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Westminster Hall And Furniture Storage

Volume 375: debated on Thursday 21 October 1976

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3.9 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it would be possible to find somewhere other than Westminster furniture.

My Lords, I am advised by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that arrangements are being made to provide alternative temporary storage facilities for small batches of furniture in transit. However, there is no other suitable area available for the temporary storage of the occasional very large delivery of furniture.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness for that reply, may I ask her whether it would not be possible for the furniture in future to be kept in the warehouse where it is, and not brought into the Palace of Westminster until such time as the place where it is to go is prepared to receive it?

My Lords, the furniture was replacement office furniture for the offices which had suffered from bomb damage. It all arrived in one delivery. It seemed to my Department to be much more sensible to have it all deposited there and then to move it straight into the offices, rather than have it delivered to a warehouse and then have to have it taken out again. The cost would have been much higher. If it is any satisfaction to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, we are making arrangements to have a purpose-built trailer provided which will be parked in the Peers' Court, from which it can be removed as and when necessary.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness not aware that her right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment is the person and Westminster Hall is the place where, above all, an example of how to look after an historic building and how to display it to the public ought to be shown? It is disgraceful that so many visitors, both from this country and from abroad, should constantly see Westminster Hall used as a furniture store.

My Lords, I do not feel that it is right to say that it is "constantly" used as a furniture store. Normally we only have large deliveries of furniture about once a year and they come in our Summer Recess, which is generally a little longer than the one we had this year.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that if she will have this furniture sent up to Yorkshire, I can, at a suitable fee, provide a storage place for it?

My Lords, the cost of getting it back from Yorkshire would make such a scheme exorbitant.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that scaffolding to maintain the roof is kept in the Hall on a fairly permanent basis, and also that rolls of carpet, furniture and other items have been there for months and months? As my noble friend said from the Front Bench, Westminster Hall is the only ancient part of the Palace of Westminster; cannot something be done to keep it clean, tidy and neat?

My Lords, as I said, we are making arrangements for alternative storage accommodation to be provided.

My Lords, is it not a fact that this nonsense has only arisen since the Ministry of Works was taken into that giant Department, the Department of the Environment? The Ministry of Works had some historical basis and a degree of sensitivity about Westminster Hall, which is the most famous and illustrious part of Parliament; is it not about time that the Department of the Environment was broken down and set up in a proper way?

My Lords, I do not believe that having a Ministry of Works rather than this coming under the Department of the Environment has anything to do with the fact that the IRA bombed part of the Palace of Westminster and that we have had to repair the damage and to do the refurnishing.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness where the furniture was stored before Westminster Hall was used?

My Lords, this furniture is to replace furniture that was damaged. I have only been a Member of your Lordships' House for two years and I do not know where furniture was stored before that on previous such occasions.

My Lords, for most of its history Westminster Hall has been used as a storage place for the citizens of London.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not think that the newest part of the Palace—to wit, the car park—might have been more suitable as a storage place than the oldest and most venerable part?

My Lords, I should have thought that Members would prefer to have their cars in the car park.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say where the trailer is to be stored when it is not storing furniture? Is it to be permanently in the Peers' Court?

My Lords, I cannot give the actual destination, but I am advised that it is a trailer that can be removed from the Peers' Court as and when necessary, so presumably we have some idea as to where we are going to put it. I have not, however.