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Parliament Square

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 23 October 2008

asked the Chairman of Committees:

Whether the House authorities were consulted before the Mayor of London’s announcement that he would not proceed with the planned part-pedestrianisation of Parliament Square.

My Lords, Parliament has been closely involved in this project. The Parliamentary Estates Directorate was represented on the world squares steering group, the GLA wrote to Members of both Houses to seek their views and a number of submissions were made to the mayor. On 6 August 2008, the mayor announced that he had decided not to proceed with the project on the grounds of traffic impacts, cost and potential loss of green space. That was his decision to make. Parliament was neither the originator nor the owner of the scheme.

My Lords, Parliament was not the originator or the owner, but no one who works in this building can be unaware of how unwelcoming it is for visitors to be faced with so much traffic and no obvious area where they can look at the whole of a world heritage site, compromising the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey but bisected by a road. The mayor said that his decision was not a matter of cash but of design. May I urge the noble Lord and the House authorities to be proactive and energetic in working with the mayor to find a design that is acceptable to all so that we can be more welcoming to visitors?

My Lords, if the mayor comes up with new proposals, the House is still represented on the World Squares for All steering group and will actively take part in any proposals put forward.

My Lords, that was nearly a very bad birthday present from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I thank the Chairman of Committees for his reply, which was extremely helpful to those of us who find it impossible to get home without a taxi. There are many disabled people here, quite apart from visitors. This House exists for its occupants, not for visitors. If any change is going to be made to Parliament Square, could those little tent people be moved to Marble Arch?

My Lords, the noble Baroness made a number of points. Under yesterday’s instruction, I shall keep my reply as short as possible. The noble Baroness’s main point was that by no means everyone agrees on what the mayor’s proposal did not propose. It is not as simple as all that.

My Lords, is the Chairman of Committees aware that Questions were raised on this subject in the House repeatedly, and that many of us found great dissatisfaction with the proposals, not only in what they would do to traffic but in how difficult access to the abbey would have been? Most of us are satisfied that those visitors who come to see us—I have plenty, many of whom come from a long way away—have no trouble at all in getting into this building.

My Lords, it is not for me to get into the merits or otherwise of the proposal, which has now been dropped. Part of the proposal that never got very far was the possible closure of Abingdon Street, which we debated back in July, but that proposal was never considered in detail.

My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees accept that access to the Palace of Westminster for as many people as possible is a basic democratic principle which we should all support? The possibility of opening up what would in effect be a great democratic space, as well as linking together the historic abbey and the Palace of Westminster for pedestrians, would hugely benefit everyone.

My Lords, the noble Lord made exactly those points in his Question for Short Debate in July and I have nothing further to add to my reply then.

My Lords, as we are on anniversaries, I remind the House that it is also the anniversary of the Battle of Alamein, in which I declare an interest. Will the Chairman of Committees tell us how many people would wish to congratulate the mayor on what he has done?

My Lords, I cannot comment on that. I am answering for the administration of the House; I cannot answer for the mayor or for those who agree or disagree with his proposals. I remind noble Lords that it was this House that passed the law that set the mayor up some years ago. If people now do not like some of the decisions that he makes, that is just too bad.

My Lords, although the Chairman of Committees does not want to be drawn into the issues, does he agree that a scheme that would include traffic going along the north side would meet some of the objections enunciated in previous questions? The scheme would be marvellous for tourists, both British and foreign, if that space were created as a piazza for Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

My Lords, does this decision by the mayor mean that the unsightly barriers around the entrance to Parliament, which cause anyone approaching it from the west to drive all the way round Parliament Square, will remain for eternity?

My Lords, the removal of the Corus security barriers in front of the Palace of Westminster—in front of our part in particular—was not affected by the scheme that has just been scrapped. They would have been affected only if the scheme had extended to the closure of Abingdon Street, which in many ways would have been a good result for this House.