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House of Commons Commission

Volume 630: debated on Thursday 26 October 2017

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Restoration and Renewal

12. What recent progress has been made on plans for the restoration and renewal programme for the Palace of Westminster. (901436)

Substantial progress has until now been hampered by the lack of a decision in principle by the two Houses on the preferred way forward. The report of the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster was published in September last year, and I am pleased that the Leaders of both Houses have indicated that they will make time for a debate before the end of this year.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer, but the replacement of major systems in the Palace has been due for more than a decade. The Leader of the House is now appointing yet another Committee, delaying the repairs yet again, despite warnings that delays increase the risk of serious events such as fires. Has the Commission made any estimate of how much longer the deployment of a new body to consider costings will delay the timeline of the work?

The expectation is that once the shadow sponsor board and the delivery authority have been established, it might take them something of the order of 12 to 18 months to consider the options for decanting. That would therefore add to the timescales. I welcome the fact that we are going to have the debate by the end of this year. We really need that, because meanwhile the fabric of the building continues to deteriorate and the very high maintenance costs that we incur as a result also continue apace.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the public might be somewhat puzzled at the thought of a further 12 to 18 months’ delay while options that have already been assessed are discussed yet again? When works are considered urgent for structural and safety reasons, surely we should choose the option that maximises the ability to carry out those works efficiently while minimising the cost to the public purse without any further delay.

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Since the original Joint Committee report, the idea of creating a contingency Chamber and perhaps doing more works around the northern estate have changed the picture slightly. The sponsor board and the delivery authority will be established according to the timescale set out, and I hope that she and others will take advantage of the engagement programme that the Government have launched, with three separate dates on 14, 21 and 28 November, and that Members will avail themselves of the opportunity to go on the tour of the basements to see why these works are needed.

I might be wrong, but I get the impression that the Treasury would much rather spend money over a long period than over a shorter period. Does the right hon. Gentleman know whether the Treasury would prefer to spend £5 billion or £6 billion over five or six years or much more over 20 to 30 years?

As the spokesman of the House of Commons Commission, I am somewhat loth to express a Treasury view—the Treasury is better equipped to do that than I am. However, as for the risk profile associated with doing these works over, say, a 30-year period as opposed to a much shorter period of time, the risk of some catastrophic failure is clearly much higher if the works take place over 30 years while we are in situ debating in either Chamber and, indeed, our staff are here working.

The right hon. Gentleman says that we are hampered in making a decision because the two Houses have not come to a view, but that is because the Government refuse to table the motion that was agreed last year by the then Leader of the House, which says that there is

“an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore.”

It is downright irresponsible of the Government consistently to delay. The next edition of the “Oxford English Dictionary” will say for the word “procrastination”: “See the inaction of the Tory Government on the misunderstanding of the phrase ‘impending crisis’.” Get on with it, man!

For the reasons I set out about the risk profile associated with the services in the building, I certainly support what the hon. Gentleman says about the need for urgent action to be taken, although I may not echo the tone that he uses.

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for his attempted imitation. I usually have the copyright on the phrase “Get on with it, man,” but they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I am deeply obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Indeed, admittedly so. Nevertheless, I am going to bank the compliment from the hon. Gentleman. It might be the only one that I ever get.

Given the attitude to change in this place, including the resistance to electronic voting, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that consideration should be given to turning this place into a museum?

When that matter was looked at by the Commission and the Lords equivalent, there was no desire to turn this place into a museum. Indeed, there was a desire to ensure that this building is able to continue to operate for staff, for Members and for visitors and to remain a significant world heritage building. [Interruption.]

Just in case those attending to our proceedings did not hear, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) says that he wants to be an exhibit. He should be careful of what he wishes for.