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House of Lords: Stonework

Volume 736: debated on Monday 30 April 2012


Asked By

To ask the Chairman of Committees whether there are any plans to tidy up and clean the stonework in the inner courtyards of the House of Lords on a similar basis to the work done on the Royal Court, Speaker’s Court, Commons Court and Commons Inner Court.

My Lords, the Parliamentary Estates Directorate is planning to begin trials of stone-cleaning work in Chancellor’s Court and State Officers’ Court in October 2014. It is hoped that work on these courtyards will be completed by October 2015, after which work on Peers’ Court will begin in October 2015 to be completed by October 2016. I should point out that these are only estimated timings at the moment and that the programme of works may change.

My Lords, this is somewhat of an end-of-term Question but I am delighted for the Chairman of Committees to announce the plans for cleaning the seven internal courtyards of the Palace of Westminster. For 15 years, it has struck me as a great pity that, while two or three had been cleaned, the majority in the middle were a dirty mess. I would just comment that we have had announcements of cleaning, but what about tidying up?

My Lords, there are a great many other works going on in the palace—principally fire safety, mechanical engineering and cast iron roofs. All those require facilities for contractors on the estate, which on the whole means portacabins. I am afraid that they will be around for as long as is required. As for other bits of tidying up, we obviously do our best to make sure that there is not too much clutter in the courtyards but it probably is an inevitable result of the great deal of work that is going on elsewhere.

My Lords, during last week’s heavy rain, much of the new footpath across Abingdon Green was under water, as was the area in front of Old Palace Yard. Can the Chairman of Committees do something about the drainage in those areas? In the mean time, if we have any more warnings of severe rain, could those of us who do not have offices in the palace be issued with waders?

My Lords, having come from home yesterday, I can say to the noble Lord that there was a great deal of rain around there too. A lot of the roads and pavements were flooded. Until this drought is over, we may have to put up with that. As for the provision of waders to noble Lords, a few years back there was a project of issuing umbrellas. That was not a success as most of them disappeared rather quickly, largely on account of the fact that they had the House of Lords logo on them. I believe that they could be found on eBay relatively inexpensively.

My Lords, is this not the last occasion on which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, will answer Questions in his present capacity? We thank him and congratulate him on what he has done over the past 10 years.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and for the expression from the House. It is indeed the last time on which I shall answer a Question on these sorts of matters. But I can tell noble Lords that the issue of the works going on in the palace will go on for a lot longer and many more of my successors will be dealing with it.

My Lords, if Mr Clegg has his way with the House of Lords, does the noble Lord think that the value of those umbrellas on eBay will go up or down?

I am not certain that I should try to answer that question, mainly because I do not know the answer, but I would have thought that they would go up in value as historic items.

My Lords, I wonder if I might return to the subject of the original Question. Will the noble Lord consider retaining one of our courtyards in an uncleaned state as a permanent reminder to all of us of the casual environmental damage we sometimes cause, which reveals itself only many years after we have caused it?

That is an interesting suggestion. I am old enough to remember the great London smogs that caused this damage to the building in the first place, and therefore on the face of it the noble Lord’s suggestion is a good one. However, I would resist it because of the damage being done to the building as of now, and therefore it is necessary to get on with cleaning and repairing it.