New Palace Yard (Landscaping)

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

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Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North 12:00 am, 10th December 1973

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.