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Restoration and Renewal

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 21 January 2016

1. What steps the Commission plans to take to ensure public and parliamentary scrutiny of the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster after a decision on the options for that project has been made. (903179)

2. What steps the Commission plans to take to ensure public and parliamentary scrutiny of the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster after a decision on the options for that project has been made. (903180)

I anticipate that both Houses will have an opportunity to debate the matter once the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster has reported. The question of future scrutiny will be aired in those debates and the House of Commons Commission will listen carefully to the views expressed before making any decisions.

Many of my constituents find it difficult to understand how we can consider spending billions of pounds on a palace—literally a palace—for parliamentarians when so many of them can barely afford a roof of any kind over their heads. Can we have an assurance that the Joint Committee, which so far has met entirely in private, will soon meet in public and that all documentation relating to its considerations will be made public?

I am sure that the Joint Committee and the Leader of the House will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments and will want to respond positively. It is worth underlining the fact that we have neglected the upkeep of this building for many decades and that we do need to make investment in what is, after all, a world heritage building.

I would like to thank the House of Commons Commission for contacting me, as chair of the all-party group for disability, to ensure that we are involved in plans to restore the Palace of Westminster. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that all restoration and renewal work fully addresses issues of accessibility for people who have disabilities?

I do not want to pre-empt what the Joint Committee will come up with, but I am sure it will carefully consider that matter. I think that every Member of the House will agree that it would be a completely missed opportunity if these works did not also ensure that the Palace is fully accessible to anyone with disabilities.

As well as having an opportunity to debate the R and R programme, it is hugely important that Members have an opportunity to promote businesses in their constituencies that can take part in the works. For example, Crown Paints, based in Darwen, would be a fantastic company to provide paint and to advise at this early stage to ensure that costs are reduced.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Clearly, a project on this scale will require the participation of small, medium and large businesses from all over the country. When the project comes forward, I hope that the initiatives used to promote opportunities for businesses in the run-up to the Olympics will be deployed for the restoration of the Palace.

Could the House of Commons Commission and the Joint Committee consider the idea of an historic trust into which the estate could be placed in order to separate the politics of renewal from the restoration of a national asset?

Again, I cannot speak for the Joint Committee, but the Leader of the House, who is one of its big players, will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point and I am sure will want to give it due consideration.

I am all for scrutiny, public and parliamentary, but can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that a decision will definitely be reached before the end of this Parliament and that we will not waste any further time or public money debating this very important issue in the next Parliament?

I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance because it is for the Joint Committee to decide what it recommends as a way forward. I think that everyone in this place knows that this work must be undertaken, and it is in our interest and that of the taxpayer that it is pursued vigorously. The longer we delay, the greater the costs associated with the works.

May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to look seriously, and imaginatively, at how this reconstruction is going to be funded—perhaps by public subscription through a form of crowdfunding? May I warn him not to enter into a careless public finance initiative like the one in Halifax, where £770 million has been paid back on a hospital that cost £70 million?

I hope that everyone in this place has learned the lessons of PFI. Again, it is not for me to work out what the financial arrangements are going to be, but clearly PFI may well be one of the more expensive options. I hope that the Treasury will look at something that is perhaps more straightforward in funding these improvements.