Amendment 8

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Earl Howe:

Moved by Earl Howe

8: Clause 2, page 3, line 5, at end insert—“(ga) the special architectural, archaeological and historical significance of the Palace of Westminster;”

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 8 in the name of my noble friend Lady Evans of Bowes Park. Noble Lords will be aware that Members in the other place considered an amendment that proposed that the sponsor body should have regard to the need to conserve and sustain the outstanding architectural and historical significance of the Palace of Westminster, including the outstanding universal value of the world heritage site.

There is no disagreement on the Government’s part about the sentiment underlying this. We agree that the works undertaken during R&R will need to ensure that the architectural, archaeological and historical significance of the Palace of Westminster is preserved for future generations. Originally, as I explained at Second Reading, we were of the view that the best way of achieving this was through the existing planning processes, which will be legally bound to safeguard the grade 1 listed status of the building. We have also been cautious about the idea of including the UNESCO heritage status of the Palace of Westminster in the Bill, given that this designation also covers Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church.

Nevertheless, we recognise that there is support in both Houses for the Bill to specify that the sponsor body should have regard to heritage. Because of that, the Government committed in the other place to bring forward an amendment on heritage in Committee. We have therefore tabled this amendment, which we consider strikes the right balance between the preservation and protection of the Palace’s heritage, and the need to deliver the renovations and accessibility modifications that would improve the functionality of the Palace.

The Government have been grateful for the opportunity to discuss this approach with a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Inglewood and Lord Cormack, the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott of Needham Market and Lady Andrews, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I am genuinely pleased that all the noble Lords we engaged with supported the drafting.

The purpose of the restoration and renewal programme is to secure the Palace, and restore and renew it for future generations. The heritage of the Palace is central to this, so this amendment will set into the Bill a duty on the sponsor body to have regard to the special architectural, archaeological and historical significance of the Palace of Westminster. This is one of a number of matters for the sponsor body to have regard to, so will need to be considered alongside others, such as disabled access. In that sense, it seeks to ensure that the Bill strikes the balance between restoring the Palace of Westminster and renewing it. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 9:00 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, my Amendment 11 is grouped with the amendment just moved by my noble friend Lord Howe. Having had conversation with him, for which I am extremely grateful, I am perfectly content with the wording that he has referred to.

However, I want to draw to your Lordships’ attention —briefly but forcefully, I hope—one thing that worries me very much. While we sit here, one of the most historic parts of the Palace of Westminster is crumbling. If I asked one of your Lordships to go and get a handful of dust, you might think that I was referring to Evelyn Waugh and go to the Library, but you can get a handful of dust by going to the cloister.

Some of your Lordships may not be familiar with the cloisters, mainly because, until very recently, they were not very good offices for a number of Members of the other place. They are adjacent to the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. They were damaged by, but mainly escaped, the fire of 1834. They were damaged again in an air raid in 1940. Both those unfortunate incidents were followed by restorations—after the fire by that of Barry and after the air raid by that of Scott—and both those restorations were meticulous.

The cloisters date back to the reign of Henry VIII—1520 or thereabouts. They are among the finest cloisters in the country. If you go to them now and if you are proud of this great Palace, you will feel ashamed. I was there just 10 days ago and took a friend who was an architectural historian. I will be going again very shortly, taking the chairman of Historic England, because there is real concern. That is not only because the fabric is in such a parlous state and because this is one of the most historic parts of the Palace of Westminster but because there are no current plans to begin restoration. It is even suggested that nothing much can happen until after restoration and renewal is complete. That would be a total scandal. It would be a terrible neglect of one of the most historic parts of the fabric of the Palace of Westminster.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howe for our conversation. I am grateful for the recognition signified by the amendment to the Bill that he has moved, but that is only the beginning and it is not enough. If we are to be serious about restoring and renewing this great Palace, that commitment has to extend to every part of it. I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in her place, because she was an exemplary chairman of English Heritage before it was changed—where English Heritage looks after the properties and Historic England looks after the rest. She will know that what I am saying is right. It is tremendously important that the danger—I am not using the wrong word—facing the cloisters at the moment is dealt with as quickly as possible.

This ought to be one of the true jewels in the Palace. It is of enormous architectural and historic importance because, in the Oratory Chapel in January 1649, the death warrant of Charles I was signed: one of the most seminal moments in our history and in the evolution of our parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. We should be making more of it. It was an office for a few Members of Parliament; it is now disfigured and defaced by radiators, and the stone is crumbling. If we are going to mean what we say about restoration and renewal, we must restore this extremely important part of this great Palace of Westminster and, I suggest, make it available to members of the public to see it.

I use this as an example to underline the need for my noble friend’s amendment. It must become an integral part of the Bill, but that is just the beginning. I would like to hear from my noble friend, when he winds up this brief debate, that he will go and have a look himself and that he will do all he can. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, will also go and have a look, because we need to put it right. I do not have to beg to move, because I am merely tagged on to my noble friend’s amendment, but I draw it to noble Lords’ attention with sadness but determination. It is a determination that I hope noble Lords will share.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I shall be very brief. First, I thank the Government most warmly for the amendment they have brought forward. It is an exemplary amendment: it has none of the conditions attached that I thought might have been tempting. It is a simple, elegant and comprehensive statement of what it is we must take care of and it has the right balance of technical and emotive language. So I am very grateful and I can say that Historic England, with which I still have a continuing connection, is extremely pleased and grateful to the Government for this. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is absolutely right.

We heard a very powerful speech at Second Reading from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, which warned us, essentially, not to be completely obsessed by the simple presentation of a Victorian building. He was absolutely right, but very much of the medieval Palace—in fact most of it—has disappeared and the cloisters are the most significant part of the archaeology and architecture left, so we should have a special care for them. I am not entirely certain whether they are designated as being at risk. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is meeting the chair of Historic England, because we can get very good guidance as to what to do. In my experience, you can always do urgent conservation and repairs, so I see no reason why that should not happen before R&R starts properly, let alone before it finishes, because, frankly, there will be nothing left if it is the stone itself that is so fragile. I would be very interested to know what comes of that meeting, and so, I suspect, will many Members of the House: maybe we can follow that up informally, or maybe through the estates department of the House, to make sure that we know that action is being taken.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I shall speak relatively briefly, I hope, on this issue. I welcome Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, and I thank the Minister for his comments. My noble friend Lady Andrews spoke at Second Reading, as did other noble Lords, about the historical significance this building has, and I am pleased that that has led to the amendment today to ensure that a duty is placed on the sponsor body to have regard to,

“the special architectural, archaeological and historical significance of the Palace of Westminster”.

The amendment addresses the concerns felt across the whole House and we welcome it.

On the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in a sense, what he is saying is the very basis of the restoration and renewal programme. I said before that we all recognise that there is that line to be trod between the necessary changes to the building and preserving its historical fabric. The whole basis of this programme is that, while we recognise the historical and archaeological implications of the building, we adapt it for modern use. He made a point in his amendment about us returning to the building. If we were not going to return to the building, we could just have a museum and patch everything up as it is now. However, because we are returning to the building, we need to have those types of adaptations and improvements. The only reason so many of our historic buildings have survived is because they have been adapted to modern use. If you go back to history, the reason why we have so many old buildings is because they have been kept in use and modernised over many years. I am also pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, makes reference to the building’s status as part of the UNESCO world heritage site, as that is an important distinction to make. The point of his amendment, which is well made, is covered in Amendment 8, so we are grateful to the Minister and the Government for bringing it forward.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and for their welcome of the wording of the amendment before us. It resolves very neatly the concerns raised by many noble Lords and indeed many Members of the other place, and I am genuinely glad that noble Lords feel that it is entirely appropriate.

I hope that I can briefly give some words of comfort to my noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on their perfectly understandable concerns about the condition of the medieval cloisters. First, I assure them that Cloister Court is part of the Palace of Westminster. That point is material, because it means that it will be included in the restoration and renewal works. Furthermore, however, the House authorities are planning some exterior conservation works in Cloister Court before restoration and renewal begins. Following that, the whole Palace, including both the external and internal spaces of Cloister Court, are in scope for the restoration and renewal works. With those words, I hope that my noble friend in particular will be at least partly reassured on his concerns.

Amendment 8 agreed.

Amendments 9 to 11 not moved.