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House of Lords

Thursday, 15 July 2004.

The House met at eleven of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Worcester): The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Palace of Westminster: College Green Ticket Booth

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes asked the Chairman of Committees:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, Westminster City Council, after consultation with English Heritage, approved the erection of a temporary ticket booth on College Green and gave advice about the nature of the final design. Within that limitation, the design was approved by the joint visitor route steering group, in conjunction with the Parliamentary Estates Directorate. The booth is the same as that erected during the Summer Recess in 2003. Options for a permanent ticket office continue to be explored.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some people have described the booth as a cross between a hot-dog stand and a hoopla stall? I would not go that far myself, but does he believe it to be in keeping with the dignity and beauty of the Houses of Parliament?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I quite appreciate that the design of the booth may not be to everyone's tastes; presumably, the architect liked it. However, given security considerations and the pressure of space within the Palace, a ticket office outside it is necessary. None the less, I assure the noble Baroness that options for creating a permanent ticket office are being taken forward, so that the temporary structure can be removed.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the demand for visits to this beautiful Palace is a great wonder. Would it not be better if the Palace were turned into a museum of democracy, with plans set in hand to build a 21st-century parliament? Such a place would not turn our thinking into old thinking, but would invigorate our whole democracy by putting our parliamentarians in a 21st-century and radical frame of mind.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord's question probably goes slightly outside my
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brief and, on the whole, I do not agree with him. If this were not a working Palace, presumably a lot of the visitors would not want to come.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, is the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees aware that there will not be universal agreement with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord McNally? After all, he was calling for this Parliament to imitate the Scottish Parliament in setting up a new building. Apart from the expense—as I recall, it has risen from £40 million to £400 million so far—it has not enhanced the behaviour of the Scottish Parliament.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord probably tempts me slightly beyond my brief again. However, I am sure that there will be lessons to learn from the building of the Scottish Parliament, and no doubt from the building of the Supreme Court when we get one.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, does my noble friend agree that the Prime Minister has in fact done a remarkably fine job of turning this place into a museum of democracy without any of the expenditure that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, envisages?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, is the Chairman of Committees aware that I am provoked to point out that, after the building of this Palace, Mr Disraeli suggested that the architect be hanged?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I do not think that we would go that far with the architect of the ticket booth across the road.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that architects usually like their own work and have to be kept under control, like all other experts?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that is true. It might be useful if I gave a little of the history. The Palace was first opened to the public during the Summer Recess in 2000, at which time tickets were only available off-site by telephone or the Internet and had to be picked up from the British Tourist Office in Regent Street. That rapidly became obviously unsatisfactory, and a ticket office was then set up in Westminster Hall. Unfortunately, that meant that people had to go into Westminster Hall through security, buy their tickets, go out again, go along the pavement and go in through Black Rod's Garden and again through security. That was obviously unsatisfactory as well. The following year, a temporary tent or Portakabin was erected. That proved not to the liking of English Heritage and such people, so the new booth was erected. As I said in my
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Answer, we hope to have more permanent facilities in due course. The permission to put the booth where it is lasts only until 2008.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, does the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees agree that the site on College Green is extremely badly managed? During the winter, it was dug up and was plain earth. In the spring, it was regrassed, presumably at vast expense. The grass that was put down in early spring is now covered with a type of carbuncle that has come to revisit us again this summer.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the booth is on only part of the grass.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that we could have the ticket booth in Parliament Square, on the site of the current tip?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that is a possibility. The only problem is that most of the visitors would probably be run over crossing from Parliament Square to the Palace.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, do I understand that, because our business takes place in this ancient and wonderful building, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, proposes that we are incapable of thinking in the 21st century?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord must ask the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about that.

Kyoto Protocol

Lord Mitchell asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government continue to urge Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible. Indeed, the Prime Minister has spoken personally to President Putin on the matter. There would be economic as well as environmental advantages to Russia, which we put across at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the United States Administration have made it clear that they have no intention of ever ratifying Kyoto. However, we continue to engage them on climate change. For example, my right honourable friend Margaret Beckett spoke to senior members of the administration during her recent visit to Washington, and we look forward to their constructive engagement.

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. It was not entirely reassuring, but I
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thank him all the same. Global warming poses what many have described as mankind's greatest threat—irreversible climate change. The Kyoto Protocol to limit carbon dioxide emissions cannot come into effect unless either Russia or the United States ratifies the treaty. President Putin is indecisive; President Bush is indifferent. When will our Government use their considerable influence with both leaders to give the issue the priority that it demands?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct to say that the issue is the greatest challenge facing the world's politicians. It is deeply regrettable that the leaders of many countries have failed to give it the same priority as we in Britain and many other countries in Europe have. We use all our best efforts to try to persuade both the Russian and United States Governments to engage constructively in discussions on climate change. I regret to say that the United States Administration are more than indifferent; they are deeply hostile to the Kyoto Protocol. However, they are ignoring increasing concern within America as a whole about climate change, and we wish to engage the United States, perhaps beyond the Kyoto Protocol, in a more constructive relationship. We look forward to that occurring. With the Russians, there is a chance of ratification and we continue to press them on it.

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