In July the House Committee approved the House of Lords’ 2008-09 contribution towards the major project to modernise the mechanical and electrical services in the Palace of Westminster. This programme will involve essential improvements to a variety of core systems within the Palace including water, gas, heating, ventilation, electrics, drainage, security and communications. Many of these systems have now exceeded their economic service life and major modernisation work is urgently required. It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage the existing services and to replace, repair or extend them as required in an efficient manner and there is a growing risk that breakdown in these services could not be quickly repaired. The complete project will take many years and will involve considerable cost.
The mechanical and electrical replacement must be carried out in the most economical way consistent with enabling both Houses to operate properly. Normal practice is that major works are only undertaken in the Palace of Westminster during the Summer Recess but the extensive scale of the work planned requires that a full range of options should be carefully considered. The House of Commons Commission has therefore ordered a detailed feasibility study to examine whether substantial savings in cost, time and risk could be made by moving some operations of both Houses out of the Palace for a period to enable modernisation to be carried out continuously until its completion. The Lord Speaker and I have agreed that the House of Lords will participate in this exercise. The feasibility study is expected to report in the middle of 2009. No decision will be taken until all options have been fully assessed.