Windsor Castle (Fire)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:04 pm on 23rd November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Secretary of State for National Heritage 4:04 pm, 23rd November 1992

The hon. Lady has asked me a series of questions. I am grateful for the sympathy that she expressed at the outset.

The hon. Lady asked about the inquiry. I did say that, as soon as we had received the preliminary report, I would discuss with the royal household whether there were further matters that we should investigate. She also asked about fire service drills. If that is a matter of particular importance to her, I shall let her know the dates of drills; but they occur on a regular basis. One of the most recent rehearsals was carried out in the Brunswick tower, which was affected by the fire.

Although the part of the castle that was affected by the fire is not subject to fire regulations, it is the royal household's policy to comply with them. It is, however, in the nature of such ancient buildings that it is not possible to carry out all the regulations that are laid down for modern buildings without destroying some of the historic fabric. I understand that the regulations are being complied with in the castle as far as that is feasible; indeed, fire precaution measures exceed the guidance set out in them.

The hon. Lady asked a number of questions relating to the part-time fire service. The changes made in 1991 have brought about a positive improvement in part-time arrangements. The complications were reduced when a central Government Department and the Property Services Agency, as well as the royal household, became involved. It is, I think, universally agreed that the previous arrangements were unsatisfactory, and that the present ones are much better.

The hon. Lady asked about the denial of access to English Heritage. The rewiring which occasioned the issue did not involve significant renovation work, and English Heritage experts were not needed; they have, however, been fully involved in renovation of the round tower. The hon. Lady also asked about cuts. The castle-based fire service has increased its full-time staff from five to six. She mentioned 12 part-timers: I acknowledge that that figure has fallen to nine, but if volunteer part-timers came forward, they would willingly be accepted.

It was suggested that there had been delay owing to ambiguity. On Saturday, I spent a long time with the relevant officer in the Berkshire fire service. He was clear that the arrangements—for which there had been preparation—had worked extremely well. The castle fire service was used for its specific purposes, providing guidance and, in particular, identifying the order in which objects should be removed.

The hon. Lady asked where the distinction lay between public and private property. Responsibility for the fabric of the castle rests with the Government, as it has done since 1831, before the introduction of the great Reform Bill. The contents of the castle constitute a royal collection, and responsibility for them therefore rests with the Queen. Let me stress to the hon. Lady, in terms of the question that she asked—