that practice had been established it would not be possible to stop it. Before long the paved yard would be covered with motor cars. That is something which we must try to avoid at all costs. Surely we have not considered expending such a vast amount of money to get rid of the modern paraphernalia of transport only to concede that there should be the parking of cars at some future date? If I owned the yard I should want to put a substantial restrictive covenant on its future use for motor car parking.

I should like to make the yard so attractive that it would be a great delight and pleasure to visitors to this country and the people of London. I should like to see them enjoy it to the full in times of recess and during weekends. They could not enjoy walking round an austere paved yard with just a few catalpa trees on the Bridge Street side.

I plead with the Minister to think in terms of making it a more attractive place in which to walk and sit. It should not be a place only for hon. Members to reflect and relax in but a place to give pleasure to the people who will have to pay for this expensive venture.

8.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), I hope that none of my constituents asks me what I was doing on the evening of Monday 10th December. I do not know how I would explain that I was solemnly discussing the landscape of New Palace Yard during a raging economic crisis and a major resources shortage. I do not know how that could be convincingly explained. I should prefer to see the House discussing the matter after ten o'clock.

The Committee is right to reject a replica Tudor fountain. That would have seemed a bit of a phoney. The Committee has not considered marking the position and outline of the Tudor fountain by the use of granite setts of a different colour. Such a scheme would relieve the unbroken tedium of the surface which is now proposed. Second, it would conform more closely to what we conceive to be the real historical situation than merely an unrelieved open yard. I refer to paragraph 5 of the report. Third, it would add to the few surviving indications of the mediaeval and post-mediæval palace. It would make it possible for Members, visitors and others to orientate themselves more effectively to the past situation. The needs of visitors might sensibly be taken into consideration.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would go back to the beginning of his remarks. I have noted the points which he has just made, but I understand that he was making a suggestion to add variety of some kind, which I missed.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

I was suggesting the marking and the outlining of the position of the Tudor fountain by the use of granite setts of a different colour. Red granite or certain shades of grey granite could be used for that purpose. This idea at least deserves an answer and some consideration, if not tonight.

There is a point of concern to me. Why was the Committee told, according to paragraph 7 of the report, that none of the remains of the earlier fountains which have been excavated could be incorporated in a new 'Tudor' fountain"? The impression given by the Minister in explaining the demolition and insisting that all was not lost was that the remains had been carefully taken down for eventual preservation. On 7th March 1973, the morning when the Tudor fountain was being broken up by pneumatic drills, my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton)—who, we hope, is recovering in hospital—asked why it was being demolished. The Minister replied in words which every developer now doubtless cherishes. He said: The conduit is not being demolished. Its remains are being dismantled …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March 1973; Vol. 852, c. 122.] What is the difference between "demolition" and "dismantling"? This is playing with the English language. I see the Under-Secretary of State chuckling, but I hope that he will get some explanation from his officials about what has happened. The answer certainly gave the impression that there was going to be some proper conservation of what was found.

An earlier fountain was subsequently found, described by the Minister as a splendid and highly important piece".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 55.] It is surely pertinent now to ask just what all this means. How much has been destroyed, how much dismantled? How much can be reconstructed, if it is reconstructed? If anything remains—it is a bit of an "if"—where is it going to be displayed? After all my hon. Friends have said about the use of the motor car in the future, one might surely find some tiny corner for a public display. What action is going to be taken on display?

In a sense, although I have asked innumerable questions about the fountain, it may be a bit of a side issue. The truth is that it understandably caught the imagination of both hon. Members and the Press, but the real point in criticism of the Department and the Minister, certainly for me, was the failure to bother even to establish the archaeological potential of New Palace Yard before its destruction by development. This was really a major blunder, and there has been no defence of the failure to take action. No excuse has been offered which gives satisfaction. It must remain water under the bridge now, but at least even at this point of time some specific questions are worth putting.

First, as a result of the New Palace Yard situation, what steps have been taken to draw up a detailed survey of the archaeological potential of the various areas of the palace and to lay down a code of practice to be followed in all disturbances of the soil in the palace precincts?

Secondly, what steps are being taken to make public the archaeological results of the rescue work in New Palace Yard? When will a report with detailed descriptions appear? In what form is it likely to be published?

Thirdly, what steps are being taken to arrange for the public display of the discoveries, and when and where will this take place?

Fourthly, it is rumoured that considerable timbers, preserved by the waterlogged conditions, were pulled up by the mechanical diggers in March and April, and that work was halted to allow for archaeological examination. How long was the delay? How much did it cost? What was achieved? What evidence has been recovered of the use of the New Palace Yard area in the late Saxon period? Can we be quite certain that the discoveries went right down to bedrock, because, if so, no serious dating can be given of the Saxon palace, which, certainly of the period, is one of the most remarkable monuments in the whole of England.

Finally, I ask about the cost of the archaeological element. It is said to have been about £20,000, and it is very much mixed up with the question of delay, about which I asked earlier. So, expressing a good deal of criticism—which should be answered—about the general attitude to archaeology, I express the hope that if we have other major archaeological sites excavated and new building, either in London or elsewhere, more attention will be paid than to Baynard's Castle and to our own doorstep. One of the gloomiest aspects of this whole story is that, whereas we in the Palace of Westminster should have been setting an example in archaeology to the rest of the country, on our own doorstep we have not distinguished ourselves—and that, frankly, is the fault of the Government.

8.26 p.m.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Cannock

I share the sense of embarrassment that we are debating this matter at so early an hour. Although I quite understand the reasons which prompted the holding of the debate at 7 o'clock, it is a bit ironic to recall that we passed the car park scheme in the dead of night and that we had to struggle for months to get a three-hour debate about the parliamentary building, which was to cost £30 million, on a conservative estimate. That justified three hours. We are now being allowed to spend up to three hours in discussing expenditure of under £250,000 at a time when the nation is faced with grave problems, whether one calls them crises or otherwise. It is ludicrous and shameful, and I intend to exercise one little option tonight and call a Division, because we may as well justify our presence in some way. I am not happy about what is being proposed.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Birmingham Handsworth

I share my hon. Friend's sentiments about having the debate at this time of day. All of us do. But the point is that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House arranged the debate at this time because it was demanded of him on both sides of the House. In fairness to my right hon. Friend, I should point out that it is for that reason that the debate is being held tonight.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Cannock

My hon. Friend is entitled to his opinion. I am entitled to mine. I just do not feel that this hour is justified. I believe that we could have justified a full day's debate on the parliamentary building. I certainly think that the principle of the car park and the £3 million expenditure on it justified this sort of debate. I do not believe that the landscaping of New Palace Yard justifies it. I think that the select few who are sufficiently interested in architecture, archaeology and the rest, would have been here at 3 o'clock in the morning if necessary. We could have had the debate after the normal business of the day. However, let it pass.

What we are tonight commemorating in a sense is a monument to our folly in letting this car park suggestion go through. Although hon. Members have talked about it being £2½ million for 600 cars, that is not strictly true because 226 cars are provided for already. In fact, we are to spend about £2½ million on parking for about 300 cars. It is ludicrous.

I sincerely hope that much thought will be given to alternative uses of this space. Many things could be done with it. Taking up the suggestion of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), Congress for instance has underground gymnasia to keep members fit. Many things could be done with these five levels with proper air conditioning underground. I shall vote against the proposal partly for that reason. I want to register my protest and I hope that we shall think again, even at this late stage.

But if we cannot—and we must be realistic and expect that initially the cars will go in—what would be the best use for this space? I do not believe that the suggestion of the Services Committee is particularly imaginative or challenging. In fact, it is rather dull and dreary. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) said, although we have frequently crossed swords on issues of this sort. We were on opposite sides during the parliamentary building fiasco. God preserve us from that coming to pass. If it does, we would need something to soften the impression of the gargantuan abortion which will be put up across the road. That indeed would be a monument to the folly of Parliament.

Let us use the space as imaginatively as possible. I entirely endorse the comment of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) that it should be more accessible to the public. If we had a granite surround, with some grass and a pool in the centre, it would at least be a place of which Londoners would be proud and which people coming to the capital would be glad to see, when we are here and when we are not here. I do not see why we should totally isolate ourselves from the public. Whatever happens, not to have a focal point in the yard whether it be a pool or a statue, would be quite ridiculous. We could perhaps put Cromwell's statue there. It is standing outside under some dust sheets. It might be appropriate to have a statue of Cromwell in New Palace Yard.

My plea to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is twofold. First, let us think carefully about the use of these five storeys of space. Let us consider whether a Members' bicycle shed and room for 200 cars on the top of the yard would be adequate and see whether we can use the space underneath in a better way. If this is not possible, let us use much more imaginatively the space on top with some water and a bit of greenery, something which will help to complement what is by any standards one of the finest series of buildings in one of the most wonderful environments in the world.

8.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

I, too, deprecate the time taken to debate this subject during this week. I think of the number of times when I have sat on these benches wishing, without success, to intervene in an important debate and here I am, with plenty of time, during a week of what can only be called crisis, debating this matter.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth, (Mr. Sydney Chapman) has defended his boss for choosing this subject for debate this week, and so perhaps we had better get on with it. If somebody had asked me even a couple of hours ago whether I had anything in common with the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), politically anyway, I would have said, "Certainly not." However, I agree with his remarks, but I wish to go even further than he went in suggesting what we should do with the space.

One can see from the plan that basically it will be a wide open space. I cannot see that much skill is involved in landscaping it with a ring of bollards and a dozen lamp posts. Basically there is nothing else other than the vague pattern of granite setts to which the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) referred which we can see if we look closely enough. That seems to be all the landscaping there is. If my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. James Lamond), who was a provost of Aberdeen, were here, he would agree that Aberdeen granite setts would last many Parliaments if they were laid.

I should like to digress on the question of the fountain about which my hon. Friend he Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) spoke so knowledgeably. An underground pass for pedestrians was required under the main square in Sofia—a fairly busy traffic area. When the workmen started to dig they discovered some very old Roman remains and, instead of dismantling or demolishing them, they incorporated them in the underground passage and made them into a museum. It was extraordinarily well done. If we had been clever enough to incorporate the fountain in the car park, it would have been a good thing.

Can we afford to make the area into open space? We have Parliament Square. We do not need more open space. We have trees on one side and closed railings on the other. Frankly the concept is a complete waste of money. The car park is there—we all agreed that it was a mistake. The decision slipped through late at night. It was a fait accompli. Someone said, "You must support it now".

If the estimate is £2½ million now, we can be certain that it will be £3 million when it is finished. But what return shall we get? Do we and the staff deserve this expensive perquisite? We have had 200 to 300 cars parked there for many years. My suggestion is that we should pay for the new car park. It is difficult to get parking in London. The other day I went to Glasgow for a day and a half, left my car in the Euston railway station car park and when I returned I had to pay £3·15. Nearly 50 per cent. of MPs use their parking space free. Why should it be free? One hon. Member left his car for months. What would that cost in a private car park?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

My hon. Friend is on an interesting point. I canvassed this idea some time ago. Would he be prepared to comment on the fact that although a majority of hon. Members use the car park, there are those like myself who do not in normal circumstances travel to the House by car. But as I sometimes travel as a passenger in somebody else's car, I should be prepared to pay, say, £1 a week. If the 630 MPs and 400-odd staff were involved in that exercise it could raise about £50,000 a year.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

My hon. Friend has put a good deal of my speech ahead of its time. I suggest that the area should be laid out again as a car park and that the parking spaces should be sold to MPs. We should charge fees for the top half, not at £1 a week but at £100 a year, which is only £2 a week. That would still be much cheaper than the normal parking fee for Central London. The first storey of the underground car park could cost hon. Members about £80 a year, with a cheaper rate the lower one goes. No one should begrudge such payment.

There is much talk of the motor car being on its way out. That is wishful thinking. It will be with us for many years and used probably as much as today.

If we should find that we have extra space, let it to the public on the basis of so much a year, so much for six months. In that way one would avoid the expense of attendance and we should start to get some of the money back. Some people say that it will not affect them because they will be leaving this place at the end of this Parliament. Like the hon. Member for Faversham I like the bustle of people coming and going. It must have been much the same when carriages were used.

If this suggestion is not accepted I have to say that I rather liked the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) about putting the space to some use. Tennis courts or some such thing would be my choice. It has been said that using the other storeys for other purposes had been considered. What uses were in mind? We realise that the car park was a mistake in the first place. Let us not make a second mistake and waste more money. Let us get something out of the open space.

8.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) questioned the timing of the decision. Very fairly he acknowledged that this is a smaller decision following upon a larger one. I must remind my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that it was made clear in the debate of 22nd December, 1972 that my Department is only the servant of the House in this matter. We accept our directions from the House collectively. I go back to the debate of December 1972 to point out that the general order of costs stems from the recommendations of the Services Committee.

It was emphasised in that debate that the Services Committee has all-party representation. Its decisions, which are important, receive considerable publicity and the decision referred to tonight went back to the Session 1967–68. It was endorsed by the House without a Division after a debate which began at 3.55 p.m. on 9th June, 1972, was continued at 11 p.m. on 13th June and ended at 12.34 a.m. on 14th June. If any hon. Member thinks that the car park was in the wrong place or that it was too costly or out of tune with current environmental concepts he ought to consider seriously what he was doing when that decision to go ahead was made on 14th June, 1972.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

My hon. Friend will also concede that way back in 1967 this idea of an underground car park came from the Government of the day, from the Department and not from hon. Members. It would never have got anywhere if the Government had scotched it then.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I note what my hon. Friend says. He has a great knowledge of the detail. We all have to admit that all hon. Members must collectively accept responsibility for the decision then made.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether New Palace Yard was to be a garden or a courtyard. He suggested that hon. Members must park their cars properly before Divisions. The placing of well-designed bollards round the driveway might be a practical help to that end.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the laying on of water to the site. There is a possibility that later generations may wish to erect a fountain and we are trying to be considerate of their interests. It occurred to my Department that hon. Members might decide to have a pool. We are trying, at a time when it is not expensive to do the preparatory work, to give the opportunity for that to be done. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the granite setts which are proposed will be comfortable to walk on. By their nature they are of substantial weight, as they have to be to provide a firm walkway. The decision is not irreversible. It could be changed by another Parliament should it so wish.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham also questioned the original decision and spoke of the necessity of avoiding a dull and unimaginative use of the courtyard. The open paving which is proposed would make the courtyard suitable for many uses. My hon. Friend suggested an archaeological exhibition, and the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) suggested a son et lumière demonstration. All these suggestions are worthy of consideration, and ultimately the decision will be taken by the Services Committee, the Select Committee of the House which is responsible for decisions about the use of the Palace of Westminster.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

As the Liberal Party has put forward this fruitful suggestion of a son et lumière exhibition, may we have a son et lumière exhibition of the Liberal Party spokesman's policy statement about the dam across the Channel?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

That would be interesting, but not entirely relevant to the question of paving stones.

One difficulty about an archaeological exhibition is that it might cause a degree of confusion when hon. Members arriving late from a speaking engagement are rushing to take part in a Division. All these suggestions merit careful consideration by the Select Committee.

The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) asked about the use of the courtyard for recreational purposes and he suggested that two tennis courts might be appropriate. We must bear in mind that a security aspect may be involved in such use. However, all these proposals merit consideration.

The hon. Gentleman went on to raise wide-ranging questions about the future use of motor cars. He will appreciate that I am in no position to answer those questions with authority, but probably the successful extraction of North Sea oil and the possible successful development of the electric car for private carriage would be a relevant consideration.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North asked what would happen if the House reversed its earlier decision in regard to the use of these underground premises as a car park. To some extent the posing of the question is somewhat hypothetical. No studies have been undertaken, but I have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks on alternative use, including use in the recesses. I shall arrange for his suggestions to be examined by way of a report to the appropriate Select Committee. That reply also goes for the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack). We should consider all these matters in detail.

I come to the major question about landscaping proposals which the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) posed in his remarks. He asked why there should be a hard surface to the courtyard. The Committee recommended that New Palace Yard should be given a hard surface of granite setts. Should some small tree planting be required in addition, this would be technically possible, although some are of the opinion that this would be aesthetically and historically undesirable. There is a difference of opinion on this matter.

New Palace Yard has been an open courtyard as long as records go back. It was at one time twice as large as we see it today, and its wide expanse set off the great north end of Westminster Hall and was relieved only by an elaborate well head or fountain. The Royal Fine Art Commission holds the view that although New Palace Yard is smaller today than it was in times past, it is important to retain its noble scale and simplicity and that a yard with a common sloping surface consisting of setts, with its simplicity relieved by the catalpa trees, which we all regard with affection, would be an appropriate solution.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Cannock

There were some alarming reports about a year ago that the catalpa trees were dying or were likely to be killed off as a result of the excavations. Can my hon. Friend reassure the House on this point?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I think the catalpa trees have a limited life. The trees we have at present are 80 or 90 years old. It is likely that they will come to the end of their life in 10 to 15 years' time.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Cannock

They have not been affected by the excavations?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

No, they have not been damaged or interfered with. I am sure that hon. Members will require us at a later stage to take every care to replace the catalpa trees. I shall refer to that subject a little later.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

I have it on good authority that these catalpa trees require a lot of moisture and that this is the reason why they might be dying. Would it not be possible to see that they obtain artificial moisture?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point and I am sure that experts working in my Department will take note of that remark and try to do everything possible to preserve the catalpa trees. That is our intention. It is important to retain the noble scale and simplicity of the proposal so that we have a yard with a common sloping surface consisting of setts, its simplicity relieved by catalpa trees. That is believed to be an appropriate solution. Westminster City Council takes a similar view, and it has been suggested that to do otherwise presents a danger of producing a suburban solution to a problem on a monumental scale.

For that reason, it has been suggested that the breakdown of the surface by the use of water or grass would be inappropriate, and in that respect I was glad to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) who has given a great deal of time and effort to studying these problems. I thought that my hon. Friend admirably described the use of fan-shaped groups of concrete setts to provide a serviceable and attractive surface. I noted the advice of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) about the pattern of paving stones, though it was, to some extent, in conflict with the advice given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

My hon. Friend will appreciate that what I was describing was produced by his Department in the photograph in the report. It was not my idea. It was his Department's idea, and a very good one, too.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I was trying to say I was glad that my hon. Friend had noted that the Department's design was appropriate to the circumstances and pleasing to him. I confirm, as my hon. Friend said, that trees could be planted between the setts. I mention that because a number of hon. Members raised the point, and it is obviously a matter of concern.

I come back to the question of the cost of alternative schemes. This was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman). My hon. Friend asked for a combination of all three features—grass, water and paving—and in his argument he was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen). I assure my hon. Friend that it is intended to prohibit parking in this area. His great fear was that cars would be allowed to park there.

Photo of Mr Idris Owen Mr Idris Owen , Stockport North

The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) was concerned about that.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

My hon. Friend would disapprove of any proposal to allow parking in New Palace Yard. I assure my hon. Friend that it is intended to prohibit parking.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth that only the recommended treatment has been costed. It is likely that it would be rather less expensive in capital costs to cover the centre of the yard with grass, although that would involve an appreciable continuing expenditure. A water treatment would cost more, both in capital and in recurring terms. The reason is that it would need to be still water and the surface would require to be self-cleaning, as would the pool. If there is a still surface, apparently it must be a self-cleaning installation. That is expensive, and an adequately designed bronze lip or something of that sort to the pool would also be an expensive item.

Photo of Mr Douglas Houghton Mr Douglas Houghton , Sowerby

If the House wishes to be warned against the use of still water, I invite hon. Members to look at what visitors do with the water near the Old Jewel House. They throw in waste paper, they try to feed fish that are not there, and they do all sorts of funny things to the water. I am sure that using water would be risky.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I share the right hon. Gentleman's view. I have seen empty cigarette packets floating in the water there, and the whole thing looks extremely unpleasant.

I come back to the principle of the surfacing of the yard. Granite setts are not a cheap material, but New Palace Yard is a very special place where dignity, nobility of scale and great simplicity are appropriate. With respect to my hon. Friend, who I know has great experience in these matters, it is no place for an effect which might apply in a new town market place. New Palace Yard is already very small and break-up treatment would make it even smaller in appearance. What is sought is simplicity, dignity and spaciousness, and it is believed that this would be best achieved by the use of granite setts. There is not sufficient granite available in this country to provide all the granite setts that would be needed and we expect to find a continental source. I have noted the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth and other hon. Members on this score and I will certainly arrange that—

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Cannock

My hon. Friend cannot seriously believe that from the quarries of Cornwall, Aberdeen and other areas we are unable to find enough granite to pave New Palace Yard.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I am being perfectly frank with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members in telling them what I have been informed in this respect, but there will certainly be a check to see whether suitable supplies are available in this country.

Regarding trees and shrubs, paragraph 6 of the report notes the view of the Royal Fine Art Commission that the simplicity of the yard should be relieved by the catalpa trees. It should be borne in mind that there will be an opportunity in the future, when the catalpa trees have come to the end of their effective life, to reconsider what new planting will be required. That would be a good time for hon. Members to consider whether the replanting on the Westminster Bridge frontage should be extended to the Parliament Square frontage. Hon. Members often argue that the Parliament Square frontage would be improved by a row of catalpa trees. That would be more appropriate if the proposals being put to the House this evening are carried out.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Does my hon. Friend agree that if there were big trees all along that side it would not be possible to see into the yard, or to see half of the parliamentary buildings, from Parliament Square. Consideration should be given to having small trees, set out in a formal fashion in a similar way to those outside St. Paul's Cathedral. Such a scheme would provide in two or three years a series of shaded areas which would be much more useful for hon. Members and for the public.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I am grateful for that suggestion, which will be carefully considered. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) suggested marking the position and outline of the former site of the Tudor fountain with coloured paving stones. We shall consider this interesting suggestion. My Department will prepare a report on that proposal and forward it for consideration to the appropriate services committee. The hon. Gentleman referred to the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). I wish to pay tribute to the keenness with which the hon. Member for Brixton applied himself to the matter of the developments in New Palace Yard. He was always keenly interested and I am sorry that he cannot be with us this evening.

There was reference not to "demolish" but to "dismantle". The hon. Gentleman has an imaginative turn of mind in relation to words he uses on occasions, but I think he chose the word "demolished", whereas it was being dismantled with considerable care.

Photo of Mr Douglas Houghton Mr Douglas Houghton , Sowerby

Is not the difference between demolition and dismantling that demolition is breaking up and dismantling is taking to pieces?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

That must be so. Indeed, I understand that in the United States demolition contractors call themselves "wreckers". I think that that rather supports the right hon. Gentleman's view.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

After the wreckers or demolition contractors finish, the point of substance is where these remains are now.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

I shall be coming to the further matters raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian in a moment.

The hon. Member for West Lothian asked what was the time spent on the archaeological work. The answer is that there were six weeks of intensive work on the fountain followed by a similar period for environmental study. In addition there were several brief excavations at specific points. There was also a continuous monitoring of the work of the contractors as it progressed.

I am doing my best to answer the questions raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian. I intend to write to him giving further details after careful consideration of all his points. I am afraid that I cannot fairly and adequately answer them all tonight. However, I much appreciate his consistent interest in archaeological work and I realise what a serious interest he has in the subject.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Will the parts, fragments or shards of the fountain, which hon. Members were able to see before it was taken to pieces, be put together? The whole point about dismantling is that it can be "mantled".

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Yes, quite so.

Dealing with the background of the large-scale archaeological excavations and the reasons why the work on the car park was carried out in that way, the Department did not embark on the project without considering the archaeological and historical significance of the site. We consulted our Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments in September 1971 and we were advised that the results of a prior excavation would not justify the expense and the inconvenience to Members though it was desirable that the inspectorate should hold a watching brief throughout the period of construction. In view of that, we have had an inspector of ancient monuments and an assistant on the site continually since work began in July 1972. All the evidence found during the course of the work confirms that this was right and that we would not have been justified in ignoring the historical research and using the taxpayers' money in a large-scale preliminary diagram.

A thorough environmental study was made of the area which proved that the area of the yard had been a marsh until about 1066. This has been proved by both radio-carbon tests made by Harwell and pollen analyses made at Oxford. There was no question of a Saxon palace being sited in a morass. All the historical and documentary evidence points to it being situated close to Old Palace Yard.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Does all the carbon dating of timbers justify the assertion that everything found there is after 1066?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

It is difficult for me to reply to all the hon. Gentleman's technical questions. However, there is no note of any timber believed to be mediaeval being removed, though possibly remains of posts or of fencing of a later date may have survived. I shall be happy to send the hon. Gentleman all the information that I have about these points.

The hon. Member for West Lothian went on to suggest a code of practice. I can assure him that no digging takes place within the Palace of Westminster without full consultation with our professional advisers, and they have a very keen interest in these matters.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) and others asked specifically about the fountain. The first specific mention of a fountain or conduit-house in New Palace Yard is in 1399 when it was decorated for the coronation of Henry IV. It was later rebuilt in the middle of the fifteenth century and again in Tudor times. Incorporated in its foundations were the remains of about half of an elaborately decorated marble fountain of about the time of Richard I, thought to have stood originally in or near Old Palace Yard. It is the remains of this fountain that we want to exhibit, what is left of later fountains being too fragmentary and best illustrated with drawings and photographs.

I have already suggested that the site of the Great Fountain might be indicated in the pattern of setts to be laid in New Palace Yard. The hon. Member for West Lothian has suggested a way that that presentation might be improved.

This late twelfth century fountain had a central bowl, the plan of which was a flower of ten petals. The outside of the bowl was decorated with ten slender columns with deeply carved foliage capitals supporting a richly moulded rim. The bowl was placed above an encircling moulded balustrade and between the bowl and the balustrade a marble trough received the water flowing from the outlets in the bowl.

The essential thing for the disposal of the archaelogical finds is to find a site for exhibiting the remains of the twelfth century fountain where it can be protected from the weather. Various possibilities occur, some long term and some short. It would be impracticable to reconstruct them in New Palace Yard; nor would this be entirely appropriate when the remains of the substructure were only used as hardcore there and properly belong to Old Palace Yard.

I have noted the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Enfield, East who asked whether the fountain could be exhibited in the car park. It might not be easily accessible down there, and there may be some other technical objection of which I would not be aware. I shall certainly ask for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to be investigated to see whether there is a chance of the exhibition being put into the car park. The hon. Gentleman's point about charging for the use of the car park is, of course, a matter for the Services Committee.

Various possibilities occur for the exhibiting of these interesting finds. As I said, it would be impracticable to reconstruct them in New Palace Yard; nor would this be entirely appropriate as they properly belong to Old Palace Yard. Our experts will give this matter a good deal more thought before a final solution is reached, although the Jewel Tower opposite Victoria Tower may be the best interim solution.

Photo of Mr Idris Owen Mr Idris Owen , Stockport North

I get the impression from the Select Committee's Report that the Minister for Housing and Construction recommended the construction or the re-erection of the fountain. He appears now not to be particularly interested in that suggestion. Will my hon. Friend tell me why he has changed his mind?

Will he also spare a thought for those poor people who sit and stand outside the St. Stephen's entrance hour by hour in inclement and other weather—the excavations are now transferred up the ramp—and consider offering them some facilities whilst they wait to get into the Palace of Westminster when the pressure is great?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

It was thought to be inappropriate to erect a mock Tudor fountain on the site, first, because of cost and, secondly, because there were doubts whether it was the right thing to do.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Upon consideration of these matters certain objections arose, one of which was cost.

Would it be of great advantage to re-erect these archaelogical finds and to place them on this spot? I think that many hon. Members would have been interested if that had been a practical proposition. Unfortunately, the nature of the finds and the damage that has been done to them throughout history means that they are not suitable for exhibition in the open air. That is why we are now searching to find an appropriate place in which these exhibits can be shown in good style under cover.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

To return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen), the Under-Secretary may be coming to it, but he has not so far mentioned the criticisms which have been made. One was about the timing of this debate, which is the responsibility of the Lord President of the Council. He has said about five times that he is not responsible for what is being put forward because the Services Committee has recommended it, but it so happens that the Chairman of the Services Committee is also the Lord President of the Council. It may be that he is ill and that we should express our condolences, but at some point we should be told why the right hon. Gentleman who should be moving this motion is not doing so.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

On the question of timing, I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, as has been said earlier in the debate, this item which we are discussing is the small completion of a much larger project which was decided by a resolution of the House. The work on the main car park is proceeding, and we are discussing the finishing item which governs access to the Palace by a very large number of Members and other people, and therefore the practical requirements of timing in that respect require the House to come to a decision now on that issue. That is why we are having this debate tonight and discussing this matter in detail.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

In fact, it was I who first raised this matter. The point surely is why such a trivial matter should take up three hours of peak parliamentary time in a situation of such national gravity.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

It was at the request of hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Hon. Members have raised this matter and have asked that this subject should be discussed at a convenient hour and that proper time should be allowed for consideration and debate. It is a matter of some interest that so many Members have taken part in the debate. There has been an exchange of ideas and I think we have all benefited from that exchange.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Who are the hon. Members who expressed such tremendous interest in a three-hour debate on this trifling matter?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

The hon. Member is able to look back as well as anyone else over questions which have been raised during Business Questions in the House. He is normally very diligent in requiring that the House should be sensitive to these matters and should try to give time for discussion. Time having been allocated, that does not control the number of Members who take part in the debate, and a great number of Members have been interested. I have tried to reply to the points which have been raised.

We have had considerable discussion in detail of these matters tonight. A vital point was raised by the right hon. Member for Sowerby, whether New Palace Yard is to be a garden or a courtyard. For the reasons which I have advanced, concerned with simplicity, scale and dignity, I hope it will be thought more appropriate that the recommendation of the Select Committee should be accepted, bearing in mind that that would not preclude at a later stage the growing of trees to bring about some variation, or indeed another idea of a more profound nature, to answer the question posed by the right hon. Member for Sowerby. But tonight I should like to urge that we accept the recommendation of the Select Committee.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

May I ask for my hon. Friend's assistance? He has courteously offered to consider many suggestions which have been put forward, but am I right in thinking that if the House approves this sixth report we shall be proceeding with the recommendations of this report, including the overall covering of granite setts?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Yes, that would be so, but I want to make clear to my hon. Friend that I have tried to demonstrate that within that major decision, which I believe to be right, there is still an opportunity for variation in other finer points

Question accordingly negatived.