Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I shall speak very briefly. On 19th October 1992 the House debated an Offices' Committee report and I drew attention to the fact that two people who had been seconded from English Heritage were now being taken on to the full complement. I did wonder at the time what two full-time people going around this Palace would find to do. I wondered whether in fact the tail would start wagging the dog. I also felt that it was time that somebody pointed out that the emperor had no clothes.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to two examples of what I meant at that time. The first comes from The Mail on Sunday and the feature article entitled "Black Dog" published last Sunday. One of the paragraphs states,

18 Jan 1996 : Column 709

I gave the Chairman of Committees notice that I was going to raise this in the fervent hope that he will be able to tell the House this afternoon that this is a lot of nonsense, because if it is not I really do not know how we can look the taxpayer in the face.

The second example I found during the Recess. I come into the House quite a lot during the Recess because of my duties with the BBC and the Docklands Development Corporation. One day I found someone photographing every tile in the Peers' Lobby. I enquired what was going on and I was told, "Some of the tiles are getting worn". I said, "There is a very good reason for that". The question was asked, "What is that?" I said, "They are being walked on". This is a place of work. If we try to turn it into a museum, it is ludicrous. We should make proper allowance for the fact that it has to be used as a workplace.

As regards paragraph 3 of the report entitled "Overhaul of roofs over parts of the House of Lords", I should like to ask, first, how extensive is that work and, secondly, what is going to be the cost of it? The report continues,

    "a project will be undertaken to carry out essential repairs and restoration".

Are we really going to have restoration in the sense of restoring the roof to its original condition in places where nobody ever goes and where nobody will ever see it? Can we have some clarification on this?--because again, if that is so, it will be ludicrous.

Lastly, paragraph 3 concludes,

    "disturbance and inconvenience to Lords and staff will be kept to a minimum".

We hear that phrase from time to time and it has now assumed just the importance of a punctuation mark because I see very little sign of it. During the Recess, Lift HOP13 was refurbished and finally it was working again. That work was done during the Recess in order not to inconvenience noble Lords more than necessary, but of course, Library staff and others have to go up to that second floor on a regular basis. Perhaps some consideration can be given to them sometimes.

On Monday 25th September, I came into this building early and was delighted to find that the lift was again in service. I made a very happy journey up to the second floor. I had a visitor coming at 11 o'clock and I went to take the lift down. There was a sign across the lift saying, "Lift requisitioned for removals". I went down to the ground floor. It is possible to get there from the second floor despite the enormously expensive staircase, which is now being put in and which is unnecessary. I found on the ground floor that a contractor was loading bricks into the lift. Not only was he loading bricks into the lift, but that was in full view of a very senior officer of the House who was standing two yards away. When I remonstrated about this and pointed out that this was how the lift had become damaged in the first place I was told by the senior officer, "If we do not use the lift, we shall need a scaffolding tower or have to carry the bricks up the stairs".

18 Jan 1996 : Column 710

I do not accept that at all because that lift was ruined not so long ago by the people installing the air conditioning in the upper corridor of the Commons using it for materials and gear. When I was told that there was no alternative at that time to using the lift I made an expedition down the other end and I found a very much more substantial lift which could have been used if heavy articles had to be carried. But also it is the easiest thing in the world to sling a boom and a block and tackle out and the stuff could have been hoisted up without damage to anything. I am very unhappy about this because if contractors are told not to use these lifts and they disobey the instructions they should be dismissed, and we should make sure that they do not get work in the Palace again.

Finally, about this lift--if I seem obsessional to your Lordships it is because I am obsessional about it--when I inquired I was told by the director of works that there would be a complete refurbishment this summer and that it would include facilities for disabled people. Yesterday I tried to get a wheelchair into this lift. It is possible to get a wheelchair into the lift only if it goes in absolutely straight and then there is no clearance at all on either side. So someone who has to propel himself in a wheelchair by his own effort cannot possibly use the lift. How it has been adapted for the disabled, I do not understand. We now have a voice which tells us which floor we are arriving at, supposing it is working, so that may be helpful to someone who is blind. But if that is the only change that has been made, then it is sick.

I really do think that we are failing in our duty if we let reports like this go through on the nod when we know of abuses like this which have occurred.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, for having informed me beforehand of the first matter to which he referred. I have to confess that I am always in some difficulty in your Lordships' House in dealing with matters which do not arise from a particular report. If I were to seek to assist one noble Lord, I would perhaps be in danger of offending all other noble Lords. However, with your Lordships' permission, I am prepared to make an exception in this case because it is a matter which has reached the public view and therefore it would perhaps be appropriate to use this opportunity to say something about it.

I am aware of and have seen the article in the Mail on Sunday to which the noble Lord referred. I know, too, that the Parliamentary Works Directorate made calculations two years ago to establish whether it would be more economic to put a permanent structure here or to erect and then take down at the end, as it were, of the useful season the terrace awnings. Perhaps to some noble Lords somewhat paradoxically, it is the case that it would be more expensive--indeed substantially more expensive: around one-third to two-thirds more expensive--to have a permanent structure than to have the structure put up and taken down each year. Furthermore, I would venture to suggest--I think this view is shared by the committee as well--that it would be very unlikely indeed, even if it were to be desired, that permission would be given for the creation of a

18 Jan 1996 : Column 711

permanent structure. I do not have to hand separate figures for the cost of dismantling and re-erecting the awnings, but I have given some indication of the difference in the costs which would be likely to arise.

The noble Lord referred to photographs being taken of the tiles in the Peers' Lobby. I am not able to help him about that. However, I would only share his view that this place is not a museum. It is very much a working place. As we know from the duties which noble Lords perform in your Lordships' House, if I may speak on your Lordships' behalf for this end of the Palace of Westminster at any rate, it is very much a place of work and service to Parliament and the nation.

The noble Lord asked about the roofs. Yes, indeed, it is an extensive operation but it has to be done. I would not wish to take--I am sure no noble Lord would expect me to take--any undue risks which might affect your Lordships. It is essential that this workplace, reverting to the previous point, should be adequately maintained.

I take the noble Lord's point about avoiding disturbance. Although there was disturbance from time to time in the course of the very extensive operations carried out during the last Summer Recess--the largest the Palace has so far ever seen--that work was, if I may give a personal view, very successfully carried out on schedule. Very determined measures were taken, which I think were largely successful, to keep the promise we gave to keep disturbance to a minimum. I cannot pretend that there will be no disturbance when extensive restoration work is carried out in your Lordships' House and in the Palace generally, but on the basis of our past experience, I can say, I hope with some confidence, that the disturbance will be kept to a minimum. If any of your Lordships has reason to require additional steps to be taken, they will certainly be sympathetically considered by those concerned.

I shall have to let the noble Lord know outside the Chamber on the lift point because, again, I do not have any details about that to hand. But if there is any useful information I can pass on to him, I shall of course do so.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page