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Palace of Westminster: Exterior Cleaning

Volume 693: debated on Monday 2 July 2007

asked the Chairman of Committees:

What progress has been made in the cleaning of the exterior of the Palace of Westminster; and when this work will be completed.

My Lords, the programme to clean the exterior of the palace, which began in 1981, entered its final phase in 1995 with the commencement of work to the internal courtyards. Work has been completed on four courtyards, including Speaker’s Court and Royal Court, which are the two largest courtyards. The next phase of work is planned to include Cloister Court, Star Chamber Court, Chancellor’s Court and State Officers’ Court. Commencement of this phase of work will be subject to the prioritisation requirements of the parliamentary works programme.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. What he really means is that he does not know when the work will start on the inner courtyard, so the situation on that matter is normal. Does he agree that parts of the walls of those courtyards are in a filthy, disgraceful condition and should be dealt with as soon as possible? Surely he can give us at least some date.

Even more important in the light of the awful happenings during the past weekend and the security issues, security renovations to the exterior by St Stephen’s entrance, which are a key priority, were meant to have been completed by October last year. I was told today that the department does not have the slightest idea when they will be completed. When does the noble Lord expect the work to be done, and when will the building be made as safe as possible, especially in the light of recent events?

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give a starting date for the cleaning of the remaining courtyards. As I said in my Answer, there are other priorities for maintenance of the building. The cast-iron roofs and the modernisation of the palace’s mechanical and electrical services are two of the major things that need to be done to this ancient building. The problem with cleaning the courtyards is, to some extent, that normally that can only be done in recesses because it involves not just cleaning but repairs to the stonework, windows and the drainage, which is noisy and disruptive. Also, it is not possible to do this work when another project is under way. For example, the refurbishment of the Refreshment Department, which finished last year, meant that the courtyard there had to be used for that rather than be cleaned.

I agree with the noble Lord that there has been a most undesirable delay to the opening of the visitor reception building. It was intended to be opened, as the noble Lord said, last year. There have been all kinds of problems, with the contractors, the architects and so on. I can only say that I hope the building will be open by the time we return after the Summer Recess.

My Lords, which are the priorities: for example, cleaning the place, opening the visitor centre or the world squares project and closing the road? Which does the noble Lord think will come first?

My Lords, they are separate projects. The opening of the visitor reception building is going on at the moment; it is subject to bad delays, but that has no impact on the remaining areas of the building which need to be cleaned. I answered a question about the world squares project not very long ago and I had little news to report on it.

My Lords, is the dirt on the building, which I assume was caused by the smog before the Clean Air Acts, causing additional damage to it; and, therefore, is the delay in cleaning it increasing the costs substantially?

My Lords, there is a project looking at the best way of doing the next phases of cleaning. A review has begun to ensure that the methodology, scope and sequencing employed so far remain the most effective and efficient way. The noble Lord is quite right that the dirt was as a result of smog before the Clean Air Act came in. Noble Lords will be well aware that the whole of the outside of the building and the major courtyards have been done, so what is visible to most of the public is clean and will remain so.