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New Parliamentary Building

Volume 205: debated on Monday 9 March 1992

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House approves the First Report from the Accommodation and Works Committee in respect of the New Parliamentary Building (Phase 2) (HC 269-I). — [Mr. Greg Knight.]

6.2 pm

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is not in Ills place, because over the years he has promised to provide me with an orange box when I speak at the Dispatch Box so that Government Members will be able to see me. I will not answer any comments about my height, because it is the quality that counts, not the size—whether outwards or inwards.

As Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee, I support the motion on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the House to approve the Committee's report on the sketch plans stage of the second phase of the new parliamentary building programme.I place on record my thanks to my colleagues on that Committee and to those who served on the former New Building Sub-Committee for their valuable contributions during the inquiries, and for their hard work within what was necessarily a tight timetable.

No doubt some members of the Committee will try to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, during this debate. I refer particularly to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), who is in his place, who served on both Committees and was a regular attender at both. He gave myself—the Chairman—and the staff in general tremendous support.

I express my appreciation and that of my colleagues for the work done on our behalf by the Clerk to the Committee, by Ken Brown, and by the architects, Michael Hopkins and John Pringle, and their staff; the officials in the Parliamentary Works Office and their secretariat; and the Property Services Agency project team.

I thank also the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), the Secretary of State for the Environment, for his personal interest in the project. I trust that that valuable support will continue and will be strengthened, with whatever influence can be brought to bear by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), to ensure that London Underground's preparation of the site will be completed as soon as possible.

The House has waited far too long for adequate, not luxurious, accommodation to enable the members of a modern Parliament to peform their many tasks and to serve their constituents efficiently. The days when right hon. and hon. Members had to be crowded four, five, or more to a room and in Corridors such as the Cloisters must be brought to an end as soon as possible. Right hon. and hon. Members have displayed patience, bordering on despair, and eventually complete indifference to their inadequate office accommodation—although for decades they legislated to ensure that staff everywhere were protected by shops, offices, and factories legislation. If it had applied to the House, Parliament would have been compelled to act sooner.

No. 1 Parliament street, which was opened by the Prince of Wales last year, helped to ease the problem, but we are far from solving it. When I presented a report to the House on that development, right hon. and hon. Members expressed amazement that agreement on it was reached as long ago as 1963—28 years before its completion. That indicates clearly that not only the interest of right hon. and hon. Members but their total commitment to taking action is necessary to ensure that the latest plan is approved, and that the Committee's reasonable requests and recommendations—especially that which emphasises the need for construction to commence as soon as possible—are met.

If it had not been for the resolve since 1987 of the members of the New Building Sub-Committee, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) in particular was a most active participant, No. 1 Parliament street would not yet be open. The new and exciting proposals for right hon. and hon. Members and their staff and for other services will be realised only if right hon. and hon. Members take a constant and continuing interest.

I make this personal and perhaps controversial observation about accommodation. At every general election, some right hon. and hon. Members retire voluntarily, while others are forced to do so by the electorate. Consequently, there are over the years great changes in the individual membership of the House, whereas officers and staff remain in their posts until they retire. I have a high regard for their work, and for the efforts that they make on behalf of the House, but their continuing employment means that they are better placed to ensure adequate accommodation for themselves. I have no objection to that, provided that it does not supersede the rights of right hon. and hon. Members to be treated fairly in respect of whatever office accommodation may become available.

That aspect needs to be kept under close scrutiny over the next decade, while awaiting the completion of phase 2, if right hon. and hon. Members are to receive the priority that is their right to demand—even if that is at the expense of their secretaries or researchers. Constant supervision of the space audit will be an absolute necessity.

In view of the comments made to me during the phase 2 exhibition in Westminster Hall, I believe that it is absolutely necessary to place on record that neither the former New Building Sub-Committee nor the present Accommodation and Works Committee was in any way responsible for the delay. Phase 2 could be halfway to completion had the House not received proposals from London Underground for the proposed Jubilee line. Those proposals were placed before the Committee without a whisper of prior knowledge, when London Underground had been well aware of the phase 2 development. As hon. Members will know, the initial proposals even made the bizarre suggestion that Parliament square should be turned into a building site for five years or more.

Both Committees have spent many hours attempting to resolve differences. I firmly believe that it would be unreasonable to accept further delays, and that the Committee's successors in the new Parliament should be made fully aware of the problems of delay—unless Parliament is to be deprived of a long-overdue development in the years ahead.

The main purpose of this evening's debate is to approve the sketch-plan design for the building so that we can make further progress towards its completion. The report addresses other important issues about which the House should know before reaching a decision. First, however, let me deal with the design.

Discussions on the proposal for the present phase 2 site began as long ago as 1985, and were initially based on a staged development that retained a number of the listed buildings. In 1989, however, London Underground deposited what has become the London Underground Bill on which consideration of Lords amendments has been tabled today. The disruptive effects of the proposals were greeted with dismay by the former Services Committee, but in the event they have been turned to advantage, and have resulted in the exciting design that confronts us today.

Not only did the building have to meet the demanding specifications that were laid down for its use in the initial briefing, and to complement its prestigious neighbours; it had to be founded on the box that was being excavated for the new Westminster station, and to straddle with precision the District and Circle lines. Michael Hopkins has responded marvellously to that trio of challenges, and —as the report commented—has produced
"an excellent design for a difficult, sensitive and internationally acclaimed site."
The Committee is therefore confident
"that the building will be an impressive and worthy companion for Barry's Palace of Westminster and Norman Shaw's buildings; that it will complement the skyline of Westminster; and will serve Parliament well."
That, however, is not the end of the story. Given the constraints imposed on it, the phase 2 building cannot be expected to accommodate all the needs of the House; nor does it attempt to do so. It must be seen as only one part —albeit a significant part—of a parliamentary campus that will eventually require the refurbishment of the Norman Shaw buildings and Canon row to accommodate all the reasonable needs of the House.

In the short time available for consideration of the report, I cannot go into detail about the design; it is, in any case, displayed and described more than adequately in the sketch plan report, and in the exhibition that is currently to be seen in Westminster Hall. It is worth noting, however, that the building's design has drawn encouraging comments from the planning authority—Westminster council—and from English Heritage and the Royal Fine Art Commission. The evidence given by those authorities will be published in due course.

The building also meets all the major requirements of the initial brief. It is expected to yield in excess of 200 rooms for hon. Members, in a variety of configurations, and a similar number of work places for staff. It will provide accommodation for the Committees and for overseas offices, as well as badly needed extra Committee Rooms and conference space. It will also include within its walls—and in the exciting courtyard concept—a cafeteria, a dining room and a comprehensive range of support services.

The arcade of shops and shop units that is planned for the Bridge street frontage of the phase 1 and phase 2 buildings will be under the control of the House, and can therefore be expected to provide a range of high-quality and complementary services for hon. Members and for visitors to the area. It will be for the Committee's successors to ensure that that objective is realised.

Although it is fair to say that the design has been generally acclaimed, it is also fair to say that one point of contention exists. It relates to the chimneys. Some say that they are too tall; some say that they are too short; and some say that they should not be there at all. I have certain reservations about them myself, but I know that they are intended to play an important part in the heating and cooling system.

I am somewhat reassured when I look across the river to county hall and see that that building has a large number of stone chimneys that do not offend the eye. Indeed, the whole building is pleasing, and would have made an ideal parliamentary annexe at a far lower cost—but that is another story, and I had better not embark on it now. The Committee has asked for a special presentation on the chimneys, and, if that is precluded, we shall recommend that our successors pursue the issue.

I mentioned earlier that the Committee's report addressed other issues. All those issues relate to the interrelationship between the House and London Underground in the construction of our respective projects. First, I must point out that one of the provisions of the London Underground Bill requires the House's approval of the design of the new building before the listed buildings on the site at 1 and 2 Bridge street can be demolished. Once that approval had been given and the Bill had received Royal Assent, London Underground would, in normal circumstances, be allowed to begin clearance of the site; but paragraphs 5, 45 and 60 of the Committee's report make a strong recommendation in that regard. We stated that we would not expect London Underground to proceed with demolition of the listed buildings and excavation of the site until the outstanding issues had been resolved. Of those, the most important is the date when the House can expect to get on site.

Let me explain the reason for our insistence. In the negotiations between the Committee's predecessor—which I also had the privilege of chairing—and London Underground, it was agreed that, in constructing the underground box for its new ticket hall, London Underground would incorporate the founding substructure for the phase 2 building and the decking from which the new building would rise.

In a number of paragraphs, the Committee's report reflects the anxiety that is felt about the long delays that have featured in work towards the completion of the parliamentary estate. Let me put that anxiety in context. The former New Building Sub-Committee had been considering the phase 2 design since 1985 and had published two reports on the subject before London Underground presented its proposals for Westminster station. That introduced further delays. Since then, five more reports—including the one that we are now considering—have been published, and more are to come.

Indeed, later this week the Committee will take further evidence from our architects, the Minister for Public Transport, London Underground and others on two specific issues: the vexed question of the time that will elapse before the House can gain access to the site--an issue addressed in paragraph 47 of the report—and the joint site management.

On the question of the timetable, the Services Committee's second report recommended, in early 1987, that by 1995 every hon. Member should have a room of his own if he wanted one. In its last report on phase 2 of the initial brief, the Committee looked confidently ahead to occupation of the building in the autumn of 1997. That projection was based on an assessment that access to the site would be provided between 18 and 24 months after the spring of 1992.

As hon. Members will note from our latest report, London Underground now estimates that the handover will take place 41 months after Royal Assent is given to the Bill. That will push back the earliest occupation date to the beginning of 1999. The Committee has agreed unanimously that that is unacceptable, and we have therefore commissioned experts, who have suggested that the delay should be reduced considerably. We expect London Underground not to commence work on the site until agreement has been reached on that point. That is one of the recommendations which the House is invited to approve.

The complexities of the site and the potential for conflicts of interest between the two work forces lead the Committee to support advice that the House and London Underground should seek to establish a joint management team as part of a plan to strengthen co-operation in areas of planning and construction where that would be mutually beneficial. We shall pursue that proposal this week with the Minister for Public Transport and London Underground. We, or our successors, will report further to the House in due course.

The report also highlights other areas of concern between London Underground and ourselves, which include the height at which the ground level of the building is to be set, ownership of the site, noise and vibration, ventilation shafts and access. Members will see that the Committee has given its qualified recognition of those problems and has recommended means by which solutions can be agreed. It is important that the House realises that some of the ventilation shafts will be situated within the parliamentary estate—in our own backyard, or rather in New Palace Yard and Canon row. We have satisfied ourselves that those locations are unavoidable and will not be disruptive. To ensure that they are as unobtrusive as possible, we shall monitor their development and have gained an assurance from the Royal Fine Art Commission that it will also examine the designs.

We have also made stipulations about access, noise and vibration and have received assurances, but we shall nevertheless monitor those matters. London Underground has undertaken to keep the subway and pavements open for Members who have to move between the Palace and Norman Shaw buildings.

On costs, the House will realise that the estimated all-inclusive cost is between £120 and £130 million. We have recommended that our successors are provided with detailed advice on that estimate in the near future and we are confident that they will wish to report further to the House on that subject. For that reason, it is important that the Accommodation and Works Committee and the other domestic Committees are set up as soon as possible after the House assembles in the next Parliament.

In conclusion, I am pleased to support the Committee's unanimous recommendation in our penultimate paragraph and have no hesitation in commending the sketch plan design to the House for approval. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to give some assurance on the question of access to the site and on future finance.

6.22 pm

I am delighted to be able to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) who, in this context, is very much an hon. Friend and who has been Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee since its inception and was Chairman of the New Building Sub-Committee. I have been delighted to serve on that Committee with him. I thank him for the kind things that he said and I warmly reciprocate them. He has been an extremely hard-working, indefatigable Chairman and we are all in his debt, as are hon. Members who are not present. It is a surprise to be debating this motion at this hour, as we expected the debate to be at 10 o'clock. I suspect that that is why many hon. Members who would have liked to take part are not here.

The Chairman of the Committee has outlined clearly and carefully what the report contains and has commended it unequivocally to the House. I endorse everything that he said. At the beginning of his speech he said that the House had waited too long for this building. How right he was. He also said that this building is about giving Members decent office accommodation, so that they can be of proper service to their constituents. Anyone who has served in the House for any length of time—I am approaching 22 years now—knows that the workload of a Member of Parliament has greatly increased during the past couple of years, regardless of what part of the country we represent, or of the side of the House on which we sit —[Interruption.]. I shall not give way to sedentary interventions or I shall make a long speech and some people do not wish me to do so.

Our workload has greatly increased. It is impossible for a Member for Parliament to give that service to his or her constituents and constituency unless given a private office where telephone calls can be made in privacy, letters can be dealt with properly and efficiently, and where the inevitable paraphernalia of the modern office can be properly stored. When I first came to the House I think that there were five photocopiers in the parliamentary precinct. Now, very few Members of Parliament do not have access to a fax machine and we find it increasingly necessary to have one in our offices. We are dealing with an increasingly sophisticated and—let us face it—demanding electorate. A great number of them write to us and they expect, and have a right to expect, a courteous and efficient service and a prompt reply. One cannot give that sort of service and fulfil the role of a Member of Parliament in the Chamber and on Committees—when you have been in the House for some time, as you must know, Madam Deputy Speaker, one finds oneself on numerous Committees—if one does not have decent office facilities.

Let no one put abroad the myth that we are engaging in a massive orgy of self-indulgence—nothing could be further from the truth. We are talking about providing adequate facilities for Members of Parliament, but providing them in a setting that befits Parliament. For the century and a half since it was built—the foundation stone for this building was laid in 1840, and it was virtually complete by 1860—this building has become a symbol throughout the world of parliamentary democracy and the decent things in democratic life. Wherever one travels abroad people talk about our clock tower. Generally they mistakenly call it Big Ben and they see it as a symbol. Throughout the war years it was a symbol of something proud, defiant and good. One only has to travel in eastern Europe today and talk to people in Czechoslovakia, Romania or parts of the former Soviet Union, as I have done, to know that when they were depressed and suppressed they looked to this building and to what it stood for—[Interruption.] It would be good if the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) would cease his private conversation and behaved himself.

Throughout those years this building was seen as a symbol of hope and expectation. One of the reasons for that is that the building has great architectural merit and worth. We owe it to our contemporaries and to our successors to provide in the new parliamentary building —which will be the largest building in the parliamentary precinct to be erected since Barry's Palace—a building of equal architectural distinction, as far as that is possible.

The Committee was singularly fortunate in its choice of architect. Michael Hopkins's design will lead to the erection of one of the distinguished buildings of the 20th century. Some people will say that that is not saying very much, because I suspect that the 20th century will not go down as the greatest century in the history of architecture. However, Michael Hopkins has produced a building which will fulfil our needs and requirements and which is distinguished in its own right as a piece of architecture, above all because it is a well-mannered piece of architecture. It fits in well with its surroundings. It does not seek to challenge in an aggressive or unmannerly way, as the enormous bronze and glass box proposed in the early 1970s would have challenged and oppressed. By its use of stone, brick and other traditional material the building will fit in well with its surroundings and will provide a seemly and an efficient setting.

Therefore, it is important that we approve the report because we are determined to give Parliament, our successors and this country something worthy of the most important site in London, and let no one be in two minds that it is the most important site.

The hon. Member for Ogmore referred to our discussions with English Heritage, the Royal Fine Art Commission and, not least, Westminster city council. It is right that we should discuss the design in detail with those bodies as they have all expressed certain misgivings about it. Only this morning I received a letter from Westminster city council's chairman, who says that, in this sense, Parliament is sovereign and does not need planning permission. Therefore, a greater obligation is placed on us to ensure that the design is the product of detailed, careful thought and that we take into account the points that have been made by those bodies.

The hon. Member for Ogmore referred to the chimneys, for which some refinement and reassessment is needed. However, such small points can easily be met by an architect whom Lord St. John of Fawsley described in evidence as a genius. I believe that Mr. Hopkins is well up to meeting the challenge that we have presented to him.

Most important, the chairman of Westminster city council said:
"Westminster is anxious that the site is not left undeveloped for any length of time, and that the new building is suitable for the key location it occupies."
The Chairman of the Committee referred to our not always easy relationship with London Underground. Let us now proceed with London Underground, determined to ensure that London has not only a parliamentary building of which it can be proud but the finest underground station in the country, that they are built simultaneously, that there is no attempt by either responsible body to delay or frustrate the other, that we ensure that by the target date of 1997 passengers are alighting at a station that is the pride of the underground and that Members of Parliament are occupying a building which is worthy to sit side by side with Barry's and which gives hon. Members the facilities and services that they need if they are to serve their constituents.

6.31 pm

I shall be extremely brief, but as the new boy on the Committee I want to make a short speech.

No one could deny that office accommodation is needed for Members and their staff. On 3 December, when I attended my first meeting of the New Building Sub-Committee and subsequent meetings, I soon realised what frustration previous members of the Committee must have felt for many years. I accept that the bodies that were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) should have been considered and debated, but we should not now delay any further.

Delays on the Jubilee line have been mentioned. The scheme has been delayed for two years and it is expected that it may be delayed for a further three years—in total, a five-year delay. I well recall our early meetings, at which the Chairman asked what other Parliament in the world would allow any organisation or body unnecessarily to delay or frustrate plans for parliamentary buildings. He suggested that only the mother of Parliaments would be prepared to do so.

I believe that there has been enough talking and consideration. The House should not tolerate any further delay, and that message should be made clear to London Underground and anybody else. Despite my short service on the Committee, I am satisfied that the proposal has been properly considered. People's views and interests have been taken into consideration, so I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and that we shall have the building as soon as humanly possible.

6.34 pm

When subjects such as this are discussed, strong pleas are made about the urgency of the matter and the vital nature of the proposal. Yet a few days ago we were discussing a report that, essentially, proposed to cut the hours of work of Members of Parliament. We are told that this new building is essential because of the additional burden that hon. Members are facing. I gave evidence to the Select Committee on Sittings of the House and pointed out that the supervision and scrutiny of statutory instruments was not adequate. That was swept to one side by the Committee, which proposed in its report a diminution in the facilities to deal with statutory instruments.

It is said that the new building is vital as hon. Members are terribly overworked and over-burdened.

For some time, the hon. Gentleman and I had an office in the same corridor. He will accept that for many hon. Members the question is not extra hours—I do not agree with some of the sittings motions that have been passed—but the pressure of working in an inadequate office. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman—and I do respect him—he is making the wrong point. The problem is that our offices are not sufficient for the job that we have to do.

I accept that there is a shortage of office space. The situation is far from satisfactory, but I must look askance at a proposal costed at between £120 million and £130 million to remedy that deficiency. Many people outside will think that the housing crisis that engulfs this nation should be eradicated first. Let us get rid of cardboard city and elect a Government who give money to local authorities to reduce housing waiting lists and who build houses, flats and maisonnettes built for low rents that ordinary working people can afford rather than spend £120 million or £130 million on offices for Members of Parliament. We can struggle on a little longer, despite all the inadequacies and difficulties, in the knowledge that the money will be spent on people who are facing much greater difficulties and inadequacies who do not need a carpeted, panelled, lush air-conditioned office to satisfy their needs. All they want is a roof over their heads. There are 100,000 homeless people, yet we are talking about spending £120 million or £130 million on offices. I am not happy about that.

Last July, I raised with the Leader of the House the problems experienced by some visually handicapped children from a school in Bradford whom I brought here. There were no facilities for them to have a meal in the Palace of Westminster as hon. Members can take only three people into the cafeteria. Apparently my query has been dealt with by a labyrinthine series of Committees over month after month.

Why have not proposals been made to deal with such problems, because the reality is that that wonderful group of youngsters had to eat their meal on a park bench outside St. Stephen's entrance. It takes them six hours to make a round trip. If the report made provision for such facilities in the Palace of Westminster and not in a distant outbuilding, I should support it. Since I raised the issue last July, the Leader of the House has not said that there are to be any facilities for such people in the Palace. He has not said that there is to be a conversion of, for example, one of the private Dining Rooms which the commercial lobbying organisations hire so regularly. He has done nothing. Why not convert one of those Dining Rooms to provide facilities for the disabled?

I have a solution to the office problem. It is claimed that some Members of Parliament have an increased workload. I am a full-time Member of Parliament without any outside interests. I have a large volume of correspondence, but I do not mind, as this is a good job and I enjoy it. I look forward to returning to the House after the general election. However, some hon. Members are not full-time Members of Parliament, and we know who they are because they are mentioned in the Register of Members' Interests. Those who have directorships and parliamentary adviserships cannot be here all the time. If they were, they would be shortchanging the boards from which they get money.

A simple solution which would not cost £120 million to £130 million would be for those hon. Members with full-time or part-time outside directorships or parliamentary adviserships to go down to the Cloisters and for full-time Members of Parliament who have only their parliamentary salary for income to get the offices. Why should there be two classes of Member of Parliament, one class existing on their parliamentary salaries and working full time to do a decent job for their constituents, and the other class which, as soon as it gets here, offers itself for hire? That is what it boils down to. They get as many parliamentary adviserships as they can, roll up a few directorships and double, treble and quadruple their parliamentary salaries. Let them have offices in the boardrooms where they are employed rather than call on the taxpayer for £120 million to £130 million for lush offices across the way.

Phase 2 is estimated to cost £120 million to £130 million. The report rightly states that we expect
"our successors to he provided with detailed advice on these projected costs".
I bet they should. If this is anything like the Ministry of Defence, the costs will soar. They may start at about £120 million to £130 million but they could double in about five years. We should examine the project carefully before we give it the go ahead. It is not a sufficiently high priority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and his colleagues on the Committee were given a task that they carried out and they have brought the report to Parliament. It is not their fault that the Government have created a housing crisis. Let us solve that crisis first and put builders back to work not on this prestige project but to give people shelter, to get rid of cardboard city and to reduce local authority waiting lists. When we have done that, we can consider this prestigious project.

Yes, this is the legislative centre of the United Kingdom although some Conservative hon. Members—and one or two of my colleagues—do not object to the shift of power to Brussels. I object, and I want to keep Parliament as the centre of legislative power in the United Kingdom. However, we must bear it in mind that many initiatives are now coming from the Common Market and some members of the Government do not seem keen to stop the flow of power from this place to the Common Market.

We must get our priorities sorted out before continuing such a project with enthusiasm. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that the priorities that I have mentioned are more important than the glass palace proposed across the road.

6.43 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John MacGregor)

I very much welcome the opportunity to reply to this important if brief debate, and I hope that the House—with the usual exception of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)—will give its full and unambiguous backing to the design by Michael Hopkins & Partners for phase 2. We thank the company for all the work that it has done so far on the project.

We all agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South about the priority of housing the groups of people to which he referred but that does not cut across what we are discussing. This project is to provide the right facilities for us so that we can provide a good service to our constituents. I remind him that there are many empty council houses which he could consider as a means of solving the problem that he mentioned.

There is no doubt that the whole House owes a considerable debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and to his Committee. As Chairman of the New Building Sub-Committee and, during this Session, Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee, the hon. Gentleman has devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to ensuring—we are all in his debt—the successful completion of phase 1 of the new building programme and, more recently, the development of designs for the remainder of the Bridge street site. The design which is on display in Westminster Hall fully justifies the effort which the hon. Gentleman and his present and former Committee colleagues have put into this enterprise. It is a design for a major new public building which will stand up well to comparison with the Palace of Westminster. As my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said, that is not just my personal view. It is a view endorsed by many independent authorities, including my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord St. John of Fawsley, the chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission. Indeed, despite the minor reservations that are inevitable in respect of such a major project, the most remarkable feature of the Committee's inquiry has been the absence of any fundamental disagreement with the basic design concept endorsed by the Committee and incorporated in the achitects' plans. I have a minor reservation that I hesitate to express but, as it was mentioned earlier, I shall. It involves the chimneys, but it is a minor point and it can still be dealt with if others share my view.

The House is therefore grateful to the hon. Gentleman, to his Committee colleagues, to the Committee staff and to the architects. I am sure that I am not alone in looking forward with eager anticipation—indeed, all those who have spoken have done so with the exception of the hon. Member for Bradford, South—to the completion of the collegiate courtyard plan for the parliamentary estate, which will at last bring these disparate buildings together to form a single complex for the House, its Members and those who devote their working lives to Parliament.

The hon. Member for Ogmore mentioned the need to avoid further delays and I agree with him. I am sure that he will acknowledge that I could not have moved faster in asking the House to approve his Committee's report so soon after it was published. That shows where I stand, and I am sure that the House will support my view.

I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore for his remarks at the beginning of the debate about the role of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in supporting and moving forward the plans for the phase 2 building. I know that he has taken a very direct personal interest in the development of the plans, which we hope and believe will provide new buildings which will be worthy of the House and will represent all that is best in late twentieth century British architecture.

Important questions remain about how the project is to be financed, and how quickly it can be executed. As the report brings out and as the hon. Member for Ogmore said, the total estimated cost of the project at present is about £120 million or £130 million. The House will recall that, as a result of the Ibbs report, formal responsibility for the cost of all parliamentary works will pass on 1 April this year from the Department of the Environment to the House of Commons Commission. Although the Commission has in turn agreed to co-operate with the Treasury in the development of its longer-term works programme and to consult on the size of the annual estimates, it is not, and never has been, the intention of the Government to seek to interfere unduly with the House's freedom to set its own budget for works. The Government's track record in this matter is good, and I can assure the House that it is not the Government's wish to seek to impose unreasonable delays on the progress of the new building project for purely financial reasons. I very much hope the same will be true of future Governments. The basis on which such matters are resolved between the House and the Treasury was recently outlined in the Government's response to the Ibbs report.

As the hon. Member for Ogmore made clear in his opening speech, the timetable for the commencement and completion of the phase 2 project is very much dependent on the progress made by London Underground in its own work to rebuild the Westminster underground station as part of the Jubilee line project.

The hon. Member for Ogmore has already referred at some length to the problems that the Committee has identified in the area and I do not propose to add tonight to what he has said. He has said that the Committee will take further evidence on the problems later in the week from London Underground and from my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, who has been here throughout the debate. That will cover the problems of access to which the hon. Member for Ogmore referred.

The design before the House anticipates a day when the Leader of the House will no longer have to apologise to his colleagues for the accommodation and services that are made available to them. I agree with the hon. Member for Ogmore and with my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) about the inadequacies of the accommodation and facilities in this place for many hon. Members and for their staff which have existed for too long. I am sure that I echo the sentiments of my predecessors in the job in saying that the day when we have full accommodation and services will come not a moment too soon.

Although some important questions of timing and funding remain to be resolved, I wholeheartedly commend the Committee's report to the House and express the hope, on behalf of hon. Members of all parties, that a project on these lines can be proceeded with at an early date.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House approves the First Report from the Accommodation and Works Committee in respect of the New Parliamentary Building (Phase 2) (HC 291-I).