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Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD):
I am glad to join debate with the hon. Gentleman again. I, too, have practised in Middlesex guildhall in my previous life and I have formed an entirely different view. The building is entirely adaptable. There are several courts and other rooms, it is over the road from Parliament and, most important, it is a distinct buildinga distinct institutionso making the point that I thought the hon. Gentleman supported: that there
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should be a clear separation between Parliament and the legislature, and the courts. That is the obvious way to achieve it.
Mr. Grieve: I shall not be drawn into a discussion at this stage about the separation of powers, in which, as I indicated previously, I do not believe. I accept that we have a serious disagreement about the need to set up a supreme court at all. However, I want to make it clearwhich is why I tried to split this argument from the argument on amendment No. 328 and amendments consequential upon itthat my arguments on amendment No. 350 are based on the premise that we are setting up a supreme court. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that Middlesex guildhall, without major adaptation, is a suitable environment.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): Before my hon. Friend completely destroys the image of Middlesex guildhall, will he keep in mind that it acts as a symbol of something very importanthistoric Middlesex? Although its county council was abolished and the guildhall is therefore no longer required, Middlesex still exists. Middlesex guildhall is important and needs to keep that name, to keep the history alive.
Mr. Grieve: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who represents a seat which historically formed part of Middlesex and still does. If one goes into the building, one notices that it is redolent with civic pride relating to the county of Middlesex. There are coats of arms associated with the county and a host of carving that highlights the traditions of the county, all of which have been easily adapted to the environment of a Crown court. Historically, many Crown courts have sat in shire halls in the same way as takes place in Middlesex guildhall. It is a perfect environment for a Crown court, but we are setting up the supreme court of the United Kingdom. Either we must take out the stained glass, remove the carving and alter the interiors so that they correspond to the idea that the new members of the supreme court who are enthusiastic about it have about their functions, or we are putting them into a building that is the very opposite of what they wanted.
It is a matter of slight speculation, but one can draw some inferences from what Lord Bingham said as to what those Law Lords who are in favour of turning themselves into a supreme court want. My impression is that they want a building that is distinguished in appearance, probably modern if it could be found[Interruption.] Well, a number of buildings have been floated as proposals ranging from Somerset house to Middlesex guildhall, and in each case, I have detected objections, both from public utterances and from what I have picked up in other circumstances, to the effect that none of them quite reflects the image of the court that they want to put forward. I have some sympathy with that. It is clear that they want the Committee Room-appearance of the courtroom, with the judges not on the dais but down at the same level as the practitioners, to be preserved. In an ideal world, they would want some facilities for the public so that the place is user-friendly to those coming in and to suggest something accessible, informal and modern, and even some sort of interpretation centreI do not mean that in any way pejorativelyto give people an impression
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of what the new court will do. I have great difficulty imagining all those things in the context of the setting of Middlesex guildhall, and so does Lord Bingham.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), I have no legal background, but I have some architectural background, and my ancestor, Sir William Chambers, designed Somerset house, which I have been all over. I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute guarantee that English Heritage would never permit the sort of changes that he is suggesting. If he is saying, as he was a few moments ago, that members of the supreme court might seek a modern environment, is he really suggesting that the other end of this place provides that?
Mr. Grieve: I shall come on to that in a moment. One thing on which I agree with the hon. Gentleman is the problems relating to any changes to Somerset house. I am perfectly aware of that, and am familiar with Somerset house, which is a magnificent piece of architecture. As I understand it, Somerset house was unsuitable for that reason. The Minister will correct me if I have it wrong, and he may take the opportunity of this debate to enlarge on the Government's approach, as Parliament is entitled to know a little about their background reasoning and the options rather than just hearing it at third hand through the press.
Any changes to Middlesex guildhall will also pose problems with English Heritage. We may have the opportunity to hear more from the Minister as we discuss the matter in Committee, but my understanding is that any alteration poses considerable difficulties, and from my knowledge of the building, I have no problem in understanding why. It would need substantial adaptation, including the moving of the woodwork and many internal fittings, which remain an integral part of its structure and have adapted well to its role both as a Crown court, and in the past, as a shire hall. The Government have not addressed those genuine problems.
Simon Hughes: I smile at the idea that the Conservative party is resisting a change of use to Middlesex guildhall when I seem to remember that it was responsible for a change of use to County hall over the river into something far further removed from civic pride than is being suggested for the guildhall. There may be good reasons for suggesting the guildhall. If the hon. Gentleman does not want it to be the guildhall, but if we are to have a supreme court outside the Palace, will he tell us where he suggests that it should go?
That raises some interesting questions[Interruption.] Well, my simple answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I have not the slightest idea. While I can see that if the Government were prepared to fork out £250 million a suitable site could be found on which to erect a building that would correspond to the idea held by those Law Lords who wish to move, the Government have not suggested that they will fork out that sum, although I have a funny suspicion that by the time this process is finished we will be moving rapidly in that direction.
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I want to compare Middlesex guildhall, which is the offer on the tablenot the other ideas, which might be costly but have some validitywith what is available down the Corridor. It is a fairly remarkable set-up. It is within the Palace at the other end, and has succeeded over the past hundred and something years in accommodating the Law Lords. First, it has provided them with their own rooms, which most of them find agreeable, as they have said, and private rooms in which to work. Secondly, it has provided them with a Committee Room, which I have been in and sat in for work purposes as well as seen in the context of being a Member of the House. That Room is entirely suitable, pleasant and at the same time quite an informal environment. Thirdly, it has succeeded in various offices in providing all the necessary support services for the Law Lords. There is a fantastic library of national quality and standard, which also provides the House of Lords with its Library, sensibly avoiding a duplication of resources. There is an amazing office at the bottom of the Victoria Tower, where judgments can be produced and distributed, and which, once one knows where it is, is a hive of activity and industry. There appear to be motivated staff who are happy to work in the building.
Overall, those facilities are provided for the princely sum, on which the Minister will correct me if it is wrong, of £168,000, leaving out the judicial salaries[Interruption.] Indeed, there are no overheads because of the duplication of the function that the building must already perform as a House of Parliament. That seems to me a jolly sensible use of public money. The Minister will have to persuade me, before I return to my constituents in Beaconsfield, that there really is some purpose in spending between £30 million and £50 million, with running costs of between £5 million and £8 millionit is not quite clearto set up a separate structure to deliver exactly the same service.
Mr. Tyler: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had similar experience to my own when I held accommodation responsibilitiesthat there is considerable pressure from the existing membership of the House of Lords for offices and other accommodation at the other end of the building. Were the change to take place, which Liberal Democrat Members support, it would release some of the pressure at that end, and might make it more possible for more parts of that House and its support staff to be within this building, which would clearly be to the advantage of Parliament. Has he taken that into account?
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