House of Lords
Tuesday 6 February 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Women: Economic Freedom
My Lords, we are making good progress. Currently 15.12 million women are in work—more than ever before—and the Government continue to support women’s participation in the labour market. Equal pay is a legal requirement and this law was strengthened in 2014. Additionally, new legislation requires large employers to publish their gender pay gap, shining a light on the differences between the average hourly earnings of men and women.
I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Today is the 100th anniversary of the legislation receiving Royal Assent. Last night’s debate was a chance to celebrate and to reflect but it was generally accepted that we still had a long way to go on a whole range of issues. We have the same structural problems in the labour market as 50 years ago, and women lose out on pay, pensions and job security. What specific steps will her department take to make measurable improvements in closing the gender pay gap?
I join the noble Baroness in saying that last night’s debate was very enjoyable. It was very upbeat and in many ways very humorous but at the heart of it was the fact that we still have a lot further to go in this area. On childcare, the Government are now doing more than ever to support women into work; over 3 million people have been taken out of tax altogether; and the Government have introduced a number of initiatives to allow people to return to work after taking time out for caring duties.
My Lords, on this important anniversary and with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, I note with interest that computer science will be key. However, it is important to be aware that only 20% of girls undertaking GCSEs take this subject and only 10% do so at A-level, so this will have a dramatic effect in the future. What are the Government doing to address this issue so that, 100 years from now, women do not have another problem with being left behind in terms of both pay and status in work and in the economy?
My noble friend is absolutely right to point out that what girls do today at GCSE and A-level will determine what the women’s workforce of the future looks like. She is also right to point out that only 20% of girls do computer science at GCSE and 10% at A-level. One thing that I know my children are absolute wizards at—far better than me—is computer science. If girls are very conversant with computer science and STEM subjects generally, that will make them really equipped for the workforce of the next generation.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies found recently that by the time a couple’s first child reaches the age of 20, the mother’s earnings are almost a third less than the father’s. Take-up of shared parental leave is disappointingly low; I have crossed swords with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in discussing the reasons why. However, we cannot just put this problem in the “too difficult” box. Too much is being lost to the economy and to families.
My Lords, will the Government address the ways in which universal credit reduces the economic freedom of many poorer women, partly because it is paid into a single account so we cannot be sure that the money goes to them, for themselves or any children, and partly because it creates a work disincentive for second earners, many of whom are still women? It does not support those women into paid work.
My Lords, I think the thing here is to get women into work and undo their reliance on credit, and some of the initiatives that the Government have put into play help women in that regard. We have more people and therefore more women than ever in employment.
Well, we have not had conversations with the BBC, but the EHRC is certainly interested in talking to it. I suspect that the BBC issue is an equal pay issue rather than a gender pay gap issue, but I am sure that that will all come out in the conversation that the EHRC has. Of course, the penalties for not complying with this are that the company or organisation involved has to do an equal pay audit, which is quite onerous.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Institute for Fiscal Studies published research yesterday showing that, by the time their first child is grown up, mothers earn 30% less per hour than fathers? A quarter of that gap can be explained by the fact that mothers are the ones who generally work part-time while their children are growing up, so they miss out on earnings growth and opportunities. While it is good to see the pay gap closing when women first get on the career ladder, when women and men decide to become parents it is usually the women who miss out. What are the Government doing to close this gap for women who are or have been working part-time?
I think that the noble Baroness has asked a very similar question to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. As I said to her, we are doing a number of things to help women back into work after a break in their career. Supporting men and women with caring responsibilities takes the burden of responsibility off the woman. Shared parental leave is very important, along with working with businesses to support and increase women’s progression to senior positions. In addition, a large number of organisations now allow for flexible working when a woman returns to work.
My Lords, it is a pity that my noble friend was drowned out, because her question was very important—so important that it was repeated, of course. Does the department keep information and statistics on the number of women who, when they become pregnant, lose their jobs or are sacked? Is that being monitored, and what is being done to mitigate it?
Refugees: Teaching of English
My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of the English language for refugee integration. The Government have provided additional funding of £10 million under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme for more English classes, childcare facilities and local co-ordination of English language provision. English language tuition is also available for refugees under the arrangements for adult learners.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer and for the very helpful meeting she had with me to discuss this. Since that meeting, has she had the chance to reflect on the 60% reduction in ESOL funding since 2010, the desirability of extending the guaranteed eight hours a week of teaching to all refugees, and the role that voluntary projects can play alongside statutory provisions? Is it not the case that language is the most important precondition for full participation in British society, and that if refugees are unable to speak English, it compromises their ability to integrate, with negative social, employment and security implications?
I totally agree with the noble Lord about English language skills being the key to employment, integration and contributing to wider society in general. As I said, we have made more than £10 million available over five years, and local authorities are required to arrange a minimum of eight hours’ formal tuition a week within a month of arrival and for a period of 12 months, or until the individual reaches ESOL entry level 3.
My Lords, there has been a huge cut in the funding of ESOL, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. Without being able to speak English, refugees, having fled conflict, have to cope with loneliness and isolation as well. Can the Minister explain to the House the Government’s comprehensive strategy for ESOL in England and how they will co-ordinate it with the devolved institutions?
For refugees, which is what the Question is about, our ESOL strategy is that local authorities have to arrange a minimum of eight hours’ formal language tuition a week within a month of arrival and for a period of 12 months, or until that person reaches ESOL entry level 3. ESOL is a route to employment, and we want people who arrive here as refugees to be able to access the labour market as quickly as possible, because many of them will be quite highly skilled.
My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Does my noble friend agree that, as well as resourcing, it is important that in teaching English as a second language the focus is on how we teach it, where we teach it and when we teach it, to allow full access for people coming into this country? Is she aware of a specific Department for Communities and Local Government programme which was put in place in 2013 to effectively expand the way in which English as a second language is taught? Can she tell us about the success of that programme and whether there are any plans to extend it?
If my noble friend is talking about the same programme I am thinking of, Talk English, it was an excellent initiative, of which I saw an example up in Manchester. The parents, in particular the mothers, dropped their children off at school and then went into the school and were taught English. Things like that not only make women feel part of their children’s environment but also make them feel part of the community in which they live. I remember asking one mother what it was about Manchester that she liked so much. She said, “I love the rain”.
My Lords, the Minister has referred to £10 million of funding over five years for additional ESOL teaching, and that is very welcome. But is it not the case that this will benefit only resettled Syrian refugees, meaning that the great majority of refugees in the UK are locked out? On investment for these programmes, the Minister should take comfort from the fact that there is huge public support for funding teaching English for all refugees.
I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that refugees generally should be able to learn English. What I am talking about today is a £10 million fund for resettled refugees, but tuition is available to refugees under arrangements for adult learners as well.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross Benches.
My Lords, in 2016, Dame Louise Casey conducted a review on extremism. She stressed the importance of integration, which reduced the chances of extremism, and of course speaking English increases the chances of integration. The £10 million that the Minister referred to has certainly helped to assist resettled Syrians, but could that same commitment to provide eight hours of English training be provided to all other refugees as well? That might enhance the strategy mentioned by the Opposition.
My Lords, as I explained to my noble friend Lady Warsi, English language tuition is also available to refugees under the adult learners scheme. But the noble Lord is absolutely right: integration is the key to tackling extremism and the English language is the key to enabling that integration.
Health: Pelvic Mesh Implants
My Lords, NHS England’s mesh working group report outlined recommendations to optimise care when surgical mesh is used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. We continue to implement those recommendations. NICE has now published eight pieces of updated interventional procedure guidance related to vaginal mesh. Updated clinical guidance covering urinary incontinence and mesh will be published in February 2019. The MHRA continues to review available evidence to make sure that our regulatory position is up to date, liaising with EU and non-EU partners.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his personal involvement in the decision to conduct a retrospective audit into vaginal mesh surgery, but will he go a little further? He will be aware that an increasing number of women have reported suffering from complications that include debilitating pain, infection, inflammation, the loss of sex life and mobility issues. A number of countries have now banned the use of mesh implants completely. On the precautionary principle, will he suspend the use of mesh until the audit that he has announced has been completed and new guidelines issued by NICE?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this issue, because there is certainly a complication rate. I know that a lot of women are suffering as a result of complications from this procedure. As he will know, we have asked the MHRA, NICE and NHS England to have a look at the correct use of this kind of mesh. They have all concluded that they do not support a complete ban. They propose a range of restrictions on usage. Indeed, the most recent interventional procedure from NICE on prolapse said that it should be used only for research purposes and not as a front-line treatment. However, I am aware that Australia and New Zealand are implementing bans for particular usage. I have asked NICE and MHRA to investigate why they have done that and to report to me urgently so that I can see the grounds for the ban. We have different regulatory systems, but I want to know what is happening there.
My Lords, will my noble friend explain to the House what the alternative might be if pelvic mesh implants were to be stopped? Is it not appropriate to be absolutely sure that any alternative is fool-proof and that there are no consequences?
My noble friend makes an excellent point. This is one procedure, and for some women it can be positive and life-enhancing. But we also know that it carries a risk of complications. That is one reason why we wanted to carry out the audit, because it will look not only at areas and procedures where there have been problems and complications but at where it has been successful, so that we can have a proper understanding of what the complication rate is and therefore what the safety concerns are.
My Lords, the NICE guidelines that the Minister just referred to conclude that:
“Evidence of long-term efficacy is inadequate in quality and quantity. Therefore, this procedure should only be used in the context of research”,
as he said. But will he tell the House how confident we can now be that that is the case and that the information has been effectively disseminated? What is the mechanism for informing clinicians and women about this NICE guidance?
The noble Baroness is quite right to say that it is not just about having the guidelines but making sure that clinicians follow them. Professional standards demand that clinicians do follow them, and indeed a clinician would need to be strongly justified in using mesh implants outside of the guidelines. They include things like gaining consent, providing information and registering operations that have been carried out. The guidelines are very strict and we expect clinicians to follow them.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, while we cannot be sure why New Zealand and Australia have suddenly announced total bans on the use of mesh implants, the evidence suggests that of the 20% of women who suffer from complications, most of them had been treated for pelvic floor prolapse, not stress incontinence? Banning their use completely at this stage for women with certain conditions who may benefit from them would, without further evidence, be completely wrong.
The noble Lord speaks with great experience. Obviously, a number of procedures are involved, and NICE is now looking at extra procedures to provide the guidance. It does look like it is not the right thing to do in cases of prolapse, but it can be a very successful course of treatment for other conditions. It is important to take a differentiated approach.
My Lords, does the Minister share with me a sense of puzzlement that this subject was brought to the House in the first place? I find it very odd given that we have royal colleges and NICE with people to assess the efficacy of particular treatments. Many treatments, both medical and surgical, carry a risk of complications. Are they all going to be brought to the House of Lords for discussion?
Our job in this House is to scrutinise the decisions that are made in our publicly funded health services. I think that it is absolutely right that we do scrutinise these issues and make sure that the care being provided in this country adheres to the highest and safest standards.
My Lords, extremism has no place in our society. That is why we changed the law on the requirements on schools so that they have to actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. If there are any allegations of schools promoting ideologies or discrimination in the classroom, we will not hesitate to take action.
I hear what the Minister says, but I am sure that he will agree that we should not allow religious extremism to pervert our education system or narrow the minds of our children. When unregistered schools are closed down, they often morph into a form of home-school tuition. Is not the time now right to make sure that home tuition is registered?
My Lords, I note the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and indeed of the noble Lord, Lord Storey. In our debate on Second Reading of the Bill promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, we made it clear that we recognised the concerns that had led to the introduction of the Bill in the first place. That is why we are producing for consultation a revision of the guidance for local authorities which clarifies that their powers in relation to home education often go further than is appreciated. We expect to produce the draft guidance for consultation in the next few weeks.
My Lords, what consultations and discussions has the Minister had with the Security Service and with counterterrorism policing about the very high incidence of the children of people who are subjects of interest for counterterrorism investigations turning out to be home schooled? Does that not suggest that there is a prima facie case for much more substantial registration and regulation of that sector, in particular to avoid extremist grooming in very young children?
I note the noble Lord’s concern. We addressed many of these points in the debate on Second Reading of the Bill promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. We have just received legal advice on the powers of local authorities to investigate children who are being home educated. It is clear that there are more powers, but I do not think that they have been clearly delineated and explained to local authorities. That is the point of the guidance that we will be issuing shortly and we will be looking for feedback from local authorities on it.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that all the main religions should be taught in schools and that, if a school is not doing that, it is a failing school? Should not the teaching of religion be in the context of today’s times rather than literally in the language of outdated texts so that they cannot be manipulated for the purposes of extremism? Does the Minister further agree that the teaching should focus not so much on customs and rituals but on the underlying ethos so that it becomes self-evident that the different religions are all pushing in the same direction?
My Lords, as all of you will know, faith schools play a very important part in the fabric of our state education. We have more than 4,000 Church of England schools and 2,000 Catholic schools. All the guidance around education and religion is about tolerance and understanding it in the context of our own society. The recent provision for the promotion of fundamental British values builds on that. As noble Lords may be aware, we now have specialist Ofsted inspection officers who look specifically for any incidence of where religion is not taught in that context.
My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on the Written Answer I received on 21 June last year, which admitted that the Government have no idea how much violent Islamic teaching is taking place in our madrassas, nor indeed how many of them there are; and furthermore, that the Government do not intend to find out, or do anything about it? Is that still government policy?
My Lords, between January 2016 and August 2017, with additional funding from us, Ofsted identified 125 unregistered schools. It visited 38 of those, 34 of which have now closed. Two more have closed since they were investigated and two are still under investigation. We have appointed I think 36 Prevent officers at the last count to support local authorities in areas of concern to provide advice to schools on exactly these areas. I am concerned about this. I am the department’s Minister with responsibility for extremism, so it is one of my main briefs. I believe we are doing a lot, and we continue to be alert to where more needs to be done.
My Lords, could the Minister say what support the Government can offer to head teachers who face difficulties when they come across extremism and indoctrination in their schools? There have been cases of intimidation and heads being prevented from doing their jobs. Could a support network and a hotline perhaps be set up to help them?
My Lords, in April 2015 we established a counterextremism helpline to avoid exactly the situation that the noble Baroness raises. Teachers can contact it for confidential advice. We have had more than 450 uses of this helpline from educationists and other members of the public.
My Lords, could the noble Lord give the House some statistics relating to the number of children who have been referred under the Prevent strand of the counterterrorism strategy from schools? Could he give details of how many have been referred and how many were then followed up with further action? Could he also give details of how many were within the last 12 months and how many within the 12 months before that? Could he also break it down between religious extremism and far-right extremism?
My Lords, we introduced some statutory changes to requirements on schools quite recently. It is now a requirement that a school notify the local authority of what are called deletions from the register, whether the parent has formally notified the school of the destination of the child or not. Local authorities are made aware of closing schools in those situations.
My Lords, I remind the House that my wife is a Prevent adviser on further education. Will the noble Lord take the opportunity to commend the head of Ofsted for her very rigorous action in the last few months? At times the head of Ofsted might have welcomed more ministerial support for what she is doing, taking up the point made by the noble Baroness. I understand that Ofsted feels that to tackle the problems effectively it needs more powers. In the light of his response on home education, will the Minister look at whether legislative changes need to be made to give the chief inspector more authority?
My Lords, we need to discern between extremism that indoctrinates for hatred and violence and those very conservative faiths that teach a very narrow curriculum; and, indeed, that is part of the job of the Prevent officers. It is not about pursuing one particular religion but about ensuring, as the noble Lord said earlier, that religion is taught in a tolerant way that is relevant to our society.
Arrangement of Business
Announcement of Recess Dates
My Lords, now might be a convenient point for me to inform the House of some proposed recess dates. I can save noble Lords reaching for their diaries because, in the usual way, this information will be available in the Printed Paper Office and be included in tomorrow’s edition of Forthcoming Business. The dates for the imminent Lenten Recess and the Easter Recess have already been published, so I turn first to the May bank holiday weekend when, subject of course to the progress of business, I expect the House to rise at the conclusion of its proceedings on Thursday 3 May and return on Tuesday 8 May. We also currently plan for the House to rise at the conclusion of its proceedings on 24 May for Whitsun and return on Monday 4 June. The House will be aware of the importance of the business likely to be before it in May, so I emphasise again the caveat about the progress of business making these later dates, in particular, provisional. I end by saying that the dates I have advertised today coincide with those currently advertised for the other place.
Smart Meters Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Northamptonshire County Council
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Local Government in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, I wish to comment on the financial situation of Northamptonshire County Council. As honourable Members will be aware, the council’s finance director has issued a Section 114 notice to stop new spending. A Section 114 notice does not automatically mean existing services will stop. Northamptonshire’s finance director has confirmed that safeguarding vulnerable people and statutory services will continue to be delivered and that council staff will continue to be paid.
Local authorities have a legal duty to balance their budget, and Section 114 notices are part of the accountability framework that guards against irresponsible financial management. It is for the council to decide what steps it needs to take to balance its budget and I understand that the full council will meet on 22 February to consider the situation.
Of course, local government is independent of central government. That said, the Government have been aware of concerns about Northamptonshire County Council’s finances and governance for some time. This is why, on 9 January, the Secretary of State appointed an independent inspector to undertake an independent best-value inspection. The independent inspection is due to report on 16 March and, as the Secretary of State made clear in the Written Ministerial Statement of 9 January, it would be inappropriate for the Government to comment while this is under way, specifically to avoid prejudicing that inspection. The Government will address the wider issue of funding for local government in the local government finance settlement debate tomorrow.
The issuing of a Section 114 notice is a serious step. I understand that this development will be causing some concern in the honourable Member’s constituency and across the entire county. However, it is also a sign that the council is taking its responsibilities seriously. The Secretary of State and I will be taking a keen interest in the steps it takes to resolve these matters and ensure that it continues to deliver for the communities that it serves”.
My Lords, I refer the House to my registered interests as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The actions of the leadership of Northamptonshire County Council are a disgrace, putting vital services for children and some of the most vulnerable members of our community at risk. Does the Minister agree with Philip Hollobone, the Tory MP for Kettering, who described Northamptonshire County Council as,
“the worst-run local authority in the country”,
and said that problems had been “exacerbated by poor leadership”? Does he agree with Michael Ellis, the Tory MP for Northampton North, his ministerial colleague who serves in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who said the situation was dire and that it was,
“time for a change of leadership”?
What action does he propose to take in response to the call from all the MPs representing Northamptonshire constituencies, who are all Conservative MPs, including the Cabinet Minister Andrea Leadsom, who are calling for a commissioner to be appointed to take over the running of this authority?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right that this is clearly a serious situation. The problem is that while the best-value inspection is going on, I cannot comment on it. I am sure noble Lords will understand that. It is effectively sub judice. That said, in September 2017 the Local Government Association went in to look at what was happening in the council and made comments about the council having,
“no financial strategy to deliver a sustainable position”,
and a “short-term focus”. It also said:
“The Council has a poor record of delivering its approved budget”.
That said, it is now for the council officials who have served the Section 114 notice via the finance director to come up with a plan by 22 February, when the full council will meet to consider any relevant plan, to ensure that the council is put back on a stable footing. In the meantime, as I have said, services for vulnerable people and statutory services will continue to be supplied and council staff will be paid.
My Lords, as the Minister will understand, Northamptonshire is not alone in reaching the financial cliff edge. Professor Tony Travers of the LSE, an expert on local government finance, has said:
“I think there are others that are quite close to Northamptonshire’s position … I would be amazed if Northamptonshire was the only council to get into these circumstances”.
Does the Minister agree? Does he accept that the Local Government Association and others have a long list of councils reaching the cliff edge? Has he understood that the Government have accepted the need for extra funding; for instance, to postpone the social care crisis by introducing the social care precept, which means that council tax payers will be paying an extra 11% over the next two years? Are council tax payers still hard pressed or will they continue to pay an additional 5% or 6% each year?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. I shall deal with the second point first, as it is more general and not specific to Northamptonshire, which is what the Statement is about. The social care precept has been introduced in response to widespread concerns, which I think are shared by the noble Baroness and her party, that we needed to do something like this—which will apply to Northamptonshire as well—to give extra leeway in relation to a need that is pressing on all our communities.
Turning specifically to Northamptonshire, the point is that it is alone. It has had two damning audit reports and a Local Government Association inspection and review in September. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has ensured that there is an inspection on best value. It is the only one currently, and they are very few and far between. Tony Travers is certainly very distinguished, but the evidence I have—I have looked at this and so has the department—is that it is an outlier. Clearly we will keep these matters under review—it is important that we do so—but I certainly do not want people to go away with the idea that there are others at the cliff edge, as Northamptonshire is. There are not.
Is my noble friend aware that I had the privilege of being the Member of Parliament for Northampton South for 23.5 years? Is he also aware that my seven colleagues in the other place are unanimous in their criticism of the way the county council has been run? Does my noble friend recognise that when I was first elected there were five Members of Parliament for Northamptonshire and there are now seven? That reflects the enormous growth of population in the county. I hope the Statement that I understand will be made tomorrow will reflect the needs of those parts of the country that are growing really fast—much faster than the majority are growing.
My Lords, I was aware that my noble friend was a Member of Parliament for Northamptonshire when there were five such MPs. Clearly they threw away the mould when my noble friend ceased to be a Member and now more MPs are needed to handle the workload. There is a very serious issue here in relation to Northamptonshire. It is fair to say that there is a universal view among MPs of the area about the seriousness of the issue. I watched the Statement in the Commons and many of them were accenting governance issues. It is not just a finance issue; there is a very serious governance issue here. Indeed, the chief executive of CIPFA, commenting on this yesterday, said that although Northamptonshire, along with many other local authorities, certainly faces challenges, other authorities had met those challenges and Northamptonshire had not. That was the essence of what he said, and that is very important and instructive with regard to what is happening there.
Would the Minister care to speculate about how much of the problems of Northamptonshire County Council are self-inflicted—the words of Philip Hollobone MP—and how much might be the responsibility of the Government for perpetually cutting local authority budgets over the past eight years?
My Lords, in a sense, I have just answered the noble Lord’s point in relation to the comments made by CIPFA yesterday, not from a party-political angle, which say that this is very much a single authority that is not meeting the challenges that other local authorities are meeting. Yes, there is a financial challenge—it would be ridiculous to suggest that there is not—but as far as we can see this is the sole authority that is not meeting those challenges. I do not think it is just a financial issue; it is very much a governance issue as well.
My Lords, I declare my interest as leader of South Holland District Council and the chairman of the Local Government Association. First, we should congratulate the leader of Northamptonshire County Council on calling the Local Government Association in to do a peer review of its financial situation. She is a relatively new in that position. It is also worth noting that if that council received the average county council funding, it would have more than £20 million a year extra to spend on its services, so this problem is much more complicated than it appears on the face of it. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to my request to see the independence from government that we are now being given for the first council that decides it needs to put its council tax up by more than the level that the Government approve at the moment.
My Lords, my noble friend is right that the leader took that initiative to initiate the peer review. Peer reviews are important across the piece, and the LGA receives roughly £21 million so that that can happen. She certainly deserves congratulations on that. As I say, the peer review found that there were governance issues such as a lack of transparency, no culture of challenge and so on. The comments made by the peer review are important in looking at what has gone wrong in Northamptonshire. As I say, there is also a best-value inspection going on, which will report on 16 March. Clearly, we cannot comment on that while it is under way.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of Sheffield City Council and a vice-chair of the LGA. The Minister just said from the Dispatch Box that no other councils are near to going over the cliff edge. The Local Government Association produced a report at the end of 2017 which said that by 2020, if the financial crisis for local government is not solved, up to half of local authorities will go over the cliff edge of not being able to pay for non-statutory services. Will he reflect on the Statement he has just made and take a deep look at the financial crisis that many local authorities find themselves in across the country?
My Lords, the noble Lord’s statement, as he will see when he re-reads it, is based on a hypothesis—“if something happens, and then if something else happens”. I am merely reflecting the current position and cannot speculate about what might happen in two to three years’ time. That will clearly be a different situation and, as I indicated, this is something we keep under review. But at the moment, this is the sole authority in this position. These are unique circumstances, partly financial and partly about governance. I wanted to provide that reassurance to the House.
Palace of Westminster: Restoration and Renewal
Motion to Approve
That this House concurs with the House of Commons in their resolution of 31 January, and accordingly resolves that this House—
(1) affirms its commitment to the historic Palace of Westminster and its unique status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Royal Palace and home of our Houses of Parliament;
(2) takes note of the Report of the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster (Session 2016-17, HL Paper 41);
(3) accepts that there is a clear and pressing need to repair the services in the Palace of Westminster in a comprehensive and strategic manner to prevent catastrophic failure in this Parliament, whilst acknowledging the demand and burden on public expenditure and fiscal constraints at a time of prudence and restraint;
(4) accordingly endorses the unanimous conclusion of the Joint Committee that a full and timely decant of the Palace is the best and the most cost-effective delivery option, as endorsed by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority;
(5) accepts that expenditure on the Palace during this Parliament will be limited to preparatory work for the comprehensive programme of works envisaged, together with works essential to ensure the continuing functioning of the Palace;
(6) endorses the Joint Committee’s recommendation that a Sponsor Board and Delivery Authority be established by legislation to develop a business case and costed programme for the work to be approved by both Houses of Parliament, and to commission and oversee the work required, and that immediate steps be taken now to establish a shadow Sponsor Board and Delivery Authority;
(7) instructs the shadow Sponsor Board and Delivery Authority and their statutory successors to apply high standards of cost-effectiveness and demonstrate value for money in the business case, to report back to Parliament with up to date costings and a realistic timetable for the duration of the work, and to include measures to ensure: the repair and replacement of mechanical and electrical services, fire safety improvement works, the removal of asbestos, repairs to the external and internal fabric of the Palace, the removal of unnecessary and unsightly accretions to the Palace, the improvement of visitor access including the provision of new educational and other facilities for visitors and full access for people with disabilities; and
(8) affirms that the guarantee that both Houses will return to their historic Chambers as soon as possible should be incorporated in primary legislation.
My Lords, today’s debate is about the restoration and renewal of this iconic building. It is a building steeped in history, and of course today marks one of those historic occasions, as it is 100 years since Parliament passed a law which allowed women to vote for the first time. Following this debate the House will be asked to take an important decision about whether or not to support the proposition that was agreed last Wednesday in the House of Commons. As this is a Motion for the House rather than for the Government, it will be a free vote on our Benches, as it was in the other place. Before we begin, I should acknowledge that this debate has been a long time coming—I note the wry smiles and noise from around the House. But there has been a lot of preparatory work and discussion in both Houses to get us to this point.
I am sure that the House would like to join me in paying tribute to the excellent report produced in 2016 by the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, co-chaired by my predecessor my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport during his time as Leader of the Commons. Others members of that committee are present today, including the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. The House owes them, along with the R&R programme team, a huge debt of gratitude for the work they have done in laying the foundations for today’s decision. I also thank the many noble Lords from all sides of the House who attended the drop-in sessions that I hosted with my right honourable friend the Leader of the Commons before Christmas, and those Peers who have taken the time to visit the basement, the roof and other parts of the Palace with members of the R&R team.
Last Wednesday the House of Commons debated a number of options on how to proceed with the work everyone agrees needs to be done to this building. It made a decision to progress by endorsing the Joint Committee’s recommendation that a full and timely decant of the Palace is the best and most cost-effective delivery option. I have no hesitation in commending the Motion that the other place voted for to your Lordships.
There are difficult decisions to be made on how we best protect one of the world’s most iconic buildings for future generations, but we must address these decisions head on. The patch and mend approach is no longer sustainable. The way forward on R&R must be supported by both Houses as the solution has to be right for Parliament as a whole. A programme of this scale and national significance should command the broadest possible consensus. Therefore, this House must agree a Motion which is substantively the same as that agreed by the other place—otherwise we will once again reach an impasse.
That means that, if the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Naseby were to be agreed by this House, both Houses would have taken materially different decisions. This would mean it was likely that no progress could be made until time was found for the other place to debate this matter again and, in effect, reconsider the position that it agreed last week only after lengthy delays and a series of votes, and I am afraid that we would be no closer to making progress. I hope that the majority of your Lordships will agree that this would not be a desirable outcome. I will respond in more detail to the amendment that has been tabled at the end of the debate.
There are some critical risks now facing the Palace of Westminster. First, the lack of fire compartmentalisation means that fire patrols around the clock are necessary to keep us safe. Over the past 10 years, 60 incidents have had the potential to cause a serious fire. Secondly, there is a huge amount of asbestos in the building, much of it in the plant rooms and voids where the mechanical and engineering work needs to take place. Thirdly, many pipes and cables providing essential services are decades past their lifespan, with some now being impossible to access. This network of services, which has developed in an ad hoc way since the reconstruction of the Palace in the 19th century, is under such strain that the failure of one of them might render the building uninhabitable.
The likelihood of a major failure increases the longer that these systems are left unaddressed. While the House authorities are satisfied that the Palace is currently safe, it will become ever more difficult to maintain and manage this level of safety with every year that passes. Thankfully, the increasing risks facing the Palace are not structural ones but, while restoration work is already taking place to the exterior of the Palace, and can be done without significantly disrupting the business of the House, stripping out and replacing these ageing services will require a more substantial decant of the Palace. Indeed, some of the exterior renovation work taking place now can be disruptive in terms of noise. Many of your Lordships may remember the temporary suspension of the House at the end of 2016 because of stone-blasting work in the courtyard. The requirement to work around the sitting patterns of both Houses also has a significant impact on the timeframes and costs.
So there is a pressing need to repair the services in the Palace, but we must also acknowledge the likely costs associated with a programme of work of this magnitude and the fact that the burden will fall on the public purse. So while it is our responsibility as stewards to safeguard this UNESCO world heritage site, it is also our responsibility to ensure value for taxpayers’ money. For our part, the Government have said that there can be no blank cheque for this work, and value for taxpayers’ money will frame the choices that we make. If we do agree the Motion that this work should proceed, it will still be important to thoroughly examine the costs and manage the work in a way that avoids the unacceptable cost and time overruns that have occurred with other projects such as the refurbishment of Elizabeth Tower.
It may be helpful for me to briefly set out the next steps should the House agree to the Motion before us today. The next phase of work will be the development of an outline business case including the design, up-to-date costs and how the programme will be delivered. Significant time and investment will be required to get this right. To supervise this work, the Joint Committee recommended that a sponsor board be established to represent Parliament as the client. The board will have parliamentarians from both Houses as well as external members, including the chair, with expertise in heritage and project management. The sponsor board will oversee the work of a delivery authority that will be made up of professionals with the expertise to manage and deliver a project of this size. This seems to be the right approach.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Joint Committee’s report identified the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre as the preferred venue to accommodate this House during the works. It is likely that the House of Commons Chamber will be accommodated in Richmond House. But I should emphasise that feasibility work on these options is still ongoing and no final decisions have been taken. These arrangements will also form part of the business case. Once the outline business case has been produced, it will be brought to both Houses for approval. If approval is given by your Lordships and the other place, it is anticipated that the decant of the Palace will commence no sooner than 2025.
Later this month the commissions in both Houses will be invited to consider and agree the governance arrangements for the sponsor board and delivery authority. If they are content, the House authorities will launch a recruitment round for the external members who will sit on the sponsor board, including the chair. Engagement with Members will be one of the key roles of the sponsor board, as it will be crucial for their views, as well as those of the staff, public and other stakeholders, to inform and shape the programme, particularly the design, as it develops.
In the meantime, significant and essential repair and improvement work to the Palace will continue to take place. This includes ongoing restoration work to Elizabeth Tower, Westminster Hall, the cast-iron roofs and the stonework in the courtyards. In the Commons the renovation of the Northern Estate, which is an important enabler for the wider R&R works, will also continue.
I end simply by reiterating my thanks to my noble friend Lady Stowell, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the other members of the Joint Committee participating in today’s debate—the noble Lords, Lord Laming and Lord Carter of Coles, and my noble friend Lord Deighton—for their hard work and patience in laying the foundations, which has allowed us the opportunity to make progress on this important matter. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
My Lords, some of your Lordships may question by what right I challenge the strategy and work of an experienced team of consultants and those colleagues who have been mentioned on the Joint Committee. A little background may help.
My grandfather was a builder. My father was part of the Ministry of Works after the war as an architect and surveyor involved particularly in war damage claims and rehabilitation of some of the iconic buildings damaged during the war. I myself had the privilege of being chairman of the housing committee in Islington and leader in 1968. We changed the policy there from demolishing the beautiful squares in that part of London, some of which were demolished by the previous council, Union Square being the most relevant, to one whereby the buildings there, which had been there since early Victorian days, were refitted and kept.
I entered Parliament in 1974 and started the All-Party Building and Construction Group in 1975 with the late Michael Latham. Post Commons, when I lost my seat in 1997, I became a non-executive director of Mansell Ltd, probably the leading refit company operating in London and the home counties and particularly involved in refitting historic buildings. I just cite the example of the Natural History Museum, which carried on as normal while a large section of it was refitted.
I challenge the proposals on grounds of cost, timing and particularly the impact internally and externally. On cost, of course every contractor in the country will tell you that a cleared site is probably cheaper. I say probably because of the example of the Scottish Parliament: estimated cost in the first round, £40 million; finished cost, £414 million—from a cleared site. Refit is normally more expensive but need not necessarily be so.
I hesitate to do this, but the Lord Speaker has now left. He wrote an article in the House magazine about the Canadian Parliament. I got in contact with the High Commission of Canada and, as of yesterday, the information I received from it is that it is vacating the central part of its Parliament—I have been to that Parliament—but that:
“It is expected to take 10 years to fully restore and modernize it inside and out”.
In those 10 years, both the Members of Parliament and Senators are, obviously, leaving the building, but they are very fortunate because they have a brand new building on the same site, which the MPs are going into, and a government conference centre adjacent to it. It is not exactly the same as what is proposed for this Parliament.
I also contrast the full decant situation with the case history of St Pancras and King’s Cross. A number of your Lordships will use those two stations regularly. There has been a major refit, particularly of St Pancras, which is a beautiful Gothic building primarily serving the lines to Nottingham and Bedford. King’s Cross is adjacent to it. Richard Brown CBE, who was at the time the chief executive of Eurostar—which some noble Lords will have used—said that:
“Eurostar’s new central London home, St Pancras International, is everything and more than it promised to be. A fusion of restored 19th-century gothic splendour and 21st-century functionality … St Pancras International and High Speed 1 are huge achievements—built on time and on budget”—
seven years, and close to £1 billion—
“by London and Continental Railways”.
That does not mention the fact that the trains did not stop; they went through St Pancras and King’s Cross day and night. Thousands of people—far more than ever come into the Palace of Westminster—used both those stations while all this was going on. They did not all have to go somewhere else. It worked, and I have used King’s Cross every day since I was elected to one House and appointed to the other. When I was with Mansell, I visited terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport, which it had won the contract to refit. Material, some of it quite heavy, was taken in at 9 pm and taken out again at 6 am, so the project took quite a long time. However, it was done to time and to budget and was a good refit. It is not impossible to do that.
What about the complexity of this site? I had shot in the .22 shooting gallery, so I knew a little bit about the basement and when I had the privilege of being appointed Chairman of Ways and Means in 1992 I asked to be taken round, unofficially. It was pretty ghastly down there at that point. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House mentioned the opportunity to go round that all noble Lords were recently given. As she knows, I have taken an interest in this project for a little while, so I took the opportunity. It may not be completely up to scratch, but it is an awful lot better now than it was in 1992.
What has changed in that time? The nature of the construction industry has. I do not want to bore your Lordships for much longer, but there is a thing called a cooling pod which some who know about the industry may have heard of. Part of the uniqueness of the St Pancras project was this pod, which cooled the generation planting facility servicing no fewer than 15 buildings in an area not much bigger than the Cross Benches in this Chamber. It is unbelievably good, efficient and modern.
Why can we not do the development in two or three phases? After the bombing in 1941, the Commons retired to Church House for a few months. It then came to your Lordships’ Chamber and your Lordships went into the Robing Room. In my view, we could easily go into the Royal Gallery. Either way, it was done on a phased basis, even without all the sophisticated machinery and new facilities that we now have. When the bombs landed on the Commons they did a pretty effective job of demolishing it. If we proceeded on a phased basis, as far as the British people were concerned, Parliament and our staff would still be working here. Frankly, this work is not going to take five or six years. If Canada’s work is going to take 10 years, we will be jolly lucky to achieve our restoration in 10. If it takes anywhere near that length of time, I ask noble Lords to reflect for a few moments on the impact on our staff and on what would happen to the QEII conference centre. That is a major convention centre in London. If that is taken out of service, that is the end of QEII as a conference centre. It will lose all its business. Is that what we want? I do not think that it is but others may disagree. Also, one of the values of having the Commons just across the corridor is the interaction between Members of the Commons and your Lordships. That will go if one House is in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre and the other is in the former Department of Health.
However, I have a deeper worry which noble Lords may or may not share. Having sat in a marginal seat, one is perhaps even more conscious of this. My deep worry is that there is in my view almost an ugly atmosphere in society at the moment. It was best described in a book by Jan Zielonka, professor of European politics at Oxford University, which was reviewed in the Financial Times. The article underlined his deep concern about the current order. It stated that,
“liberal democracy and neo-liberal economics, migration and a multicultural society, historical ‘truths’ and political correctness, moderate political parties and mainstream media”,
are all under considerable pressure.
If this work is going to take six years, then 11 minutes is not too bad.
Finally, I look at what Prime Minister Winston Churchill said when he decided what should be done, on 28 October 1943:
“The House of Commons has lifted our affairs above the mechanical sphere into the human sphere … It is the citadel of British liberty … I do not know how else this country can be governed other than by the House of Commons playing its part in all its broad freedom in … public life”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/10/1943; cols. 405-06.]
For me the House of Commons is down the road or, for a temporary period, here. We should think about that very seriously. Any of us who have watched the film “Darkest Hour”, and I guess a fair number have, understand the emotion of all that.
Against that background that I have painted, is it wise or practical to depart from this place during works that will in all probability last for nearly 10 years? I personally do not think so. I rest my case. I have tried in this speech to be reasonably bold, imaginative and reflective. I think that Parliament should think again.
My Lords, I very much welcome the government Motion and hope that this House will follow the lead of the other place and support it this evening.
I confess that this is the second speech I wrote for this afternoon’s debate; the first one was written before I took the basement tour. I cannot compare it with what the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, saw; I can say only that it alarmed me. My first speech was rather academic, but I commend the basement tour to anyone who is in any doubt that this Motion is the right thing to do. Forget about Guy Fawkes—think about burst boilers, random electric fires, routine and constant maintenance and equipment failures, and floods. Frankly, I am amazed that this building functions as well as it does. I am even more convinced that we are living on borrowed time. There are limits to how much risk can be managed, even by the expertise of the wonderful staff who work on the Parliamentary Estate to keep us safe.
I understand that feelings run high, and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, is surely part of that. I believe that the options have been fully and exhaustively explored and that the Motion is correct and we should follow it. However, I understand that this is part of how Parliament has always felt about this building. I remind your Lordships that, between 1834 and 1870, there were no fewer than 100 parliamentary inquiries into this building as it was being built. We are not quite of that order, but we have form on this.
This leads me to explain why it is such a challenging building. I had something to do with the rebuilding of King’s Cross, and I am afraid there is no comparison. The fact is that this was and remains a revolutionary building in every respect. Until recently it has survived all the tests of time. It was capable of being built this way due to the Industrial Revolution, and it is now accommodating the fourth industrial revolution. It was one of the greatest medieval buildings of Europe, and under the genius of Barry and Pugin it became a Victorian masterpiece, not just of design but of engineering, on a scale never before entertained, innovative as much for its frankly bizarre ventilation system as for the industrial use of stained glass throughout the building. It has proved flexible enough to house a small town, and has withstood wartime bombing. Over that period, it has become a visual shorthand for the big ideas around democracy that have shaped our nation and which are under our feet and over our heads: Church and state; law and government; monarchy and people; and today we remember in particular power, government and the representation of women.
As a world heritage site, it matters as much to the rest of the world as it does to us. But what makes it almost unique is that, unlike much of our physical heritage, so much of which has been lost or compromised, not least by fire, this building has not only survived but is still doing the job it was intended to do. You can say that about very few buildings in this country. But more than that, it is more open, better understood and more democratic than it has ever been in its history. Last year, we welcomed over 100,000 children, for example, among 1 million visitors. Our ambition should be not merely that we put it into their hands fit for the future but that, in doing so, we inspire and energise our whole democratic tradition.
We can do that only if we support the Government’s Motion tonight and agree to a full and timely decant, with all the right processes in place. The evidence—there is no point in rehearsing it—is consistent, expert, thorough and inescapable. This building has to have a radical restoration. The electrical and mechanical infrastructure needs to be stripped out completely and replaced; that is three-quarters of the cost. The fragile fabric and decoration of the House must be made safe and repaired by expert hands; otherwise, it will be lost for ever. The only way this can all be done safely, effectively and at cost-benefit is if we move out.
Millions has been spent on aggressive maintenance and replacing obsolete equipment over the past 20 years, which is done at night or when we are not here. That has been the only way the basic services have been kept going. Every new technology and new development has required more cabling—layer after layer. I suggest that noble Lords go to the basement to see the carbon fibre cables laid alongside the electricity cables, which are laid alongside the gas pipes and the water pipes. They should look at the 95 ventilation shafts which house them—shafts which were designed to facilitate the flow of clean air but are absolutely designed to accelerate fire. The sewage plant dates from the building of Bazalgette’s great sewer in the mid-19th century. I can certainly recommend that to noble Lords, although I would not recommend that they stay very long.
Much has been done to reduce risk—£72 million was spent on reducing the risk of steam, for example. However, the point is that, no matter how hard our engineers work in the coming years, they will only ever be able to keep pace with and not reduce risk. The whole system is alert for alarms. We were told that there are 120 routine alarms a day. The building has no fewer than 117 plant rooms; Buckingham Palace has only eight. Only five of our plant rooms have been modernised. That is the scale of the problem, and it comes inevitably from the fact that this is a single building with a single electricity system, a single water system and a single sewage system with no compartmentalisation. When pipes burst at this end of the building, the problem occurs at the other end. The risk of fire is not just from cabling; it is from the random electric fires that people put on in remote parts of the building.
For goodness’ sake, let us learn from history. The history of this building is written in fire. In 1512, Henry VIII abandoned it after a conflagration, and we know what happened after 1834. Last year, there were 12 fires. I am sorry, but the idea that the whole electric and mechanical infrastructure could be ripped out and asbestos contained while services continue to function somewhere in this building and we face minor inconvenience is nonsense.
The timetable to get things done before we can move out is long, but it involves a necessary process. However, the danger is that, although enough has been done to manage risk until 2020, the situation beyond then is more unpredictable. The other risk is that, if English Heritage, Historic England and UNESCO look at this building, one will say that it is a building at risk and another will say that it no longer merits its world heritage status. That is not an idle threat; both possibilities are very much under review.
This debate is about restoration and renewal. Let us concentrate on the future as well as on the past. Let us look to conserve the archaeology, the antiquities, the art and the fabric, but let us also commit to involving the whole country in a process of democratic renewal. The other place has spoken; I think we should listen; and I hope that that is what the House decides to do tonight.
My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I thought this day would never come, but I am very glad that it has. The fact that the Palace of Westminster is in imminent danger of the collapse of one or more of its essential services is a major indictment of previous Parliaments and Governments. Having taken the initiative and established the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster—I too pay tribute to its work—it is a particular indictment of this Government that they have allowed 17 months to elapse before even agreeing to a debate being scheduled.
The delay apparently flowed from the personal unwillingness of the Prime Minister to countenance a few potentially hostile headlines. The fact that the safety of those working daily in the Palace was at risk seems to have weighed less heavily with her. On this issue, as on so many others, she has displayed a shameful lack of leadership in a manner which has now become her hallmark. We are, however, now faced with a Motion which will belatedly allow us to make progress and, although this is not a whipped vote, it has my personal strong support and, I believe, the overwhelming support of these Benches. I particularly pay tribute to Chris Bryant MP for successfully steering this Motion through the Commons against, it has to be said, the position of the Government, and that is a signal achievement. I hope, therefore, that the sponsor board and delivery authority will now be established as speedily as possible and that the decant can start as speedily as possible. I do think that 2025 seems like a very long time away, and I hope that we can, if anything, move more quickly than that.
I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said. I am disappointed that he has so little faith in the strength of our parliamentary institutions, and indeed in us as parliamentarians, as to suggest that if we move out of this building, suddenly the principles that we hold dear will be undermined. I am sure that that would not be the case for him: if he were to move somewhere else, he would not stop being the profound democrat that he is. I hope I would not, and I am sure that other noble Lords and Members of the other place would not. I just do not think that that is a valid argument. As for St Pancras, the trains may more or less have kept running, but, unless I am very much mistaken, the hotel, which is a more direct analogy to this place, did not keep its bars, restaurants or rooms open through the entire refurbishment process.
As we set up the new bodies to run this process, we will need to give a lot of thought to their relationship with Members of both Houses. In particular, we must avoid the situation so brilliantly described in Caroline Shenton’s book about the building of the palace, Mr Barry’s War. She describes the continual delays and frustrations caused by a never-ending sequence of Select Committees set up especially to examine the design and construction process. We will need to establish at the start a clear and manageable reporting mechanism of the sponsor board, in particular to both Houses. It will also be extremely important for the sponsor board to put in place a comprehensive communications strategy with parliamentarians and more generally. If people know what is going on, they are more likely to be supportive. Transparency and consultation must be the watchwords of the board.
As for the approach taken to the work, I hope that it will be ambitious. The restoration of the Bundestag shows what can be achieved if there is a bold vision of what the newly restored Parliament can be. I hope that this will be taken as a model. It may be difficult and unnecessary to make major changes to the Chamber itself, and it would be presumptuous of me to make any suggestions about what they do at the Commons end. But beyond those spaces which are currently public, and rightly protected, there are many opportunities for change, in ways which can improve facilities for Members and visitors alike. My personal hope is that many of the internal courtyards will be enclosed so that further meeting rooms, and possibly classrooms, can be created. I gather that the basements, once cleared of the detritus of over l50 years of equipment, might yield space which can be more constructively employed.
When it comes to the process and to letting the tenders, I wonder whether we should think of doing this in two stages: first, a tender and a process for clearing out; and, secondly, another to decide what to finally put in. I suspect that, as anybody who has renovated an old building knows, once we take everything out, we will discover all kinds of things that we did not realise were there in the first place.
As for the decant option, the QEII Centre seems the most obvious choice for us. Whatever we do, life is likely to become more difficult, particularly our interactions with Commons colleagues. But the combination of Richmond House and the QEII Centre will probably minimise this inevitable disruption.
When we recently debated how to reduce the size of your Lordships’ House, it was clear that many people thought that the move to the QEII Centre would lead to a number of your Lordships deciding to retire. This is not exactly an uplifting view of why noble Lords choose to remain here when they might retire anyway, but it is probably the reality. So my first thought was that in order to achieve the maximum reduction in numbers, we should have the most spartan arrangements in the QEII Centre, by pensioning off the armchairs in the Library perhaps, or not replicating the gentle pleasures of the Bishops’ Bar. However, having given the matter more thought, I think that we also have to guard against the opposite threat: that arrangements in the new facilities are so spartan that even Peers who are minded to be active are put off by them. There is a real problem, for example, with our irregular and unplanned timing of votes when those with offices in Millbank and Fielden House will no longer be able to reach the Lobbies in the eight minutes after a vote is called. If we are to continue with voting on important matters up to the dinner hour, we will need to ensure that there are enough facilities in the QEII Centre to cater for large numbers of Members over large amounts of time.
Whatever we do, we must now get on and do it. Many noble Lords have now visited the basements and seen the horrendous conditions down there. It is a tribute to Victorian engineering that many near-original features still operate—the sewage ejection system, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred, was installed in 1888—but their day is long done. This Motion today gives us the chance to consign them to history, which is where they surely now ought to go.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure once again to follow the noble Lord, Lord Newby. We are all grateful to the Leader of the House for bringing this Motion before us today. As she said, we have waited a long time for it. But the Motion that was passed in the House of Commons last week, albeit by quite a narrow majority, has moved the situation forward quite a bit from where it was only a short time ago. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, we owe a debt to Meg Hillier, Sir Paul Beresford, Chris Bryant and all the others who moved the amendment to the Government’s Motion, which the Leader of the House has placed before us today. I can speak only for myself from these Benches, but I think it is a positive step that I personally greatly welcome.
There can be no dispute whatever about what is said in the first three paragraphs of the Motion. The amendment in the other place sought to resolve the issue that is the subject of the fourth paragraph, which is a key point. The Government’s Motion would have left three options—full decant, partial decant and retaining a parliamentary foothold—open for consideration after a further report, which would have led to much further delay. And with all due respect I must say that that, I fear, is what would result if the House were to vote in favour of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.
I welcome the fact that, if the original Motion is approved by the House today, we can at last get on with it. The unanimous recommendation of the Joint Committee deserves to be supported. We must assume that, having the full facts before them, the members of the committee chose their language carefully. They said that there was a “clear and pressing need” to repair the services in the Palace to prevent their “catastrophic failure”. Those are very strong words and I assume that they meant what they said in the light of what they knew. A failure of that kind would put public safety at risk and would make it quite impossible for the business of Parliament to be carried on here for who knows how long. So I agree that, to minimise the disruption caused by carrying out the work, a full decant offers the best and most cost-effective option.
I suspect that one’s reaction to the idea of a full decant and then a gap of several years before we can move back in again may depend on who we are and where we work when we are not in the Chamber. As for where we work, my route home when I leave the Palace in the evenings takes me through the narrow passage into Star Chamber Court and then along the Colonnade to the Underground. In front of me as I walk in that direction is Portcullis House. Most Members of the other place have their offices there and there will be no need for them to be decanted. For them, one imagines, the idea of a full decant is not as life-changing as it will be for the many Members of this House who have offices in the Palace.
As for who we are, that really depends on how old we are. The Leader of the House is fortunate. Happily, she has many years ahead of her. She can be decamped and then come back again. But I am in my very late 70s. I may well have retired before the decamp—and that has nothing whatever to do with the QE2 Centre. Life being what it is, I cannot reasonably expect to be around when the move back eventually takes place. So in a sense there is nothing in this for me—but surely this is a situation where one’s personal inconvenience and expectations must fade into the background. There are so many other people to think about, and this is indeed a world heritage site.
I recall being astonished, when we were subjected to the terrorist incident last March, by the huge number of people of all ages and physical conditions who emerged from all over the Palace to be taken to places of safety. I do not like to think what might have happened to them, or at least some of them, if a serious fire had broken out due, for example, to an electrical fault in the basement from where it might have spread very rapidly through the ventilation shafts, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has reminded us, and right through the building to the point of destruction. A catastrophic failure of our electrical supply after dark could have a serious effect on our staff and members of the public, too. So we need to think about the public interest and that, as I see it, points only one way—in favour of the recommendation.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Newby, one tends to look forward and think about what is to happen next, and there are certainly some important matters to bear in mind as we move forward. The sixth and seventh paragraphs of the Motion refer to the costing of the project. As the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said, in effect, we have been here before. Initial costings of other projects have proved to be wholly unreliable and, to say the least, it is very bad for the reputation of Parliament. We must remember that with costings, as with anything else, you get what you pay for. Care must be taken to select the most reliable method even if it costs more, because that will save time and money in the long run.
Then there is the system of employing a sponsor board and a delivery authority to carry the project forward, referred to in paragraph 7. That has been shown to work with other major projects, and I would welcome its adoption, but the arrangements for co-ordinating work across a wide variety of disciplines in a unique building will require very careful planning. They should not be rushed and great care must be taken to ensure that the contractual arrangements which will underpin the system are suitable for the task and that mechanisms are in place so that the timetables for carrying out the work by each of the interacting disciplines can be strictly enforced.
The Motion envisages a long timeline before the decant takes place. That time, too, must be carefully used to think things through so that delays caused by the unexpected can be cut to a minimum. There is a lot of work to do and many questions need to be answered, one of which is where we decamp to. Names and places have been mentioned, but it needs to be carefully thought about and planned for. Moving to another public building may not be as simple as it sounds. The consequences for that building and its occupiers will have to be taken into account before any decisions are taken. It is a long timeline and my hope is that the time will be put to good use and will not be wasted. But all of that lies in the future. I am conscious that it is not really for me to tell our expert advisers how to do their job. For the present, all that really matters is that we pass the original Motion, and I hope very much that we will.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, and it was a great privilege to be co-chairman of the Joint Committee. Because of that, naturally I am pleased that last week the House of Commons accepted our recommendations. I should like to use my time today to provide for your Lordships a little information on how we arrived at our recommendations, and in doing so to reassure noble Lords that this House played an equal part in reaching our conclusions and recommendations.
As we have heard from my noble friend the Leader of the House and others, we fielded a strong team from your Lordships’ House. I pay tribute to my colleagues on the Joint Committee: the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Laming, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and my noble friend Lord Deighton. I make specific mention of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and my noble friend Lord Deighton because they added their invaluable experience and expertise in successful major project management to our deliberations. Given that this is the first opportunity I have had to do so, I also pay tribute to our clerks, Sarah Jones and Tom Healey, our specialist adviser, James Bulley, and my own private secretary at the time, Mark Davies, who did an awful lot of work on this report. I thank the whole of the restoration and renewal team who have been working incredibly hard over the past few years, assisting the two Houses in their various deliberations to get us to this point.
The Joint Committee was never divided by the two Houses; we worked together because this is one Palace of Westminster. I also pay tribute to Chris Bryant and the other members of the committee from the other place for securing the support of the Commons for the recommendations. Chairing a committee of a rather eclectic group of different individuals was an experience I ended up enjoying, even if I was not sure I would at the start of the process.
As we have heard, Parliament has been in a state of indecision for some years. When the Joint Committee was formed in July 2015, a series of different parliamentary committees and commissions had already examined the issue. It has led to the commission in the Commons and the commission of the House of Lords commissioning a group of independent consultants led by Deloitte to undertake a comprehensive and, I should add, very costly study of what works were needed. It came up with three basic options for doing so: full decant, as we have now learned to call it; doing these works in two stages; and a continuing or rolling programme of works.
Deloitte found that the cost of full decant was significantly lower than the other options. That was quite clear. It did not make a recommendation, but that was its finding. When we came together as a committee we had one strategic aim, having had all these deliberations and all this work before us, which was to move us forward to a place where some headline decisions could be made. We would not be able to come up with our own detailed, fully costed solution and felt that to try to do so at that stage would be unwise. Instead, we wanted to make a clear set of recommendations based on solid scrutiny of all the evidence and to give people confidence. We wanted to give Parliament confidence that it is now possible to reach a headline decision and we wanted to give taxpayers confidence, before any budgets are signed and big money is spent, that all the right preparatory work will be completed.
We set ourselves three basic questions. What works need to be done—or, if you like, are the horror stories that we had heard really true? How should the works be carried out: in one go, in at least two stages or on an ongoing basis? And who should do that detailed planning, project management and oversight of the works once a headline decision has been made? Starting with the works, the case for them is now clear to all of us. Back in 2015 some of us on the committee were still sceptical, but the case has now been very clearly made. Indeed, in the 18 months since we published our report there have been some very telling examples of how bad things are. I think only the other week 200 toilets were taken out of action throughout the Parliamentary Estate.
As noble Lords have already heard, the main issue we need to address is not structural. It lies in the building’s mechanical and electrical services—those vast networks of pipes, cables and machinery that heat, ventilate and carry power, data and anything else around the building. The fantastic maintenance team has been a victim of its own success in keeping everything going over the last couple of decades. That approach is no longer sustainable. The risks are high and the costs of our continuing along that route will grow. These works are not a facelift or about dealing with an isolated injury to one or both arms. This is major surgery to fundamental organs, veins and arteries—all the stuff that keeps us alive and the bits we cannot see that keep this building habitable and functioning. I might add that this is true whether it remains the home of Parliament or ends up becoming a museum. The key point is that there are no separate systems for each House: there is just one system running right the way across this Palace of Westminster. If we think of it in those terms, it becomes clearer why it makes most sense to do the works in one go.
There were two drivers of our conclusion: cost and risk. The process of costing the options at this stage is complex; it is very hard to put exact prices on works when so much rests on assumptions instead of detail. Indeed, it was because we did not have, and could not conceivably obtain, the level of detail needed to price the options in more exact terms than the consultants had already done that we did not try. We debated whether to do so at some length, but we were clear that, had we tried to do that, we would not have provided people with the kind of confidence that we knew they needed to make a final decision. We wanted to be able to say confidently that the consultants’ methods were robust enough for our purposes of comparing the options, so the committee interrogated exhaustively the methodology used and called in the NAO. The methodologies have since been endorsed by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
We spent a very long time trying to find ways of retaining some foothold in the Palace and exploring whether we should carry out the project in stages. We understood—indeed, it was a view shared by some of the members—that a lot of Members of both Houses would want to see this explored. However, we were sure from our interrogation of the costings that the staged option would significantly increase the price. Just as compelling was the evidence from a range of professional bodies about increased risk if we were to do this in stages. Doing the work in stages, or keeping one of the Chambers open, would be like saying that we want to keep the left arm and leg working while we remove and replace all the veins, arteries and major organs of the rest of the body. To do that, we would have to build new major organs outside the body for the veins and arteries to connect to without knowing whether it would actually work. Even if it worked, the level of noise and disruption to the workings of Parliament while it was happening would be huge. There would be the potential for a sudden catastrophe and an evacuation once we got the show on the road, and the costs would go up again.
We were clear that a full decant was the most cost-effective and lowest-risk option. There is much more work to be done. As for who should do the detailed work once the headline decisions have been made, it should be a delivery authority of professionals —we do not have that expertise here in Parliament—but it should be accountable to a supervisory board. We felt that there is enough evidence now for Parliament to take this big step forward to get the project right; there is enough evidence now for us to decide that we should go ahead with the works and do so with a full decant. If we take this big step forward, we have time to get the project right, to involve all parts of the UK in the supply chain of parts and contractors, and to create the potential for old crafts to be restored and new trades to be established with proper apprenticeships. We can work out how a restored and renewed Palace of Westminster will be, and feel, more open and accessible to the people in whose interest decisions are made in this historic place. We are the custodians of something precious that belongs to everyone. We owe it to the public, whose building this is, to follow the route that is quickest, with the lowest cost and the lowest risk. I commend the original Motion; it has my support.
My Lords, I am pleased and privileged to follow the former Leader of the House and to endorse her congratulations on the enormous amount of work that has taken place to get us to this point. I will not go down the road that she started on in relation to organs outside the body, but it is clear to all of us that the substantive Motion is the only one that will deal with the challenge ahead of us. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked about the disruption about which we are all extremely aware and—many of us—very apprehensive. If there was ever an example of why the Burns committee should be embraced by Downing Street it is restoration and renewal. Maintaining the balance in this House will require the kinds of recommendations that the Burns committee came up with in terms of the way in which people will perceive their future.
I am pleased that the Motion before us recognises the importance of accessibility for visitors with disabilities and special needs, although that is also true of those working in the Palace of Westminster and will be in the future, and of the important role of the Education Service, which is close to my heart. I hope that both the sponsor board and the delivery authority will also take account of the fact that this will be a very major infrastructure programme, using very large amounts of public money, and that it will be really important to reach out across the country so that the economic benefit that comes from that investment can be shared by the nations and regions of Britain as a whole and not just by the overheating that will undoubtedly take place in London and the south-east as this project competes for skilled labour with other major infrastructure programmes taking place over the next 15 years. Talking to people involved in those projects last week, it became very clear that we will need a skills development plan and a profiling of those projects if we are to avoid London and the south of the country benefiting enormously while the north and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland feel little economic benefit.
Yes, of course this is a heritage site of enormous importance—iconic, as the Leader of the House said more than once—but it is also a symbol of our democracy and there is something reflective in the state of the plumbing and the wiring and the mechanics below us of the dangers that we face in not renewing our democracy at the same time as we renew the fabric and restore the workings of the Palace of Westminster. I want to make just two very quick points on that matter.
First, this might appear to be a tangential point but it is about the staff working in this building, particularly the lowest paid and those in insecure jobs, many of which will not be available while the decant takes place. I hope we will plan for their future and take care of their well-being as well as the physical conditions around us. The Times article at the beginning of January, which mocked what it described as the “subsidy” for issues such as catering, missed the point entirely. The subsidy was not for our food or drink; it was for the well-being of staff who would otherwise have unacceptable contracts, particularly when the House was in recess. The same will apply in the difficult years ahead of us with the decant.
My second point concerns the design for democracy itself. Yes, of course we are concerned about the physical fabric and the deterioration but, as Professor Matt Flinders and many others have illustrated, designing for the modern era a Parliament which will not be just a symbol of our democracy but a living, breathing organ of it will be really important if we are to reach out using new technology, using the skills that exist in this House among our staff in terms of the outreach to the regions and nations of Britain, setting up outreach centres across the country that will link into a newly equipped, modern facility here in the Palace of Westminster, so that engagement with the public and an encouragement of participation will be considered as important as getting the heating and the ventilation right. Renewing the fabric must be seen alongside renewing the fabric of and restoring confidence in our democracy. If the sponsor board and the delivery authority can take these matters on board, we have an opportunity to link physical renewal with democratic renewal, and I hope we will do that.
My Lords, when on a number of occasions in recent years I have shown visitors around this iconic building, I was always struck by just how impressed they were by the place in which we work and how often they said that it was good of me to give my time to do it. To that, I usually said that it is actually very good for us to do it because it means that we do not get blasé about the place in which we have the privilege to work. It is important that we are able to share this building with those who visit us because it does not belong to those of us who at any particular time have the good fortune to be a Member of the House of Lords or the House of Commons—rather, we are custodians of this building. We hold it in trust for the people and for future generations. That is the spirit in which we should approach the decision before us today.
As a member of the Joint Committee, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, in thanking the clerks and officials who give us enormous help and support. As a member of the committee, I very much welcome the decisive vote of the House of Commons last Wednesday. I calculate that it was almost 54%, and that is a mandate for decant meaning decant. The House of Commons essentially endorsed the recommendations of the Joint Committee, admittedly 17 months after the report and, significantly, five and half years since both Houses published a report outlining the significant extent of the works required and the risks associated with not tackling the work in a coherent and timely manner.
When I was appointed to the committee, I was not sure what course its work would take and what kind of recommendations we would come up with, but having had a tour of the basement the day before the committee had its first meeting in September 2015 and seen for myself the state of the mechanical and electrical services, I was in no doubt that doing nothing or kicking the can further down the road was not an option. I do not think words can convey the full extent of the risks and hazards to be found when water pipes lie next to electricity cables of varying ages and states of decay in proximity to steam pipes, not to mention telephone cables and IT cabling. As my noble friend Lord Newby said, the large sewage pipe that runs the whole length of the building was put in in 1888. We also heard about asbestos. It is known about in some places, but its full extent is probably not known. There are probably some places in which asbestos will be found when the work starts. That makes it very important that the renovation work goes ahead very carefully and sensitively. Noble Lords who have not seen the basement for themselves and who still entertain some reservations about embarking on a course of restoration and renewal should take the opportunity to go down and see what is there.
There are risks. There are risks of incremental failures and there is a risk of significant failure, which is why I think getting the work started in 2025 is probably too far away. The longer that we do not take action, the greater the risk of something happening. The Joint Committee carefully scrutinised the options. We believe that spinning the work out over several decades would not only be impracticable but would probably be the most costly means of going about it. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, spoke graphically about building organs outwith the body and what would happen if we decanted in Houses. In addition, no doubt the precedent of the post-war period would be raised, and I am sure we can envisage a situation where the Commons would think it quite appropriate that when it decanted into your Lordships’ Chamber we would go elsewhere and we would stay elsewhere while the Commons went back to their Chamber on completion. I doubt whether our generosity would be reciprocated.
Clearly, but subject to further validation, as we indicated, the most cost-effective way for the work to be completed by the proposed delivery authority is a complete decant of the Palace of Westminster during the period of the works. It is important to emphasise that this is just the Palace, because it does not affect other parts of the Parliamentary Estate, where Members could remain.
That then raised the question of where we should go, on a temporary basis. It is important to stress that too, because I recall that when our committee was meeting, a number of people expressed concerns that once we went, we would never get back in. This Motion makes it very clear that this is a temporary matter and that Parliament will return to our respective Chambers once the work is completed. We had many meetings looking at the options as to where we could go—I recall at one point the idea of floating Chambers on the Thames. But for your Lordships’ House—subject to further feasibility work—I was satisfied that the Queen Elizabeth II Centre was the best option for accommodating the Chamber, core functions of our work, committee rooms and some Member accommodation. Importantly, it would still allow access for members of the public to see what we were about. Of course, it will be less convenient than what we have at the moment, and will mean perhaps adjusting the times we have for Divisions—electronic voting, which I might prefer having had experience of it in the Scottish Parliament, was not something we as a committee felt able to entertain, as it was a bit beyond our remit. We may not have the dining rooms, and the Library may be less appealing and less extensive than what we have now, but it is a small price to pay for enabling the work to go ahead.
Reference has already been made to the proposed delivery authority and further validation of the conclusions which the Joint Committee reached. We were very fortunate to have the services of both the noble Lords, Lord Deighton and Lord Carter, on our committee to give us advice on the governance arrangements as we move forward. That was an important part of our recommendations to ensure that the works are carried out effectively, to time and to budget. The sponsor board will represent people from both Houses, to ensure that the interests of Parliament continue to be represented. The delivery authority will initially be charged with validating the Joint Committee’s recommendations and submitting designs, budgets and schedules for further parliamentary approval, and then for carrying out the works.
One other issue that engaged us was the scope of the work. Do we just do the bare minimum or is it an opportunity to equip our Parliament for the 21st century? We were very clear that cost-effectiveness was an important consideration. But we were also clear that it was important as we go forward into the future that the public have proper access to their legislators. Then there was the issue of disability access—not only for mobility but to improve arrangements for those who have visual or aural impairment. This was brought home to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, who talked about how many of our committees are not particularly well adapted for people who have hearing difficulties. It is also an opportunity for us to incorporate the best environmental standards and to take effective energy conservation measures, while ensuring of course that we have proper regard for security. There are also opportunities, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, indicated, for small and medium-sized enterprises —not just those in the London area—to take part and to engage in some of the work that will be done, as well as for creating apprenticeships.
One of the moments I remember as we were considering the scope was when representatives from the Parliamentary Press Gallery gave evidence to us. We asked them about the scope and what would happen. Mr Grew is reported at paragraph 246 as saying:
“You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. You will face criticism from the press if you decide to spend money to refurbish the building for the 21st Century. Similarly, if it falls down, you will probably face even greater criticism. It is a political decision that will take with it the consequences that come with political decisions”.
He went on to say that if Parliament were only to conduct the bare minimum of works required, it would,
“be missing the biggest opportunity in a century to remake, reform and reshape the building to make it fit ... future proofing is the way to go”.
I congratulate the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on bringing forward today’s Motion to us so promptly after the Commons voted. It allows us that opportunity to take the important steps to moving to a 21st-century Parliament.
My Lords, I am sure I am not alone in your Lordships’ House in having had an initial feeling of guilt in taking part in this debate. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has said, the inconveniences that this decision will entail will in all probability not affect me. However, we all have various trustee roles in which we have to take decisions of which we will not see the consequences. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, has said, I believe that we who are Members of Parliament now are trustees of these historic buildings, so we have a duty now to take this decision.
Before the House of Commons made its decision last week, I was in favour of total decant as recommended by the Joint Committee. I found the technical advice, combined with the conclusions of the Joint Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, compelling. Without having any claim to expertise, I instinctively feel that it would not be satisfactory to expect fundamental work to be undertaken while the two Houses, or even one House, tried to remain in operation. Now the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, has set out in very convincing detail why we should give the builders, plumbers, electricians and engineers a clear run.
However, one aspect gives me pause. The scheme that the Joint Committee recommended involves building a new Chamber for the House of Commons in open space behind Richmond Terrace. It has now been found that the space is not big enough and, as I understand it, the proposal is now to knock down Richmond House. I regret that, not only because I think Richmond House is an attractive building in itself but for the personal reason that I started my career in Richmond Terrace when it housed part of the Treasury and I have great affection for it, though I understand that the frontage of Richmond Terrace would be preserved.
In the debate in the other place, Sir Edward Leigh made the point that Sir Michael Hopkins, the architect of Portcullis House, had pointed out that a temporary shelter for the House of Commons Chamber could be accommodated in half of the atrium of Portcullis House, leaving the other half for use as now. That would of course be of great convenience to Members of the other place who have their offices around that atrium. I have the pleasure of knowing Sir Michael Hopkins, and took him to meet Mr Tom Healey, the clerk to the Joint Select Committee, who has been mentioned. We were told that the floor in Portcullis House would need reinforcing to take the weight of a temporary Chamber, and Sir Michael was persuaded that the proposal for a Chamber behind Richmond Terrace was preferable. However, if that alternative would now involve knocking down Richmond House and rebuilding it, I wonder whether the scheme of putting the Commons Chamber in part of the atrium of Portcullis House might be reconsidered. Perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House could tell us whether this possibility will be re-examined within the terms of reference of the delivery authority.
It seems that a reason for the Government’s hesitation in bringing this debate forward and coming to a decision on this matter has been a fear that, at a time of austerity, the public would not take kindly to spending a substantial sum on the Houses of Parliament when they have such a low opinion of Members of Parliament. Can it really be that we have lost so much national self-confidence that our Government are frightened of spending money on necessary work to restore our Parliament, one of the iconic buildings in the world and standing for so much that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, so eloquently described? I am delighted that the Members of the other place were not so cowed, and I urge the House to support them.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and I agree with so much of what he said.
I find, slightly to my surprise, that I am younger than the average age in your Lordships’ House, yet I suspect that I have been coming in and out of this building for longer than most of your Lordships. I came in for the first time for my christening in the crypt chapel longer ago than I care to think about. My father and I, since he first became a Member of the other place in 1950, have between us with a couple of gaps been Members of one or other of these Houses ever since. I still get a shiver down my spine when I come into this place: there is something about it that speaks of history and values that are incredibly important to us.
My father used to reflect that he made his maiden speech in the other place in here and his maiden speech in your Lordships’ House in here as well. This was not uncommon for politicians of his vintage, because the House of Commons was sitting in here for several years after the war. That leads some, such as my noble friend Lord Naseby, to favour some kind of phasing arrangement because it has been done before.
I was initially attracted to the idea of phasing, but that attraction was not sustained for very long. One persuasive argument was a conversation with Chris Bryant—a number of your Lordships have referred to his role, and rightly so: he has been very effective on the issue. It seems to me clear beyond peradventure of a doubt that the right thing for Parliament to do at this stage is to adopt the Motion so ably moved by my noble friend the Leader of the House and get on with it. Under what is proposed, the earliest time that anything will happen that we will notice in this place is 2025. I do not think we can be accused of precipitous haste. When I was in government, I became an advocate of what came to be known as the JFDI school of government: just do it. I suggest to your Lordships that this is a JFDI moment.
A couple of specific points about what is proposed. There will, rightly, be a lot of talk about how important it is that the renewal programme retains the character of this building. Of course, for the public parts of the building—the Principal Floor and the Committee Floor—that is essential. But there are a number of aspects of the character of this building that we should not want to retain. The upper and nether regions of this building are an impenetrable warren of inaccessible and hopelessly inefficient space. To the extent that it is working space at all, it is hopelessly inefficient.
Quite apart from the odd excrescences that have appeared—Portakabins being built on flat roofs wherever they are available—we should take the opportunity to sweep away some of the rabbit warren of odd staircases and tiny rooms that have a certain amount of charm but no efficiency whatsoever, and create some proper, much more open, modern and flexible working spaces. Ideally, that would enable more Members of both Houses to be located for their office work within the building, rather than being far-flung. That seems a benefit.
There is talk in the excellent report by the Joint Committee about the need to accommodate technology. A word of warning on this. In my experience, major public projects take so long from initiation, design and planning through to execution that we have a lamentable tendency to build in obsolescence. We very belatedly build something that might have been cutting edge 20 years before, when it was thought of, but is way out of date. We know that technology moves at lightning speed. Even now, the kind of technology that we would want to put into a new building depends much less on physical infrastructure and cabling than on wireless connectivity. Some noble Lords have talked about future-proofing. I urge those charged with these grave responsibilities to ensure that we do not do anything that will build in obsolescence.
There have, understandably, been a number of comments and recommendations about improving the experience for visitors to the Houses of Parliament. That is important and we know that it is not brilliant at the moment. However, I urge those charged with oversight of this to bear in mind that this is, and will remain, primarily a place of work, not a place for visitors. When television was introduced into both Chambers, Parliament immediately became much more accessible to the public than it ever had been before. While physical accessibility is important, this will be a place of work, first and foremost, and we have to focus on that.
I very much support the proposals in the committee’s report and in my noble friend’s Motion for the way in which governance is to be set up. For far too long in this country we believed that big public projects could be managed as part of the business-as-usual of government, and they cannot. It is absolutely right to say that a specific, dedicated delivery authority should be set up in the right way, with a sponsor board to oversee it. My noble friend Lord Deighton may not thank me for saying this, but when it comes to selecting a chairman for the board I can think of no one whose name recommends itself better than his for that incredibly important role. As the man who oversaw the delivery of the 2012 London Olympics brilliantly successfully, this may be coming his way.
I totally support the Motion moved by my noble friend and I urge us all to get on with it. This is a genuine JFDI moment.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maude, that no one can accuse Parliament of rushing to judgment in these matters. It was in January 2012 that the joint management boards of both Houses met and decided to press forward with this project—six years ago. We are now talking about the project beginning in 2025. That means another 13 years will have elapsed from the beginning of the process to doing something concrete about it.
I wholeheartedly agree with and support the speech made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House—it is rare for me to have the opportunity to say that. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, who was the co-chair of the committee and with whom I also agree. This is the time to take a decision to move forward, not to argue about the colour of the upholstery on the chairs in the Library or anything like that. It is certainly not a time for more obfuscation, prevarication and delay in seeking yet further inquiries. As the former chairman of the Joint Committee on Conventions, I say that it is certainly not the time for me to vote for an amendment to frustrate the decision of the House of Commons. Far from it—that is not what we are here to do. If such an amendment went to a Division, I would certainly oppose it and vote strongly in favour of the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.
I have listened to all sorts of suggestions about alternatives. People who have suggested moving Parliament around the country should take a look at what happens with the European Parliament moving to Strasbourg and think again. It is enormously expensive, terribly frustrating and inefficient and costs a ridiculous amount of money for no noticeable gain in terms of the efficiency of the deliberations of the Parliament.
We must impress upon people in this country, and in particular some in the media, that this is not simply a renovation for the benefit of Members of Parliament, whether in the other place or here. I strongly support the view that we should make sure we take this opportunity to refurbish not just the Palace but our democratic processes and our inclusiveness in terms of making it far easier for young and elderly people and those with disabilities to get into this place and get the real impact of how business is conducted here, rather that what they may read in newspapers looking for cheap and often very inaccurate headlines about the work of Parliament. That must feature very strongly in how we portray to people why the decision is necessary: namely, that it is in not just our interests but theirs, too. If we do not do that, we will have missed a marvellous opportunity to shine a bigger, brighter and more accurate light on the work of Parliament.
I am not sure that anyone could legitimately or accurately say that the committee has overlooked anything in its report. Its work has been so thorough and comprehensive that nothing remains to be done other than to take the decision to move the recommendations forward. Like many other noble Lords, I may not be around to have the pain of removal inflicted on me—who knows? But that is not the point: we are refurbishing Parliament for future generations. As my noble friend Lady Andrews said, we are doing it for heritage and efficiency reasons.
I say to those who talk about a temporary or partial decant that that would end up costing the taxpayer much more, would be stretched out over two or three times the period of a complete decant, and we would live with the risks in the process. Whatever happens, those risks may come back to haunt us in this House. For far too long a “make do and mend” approach has been taken to the fabric of the place and its engineering, plumbing and electricity. The approach has been that we should just patch it up and continue to hope for the best. Well, as many Americans have said in debates about issues in America, we should hope for the best but plan for the worst. I hope that we will reflect that view in taking our decision today. If we decide today, as I hope we will, that the time for argument and debate and further inquiries has gone and that it is time to take this decision and move on, not just we but the whole country—and the whole democratic process, as I have emphasised—will be the winners.
My Lords, in the wonderful elegance of parliamentary language, we have talked much already about “patch and mend”. The restoration and renewal of the buildings and the facilities in the Palace of Westminster are vital and urgent and I believe that we need to use much franker language given the neglect of the past. I support the Motion and oppose the amendment. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, that 20 years ago I was bursar of Selwyn College, Cambridge, when we needed to renew and restore our main court that had seen little—frankly, virtually no—maintenance and progress since it was built a century before. Student rooms still had gas and electric fires and the electric cabling was on its last legs, with much of the urgent work not visible or easily accessible. Does this sound familiar?
Since Selwyn was the poorest college and had very little resource to invest over the years in the buildings, the “patch and mend” approach was clearly failing us. We knew we had to do the work in one go, no matter how disruptive it was. We were also clear that we had to ensure it did not happen again, and that maintenance must be built into the future life of the buildings. This is also true for the Palace of Westminster after this major work. What steps are being taken to ensure that detailed maintenance costs of the building, and not just the ordinary life of the building, are being built into the baseline budget and then ring-fenced? The future of this historic and important building is just too important to get wrong.
When my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, who cannot be in her place today but I hope will soon be able to rejoin us, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, she spoke for many of us who face accessibility issues in the Palace. I am grateful that the Joint Committee has taken the evidence on accessibility from a number of people, but I seek reassurance that there really will be a step change under the full decant option. It is not a “nice to have” option, and now is the best time to do the core work. So I am pleased to see in paragraph 7 of the Motion that there will be,
“full access for people with disabilities”.
That is better than the phrases used in the Deloitte’s pictogram on page 6 of its report, in which two of the bubbles refer to, “works carried out to improve access for all” and “all new lifts to provide improved access to the majority of the Palace of Westminster”. There is a lot of scope for moving around in the middle of that.
The clerks to Parliament and the Director of Facilities, Mr Woodall, as well as ParliAble are unfailingly helpful whenever issues occur. However, most of the problems are about a failure of building and a wider, unconscious cultural attitude that can make the Palace of Westminster extremely unwelcoming to disabled parliamentarians, staff and visitors.
Core to the current problems is the way in which parliamentarians in wheelchairs do not have the same rights and experience as our able-bodied colleagues. A parliamentarian in a wheelchair cannot sit with their party or group in either the Commons or the Lords. Our Lords’ mobility Bench behind the clerks in front of the Cross Benches, has three spaces, so when five or six of us want to speak we cannot stay in our place for the rest of the debate. Worse, if the Chamber is full, we cannot even manoeuvre around after speaking to let another colleague move in. Even worse, the Commons does not even have a mobility Bench.
The design of the space in your Lordships’ House means that people sitting on the Front Bench have to get up and move aside for us to leave or come into the Chamber. Too often, they are reluctant to move. I am afraid that on one occasion, one Peer not only refused to move but insisted that I ask the Opposition Front Bench to move. I could not do so because two Peers were moving amendments from that Front Bench. As a result, I had to wait 20 minutes before I could leave the Chamber and was consequently late for my next meeting.
Wheelchair users often have to travel double the distance as most routes round the Palace have steps. To get to the River Restaurant from Peers’ Entrance one has to go along a corridor, up in a lift, travel back down, past Central Lobby to the Commons, go down in a lift and then all the way back to the Lords. No wonder our batteries do not last long. Wheelchair users have missed votes when travelling from far-flung places in the Palace, especially when both Houses are dividing at the same time because there are so few lifts accessible—that is, large enough—for wheelchair users. Members understandably follow the “take priority for a Division” rule, but they forget that we are Members too, and do not even have the option of the occasional staircase.
It is not possible to get to parts of the Commons ministerial corridors in a wheelchair. The lift behind the Speaker’s Chair in the Commons has a stone arch in front of it that is just too narrow for a standard-size wheelchair, so to access a meeting with a Minister on that corridor, one has to use the stairs. The same is true of the stone archway in Central Lobby leading to the Justice Ministers corridor. Can the Leader of the House confirm that every archway and lift will be fully accessible to those in wheelchairs? I know that some of this is rhetorical, but I am making the point that we say, “accessible to all”. There are no self-opening or closing doors, meaning that at the beginning of the day, disabled people have to face heavy, closed doors which are a real barrier.
The brilliant Changing Places toilet just off Central Lobby is, sadly, one of a kind. Other disabled toilets are too small, cluttered with bins, and the red alarm cords are often in the wrong place and tied up, which makes their use impossible. Will they be upgraded to meet current public building standards? There are a number of ramps in the building already, but they are too steep for wheelchairs—oh, the irony of seeing a ramp painted with a “No Wheelchair” sign. I hope that that will no longer be a problem.
Finally, there is only one space in the whole of the Commons Public Gallery for a wheelchair. There are no wheelchair spaces available for Peers and, unlike in the Lords, it is not permitted for a wheelchair Peer to sit below Bar in the Commons. The final irony is that of MPs standing below Bar in the Lords, preventing a wheelchair user seeing what is going on in her own Chamber. It does not help the feeling that disabled Members just are not welcome.
I therefore look forward to “more accessible for all”, but it is a dangerous starting point. If the newly-restored Palace is not truly accessible for people with disabilities and special needs, it will have failed.
My Lords, I am sure that we will all want to take careful note of what the noble Baroness just said. She made some powerful and persuasive points. I make it plain at the beginning that I hope that the Lords will approve, without Division, the Motion before us tonight, and will not vote for the amendment, much as I have sympathy with many of the points which my noble friend Lord Naseby made.
Before the Commons took its vote last week, I was minded to argue for remaining. I took advice from architects and others, all of whom said that it was an entirely practical course. But I have often said in this House, in debates on Brexit and on the size of your Lordships’ House, that we should defer to the elected House, and this is a case in point. Therefore there will be no opposition from me to the Motion that was so eloquently moved by my noble friend the Leader of the House.
However, I wish to raise points which we ought to consider. First, we should reflect on the expense, but in a rather different sense from that indicated by my noble friend from the Front Bench. We should not spare expense in the restoration and renewal of this building. As we have been reminded several times, we are merely trustees of it. This building is regarded throughout the world as a symbol of democracy. We should make sure that, 100 years from now, a similar debate does not take place.
However, we should look carefully at how we use taxpayers’ money for the interim solution. We have not got it right there. I have great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, in his remarks about Portcullis House. I know about Portcullis House because I was on the new building committee in another place when we selected Sir Michael Hopkins as the architect and oversaw the building of that important addition to the Parliamentary Estate. For part of the atrium to be used for a five or six-year period or maybe more seems a prudent use of space and a sensible way to go on rather than to demolish Richmond House. That would be an unnecessary extravagance and expense, and I hope it will be resisted.
I am also not happy about the suggestions that your Lordships’ House should go to the QEII Centre, for various reasons. First, proximity between the two Houses is important. Secondly, the accommodation afforded would not be entirely what we need. Thirdly, however, and in a sense most importantly, the QEII Centre fulfils an important role in our national life, and if it were made over to Parliament for a decade—which is what it has been asked to consider—it would cease to exist as a conference centre.
I believe that there are other solutions that we should explore. There is a very controversial proposal to build a Holocaust memorial on the Embankment gardens. I yield to no one in my desire to see a Holocaust memorial built in our great capital city but there is a much better space by the Imperial War Museum. It would be an entirely appropriate use of the Embankment gardens to have a temporary Chamber there, behind the education centre, for your Lordships’ House, and I hope that that solution can be considered by the bodies established to look at these things—the sponsor board and the delivery authority.
When the composition of those boards is decided upon, it is very important that the sponsor board should be composed entirely of parliamentarians from both Houses. I would favour a joint chairmanship arrangement, such as we had when my noble friend Lady Stowell and Mr Chris Grayling jointly chaired the body that has brought us here today. The delivery authority is a different beast. Of course, the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Maude could well be adopted and we could have a parliamentary chairman of that, but that is for the future. However, I believe that parliamentarians should ultimately be answerable for delivering to Parliament this restored and renewed great Palace.
It is a building that has meant an enormous amount to me throughout my life. My first visit to a Young Conservatives conference in London in the year of Suez—1956—was when I first fell under the spell of Barry’s and Pugin’s great Palace. Fourteen years after that I had the good fortune to be elected to the other place. So enamoured and enraptured was I by the building that 11 years later I produced a book—long before Mr Bryant produced his—about Westminster Palace and Parliament. It is in my blood, and it is a potent symbol of democracy. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, when he says that we should take opportunities during the next few years to try to reinforce the democratic appeal of the building. That is essentially what he said.
Many of your Lordships have referred to the dates and times. If we are to embark on this course—and I hope that we will—we should try to accelerate the timetable. We should take carefully into account the fact that one thing that prevents work being done on a continuous process is the abandonment of the long Summer Recess. If Parliament needs to meet in September —frankly, I question the need—a temporary solution can be used. We could meet for a day in the QEII Centre or in Church House, but we should keep this place clear of parliamentarians for the period from mid to late July until the beginning of October so that as much of this work as possible can be got on with. If that shaved off a year and saw us moving out in 2023 or 2024, that would be all to the good.
We must now set our hands to this plough. We must ensure that this work is done and that no Government of any political persuasion withdraw from the commitment that I hope we will bind them to tonight.
My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, particularly given his comments on timing. As a member of the Joint Committee, I start by giving my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for her very skilful co-chairing—it was not always easy. At the same time, I commend Chris Bryant and Members in the other place for securing what has been a key amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler, talked about trusteeship or custodial responsibilities, and I think these fall into three. We have responsibility for this great building, its reputation and its structure; we have responsibility for the expenditure of public money; and, probably most importantly, we have responsibility for those who work in and visit this building.
As we have said, the Palace of Westminster is one of the most important buildings in the world. It is recognised as such by UNESCO, by tourists and, sadly, by terrorists, all for different reasons. Its iconic status means that its defence, in every way, is critical. We should not underestimate the great affection in which the building is held, not only by parliamentarians but by the British public and people abroad. We should remember that, economically, its iconic status draws a vast number of people to London to see it and other things. There were 18 million visitors to London last year, and we should not underestimate the totality of that effect.
Other nations that, like us, reached the state of democracy in the 19th century and built buildings to reflect that have all had to consider what to do with those buildings to future-proof them for the 21st century. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, mentioned the Canadian Parliament, and what it did is very interesting. It carried out a total decant of the main building, very similar to that which we are proposing here. However, it proposes to spend some $2 billion and we are proposing to spend £3.5 billion. In this case, we might get Canada-plus-plus—who knows?
Let me turn to another example, the Austrian Parliament, which points to the question of what we do. Having studied the matter, the Austrian Parliament was offered the choice of decanting to a teachers’ training college on the edge of Vienna. That did not go down very well. I am pleased to report that the Parliament is now ensconced in the Hofburg, part of the Imperial Palace, somewhat nearer to its original site. Getting right where we go afterwards and how we live through the coming period is important, and maintaining the connection between both Chambers is critical if we are to retain the democratic flow that we have.
There is a high degree of consensus that the Palace must be refurbished, but the issues are timing and money. As custodians of the national purse we must look carefully at what we do and how we put the governance in place. The Joint Committee is very clear in its recommendations for that, because we recognise that this is a dynamic situation. This will be a very difficult project. Look at Barry’s estimates for rebuilding the Palace in the 1840s. He put forward the remarkably precise figure of £724,986. In fact, it cost £2 million. We have not been good at getting this stuff right, and Members in the other place are critical of the report, claiming that we mis-measured Richmond House by 16 feet and five inches. That points to the fact that this will be dynamic: things are going to change. We will find things that we did not expect to, and we must allow for that, factor it in and stay on top of it. That is why the sponsor board and the delivery authority recommended in the report are so critical. It is comforting that that mechanism was used with great success in the delivery of the 2012 Olympics, and the role of the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, in that should give us great confidence. We have delivered other great projects, and the key is that we should have the courage to take this forward and not continually kick things into the long grass so that we do not have to face reality.
Affordability will of course always be an issue. Do we spend £3.5 billion quickly over six years or do we space it over a long time, with the great risk that that entails? If you look at it, you will see that over six years it is about £600 million a year, which means 18 pence per week for each of us in the United Kingdom over that period. That is not too much to ask to build and restore one of the great buildings of the world and keep it intact for 150 years to come. We have faced that issue and accepted it—it is affordable.
We should remember that we have to tackle this because, as many other noble Lords have said, safety must be paramount. If we look back to the 19th century, our predecessors were out of this Chamber for 13 years and the other place was out of its Chamber for 18 years simply because they did not pay attention to the risk of catastrophic failure. We live with that every day. Many noble Lords have seen the horrors of the basement here, with the pipes and so forth. We are all aware of the dangers. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred to the ventilation stacks that could so easily carry fire through the building. Work may not start until 2025, but I am in favour of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that we should try to accelerate this because we are at risk. We need to ensure in that time that we have compartmentalisation and we attend to things. We have seven years at risk that we need to mitigate in some way and make sure that we fulfil our responsibility to keep people safe in the building.
If we tie all that together, there is a strong case of getting on with it. We should take the opportunity to turn this great and wonderful building from a 19th-century piece of history, which has stood the test of time well, into something that reflects, in technology and everything else, the 21st century. That is for the people working in it, for the visitors and—this point has been strongly made —for the disabled. The state of this building for the disabled is a disgrace and we should correct it. We should create a building that represents our values and, more importantly, our aspirations.
I end on a personal note. I am lucky enough to share an office on the second floor West Front with three other noble Lords. Our average age is 83 and one of us will be 94 in three weeks. The dilemma of the House authorities was highlighted when I asked them, “What shall we do? There is a risk here with my colleagues”. They very helpfully suggested that we could move down and be near a door. That means other noble Lords will take our place. I hope they are more agile and able to run faster in the event of a fire, but that is hardly a health and safety policy for the 21st century. We should firmly support the Motion before us. As other noble Lords have said, it gives us the chance to move forward but to maintain the flexibility to do so in the best manner.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles. I support the resolution so eloquently moved by the Leader of the House. I entirely endorse what has been said by my noble friend Lady Stowell, to which I have very little to add other than to salute the work that she has done on this matter together with others who served on the Joint Committee. I found myself in substantial agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.
The terms of the resolution reflect what was agreed in the other place last week after much debate. My own perception is that, for the reasons already adduced, our fellow citizens want Parliament to remain in Westminster and expect us to implement the most cost-effective way of achieving that objective, which is what the resolution seeks to achieve. Our present building is not fit for purpose, as so eloquently described by other noble Lords. The conditions in which people work would not be tolerated outside this House. They would not meet the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act and there would be litigation. This cannot go on. As my noble friend said, when faced with similar difficulties, the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa grasped the nettle and resolved to decant—and so, I believe, should we.
In the interests of the safety of the people who work here and the increasingly large and welcome numbers of visitors to the building, we cannot continue to do nothing. The work needed to make this place safe can only be prescribed not by us today but, as proposed in the Motion, by the responsible delivery authority. As the Motion moved by my noble friend sets out, an early decant is the logical way forward, and I believe that is what people outside this place now want and expect. Let us please support my noble friend’s resolution.
My Lords, I am very grateful to follow the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and I support entirely his view that this building is no longer fit for purpose. Perhaps I may say that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, did us a service in highlighting the limitations of the experience for disabled people in this place, whether they work here or are visiting. We ought to take seriously the issues before us, and I know that we do. I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for bringing forward the Motion before us. As she acknowledged, it feels like it has been a long time in coming, but that makes it all the more welcome.
Like others, I had the pleasure—and that indeed is what it was—of serving on the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster restoration and renewal programme. That committee was ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and her opposite number in the other place. I should also say that we were supported by excellent staff. The Members of the Committee rose to the challenge and were strongly committed to the task. First, a thorough assessment was made of the state of the building. As we did that, the stark reality of the severe challenges emerged steadily and with great force. There then followed a serious consideration of all the options. We did that long before we began to formulate the recommendations. It was pleasing that, when the Public Accounts Committee later considered the report of the Joint Committee, it endorsed the analysis that had been made.
It is clear from everything that has been said in the debate that we all recognise that this is a unique and remarkable building which sits in the centre of a UNESCO site of great historic importance. But we have to face up to the fact that, sadly, over the years the upgrading of essential services has been neglected. As a result, this building is at real risk of fire, flood or catastrophic failure. These are not empty words and they cannot be exaggerated; the situation is potentially very serious.
Furthermore, we all know that although there are two Houses of Parliament in the building, there is only one basement, which is where the essential services that serve the whole of the building are located. Separating the services for each House is just not a realistic proposition. Those who have visited the basement will have seen miles of electric wires, some in use and some defunct, and in many situations we cannot tell which are the ones that are still in use and which are defunct. These wires run alongside gas pipes, steam pipes, telephone systems, digital services and, without giving any more detail, the ancient sewerage system which serves the whole of the building. Colleagues who have visited the basement will have noticed that it is not unusual to come across standing water close to electrical and mechanical services. The many risers in this building make isolating the building for fire extremely difficult.
In addition, the House will understand that it has not been possible to make a full analysis of the presence of asbestos, because it is difficult to get to where the asbestos might be. Asbestos was used here for insulating purposes long before the health risks were known.
There is no escaping the reality of the facts that we face as we discuss this matter. It is therefore for very practical reasons that, on this matter, I find myself in disagreement with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and I hope very much that he will not press his amendment.
We have been given the absolute assurance that this building will continue to be the home of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. That being so, it would surely be a dereliction of our duties if we do not face up to the facts we have before us. Now is the time for us to take action and ensure that the users of and visitors to this great building will be safe. We must recognise that this building is not owned by us. We are the custodians of it. Therefore, we have a duty to do all we can to preserve it and to make it fit for purpose for future generations. The privilege—and it is—of working in this building must be assured for those who follow us.
The message is clear: the work must now be put in hand as quickly as possible. A full decant is both the cheapest option and the one that will get the work completed as quickly as possible. Even putting the work in hand very soon will mean that we may not vacate the building until the mid-2020s. I commend the House of Commons for the lead it has given. The Motion before us could not be better worded, especially paragraph 7. I very much hope that this House will rise to the occasion, strongly support the Motion and reject the amendment. I believe it is our duty to do so.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who served on the Joint Committee, which has done us such a great service in preparing us for the debate. I am also delighted that in another place they voted, at last, to press ahead with the restoration and renewal of this special building. I have long been convinced that we need to do so, particularly having visited the basement and seen the mechanical services and so on. The point has already been made that the basement and the risers contain the real problems. That is what has to be sorted out, and it is all one building. That is why a full decant will ensure that the work is done as quickly and economically as possible.
Those who still hanker after a partial decant should read Caroline Shenton’s excellent book Mr Barry’s War, which has already been referred to, about the building of the present Palace after the fire of 1834. It took 25 years longer than forecast and, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, it cost vastly more than predicted. That was partly because both the Lords and the Commons insisted on going on meeting on this site in various patched-up bits of the old Palace that were left by the fire or could be reconstructed during the building work. By the way, they constantly complained throughout these years about the conditions under which they were having to meet. Yet it is that that a partial decant would provide for us. Her book also shows the key importance of having a sponsor board and a delivery authority, as the Motion sets out and which I fully support. The other part of the problem was that they were trying to work for so many different clients—the Government, the House of Lords, the House of Commons and the individual Members of those two Houses and the various people they brought in to advise and make suggestions over the period of a quarter of a century during which they all changed, changed their minds and changed the specifications.
These days, the complications of doing the work are greater because the actual Palace of Westminster, which we are talking about, is only part of the Parliamentary Estate. There is Portcullis House and the other buildings used by the Commons, and we, of course, use Fielden House, Millbank House and Old Palace Yard, as well as other buildings for some of our staff. Decanting, in any case, is far more than just reproducing the two Chambers somewhere else, as it is sometimes expressed as. There are 32 Committee Rooms in this building for Members’ use, yet as we know it is sometimes difficult to book one at peak times. Then there are the Libraries, the refreshment rooms and the offices of Members and staff of both Houses. There are places such as the Public Bill Office and the Printed Paper Office, which need to be convenient for the two Chambers. If one or both Houses were to remain on this site, those needs would also have to be met somewhere on this site, which would of course be a large building site.
Another thing that flows from the fact that the Palace of Westminster is only part of the Parliamentary Estate is that when we decant it will be very important that the alternative accommodation for both Houses is within reach. The Motion before us, like the Commons Motion, endorses a full decant but does not bind the sponsor board and delivery authority to specific alternative venues for either House. Like others, I dislike the suggestion that the Lords might go to the QEII Centre, which was built for very different purposes. More importantly, the QEII is too far away, in my view, from Millbank House, Fielden House and so on. We will need to continue using those—probably even more than we do at present. No doubt we could somehow devise a method for Peers to register a vote in Millbank House instead of having to cross the traffic to get to the QEII, but it would not be convenient, in any case, to have committees in one or the other, with staff having to trek across. It would also separate us further from the House of Commons, which is very undesirable—I agree with others who have made that point.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Naseby that the QEII is an important resource for London as it is at present. It generates valuable business tourism and international trade and has a catalytic role in attracting events to London. I understand that 600 events were held there last year, involving more than 250,000 visitors. Particularly with Earls Court closed, London cannot afford to lose this facility. Like my noble friend Lord Cormack, I suggest that the solution for the House of Lords is a large temporary building, three or four storeys high, in Victoria Tower Gardens. Large temporary buildings are used these days by hospitals, including operating theatres, with all their special needs. They are used by schools, commercial premises and so on. Such a building could readily be made secure and would be convenient for Millbank House and so on. By the way, after it was finished with it could be sold: there is a market for second-hand temporary buildings. I have made this suggestion before and it has been dismissed because part of the gardens, it is said, would be required as a contractors’ yard for R&R, but fortunately there is considerable room.
Some colleagues seem to worry about the effects on the prestige of your Lordships’ House of meeting elsewhere. We would certainly look less impressive if as a result of some failure downstairs we had to exchange these red Benches for stacking chairs, as in the pictures of the potential evacuation chamber that was tried out by Black Rod before Christmas. Personally, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and some others, given the timescale and having myself now reached fourscore years, I do not expect to be still involved—certainly not by the time we come back—but I think that the high quality of your Lordships’ debates and reports will shine through to the public more clearly when not refracted through all this magnificent heraldry and gilt. That, if it happens, would be a bonus.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the knowledgeable contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and at long last to get a debate on this issue, some six years, as others have said, after the study group was set up by our two Houses. Even on the fastest programme now on the table, the vital work of restoring and renewing this place will not be complete until the late 2020s or early 2030s, which will be way beyond my 15-years use-by date. I propose to be brief in my contribution, but I want to place on record my support for the proposition which involves the full and timely decant of the Palace, both Houses, the undertaking of a substantial programme of restoration and renewal, but with the guarantee that both Houses will return to their historic Chambers when the work is complete.
In doing so, and with some considerable trepidation, I express a tinge of regret that no wider consideration was given to the building of a new permanent home for Parliament away from Westminster and the long-term possibilities that this might have presented for disseminating power, influence and economic resource more widely in our country. However, I accept that this is off the agenda and, if for no reason other than self-preservation, I shall not press the point further.
The need for a major programme is abundantly clear from the various reports that have been presented to us. The scale of what confronts us is in no small measure the consequences of past neglect—decades of neglect when we have considered it safe to put off vital works. The benefits of what is proposed cannot be denied: reducing the current high risk of fire; removing the risks caused by asbestos; and significant improvements in disabled access being but some. Alongside those are the preservation of a UNESCO world heritage site, improvements in energy efficiency, the opportunity to develop apprenticeships and specialist skills for those engaged in the work and a better working environment for those charged with operating the systems on which we depend.
I also hope that we will create a more efficient place for us to do business—no more unseemly scrambling across the Chamber to vote, ending up on the lap of someone to whom one has hardly been introduced.
In terms of governance, the model of a sponsor board and a delivery authority has worked elsewhere, and I see no reason why it should not be adopted for this project. If it is to follow the example of the Olympics, it might aspire also to match their exemplary health and safety record.
The Government have focused on the importance of value for money, and that is right. However, they may see what lessons might be learned from the works at Old Palace Yard, by all accounts a not inexpensive project but one where the heating system still does not function properly.
We parliamentarians—MPs and Lords—are a minority of those who work in and use this building. As the programme proceeds, the engagement of those who work here too will be vital, as will an ongoing communication programme. What consultation has taken place to date more widely on these proposals? As my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, what about those who support us in a variety of ways, whose services may not be needed or possible for a time when we decant—how do we engage with them?
It seems that whatever the future plans, we will remain in this building for a few years longer, so how safe are we? The Members’ FAQs included in the Library pack include at item 8 some of the “incidents of failure” that have occurred in recent times. They range from minor issues such as broken door handles to:
“Some 60 incidents that had the potential to cause a serious fire”.
Both Houses have a combined health and safety policy, last updated in May last year. Notwithstanding that the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act are not legally binding on the Palace, the authorities have stated that they will treat them as though they were. Perhaps the Leader can confirm that that is still the case. The policy provides for the involvement of trade union safety reps—how many are there currently? It also asserts that the authorities are working with the HSE to develop,
“a suitable inspection and enforcement protocol”.
It seems to be the case that whereas HSE inspectors will,
“usually be permitted onto the Parliamentary Estate to exercise their enforcement powers in relation to contractors and sub-contractors working on the Estate … All other requests by HSE to exercise its inspection and enforcement powers … will be considered on a case by case basis by the Head of Parliamentary Safety”.
Why is there this different approach? Have any such requests been refused and, if so, in what circumstances? Perhaps the Leader can also say something about the Commons and Lords policies with regard to building control regulations and who provides the building control service.
We have a free vote on this matter, and I propose to follow the path of the Joint Committee. I will support the decanting of both Houses to separate buildings on a temporary basis and a return to this building by both Houses as quickly as possible—even though I may view it on the television from the sedentary position of my armchair.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie—I spend my parliamentary life doing that—and he has again demonstrated his characteristically expert, forensic line of questioning. He asked some important questions. I respect the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and I listened carefully to his speech. I will read it again tomorrow. I think he has a role in the future evolution of this project. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, this is a dynamic situation. His experience is obviously invaluable. But I think—I hope—he has sufficient experience of parliamentary occasions to know that the argument is going against him at the moment. I hope he will consider that carefully—I know he will—when he comes to decide whether to divide the House.
It has been a very good debate. There is a huge amount of experience in this Chamber. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I was on the House of Commons Commission at the time we were commissioning Portcullis House. I was press spokesman for the commission at the time, which was my misfortune, because I discovered —and this was a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, when he said that the detail of the contract would be important—that I had missed the fact that the architects had allocated 2% of the contract for what they called “soft furnishings”. The contract was a huge amount of money and I had to appear on the “Today” programme to defend the fact that we had imported 18 special trees from California to put in the atrium at a cost of £250,000 when the same trees could be bought in Homebase for £17.50. It was a lesson hard learned and I hope we do not get into that situation in future.
I also had the pleasure of serving on the Services Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who made some really important points. You do not have to be on the Services Committee for long to learn about gas leaks and the risks. The extended seven-year period extends the risks, as a number of colleagues have said, and it is very important that we make what speed we can. I also want to underscore what the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Horsham, said—and this also comes from my experience with Portcullis House. You cannot deal with anything like this scale of project on a steady-state basis. You need to have your sponsoring boards and your delivery authorities and we must take that seriously.
Like others, I think that the Joint Committee’s report is excellent. It is a really thorough piece of work which is hard to contradict in any way. I would be interested in talking offline to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, about this. The Joint Committee worked so well and yet the two Houses have completely separate services. Apart from the bicameral IT contract, everything is run separately. Well, the wiring downstairs does not run separately, so you think to yourself, “Why are we not taking this opportunity to have Joint Committees in a grown-up fashion which would secure efficiencies of scale in how we manage this place?”. That is something that we should be contemplating as well as the bricks and mortar as we move forward with this project.
I am in favour of a full decant. It is the cheapest and quickest option and it minimises the risks, so therefore it is a bit of a no-brainer. The one point I really want to make, if your Lordships are going to take away anything from my remarks, is that we should be much more optimistic about selling this project. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Maude, made some important points about technology. He is right that, if we are going to do this, we must take the opportunity to make it future-proof. It is difficult to future-proof technology because it moves so fast. But this could be a beacon programme for people around the world. There is a government policy at the moment called Digital Built Britain. We have world experts in places such as Cambridge who can look at intelligent buildings. We have a manufacturing technology centre which is world-beating. This building could be an intelligent, sustainable, accessible exemplar project—and we should be selling it as that.
The sense I get from the debate is that we are being very defensive about the costs and the time. That is true. I am not stupid. I do not have another election to face, so I can be a little bit more long-term in my thinking, but we really could be making more of what we can achieve. A number of colleagues have spoken about the ability to change the terms of democracy and the way it is operated. We will come back into this building in 2030—just think about what we could be doing then. I do not have time to go into it in detail, but we should think about the fact that we have been using iPhones—smartphones—for only 10 years. The change has been delivered by consumer need generating inexorable change in the way that we communicate. I now talk to my wife through text messages. It causes fewer arguments. So everything that we do gets changed, and we need to factor that in.
I learned the other day that Rolls-Royce does not really sell aero engines any more. What it sells is the data that tells the airlines what is happening to the aero engines at 37,000 feet over the north Atlantic. That is the power and the value of data. We have to capture that, and we can. We are clever enough to do it. We have people in here—the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, who was here a moment ago, is a world leader in this kind of dynamic situation.
I have one further thing to say to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, in my last minute. I am a fan of technology but we must always remember that, while we may be digital by default, there are other systems that need to be put in place which allow people to work at their own level in their own way. The method of individual Members’ working is discrete from an enabled building or asset, so we must always protect the rights of individual Members to do their job in the way they think is best—but otherwise it is an absolute no-brainer. We must get on to the front foot, we must get a communications package, we must tell people what we are trying to do and we must sell it as an invaluable opportunity to extend democracy. If we do that, we can win the argument hands down.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, particularly his enthusiasm for selling this magnificent project. It was also a pleasure to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I could add a whole chapter of horrors and, indeed, humiliations about the difficulties of getting around this place in a wheelchair. One of the reasons I stagger in here on my stick is, first, to make sure I do a bit of walking and, secondly, I hate sitting in the middle of the Floor to make a speech, but that is a personal matter.
I am delighted to support this Motion because it brings to an end the first stage of an initiative I am proud to boast that I started in 2007. I served on the House of Commons Commission from 2005 to 2010 under the excellent Speaker Martin—the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn. Early in 2007, the Serjeant at Arms briefed us on the essential works which the Palace would require over the next 25 years: replacement of the electromechanical system and the cast-iron roof slates, asbestos removal, et cetera. He ended by saying that in any normal organisation we would decant out to do the repairs but that was not possible in Parliament. Immediately, Jack Straw and I pounced on that remark, and it was suggested that I go off and write a paper on it.
I left the commission meeting and consulted the Serjeant at Arms, the security co-ordinator Peter Mason and the Metropolitan Police superintendent in charge of Westminster—I did not have the authority to consult Black Rod. I asked those three officers to give me their input on what had to be done, what would be good to do and radical, blue-sky thinking—innovations which we could do if the Palace were closed and we had made substantial cost savings in the process. They came up with excellent ideas. I have all the papers from 2007. I presented a paper at the April 2007 commission meeting, but colleagues thought that it was a bit too radical, which I confess it probably was. However the commission agreed that the Serjeant would consider the potential cost savings of my plan and report back.
The Serjeant reported in July 2009, and I shall quote from my report to the commission criticising his paper. I said:
“This paper is disappointing because it misses the opportunity to undertake a complete refit of the Palace and bring in essential modernisation.
Aggressive maintenance (the first time this mysterious expression has arisen) may fix the roofs, the asbestos and the electrical and mechanical systems but does nothing for the other essential changes we need.
We know that we must:-
Remove the so called temporary Terrace Marquees and replace them with a legal permanent structure.
Install about a dozen new lifts with proper disabled access serving all parts of both houses”—
I could walk when I said that.
“Re-organise the internal flow of vehicles - possibly linking in with some sort of Parliament Square pedestrianisation.
Install a complete wireless system throughput the Palace.
Modernise the Commons Committee Rooms (like the Moses Room in the Lords)”.
I went on:
“These things are not maintenance. Does anyone seriously doubt but that they will have to be done in the next ten - 20 years?
Then there are all the opportunity works which we could do when we save enormous space in the basement by removing the large boilers and moving out the telephone exchange from above the Chamber.
Each year we see the Commons facilities dying and being deserted as MPs all congregate in the atrium of Portcullis House. We have to reenergise our facilities in the old palace.
We have to create glass-roofed atria in some of our squares — like Speakers Court and the court between the Lords Dining Room and their Content Lobby.— and make the old building an exciting, more open place to eat, meet and welcome the public.
Portcullis House is now the centre of the Parliamentary universe—it is bright and airy. Too many of the old Palace dining rooms are in the bowels of the building and dingy.
We should amalgamate”—
this was rather radical for the commission at the time, too—
“the Common’s Library with the Lords and keep the three reference rooms only. The other six Library rooms should become our best and magnificent meeting or committee rooms. We no longer need the nine Library rooms taking up so much prime space and with the new hours we no longer need them for sleeping in either.
We should implement all the other ideas in the note from the security co-ordinator and the Sgt at Arms”.
I will not read out those details here; it would not be appropriate to do so. That is what I said in 2009, but the political climate then made it impossible to do anything. We were deep in recession and, no matter how much we saved or how badly the Palace was deteriorating, the media would have portrayed us as spending £3 billion on luxuries for MPs, and we would have been crucified, even without the expenses scandal. The commission’s decision was to conduct further studies and so, two or perhaps three studies later, here we are and I am still as enthusiastic to do it as I was in 2007 and 2009.
Although I am enthusiastic to do the decant, I have a few major concerns. First, let us be honest: government and Parliament are utterly incompetent at procurement. Architects and builders know that the way to rip us off is to encourage us to ask for design changes just as work is about to begin. That was the racket on Portcullis House, which the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, referred to, and it is what happens to every ship we commission for the Navy as well. It also happens when committees of MPs and/or Peers are in charge whose membership changes annually.
It is vital that, once Parliament approves the design specification, the sponsor board and delivery authority drive it through on time and on budget without a single change. They must not accept any parliamentary representations on design changes because I know what will happen. We have seen it before: half way through, MPs and Peers will say that the contractors must now use this or that wonderful new environmental gismo or will cancel the contract for the carpets since the company has not ticked the box on maternity pay. The sponsor board must not be given the authority to tweak or twiddle with the contract. Like my noble friend Lord Maude, I hope that my noble friend Lord Deighton plays a leading role in this and that he is absolutely ruthless in driving it through. Whatever option we select, let us be honest: the costs are going to go up about 50% whichever option it is, but changing the design specification and adding bells and whistles after a contract has been let adds enormous extra costs with massive delays which builders and architects love to exploit.
The final point is this: much as I hate giving money to our legal friends, on a contract of this size we may have to spend up to £100 million or more on the best contract lawyers in the world. When we had the Cromwell Green new search point contract shambles, we could not sue any company, the architects, the builders or anyone else for their sheer incompetence, for the grossly inflated price or for the delays because our parliamentary contract with them was rubbish and the builders had get-out clauses for all their failings. One of my abiding memories in Parliament is not being present at some great occasion or memorable debate but climbing on to the roof of the Cromwell Green security building with Speaker Martin as he personally inspected and then condemned the appalling welding on the so-called stainless steel which was rusting after two years. We need a contract which will impose massive and enforceable penalties if it is one day late or one penny over budget and with hundreds of millions of pounds held back for a few years until all the snagging work is done and the building is working perfectly.
I ended my report to the House of Commons Commission in 2009 by saying:
“Of course a decant takes a lot of planning and it will be a hassle but we will not get a Parliament which will last another 150 years unless we do it.
This is a time for boldness and imagination, not timidity”.
I said that in 2009. It is even more true today.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord because he has more or less helped me to say what I want to say. Economists make a distinction between the normative and the positive: “normative” is what we want there to be, ideally, while “positive” is what actually happens. I consider this Motion and report as normative observations—this is how we would like the world to be.
As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, just said, this started in 2007. Almost every word he said is so right, so ideal, but of course it did not happen. I am always puzzled when people say there are 60 fires per day or whatever it is downstairs and we have to do something urgently. By 2025, we are to move out—2025. If we are at all serious about health and safety problems, and we want this to happen in most of our lifetimes, it cannot be right to wait until 2025 to decant ourselves. Of course, as noble Lords have said, every estimate of the time to completion and amount of expense will be proved wrong by a factor of three or four. We know that. The money numbers do not matter, and one cannot compare full decant and say it will cost less than if you do not decant. We know from past experience that none of that is true. What will happen is, in a sense, very simple. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has no friends in the House today—except me, and that is not much help—but he will be proved right in the positive world, whereas we will pass this Motion for the normative purpose. Of course we will pass it, but it will not happen. It is like House of Lords reform: it will never happen because every time we have a scheme, somebody will think of something else and we do other things.
We are not actually taking this at all seriously. If we really thought this place was a health and safety hazard, we would not come here another week. We would have thought of a decant by now. Even now, 11 years after the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in his former existence, was thinking about this, we do not have a place to decant to, because this is a palace, and you can only decant people from a palace into another palace. I have a simple suggestion: we should decant ourselves to Buckingham Palace. It is the only building large enough to contain all the facilities we have, with room to spare. The present owners would have to show us some kindness, but it will at least make the State Opening of Parliament much easier for them than it is right now. We have to think in those terms, because except for maybe Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace, I do not believe there is another building in the vicinity of London that will accommodate all the things that go on here. If we think like that, we could get a decant in 18 months. But we will not do it. I can assure your Lordships that it will not happen because, as I said and as economists know, that is a normative situation and we are not going to do it. We will have committees and debates—after all, this debate is happening at least two years after the report and 11 years after the debate started. Even so, in the Commons, one-third of the Members were not there to vote on the crucial decant amendment. The majority was very small—almost the exact image of Brexit, with 52% to 48%, or 236 to 220. As only 456 Members voted, the Commons does not think this is either important or urgent. On the final resolution, fewer than 456 voted. One should not think that the Commons has made this important decision and we ought to follow it. It has not.
Maybe we will or will not do this, but we ought to think of a more urgent way of decanting, if decanting is what we are going to do—which I doubt. The way we are going, we will pass this Motion and act on what the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has proposed. We shall stay here and muddle our way through without either House decanting. We will complain and suffer, but we love this place so much that we will not be able to move out. Given that, let us enjoy the situation.
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow the words of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, although I have to say that his speech reminded me of that old aphorism that a pessimist says things could not be worse, but an optimist assures you they can. It is also a joy to take part in a debate that does not have reference to Brexit, although I noticed that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, took us dangerously close at one point—I was relieved he stopped there. Similar to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I have been tempted to suggest that a decant should be to somewhere further afield, with Birmingham being an excellent choice, but the leaden indifference with which that suggestion has been greeted by my colleagues makes me realise that it is not really going to fly.
Many of us love this place: the atmosphere, the history and being part of an iconic symbol of parliamentary history and culture. It is like a stately home and a club house on the Thames all rolled into one, complete with an art collection, library and watering holes. It is undoubtedly, as my noble friend Lord Laming said, a privilege to work here. But how suited is it really for use as a 21st-century Parliament? Speaker after speaker—the noble Lord, Lord Maude, in particular—told us the answer to that. Staff do their best, with heroic efforts, but we all know the shortcomings of the facilities here, not just in terms of safety—many of those intense shortcomings have been mentioned—but also of sheer functionality. From our sewerage to the roof, from our voting procedure to the wiring, from our firewalls to our fire hazards, we are at risk, as covered so well by the Leader of the House, my noble friend Lord Laming and others. I am in no doubt at all that the building needs very substantial work just to protect it. I am also certain that the most workable solution is a full decant, as many have said tonight. But I am less clear that the real costs involved in the project have been forensically examined as well as they need to be. I was encouraged to hear the Leader say that the business case will come before the House. I hope that in that process it will be examined in detail, and I know that at least one speaker later tonight proposes to scratch the surface of that.
I do not expect to be popular for saying this, but the second concern I have is the assumption that we will return here, reflected in putting point (8) into law. How usual is it for public servants, which is what I think we are, to demand that when they leave a premises they have a legal right, enshrined in law, for them—or quite possibly, as many have said tonight, their successors—to return to the same building a decade or more later? It is not something I am familiar with. Maybe, if we move to new premises temporarily, we will not want to come back. Maybe this renewal and revitalisation of our democracy that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, spoke so well about will mean that we do not wish to return to these premises. I suspect we will, but are we really right to bind the hands of our successors and future Governments to a commitment that we must come back here? I am not so sure.
In sum, it is a privilege to work here but certainly not a right. Let us agree to a full decant and let us set up the delivery authority, but I have distinct reservations about tying the hands of Parliament—possibly several Parliaments hence—in obliging it to return us here. Despite that reservation, I think we should fully support the Motion before us, reject the amendment and, as many speakers before me have said, get on with it, preferably well before 2025.
Happily, my Lords, a consensus seems to be emerging that we should support the Motion so ably moved by the Leader of the House, which of course has already been passed in another place. I make it clear that that is certainly my position and I would not support the amendment were it to be moved.
I agreed with one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai: it is not entirely clear to me why a full decant has to be delayed until 2025. I do not understand the timing. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, pointed out that one possible solution for the future House of Commons during the transitional period, the period of the decant, is indeed in the foyer of Portcullis House, and that is a very good idea. I myself see few objections to the notion of your Lordships’ House moving to the Queen Elizabeth II Centre. It is not so far away—it is no great distance—and that might be a very happy solution. I am not pessimistic about the later future of the Queen Elizabeth II Centre because it has been so successful in many ways, and I see it as a good temporary venue.
As an archaeologist, however, I stress how important it is to respect the long-term history of the Palace that was here long before the wonderful new Palace of Barry and Pugin. I remind noble Lords that the greatest disaster of modern times to befall the Palace of Westminster was the construction of the underground car park beneath New Palace Yard between 1972 and 1974. Anywhere else in England, planning permission would have required a rescue excavation—that would have been obligatory—and the only surviving remains of the first Palace of Westminster, dating back to the time of Edward the Confessor, would have been properly recorded by archaeologists and historians and would not just have been bulldozed away without any respect at all. It is because Parliament is independent in matters of planning considerations that so huge a mistake was made, which would not have happened anywhere else in England with the organisation of what was then English Heritage.
For the new programme of restoration and renewal, which I warmly support, let us urge the officials who will commission the contractors—that is, the sponsor board and delivery authority—to ensure that no work goes forward without proper archaeological assessment. With proper timing, that need not be a hold-up, and it is not particularly expensive. In particular, let there be no sudden laying of cables or water mains in Old Palace Yard, now your Lordships’ car park, without proper preparation. I urge that the contracts should specify this because it is one of the only parts of the surviving precinct of the Palace where there are undisturbed levels that could be informative.
As noble Lords will be aware, work on a separate contract is now under way to the roof of Westminster Hall, the finest medieval hammerbeam roof in northern Europe. Why, then, has the opportunity not been taken to undertake a dendrochronological study of the timbers? Despite the recommendation of specialists in historic buildings, relevant officials, including, I believe, the Director-General of the House of Commons, have not yet authorised the necessary expenditure, which would be a small sum compared with the billions of pounds that the new restoration and renewal programme will likely cost. Did your Lordships know that work has also begun on the old, mainly Tudor, cloister just east of Westminster Hall? However, that work, the restoration of the early stonework, has been halted on the grounds of cost, so something is not working very well.
I suggest that the new R&R programme, with the full decant of both Houses, should begin as soon as possible, and I am not quite sure why it has to be delayed until 2025. The need to build a new building with the facade of Richmond House on the front of it may be the reason, but we have already heard of other possibilities. However, let us ensure now that no work at all is undertaken without a full prior assessment of the historic fabric. I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to assure us that the Speaker and the Lord Speaker will be supported by Her Majesty’s Government in ensuring that such consideration takes place. To do otherwise would be false economy indeed.
My Lords, I support the Motion before us and therefore do not support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, although I understand his arguments. I believe that a full decant as soon as possible is the only responsible way forward. As we have heard, it will be expensive, difficult and inconvenient, because all such projects are. We must ensure that only the most rigorous processes are in place to manage it well.
The proposed arrangements of the sponsor board and the delivery authority have been tried and tested pretty thoroughly recently by the Olympics and, now, Crossrail, so we can and should have confidence in them. However, we would be well advised to heed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who gave us an entertaining but very pertinent description of what can go wrong when not contractors but clients do the wrong thing. Many projects go wrong because they are in the hands of bad clients. It is Parliament’s responsibility, if we go forward with this project, to be a good client.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to the book written by Caroline Shenton, Mr Barry’s War, which has already been referred to. In it, she asks: who was Barry’s client? Was it the Government, Parliament,
“or—most difficult of all—over a thousand MPs and Peers, fractious, opinionated, vocal, partisan and above all with as many individual views on how the work should progress as there were members”?
Let us not be those parliamentarians; let us not be our Victorian forebears. Let us be sensible, modern parliamentarians and good clients.
I was a member of your Lordships’ now-defunct Administration and Works Committee twice, the first time between 2007 and 2010, so it is over a decade since I first became aware of the increasing deterioration of this building. I took a tour of the basement back then as a member of the committee; it was pretty scary then and it is a whole lot scarier now. So I watched and listened with interest and, I have to say, increasing alarm as the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster —to which I, along with everyone else, pay tribute—gathered its evidence and then delivered a detailed and comprehensive report. I experienced something close to despair as those clear recommendations began to lose traction in the face of political challenge.
So I am more pleased than I can say not to be making the speech that I prepared a week ago in the confident expectation—it is very nice to have been proved wrong—that we would today be discussing further delay in getting this vital project under way.
I am really delighted that Members in the other place have found the courage finally to set us on the road to a proper plan for the rehabilitation of a building which, like it or not, plays a huge part in our national story and belongs to the whole nation, as many noble Lords have said—indeed, to the world—and not just to Parliament.
I love this building. I love what it looks like and I love what it means, which my noble friend Lady Andrews expressed so eloquently. It is indeed a privilege to come here every day. I hate the thought of having to leave it, but I hate much more the thought that it might have been allowed to rot away or suffer catastrophe because this generation of parliamentarians—we are only passing through—was too squeamish or too self-absorbed to take the decisions necessary to save it.
Happily, we have the opportunity today to make sure that that disaster is averted. Let us embrace it as an opportunity to honour the past and protect the future, not for ourselves but for our children and their children and all those who will come after, and let us do it soon.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to contribute to this debate and to follow the noble Baroness. I certainly echo her views and feelings about the building that we occupy.
I came into politics having spent 20 years in the construction industry. Some of that was on refurbishment work, some on new work, some with good clients, some with bad. Whether it is better or worse to be a politician than working in the construction industry is perhaps for others to say.
I have been on the obligatory tour of the basement, as well. As someone who came to it with a semi-professional eye, I would say that in almost any other public building where a tour like that was conducted, you would have inspectors, enforcement notices and the whole corporate world of regulation dropping on your head. We are getting away with it in the regulatory sense as well the risk sense.
There is a big risk. There is a risk of fire, from asbestos and from clashing services. They have all been well set out. Of course, there is a risk because so many of the repairs and alterations have been piecemeal, which involved lost opportunities, additional costs and more delays and difficulties for users of the building. Every delay to going ahead with this project—which I am enthusiastically in favour of—increases the risk and will increase the cost.
I must say that the “stay put and do it round us” option is in every way the worst. It gives the ultimate delay. I liked one finding of the joint report, which said that the likely time for a stay-put option is 32 years to completion, by which time you would have to renew the mechanical and electrical equipment put in at the beginning. In other words, that option would be like the Forth Bridge, and I hope that we will dismiss that without too much further consideration.
It is worth thinking about the fact that if we had started in good time on a 32-year period of renovation of this place, we would have started in 1985 and it would be finishing this year. I call to mind the point made, in particular, by the noble Lord, Lord Maude, about building in obsolescence. At that time, there was no web, no IT. What would have been started in 1985 would have been totally inappropriate by the time we got here. There are good reasons for doing it quickly and thoroughly, and I hope I have just sketched a couple of them.
We work in a building which is a masterpiece, but it is worth remembering that it was every bit as controversial as Portcullis House when it was built—I remember some of that, as I arrived in this place in 1997. Its cost, design, appearance and performance were controversial from the very beginning. The heating system never worked, and it is because of that that we have those huge horizontal ducts and vertical risers. Subsequently, no one has ever had to bother about finding anywhere for stuff to run: just stick it in those disused ducts and risers. We have been living on the borrowed capital of a failed heating system for 150 years, and now we have filled them up. We have got to the point where we have to do something about it and take something out of those ducts and risers for safety, cost and performance reasons. Ever since, those ducts and risers have been getting fuller and fuller and no one has ever needed to take anything out because there was always space. There are three generations of electric wiring, at least two generations of telephony and, I think, two generations of IT equipment, quite apart from the steam pipes, and so on.
The maintenance regime has been necessarily constrained by cost, because neither House has at any time wanted to spend a penny more than it believed it could get away with, so maintenance has lagged further and further behind. There are pressures of time. Noble Lords have said, “Let us get rid of the September recall period”. Again, the Joint Committee reported on the number of times that there has been a recall, most recently following the tragic death of Jo Cox. Who is to say that the convenience of this House and a maintenance programme should take precedence over the necessary democratic business of this House and that House at a time of recall? Much of the maintenance has been just in time or, sometimes, just too late, and there is an overwhelming case to tackle the backlog, update the services, modernise the facilities and avoid disaster.
I also want to pick up the positive points which have been made. We should have a building that is to the highest standards that can be achieved in the country —in the world, even—setting high standards for heritage, high standards of safety and high standards for the staff and those who work in the building. There are 14,000 pass holders; we are but 800-odd of those 14,000. We should deliver a world-class, 21st century Parliament.
We should be talking about the how and the when, not the if, the maybe and, “Can we put it off any more?”. We have certainly wasted time. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, pointed out that we have wasted 10 years thanks to us not listening to him in the first place. In any case, since the Joint Committee reported, time has been slipping. We were talking about a 2020 start. We now seem to be talking about a 2023 start. A Parliamentary Question was answered by the Minister last month to say that the earliest possible time we could be decanted would be 2025—seven years from now. I join other noble Lords in saying, “Surely that is an incredibly long period ahead and we can shorten it”.
That brings me briefly to the governance point. One of my former employers was a new town development corporation, which is another version of a delivery authority. That, the Olympic Delivery Authority and the Crossrail authority all provide models which can and have worked and should be used to make this one work. For the long term, we certainly need the sponsor board, we need the delivery authority, and for the immediate future, we need the shadow sponsor board and the shadow delivery authority. That means that we must get the enabling legislation going as soon as possible.
That leaves me with just one or two questions for the Minister. We need from her a commitment to make sure that the legislation is introduced without delay. The Government are very prone to delay on this topic. They have other things on their mind. I will not mention the dreaded word, which has been avoided in this debate, but they have other things on their mind. But this is important, even if it does not look urgent. I ask the Minister to ensure that, when she takes the message back to those drafting the Bill, she asks them to be particularly careful to include a carryover provision. It is entirely foreseeable that there could be an interruption before we get to 2025 created by an unexpected and unintended general election. It would be such a pity if, like last year when an unexpected election provided an excuse to delay this report, something else led to a delay in bringing forward the substantive legislation that we need.
Finally, High Speed 2 has two colleges, committed and dedicated to making sure there is a skilled workforce to deliver that project. If we think apprenticeships and skills training are important national objectives, can we please set up our own college for the renewal and restoration of Parliament? We could then ensure a constant stream of suitable, world-class persons to work on this magnificent and exciting project.
My Lords, in her very interesting speech, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, made a point about the problems that were caused in the original building of the Houses of Parliament by everyone wanting to have their say. Members of Parliament and Peers always had to get their word in, as one would expect. There is general approbation for the point that it would be extremely damaging if that were repeated.
The noble Baroness may not know that Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister at the time, also got fed up with the constant bickering and changing of the design by Members of Parliament of all shades. He had the brilliant idea of appointing Prince Albert to be chairman of the Fine Arts Commission: no one was going to argue with royalty. It was a brilliant decision, not just politically, but aesthetically and in terms of getting a move on. He was an energetic man with a good aesthetic feel for what was required. It is also said, though I have no idea if it is true, that he was well aware that when his wife, Queen Victoria, opened Parliament she saw only the entrance to the Royal Gallery and your Lordships’ Chamber, not the House of Commons. Being a good man and anxious—as we all are—to please his wife, he decided to spend most of the money on the House of Lords and Royal Gallery, rather than the House of Commons. That is why this Chamber is so glorious compared with the rather stark affair which I suffered for 31 years at the other end of the Corridor. I do not know whether that story is true: it is also alleged that it is complete nonsense and that Pugin was at his creative best because he was so inspired by these surroundings. We will probably never know, but it is an interesting aspect.
We have an important role because we live in this glorious Chamber and have a particular responsibility to do the best we can with it. Like most noble Lords, I was very pleased with the vote at the other end of the Corridor, which was actually more decisive than the Government expected. I was pleased that, for once, the Commons took the bull by the horns and did something decisive. As the noble Lords, Lord Renfrew and Lord Desai, have said, the eight years until we actually get to the point of being decanted in 2025 seems like a long time. Will my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal comment on why we have to take eight years to get to that point? Most noble Lords are concerned about that. Although I did not agree with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Naseby, he had a point about the six years it will take to do the works. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, was on to this as well. Six years will quickly become seven, eight, nine or 10 before we know where we are. This is an extremely worrying issue. Will the Minister comment on whether the work will be done 24/7? As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said, lots of other huge organisations have done it that way, working round the clock, around the inhabitants. Is 24/7 working in the assumptions behind the costings, or will it be weekday work with weekends off and all the rest of it? We need to know more.
Finally, any building—even one as iconic and beautiful as this—is affected by its setting. The river side of this building has a glorious setting, but the landward side is less good. In due course—I know this is a long way off—I hope that the setting is changed with traffic being taken out of Old Palace Yard and the whole square pedestrianised so one can see the architect’s mind at work in the link which Barry wanted between the back of the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey and the House of Lords. I am also pleased that Westminster Council and the mayor are now working on scoping plans to take the traffic out of two sides of Parliament Square. I would like to see that going forward because the setting is important and at the moment it is a disgrace with all the cars, black iron barriers and the rest of it. The environment would be much more secure than it is now if you took the traffic out. All that is far into the future. For the moment, I am delighted that the Commons has taken a decision and I hope the House of Lords will concur.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Horam. I support his idea of reducing traffic around Parliament but am a little less sure about his idea of asking royalty to take over as the client. That would not do at all. I congratulate the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on bringing this debate. To show my gratitude, I am going to say words that I thought I would never say in this Parliament: I fully support the government Motion and will not be voting for the amendment. I was a little bit iffy about paragraph (8), but if we decide we do not want to come back we could probably repeal the law. We could have more debates and sort ourselves out.
I will make some wider points. Parliament has become unstable not just in its physical structure but in the two-party system of Government and Opposition Benches. There are signs of decay all around. Democracy should be a striving for consensus, not the bipartisan festival of point scoring that we have at the moment. Surely we want a mix of voices and a democracy that values having a lot of different views and opinions in our Parliament. I used to be an archaeologist—not a very good one—and my view is that tradition is incredibly important to our society. However, at the same time tradition has to be practical, appropriate and useful. Despite my respect for tradition, since coming to this House I have seen a lot of silly conventions that could be swept away in a refurbishment of your Lordships’ House.
I support some of the radical ideas offered by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I hope he will not mind me saying that I was very surprised at the source. It would be good to see new technology and ideas being brought here. Anything like solar panels or battery storage would be a good move. We could sell the renovation of the House as progress and an exemplar for other buildings in the UK.
I would also like to see a proportional voting system, as that would mean people being properly represented across the political spectrum. This is also an opportunity to replace your Lordships’ House with a democratically elected Chamber. That would mean more women. Proportional representation is a feminist issue and, today of all days, we should be thinking about it, considering it and, perhaps, absorbing it as a good idea. Along with modern democratic structures for Parliament we need to modernise voting in the Chamber, so that votes can be done at the press of a button rather than having all MPs and Peers spending days of their lives queuing in corridors. What about changing the times of our debates? Why can we not meet in the mornings and do a normal day’s work and not miss family meals and social events? We could have social lives, which would improve us as parliamentarians. And it is not just noble Lords who bear the burden of lots of late night debates; it is also unfair to all the staff who have to stay as late as we sit.
On the specific issue of whether or not to move out, I have been to the basement and seen the accretions of 150 to 170 years—and, frankly, I feel unsafe here. I now have an office in Millbank, for which I am very grateful because it takes me out of this building. If we moved to QEII it would mean quite a sprint for me up the road, but if we reduced traffic it would be a much safer sprint.
In the basement I noticed a very small box on the wall that looked like a tangled mess of very dirty rice noodles bursting out of a metal frame. I was told that it was part of the phone system and probably still in use. I also took a photograph on my phone of a recently removed rusty pipe that had been gaffer-taped over the years to fix some rusty holes in it. It had finally been taken out of use three weeks before I took the photo because of a very large hole in the pipe. That is probably indicative of an awful lot of the infrastructure in the basement, which is very concerning. Water pipes criss-cross electrical cables, as we have heard, and I was told that we have 27 people on 24-hour fire watch. That frightened me and I hope that it frightens some other noble Lords.
It also occurs to me that we are probably not meeting our health and safety obligations to not only ourselves but our visitors. We should probably have warning signs, “Enter at your own risk”. And it is not just the fire risk: bits of the building are falling off, as happened recently when a car window was smashed.
I understand that others have different options, but I read that one option put forward by a Member of Parliament in the other place was that to fix the mouse and rat problem we should have a cat. I do not know whether that person understands the size of the Palace, but to sort out the problem with cats would mean having an awful lot of cats.
The scale of the problem also raises the question of whether to do the upgrade in a piecemeal manner. The dreaded word “phasing” was used. As an ex-archaeologist I can tell noble Lords that phasing is almost always visible and almost always ugly. So I would definitely advise against doing anything piecemeal. That is exactly the problem in the basement: it was done piecemeal. It is made up of layer upon layer of work that people have done without removing the previous layer.
I do like the idea of moving out of London. It would be fantastic and a real breath of fresh air for us to experience different parts of the country and be lobbied by local people to help them with their issues. However, I accept that that probably will not happen. Parliament is a glorious place for history. We should value that and ensure that this building is properly cared for. We should ensure that it is loved as the home of our democracy—one which is in need of renovation in more ways than one.
My Lords, very frequently in debates in your Lordships’ House, and in a slightly smug way, we say that the debate in question is timely. I am sure we can all agree in this instance that this is a very untimely debate; it should have happened years ago.
I declare my interest as president of the Ancient Monuments Society. I come to this from what, by most people’s perspective, is a pretty eccentric starting point. As I listened to the speech of my noble friend Lord Maude, I realised that, although I was not christened in the crypt of the House of Commons, my father was a Member of the other place, he was then seamlessly translated here and, after he died, I seamlessly came here too. I have also lived all my life in a grade 1 listed building in Cumbria which is far too big, although the similarities with this place are not entire in as much as half the house has no light, heat or water, and I intend to keep it that way. I am also a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and worked as a planning consultant for a number of years at the beginning of my career. I have been trustee of a number of grade 1 listed buildings and have been responsible for them.
I shall divide my remarks into three parts: first, Parliament; secondly, the building; and, thirdly, what I might describe as lessons learned. As regards Parliament, I believe that we should remain on site in this building but that it should be adapted to the needs of the 21st century, as many noble Lords have said. The temporary arrangements for decanting should be fit for purpose and not lavish. However, I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Desai, say that we need to find a palace. I live further from London than from Paris so I would like to suggest that Versailles is the right solution for us if we are going in that direction. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, made a very good point when she said that we must decide what we want before we start and not tinker throughout the project as that puts up the price hugely. During my time as a Member of the European Parliament, I remember talking in a meeting to the architects of the new European Parliament building in Strasbourg, which was massively overspent, although, interestingly, on a pound to pound basis, cost less than Portcullis House, I believe. I asked the architects whether the problem was that the Members would not stop tinkering with the design proposals. I was given a noncommittal answer but, as I left, the architect said to me, “You asked the best question”.
I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, first raised the point that we must be absolutely clear that the cheapest solution is not the best value for money solution. If you do it right, in the long run it turns out much cheaper. Could my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal tell me whether the building is eligible for Heritage Lottery funding, and is it planned to ask whether we might get some of that funding? Mention has been made of the probable criticism of what we are doing. If we are branded enemies of the people, it is normally the case that it takes one to know one, and we should simply take it on the chin as I believe it is the right thing to do.
This is a grade 1 listed building and a world heritage site. To achieve inscription as a world heritage site, it is necessary to be judged by UNESCO as having outstanding universal value. I therefore think that the way the building has been allowed to deteriorate can best be described as shameful. It is, after all, probably the best known building in this country and a core part of our identity and heritage. It is particularly shameful—although I am not sure that is quite the right word—that the Government or Parliament have been behind this. In the eyes of the world, the words of the 19th century diarist Mr Creevey, “Money for ever,” apply. If anybody can afford to look after a building properly, it is, frankly, the Government. The Government and we parliamentarians impose on others in this country all kinds of legal obligations in respect of listed buildings, which are ultimately underpinned by purchase notice procedures. Therefore, I do not think we can say that we have led by example over the period we are talking about.
What lessons are to be learned more widely from this? We need to recognise that all buildings are wasting assets. I talked quite recently to a well-known multiple housebuilder. He commented that if you bought a house you ought probably to set aside something like 2.5% a year of its value to cover the eventual costs of repair and renewal. That is not an isolated phenomenon. I am involved with the Historic Houses Association. That body has recently carried out some rigorous research at considerable cost. It appears that there is a backlog of something like just under £1.5 billion-worth of repairs on its members’ buildings, some of which are of equivalent architectural and historic value to this one, though, needless to say, not all of them. About half a billion pounds’ worth of that is for urgent repairs. We all know that there is a big backlog of repairs needed to buildings in this country. If they are publicly owned, the cost falls on the public purse. If they are owned by charities, a lot of the cost falls on the public purse because of the tax position in respect of the contributions and the way the charities obtain the assets. If they are privately owned and, ultimately, if private individuals will not carry out the work—subject to purchase notices and all the rest—the chances are they will go to charities and, for important buildings, the public will probably spend a considerable amount of money repairing them.
That is not sustainable in the long run, and I know that the Heritage Alliance is very concerned. We have to find a way in this country of looking after old buildings that does not feather-bed the owners for the time being. The problem is that when the deterioration starts, it worsens incrementally. After a bit, what was some kind of arithmetical progression turns into a geometric progression, and finally it becomes logarithmic. The longer you delay, the greater in real terms the cost of putting it right. It is not simply a question of grants; it is much wider. There needs to be a thorough investigation around the tax system, which, rather like this building, was designed in the 19th century for different circumstances. Esoteric topics such as the problems of composite trades, which I do not suppose falls off many people’s lips on a daily basis, requires serious looking into. I call on the Government to investigate with people who understand the problem the right way for our nation to look after buildings of this quality in the future. Just as in the case of this building we should get on with it, may I please ask that we get on with that, too?
My Lords, yesterday’s debate in this House on the role of women in public life was a remarkable occasion, and one in which many Members recalled their early political experiences and influences and what brought them into political life. It made me think, too. Fifty years ago, in 1968, I came to London as a student and was immediately caught up in the spirit of the times. In 1968, revolution was in the air, following the événements in Paris that spring. That autumn saw the then biggest mass demonstration of the post-war era against the Vietnam War. I was there and it was at around that time that I became involved in politics—at first student politics and then more grown-up politics when I joined the Labour Party a few short years afterwards, in east London. I have been reflecting on how my young self would have responded if someone 50 years ago had suggested that one day I would be standing up in the House of Lords and quoting with approval the third leader of the Times newspaper—with complete incredulity, to put it mildly.
I had a friend who chided me when I first came to work here in Parliament on the staff of the Parliamentary Labour Party with the immortal phrase, “Every man betrays the revolution in his own way”, or words to that effect. I do, though, agree entirely with the Times leader of last Friday which thundered—well, strongly suggested:
“MPs have voted to evacuate their home for renovations. Peers should follow suit”.
I shall quote the first paragraph of that editorial:
“The Palace of Westminster is a mess. Crumbling, damp, riddled with asbestos and rodents, it is as chaotic and inefficient within as it is illustrious without. Renovations will cost billions, but the cost will be billions more if those who work there insist on remaining in situ while it is done. On Wednesday, in a rare outbreak of uncomplicated good sense, the House of Commons voted by 236 to 220 to support an amendment that is likely to result in them all moving out. Now the House of Lords should do the same”.
I entirely agree.
Many colleagues in the debate have already given chapter and verse on the horrors of the state of the Parliamentary Estate—the wiring, sewerage, miles of redundant cabling, asbestos and the ever-present fire risk—so I shall not repeat that litany of problems. We all know that action is needed; the report of the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster, demonstrated all that in great detail. I was persuaded by that report, but I was convinced by going on a tour of the bowels of the building, along with other colleagues. I have to thank the R&R team who gave their time to show us around, deep in the basement areas, and their commendable restraint. We came to several places which looked, even to the untrained eye of a non-civil, non-mechanical and non-electrical engineer, as dangerous blackspots. However, these were generally referred to in much more neutral language, with terms such as “sub-optimal”.
I do not think that we were in any way having the wool pulled over our eyes—quite the reverse. We were being given the opportunity to see for ourselves the horrors down there. So I am pleased to add my voice to those in the Commons, albeit by a small majority, who voted to grasp the nettle and accept that the best solution is a full decant, and to urge that this should happen as soon as conveniently possible. If it really takes until 2025 to set up the necessary machinery, iron out all the details and sort out more precisely the costings, so be it. But that seems like an unhappily long period in which this building will become increasingly at risk of a catastrophic event that could close it in an instant. Bring it on, please, with the minimum of delay. This is a can that has been kicked down the road for far too long already.
I very much hope that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, calling for yet further evaluations and procrastination, will be withdrawn and that this House will concur with the Commons, as the Motion before us suggests, and that on a united basis we can move forward to address a very serious problem.
My Lords, I am happy to support the Motion, and do so with enthusiasm. I have long been of the view that the work must be done as soon as possible as a single whole.
I want to speak about the “new” in renewal. We may lose opportunities if we do not build on other experiences in the UK—the experiences of other Parliaments and institutions, as well as our own, incorporating new features. In 1999 and 2000, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Authority —of which I was a member and chair—chose circles, semi-circles or horseshoes for their chambers.
Other noble Lords will have had the experience of reorganising meeting rooms when chairing meetings, or were responsible for them, to encourage those meetings to be productive. That is perhaps old technology, although I am enthusiastic about new technology, which the devolved institutions have used well. I am talking about the configuration because we all know instinctively that the configuration of space affects how people relate to one another and therefore outcomes. Organic shapes are more conducive to less antagonistic proceedings. I am not suggesting that we should all set out to agree with one another about everything; this is about the “how” not the “what”, although one may affect the other.
It seems to me that being lined up in opposing ranks encourages an adversarial style. Some of our more combative parliamentary events may have a following on TV and computer screens for their entertainment value. I was quite shocked to learn how popular some of the combative proceedings are in California, but it is not the way to do business or how most people are comfortable as a general rule, either observing or participating. We are very often asked, “Why can’t you politicians work together?”. Please do not take this as a criticism of the Commons or of our colleagues here; my observations are about how we can organise ourselves to resist what is to me an uncomfortable pull: that way of conducting ourselves, which I have never liked from the day I was first elected as a local councillor. Of course, I know that there are historical reasons for the configuration of our Houses, and lines to keep opponents apart. However, it all reinforces the bilateral nature of our system: for or against, yes or no. But often there are of course shades of grey, so it is a good notion to incorporate that idea.
Temporary Chambers would give us the opportunity to experience working in a different shape of space. We might find some things that we can apply when we come back. I do not suggest ditching these amazing surroundings, but it seems to be accepted that the Chambers we return to cannot be exact replicas of what we have now. None of us wants to make our colleagues with mobility problems or other disabilities feel that they are an afterthought.
My other short point is to emphasise, as other noble Lords have done, the importance of facilities for the public—accessibility in a different sense. Huge strides have been made over the last two years, and I congratulate those who have made them happen, particularly in the world of education. But a lot must be quite mysterious to our visitors. What is this Question about? Why does the debate on this amendment apparently leap to something completely different? I am aware of the irony that a lot of people come to look rather than to listen, but to be accessible in every sense must be a good thing. We have great opportunities to make the public’s building—and it is a building that belongs to the public—public-friendly, and all that should be part of the plans from the start, not a later add-on.
When we were planning for the GLA’s facilities, some of us visited Cardiff and Edinburgh. I cannot remember whether it was in Wales and Scotland, but in both we were impressed by their welcome for visitors and in one of them there was a display of comments made by visitors. A child had observed: “Debates are when someone gets up and says what he thinks and then the next person gets up and says what he thinks”. That, of course, is quite often the case, but a more organic shape might affect for the better how we debate.
I thank the Leader of the House, not just for bringing this Motion but for the negotiations that she and her predecessor have carried out. I suppose that we may not be approaching the end of the beginning but the very beginning of the project, and she has no small task. We will all be concerned with the costs, and we will all want the result to be as good as it possibly can be.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, I have a bit of form on the subject before us today. It was I who, with the previous Clerk of the Parliaments, in 2012 commissioned the original condition survey which led to the options appraisal and then to the inquiry by the Joint Committee and its excellent report. We commissioned that condition survey together because I felt passionately that we could not be yet another generation of stewards who abrogated our responsibilities for this extraordinary building. Over the years, the excuses for doing nothing have been lame, but many and various: “too expensive”; “too disruptive”; “too embarrassing”; “too soon after the war”—which gives an idea of how long this perennial problem has gone on and how long the difficult issues have been dodged.
I have never had any doubt that the only solution to this problem was a full decant. Those who in good faith genuinely think that it can all be done while we stay here and try to carry on as normal have either little experience of the sort of works that would be required or little idea of the sheer scale of what would need to be done. A visit to the floor below us—the place that in 2012 I christened the “cathedral of horror”, a name which seems to have stuck—ought to disabuse them as it has enlightened many noble Lords.
The Cox and Box decant—first one House and then the other moving out—may be superficially attractive but the services need to be replaced in their entirety, and as a unity. Once the asbestos is tackled, this option becomes even less practical. The idea of some sort of cordon sanitaire halfway down the Palace, crossing the Central Lobby, is simply not on.
We all know that the cost, even of the third and, I will not say the cheapest but the least expensive option, will be huge. But this is the penalty for more than half a century of dodging the issue. That pusillanimity—there is no other word for it—has backed us into a corner, because further delay becomes ever more hazardous. May I in passing respectfully commend our Lord Speaker for speaking so plainly about the dangers and for making the case for action?
The decision of the House of Commons last week is welcome, but we are a long way from being out of the woods, and the Motion before us today, welcome as it is—I pay tribute to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House—is not completely reassuring. There will of course have to be approval of the business case, and there is no doubt that there has to be a statutory delivery authority, not only to bypass the delays and problems of the planning system, which primary legislation can do, but to take full responsibility for the work, deliver the project and—the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, hit the nail on the head here—so that it is protected from political meddling while it does it. However, there are real risks of further significant delay.
The initiation of this legislation will be in the hands of the Government, and I can already hear the well-worn phrases about the, crowded legislative timetable and competing pressures. Those pressures will have to be resisted. Paragraph 7 of the Motion instructs the shadow board and delivery authority “and their statutory successors” to come back to Parliament with what will be effectively a fresh proposal, no doubt to be voted upon again. So even when the statutory delivery authority has been set up, it seems that it will require further instruction before it is able to begin work.
Paragraph 5 of the Motion says that during this Parliament there will be works,
“essential to ensure the continuing functioning of the Palace”.
Given the scale of what needs to be done, I find it quite difficult to imagine what these might be, and I am afraid that I harbour suspicions that, once those works, whatever they are, have been carried out, the fools’ paradise so created could be a further excuse for doing nothing after all. At best, it seems, as many noble Lords have said, that work will not start before 2025. Seven years is a long time for nothing bad to happen, and I hope that we can proceed very much faster than that.
Nearly 10 years ago, I was gold commander—a wonderful term—for a very well-planned and comprehensive disaster exercise, set up by a specialist team from the Cabinet Office. We had no advance warning of the exercise scenario but we quickly discovered that it was a fracture of the venerable main sewer. As the levels of water—and other things—rose, the electricity went out and mains water could not be used. In the virtual reality of the exercise we managed to keep the Palace functioning for 36 hours before closing everything down and moving out—I am trying to avoid the word “evacuation” here—with no discernible prospect of moving back. I leave your Lordships to consider what the cost and disruption of that scenario would be in real life, and how little notice we would have.
The risk of a catastrophic failure of services will be with us until the decant happens. It is accompanied by the risk of fire, which used to cause me sleepless hours when I was the legally responsible corporate officer at the north end of the Palace, with the penalties prescribed by the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act very much in mind. A highly plausible scene might be on a hot summer’s evening, with both Houses sitting late to finish business before the Recess. One of the too many minor fires, which we are told occur each year, swiftly becomes a major fire and spreads rapidly because of the lack of completed fire compartmentation. The electricity supply goes down completely. A huge demonstration which happens to be taking place in Parliament Square means that the emergency services cannot get to us quickly. There are hundreds of casualties and possibly fatalities. How do we feel about continuing to carry that risk for seven years or more?
To end on a rather less apocalyptic note, when the works are finally carried out, I hope that every opportunity will be taken to increase the utility and flexibility of this building, and above all—here I pick up the point so well made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope—its accessibility, whether real or virtual. We must never forget that the Palace does not belong to parliamentarians; it belongs to the people that Parliament is here to serve. Our challenge is for people to look back in 100 years’ time and say, “They got it right”.
And I hope, as I suggested in my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House and as other noble Lords have also suggested, that we will take the opportunity to establish a Westminster academy as a focus for training and apprenticeships in all the practical heritage skills that will be needed but which at the moment are in very short supply. I speak as chairman of the fabric committee of a cathedral, so I know of what I speak. I hope, too, that such an academy will far outlast the works and that it will be a permanent and really worthwhile legacy.
My Lords, I too thank the Lord Privy Seal for bringing this Motion before the House. I endorse it wholeheartedly, as I do many of the comments that have just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane.
Having taken the suggested tour of the basement last week, frankly I am amazed that health and safety regulations allow any of us to occupy any part of this estate at any time. The threat of a catastrophic failure in this Parliament reflects the hideous possibility that a fire within this building, which has the same ventilation construction as the Mackintosh building in Glasgow and the same risks that attach to that system, could indeed cause major damage, potential death and the destruction of historic art and documents on a quite grotesque scale.
Therefore, I was pleased to hear that in another place it was agreed that the most efficient and cost-effective way of preserving the Palace of Westminster is a full decant, however depressing and inconvenient the prospect. It endorses the recommendation of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee—the body appointed to be the guardian of efficiency, effectiveness and economy in the use of public money. In truth, the business that we do and our constitutional responsibilities can be undertaken elsewhere, and if for your Lordships’ House that is to be the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, so be it, for the first of the Nolan principles of public life is selflessness:
“Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest”.
It is of course unfortunate that the restoration and renewal project comes at a time when general budgetary constraint is needed, but a full decant is the most cost-effective option before us. It appears that only the simultaneous stripping out of generations of wiring, plumbing, heating and that 1820s ventilation system will allow their replacement with infrastructure that will see the Palace through the next 100 years. Furthermore, it allows a significant amount of asbestos to be removed safely in our absence. It has therefore fallen to this generation of parliamentarians to ensure the preservation of this wonderful estate for future generations. To those who worry that there is a danger of our never returning, that risk is surely mitigated by a full decant, with both Houses then motivated to ensure a quick return.
The only legitimate purpose of this building is as a seat of parliamentary democracy, not as a hotel or as a museum, and I believe that the best way of ensuring its future is to expedite these major works as soon as is practically and economically feasible.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, mentioned Guy Fawkes at the beginning of this debate. I regret to say that 412 years ago some of my ancestors took part in that plot to destroy Parliament. I hope that, by taking part in this debate to save the Palace of Westminster, I can make at least some amends.
As a new Member of your Lordships’ House, I am still getting to know this remarkable building. I understand the reluctance to spend a large sum at a time of austerity and, from a purely personal point of view, I would be sad to leave before I properly got to know it. However, we need to face up to the problems, and I do not think it is really a difficult decision.
Many noble Lords have explained the importance of this building, so I will not repeat what has already been said other than to say that I agree entirely. Report after report tells us of the dangers that the building faces from outdated and dangerous services, asbestos, a lack of proper fire protection and so on. Many of your Lordships have, like me, been on the basement tour. As we have heard, the problems are obvious. As a result, we are spending millions of pounds every year on patches and short-term fixes. This is money that is ultimately wasted.
We really have to do something, and get on with it quickly, or we risk losing the building or even, God forbid, someone being injured or killed. I do not think that I can say it better than our recently departed Black Rod, David Leakey, who said:
“We will … be accused of sitting on our hands. What an embarrassment and a disgrace it would be to our nation if our Parliament suddenly disintegrated in a puff of asbestos”.
Anyone who has ever undertaken a major property renovation knows that it is much easier, quicker, safer and cheaper to move out and get it done in one go—a full decant. The Joint Committee backed this up and highlighted the additional costs, and risks, of the other options. The cost will be met by the taxpayer. We therefore have no choice but to do this necessary work in the most cost-efficient way possible, so I am delighted, if surprised, that the other place has at last voted for the full decant option.
However, the Motion accepts that expenditure on the Palace during this Parliament will be limited to preparatory work. We are told that we will not move out and that real work will not start until 2025. That is at least seven years—seven years in which we will need to continue to waste millions and continue to risk a disaster occurring. We are still kicking the can down the road. I was going to use the word “cowardice” but I will not. We should be looking for ways to accelerate the process, not only to save money but to reduce the risk. I therefore cannot support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. There has been more than enough analysis already and we now need to get on with it. Indeed, if I had my way, we would remove paragraph (5) from the Motion.
Perhaps I may make a suggestion about our moving out that may be more controversial. There are those who believe that Parliament should permanently relocate. I am not one of them. Parliament’s place is in our capital city and in this iconic building, but I wonder whether we should not be a little more creative during our period of relocation.
Over my first few months in this House, I have been deeply impressed by the quality of debate and scrutiny that takes place here. This is a House of extraordinary expertise and great hard work, but I do not think that what happens here is widely appreciated by the public. I had a guest to visit recently—someone unfamiliar with what we do here. He sat in for a bit of the Committee stage of the Data Protection Bill. His comment afterwards was that it was not at all what he expected—more boring, yes, but he was very impressed by the detail of the debate and its lack of political point scoring. He had been expecting something more like Prime Minister’s Question Time in the other place.
He suggested that, if we are to leave this building for a few years, perhaps there is an opportunity to get this message across more widely. Instead of just moving over the road, why not look at some of our other great cities—Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow, if devolution allows it—perhaps a year or two at a time? I realise that this has been considered. There are real practical difficulties and, from what we have heard already, it is clearly not a popular idea. However, I think that we should look at this as an opportunity to think creatively about how we can better connect with the public, and them with us, more directly during this transitional period and not just try to replicate across the road what we have here.
I will finish with a more short-term plea regarding the wildlife. The mice I can cope with—indeed, there are a couple that have almost become personal friends—but the moths! Given that nothing looks like happening soon, please could we put aside some time during a recess to have the building fumigated? Please forgive me for the image that I may be about to put into your Lordships’ minds but I worry that if I sit still for too long in this Chamber, I will stand up to discover that my clothes have been turned to lace.
My Lords, I strongly support the Motion moved by the noble Baroness the Leader, and I am sure that I am joined by many others on these Benches in thanking her and applauding the very clear way in which this Motion has been presented. I shall be very brief. I want just to touch on two matters which my noble friend Lord Cormack, who now I see coming to his place, has already raised. I wanted to support what he said.
First, we should give thought to alternatives to the QEII. It may well be a suitable venue, but it would do irreparable damage to our international trade, in particular, if that were removed from the use to which it is put, very profitably and helpfully, at present. I would have thought that, instead of moving to the QEII, we should consider Church House, if it is available. I mention it because it is a very substantial building, very close to your Lordships’ House, and has a debating chamber, although it is not exactly configured like that of your Lordships’ House at present. But it is a substantial building and extremely close to where we are. In due course, can we consider and, if necessary, discuss that with the Church authorities, who I think would be very happy to accommodate a sensible proposition?
Secondly, I believe that it should be possible to accelerate the timetable in terms of major works here if the September sitting was no longer proceeded with in your Lordships’ House, if necessary. That would leave three whole months of work that could be done without this House sitting and without your Lordships here, and therefore faster progress could be made on essential works. I hope very much that that is given consideration and is discussed with the appropriate authorities.
My Lords, at this stage in the batting order, much of what I would have said has been covered already, so the best I can do is to reinforce some of the points that have been made. I declare my interest as a chartered surveyor, and my professional involvement with refurbishments and the care and maintenance of buildings, large and small, and many of them historic.
I fully support the Motion in the name of the Leader of the House, and for the reasons she gave in her introductory remarks. I add my compliments to the work of the independent options appraisal and the Joint Committee, and I am indebted to the briefing given to me by Carl Woodall and Tom Healey, both of whose knowledge is encyclopaedic.
To me it is a no-brainer that we have to decant; we cannot do the refurbishment in a sensible timescale or with any hope of minimising the cost or gaining longer-term benefits in improved building functionality unless we all move out. That seems to be the general tone here. To rephrase the comment that the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, made, that is particularly the case when dealing with the vascular system of this building. There is no practical or affordable way of arranging the type of works involved in any other way, especially given the health and safety issues. As the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said, no segmentation is possible that achieves that, with miles of linear service infrastructure.
Another equally important matter is that I strongly believe that we are on borrowed time. We have been deliberating this matter for years already, as other noble Lords have noted, and since the Joint Committee report there has been further slippage in the programme outlined. The debate in the other place last week seemed to indicate that perhaps 2025 might be an appropriate time to start commencing a full decant. However, I would question whether we have got that long. This is not about the building structure but about dealing with infrastructure issues, about things in places that cannot be accessed or which are stuffed overfull with pipes and cables, often operating at temperatures and under conditions well beyond their design capabilities, as I was advised, which is causing premature failure of things that have been fitted in quite recent times. Those systems are clearly now under considerable strain, with far too little known about what they are, the functions they perform, where they run, their condition and, most particularly, what would happen were they to fail. The expert assessments point to the critical condition of this infrastructure, and the continual instances of faults and failures, and the consequences of a major unplanned failure, of which we learn there may be a 50-50 chance by 2020. However well informed, that is still only a best guess. We cannot assume an orderly progress to non-functionality.
From what I have seen in the basement, from peering into riser shafts and observed when the carpets are up and services exposed in floors during recess periods, we do not have the luxury of time on our hands, and I am satisfied that the warnings are amply justified. Potential failure in any one element is increasingly likely to be catastrophic. In the case of a failure of a high-pressure steam pipe, it is likely to happen with explosive force. Whatever the trigger, in a confined area, the collateral damage to other services is likely to be extensive and severe. In the absence of compartmentalisation, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, this may have far-reaching effects, horizontally in the basements or subfloor voids and vertically up one or more of the many risers within the building. There are thus multiple risks and multiple potential negative outcomes.
I am told that the heating is now never turned off completely, because the pipework would not stand the fatiguing effect of constant heating and cooling down. If you had that in an office or in your own home, you would act pretty quickly—so why are we dithering, given our far greater duty of care to the public, staff and ourselves, as well as the historic fabric? I am bound to say that I feel very uncomfortable with this version of Russian roulette, most especially for the valiant maintenance staff, who would be in the immediate line of danger in the basement. It can only get more expensive the longer we wait, even if we are not caught off-guard in the meantime. So, as Macbeth might put it,
“… ‘twere well
It were done quickly”.
Some years ago, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment conducted a study that pointed to poor procurement practices and a need to bring in expert advice at an early stage, so a sponsor board and delivery authority seem eminently sensible vehicles for dealing with the project—and it is an area in which we have form on such arrangements.
I know that many noble Lords blanched, as I did, at even the cheapest of the overall cost projections but, on reflection, I am not surprised. Internal dismantling, protection and conservation is a precursor to any refurbishment of services that form a spider’s web of ducts, pipes and cables. The costings necessarily have to be at a high level at this stage; until we have arrived at an executive decision on the way forward, the detailed planning and more accurate specification and costings cannot reliably be put in place. There are also elements of cost that, like it or not, we will never know for certain until we open up the fabric.
So with the greatest respect, I am unable to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, in his amendment. A detailed study would cost upwards of £2 million and take how long—and would it not reveal yet further known unknowns? There might have to be several studies. So I feel that we must make that executive decision now and commit to process. History is littered with the appalling outcomes of delays in dealing with known failings in buildings and infrastructure.
I greatly concur with the Joint Committee that the juxtaposition of world heritage status, a million visitors a year and an iconic building designed for and still in use by the Parliament of this great nation is truly unique and, I believe, of inestimable value in terms of national identity, pride and an international statement of what we are, what we can achieve and what we stand for. We have had a plethora of experts involved—we should take that advice. But we had better get on with it. As the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, inferred, we should do so with an open mind. For a historic building, the most important objective is surely that it be retained in beneficial use, preferably something near to its original purpose. We must keep that in focus, as the Joint Committee surely did. I agree with other noble Lords, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Maude, that we should try to future-proof the work and seize the real opportunities to improve the space for functionality and do so positively, resolutely and with an open mind.
My Lords, I have listened to and read such detail as has been available to us, and have seen the contributions of Members in the other place. I support the view that a full decant, rather than a partial one, is absolutely necessary. However, like my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Freeman, I have grave doubts about the use of the Queen Elizabeth II Centre. I hope that we shall consider the creation of a temporary Chamber, perhaps near the education centre, when we have to leave this place.
I wish to make several other points, and these apply whether or not your Lordships back the Motion before us this evening. First, much has been made of the fact that the Palace of Westminster is a UNESCO world heritage site. I have never been totally convinced that this designation means very much, and I would be grateful to know from the Minister how much public money is expended annually in order that UNESCO maintains this description for us. I understand from the debate in the other place last week that, in December of this year, we are obliged by UNESCO rules to provide information to it concerning our plans for the building and, then, to quote what was said in the other place,
“UNESCO’s committee will consider the Government’s decisions and proposals and assess whether they are acceptable”.—[Official Report, Commons, 31/1/18; col. 916.]
The Department for International Development’s report of just over a year ago, Raising the Standard, signed by the then Secretary of State, identified,
“wide-ranging concerns about UNESCO, in particular its lack of transparency”.
It said of its work on international culture and heritage that,
“UNESCO’s organisational effectiveness and governance continues to fall short of our standards … and continues to display structural weaknesses in many critical areas … UNESCO is in need of dramatic improvement. It is failing in its effectiveness”.
The report goes on to say that the department will,
“press UNESCO to urgently improve transparency at all levels … UNESCO must meet higher standards of openness concerning the decisions made by senior management, committees and the board … value for money must be improved across the organisation … These changes will require a reform-minded culture at UNESCO, and widespread commitment to reform within the organisation”.
In the past year, I have not seen much evidence of that improvement. And this is the organisation which will apparently be called upon to say whether our plans for this site are acceptable. I suggest that the Government reconsider their commitment to such an inefficient body and that this Parliament should be the final arbiter of its own plans for its own workplace.
On a more positive note, whatever the outcome of this debate, the refurbishment and renewal of the Palace will require there to be many years of extremely detailed and complicated work ahead, as many noble Lords have noted. While drawing your Lordships’ attention to my registered interest as chairman of the Chartered Institution for Further Education, I remind the House of the wonderful opportunities there will be for the passing on of heritage skills to future generations and for the development of specific apprenticeship schemes. The noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Lisvane, have mentioned this.
I hope that both the shadow sponsor board and the shadow delivery authority, and their statutory successors mentioned in this Motion, will come back to Parliament in 18 months’ time, as promised by the leader of the other place, with clear proposals concerning the requirements to ensure that all employers contracted for this important project have well-designed and properly funded apprenticeship schemes in place, and that they are working in co-operation with some of the excellent vocational colleges and other providers in this country. I will mention just two of the many. The exemplary Building Crafts College in east London expertly trains young people in the skills of stone masonry and joinery. The City and Guilds of London Art School teaches to an extraordinary high standard wood and stone carving and the restoration of historic artefacts at undergraduate and graduate level. There is a growing number of apprenticeship projects led by industry in collaboration with further education; for instance, Sheffield College works closely with the Horbury construction group. We should try our very best, as others have mentioned, to do likewise.
As well as heritage skills, we shall require engineers and electrical, communications, heating, glazing and plumbing specialists, and a host of others. The programme will bring not only many jobs to London but many opportunities for young people to learn new skills on site. I hope that the sponsor board will insist that apprenticeship is central to the refurbishment project, and I recommend that it should have a small sub-committee to oversee the width of opportunities which will be available. I suggest that apprentices here should receive a special Palace of Westminster diploma, which will remind them in years to come of their experience of working in one of Britain’s most iconic sites and of their own contribution to its history.
My Lords, this far into a debate, it usually comes down to the fact that everybody has said everything and said it better than you, and so you start by agreeing with everybody who has gone in front of you. This debate is actually quite good for that, because you have a chance to agree with people on Benches that you do not normally agree with. I have found nothing on which to disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Maude, Lord Blencathra and Lord Lisvane. This would be boring on a regular basis, I feel, but let us enjoy it today.
If we are going to do this, we have to do it as quickly as we possibly can. It is probably a background complaint, but I think that we should look at speeding up the seven-year run-in. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has exposed with a professional eye that this is not good, and emphasised making sure that we get on with it.
I first heard the horror stories about the infrastructure of this building over 30 years ago. It was one of the things that was told to me when, new to Parliament, I was sitting in the Bishops’ Bar listening to people who had been round the basements then. This ain’t news; it is a reality that we have been sitting on. We have to get on and do this because we have a duty of care to everybody who works here and to the building.
After that, the important bit is the work that we do here. If we can deal with all these things by moving out—to the QEII Centre or wherever—then let us get on and do it. That is what is important. If we never move back in, I cannot think what else would be done with this structure, but, in the cosmic scheme of things, it does not matter that much as long as the important work carries on. The important work will not carry on if we manage to have a major fire and the sewers in the building go at the same time. That would disrupt far more what we do. It would endanger life and take out this building. That is really what it is all about.
My noble friend Lord Kirkwood said that we will be under fire whatever we do. I am afraid that it is time to take one for the historical process and the parliamentary system. Journalists are going to have a go at us, because that is what they do. Very few of us have died from being criticised, and they will be criticising somebody else next week. I loved it when the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, ran down the list of reasons for this not happening, and said that it was too close to the war. I do not know whether he heard but, on these Benches, which were slightly fuller then—the noble Lord is a bigger draw than I am—someone said, “Which war?”. We have to absorb a little punishment here. They will get bored and move on and come back to us every now and again. We have to do this, so let us get on and do it now.
My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Addington. As he said, everything has been said and I occasionally feel that, as I am almost tail-end Charlie on this, once everything sensible has been said and there is nothing more sensible to say, call on Dobbs. I will do my best.
I love this place. The honour and privilege of being asked to come here is something that I could never have imagined. Frequently, in the late evening, when the place is empty, I go and sit in the corner of the Royal Gallery, or even on the steps of Westminster Hall, and try to recreate the history and images of this place and listen to the echoes of former times. One of the most striking images that I always love is that of 11 May 1941, of Winston Churchill walking through the ruins of the House of Commons, symbolising defiance, determination and his love of parliamentary democracy.
There have been other disasters of course, 16 October 1834 being the most classic. Others have mentioned it but I must say that our former archivist, Caroline Shenton, did so much to reinvigorate and bring home the realities of that extraordinary day. Why do we need novelists when we have beautiful, colourful and brilliantly written history such as that? That time was of course an age of conspiracy. York Minster had been fired just a few years before and everyone assumed that it was a Catholic conspiracy, although it turned out to be the work of just one demented Methodist. It was said that the fire of 1834 was God’s revenge for the 1832 Electoral Reform Act. Let us hope that He does not take against Brexit or we are all in trouble. It was not conspiracy—it was simply cock-up.
There had been so many warnings, but they were ignored. It came, as is well known, through the burning of the tally sticks. The flues in the House of Lords were lined with copper and copper melts at 1,000 degrees centigrade. The furnace was coal-fired and coal generally burns at between 600 and 800 degrees centigrade, so there was plenty of spare capacity. But those tally sticks were made of old, dry wood. They were raked so that the workmen could get off to the Star and Garter pub over the road in a hurry, and old, dry wood burns very differently. The copper in the flues melted and we know the consequences: almost the whole of the Palace of Westminster burned.
The editor of the Standard—I am not sure if it was the Evening Standard then, but it might well have been—said that the only regret was that the Lords and Commons were not sitting at the time. In other words, it probably was the editor of the Evening Standard. It was an accident waiting to happen. The warnings were ignored. The Prime Minister of the time, Lord Melbourne, said that it was,
“one of the greatest instances of stupidity upon record. We lost almost the entire Palace of Westminster”.
There were other lessons to be drawn from the record of the loss of this place and its reconstruction. The first is the political hash we managed to make of that reconstruction. There were huge delays and enormous cost overruns. Every man an expert, every man an architect, every man a plumber and an electrician—nothing much changes.
Are we to turn this exercise of reconstruction, renovation and renewal into another third runway for London’s airport or another bypass for Stonehenge—those sagas that go on and on and turn out to be disasters and disappointments? Too often, when we approach activities such as this, we turn out to look like the Wizard of Oz. When the curtain is drawn back, we hear all the noise but there is almost nothing to deliver. We refurbish Big Ben, and no sooner have the bongs been stopped than the cost doubles overnight. We do not have a very happy record of these assignments, so I have some sympathy with my noble friend Lord Naseby and his reservations. He, like me, is a romantic sceptic—or are we sceptical romantics? I am not sure.
I am not a plumber or an electrician but I do know that the building is dangerous. We have heard time and again that we are on the brink of potential disaster. For many, Big Ben is a clock tower but an engineer will tell you that it is also a chimney waiting to do its work. To delay is not an option. The dangers are real. In the great fire of 1834, no one died. That was a bit of a miracle. We dare not rely on being so lucky this time. There will be huge cost overruns. My noble friend the Leader of the House said that there was no blank cheque, but of course nobody can tell us how much it will cost. We have to do our best, but delay is not an option. I hope, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said, that we can be more imaginative about where we should decant to, because in 1834 all sorts of options were considered, not just the QEII conference centre.
Before we start on that work, we must make sure that there is not another single Grenfell Tower left in the country because that, too, would be a dereliction of duty. We owe it to the thousands of staff and millions of visitors—almost 1 million visitors came here last year —to make sure that this place is safe for their use. The answer lies not just in the basement but also at the top of the Victoria Tower. Go up there on a clear day and you will see the magnificence of this Palace and the view from the top, which makes you think that you can see to the ends of the earth. It is a hugely powerful force.
I support the Leader’s Motion. I support and wish my noble friend Lord Deighton luck. He has done so much to show us that we can take on a public project such as this and make a success of it. That red-eyed clock is telling me to finish, so I conclude by saying that 413 years ago Guy Fawkes tried to destroy the House of Lords. It was said that Guy Fawkes was the only man ever to enter the House of Lords with an honest intent. That of course is not true: I have the privilege of being surrounded by many honest colleagues, men and women. But let us make sure that we do not, by accident, end up doing Guy Fawkes’s work for him.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. What a sparkling contribution that was in the gloaming of this very interesting debate. I add my name to the long list of those praising the work of the Joint Committee in producing a very readable report on this complex subject that frames the issues well.
I have a great interest personally and professionally in heritage buildings and objects. I have seen many, insured many and repaired many. I fully accept—as I think we all do—that the Palace of Westminster needs major works, and I want to see all the necessary ones done immediately. I have had the basement tour—and, rather differently from some others, I have had many similar basement tours in other royal palaces and heritage buildings. It is interesting to note that, among those others, I assure noble Lords that many have similar challenges to those we have here. However, I am afraid that I want to address the Deloitte costing information contained in the independent options appraisal. That is home territory for me and my interest was sparked by a feeling that the costings were open to question.
With different financial information flowing from revised costings, the correct strategy for the care of our Parliament building will no doubt emerge. It may not equate wholly to any option on the table today—which was said with greater eloquence by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. In any event, it is a huge sum of money and we need robust and fully tested numbers to examine the issue properly.
I turn initially to the Deloitte costings for the full decant option. There are quite a few points but I will talk briefly about only two. The first is a small one, but with a big cost. Assumption E5 makes it clear that there is no additional cost for policing the two new buildings. I note that, if we increase the policing cost by a third of what it costs to police the current parliamentary estate, which would seem to be about proportionate, that across the build would be an extra £100 million. Assumption A53 covers the decant and reoccupation costs. This assumes that two buildings are purchased for the decant period and £331 million is spent fitting them out. At the end of the decant period they are sold for exactly the same price. There is no assumption about the cost of borrowing the money to buy and hold these buildings and no attempt to estimate any increased cost of working due to the business disruption of being delocalised—a point very ably made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.
I could talk further about that assumption. After ringing around some agents, I found that the notional cost of buying 500,000 square feet of space across two buildings in our area—around half of the aggregate space of the Parliament building—could be estimated at being in the order of £600 million. Borrowing at 3% for 10 years would be a straight £180 million. Renting the same space at £70 per square foot—another figure checked with an agent—for 10 years would cost £350 million. These calculations just give directional guidance on the quantum of what has been left out, as what will actually be done is different. But it will be of that order and is a large sum that is not reflected in the full decant option. Thus the 2014 Deloitte decant option costings may have been considerably understated.
I now turn to the Deloitte remain on site costings. Here I feel that the model may have overstated matters. Again I shall talk about only two concerns. The first relates to the treatment of inflation. For the 2014 Deloitte numbers, this is taken as 3.64% for the whole period, whichever option is chosen. The totals of each option are made up of the number of 2014 pounds estimated to be spent, and then an inflation amount is added, depending on when the money is actually due to be spent. For example, let us assume that it costs £1 to knock a nail in today. The pound spent today on construction work will appear as £1 in the overall totals. For a nail knocked in in 32 years’ time, the £1 is inflated and will appear as £3.14 in the overall totals.
Any option that takes longer will be disadvantaged by this method of totting up the money. This is why businesses look at things, as well as on this basis, in net present cost terms, which takes account of the time value of money. This would make a huge difference to the costs of every option, in particular the remain on site one. Indeed, this can be seen directionally in the only net present cost number in the independent options appraisal, which is the whole-life costs number on page 19—where, interestingly, the remain on site option is the cheapest.
A further concern I have is in the treatment of risk. This is defined in paragraph 84 of the Joint Committee’s report as,
“to allow for changes to the budget as a result of unforeseen changes to the Programme’s scope, delivery or schedule”.
That, in other words, is very much what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, talked about. Including VAT, risk for the remain on site option is £1.75 billion. I feel that we must be able to manage things better than that, and indeed I do not understand why the risk on scope, delivery or schedule cannot be better managed for all the options. I note that this is a major factor in making the remain on site option look less attractive, and in general this needs very careful consideration. So I am afraid that I feel that the Deloitte costings are significantly open to question.
But we must make progress and we need to pass the problem to the governance structure envisaged in paragraph (6) of the Motion immediately. Along with many noble Lords, I ask those involved to get on with it rapidly. As a risk professional, I observe that risks are additional, so the longer we delay the more risk there is of a catastrophic failure. This governance structure must then be trusted to make decisions. However, I submit that it should not feel constricted by paragraph (4) of the Motion, which rests on the rickety base of the 2014 Deloitte numbers.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I was pleased and relieved by the Motion approved by the House of Commons last week and I welcome the Motion before us. Like my noble friend Lord Inglewood and many others, I regret how long it has taken to put the Motion before both Houses.
In the time available I wish to make three points focusing on paragraphs 4, 8 and 7 in that order. The first is straightforward, and that is to follow the vast majority of those who have spoken in endorsing the decision for a full decant and to emphasise the need to move as expeditiously as possible. The delay in making a decision has added millions to the cost. The charge to the public purse of maintenance and repairs over the next five years is estimated at over £440 million. By the time we leave, on the figures we have been given, it is likely to be over half a billion pounds. The repairs that are necessary to keep the Palace running are making the place an eyesore rather than a shining edifice of which we can be proud. One cannot now show visitors around without having to negotiate some screened-off section of a corridor or some scaffolding.
To pursue the “do nothing” option would be grossly irresponsible. As we have heard, the dangers are too great. It is also not a cost-free option given the sheer expense of maintenance and repair. Of the other options detailed in the various reports, it is important to stress that all of them entail moving out of this Chamber for some time. Even the rolling programme option would entail moving out for some years.
We might recognise the distinction between the two Chambers but, as several noble Lords have mentioned, the wiring and the pipes do not. Trying to hold Sessions in what would be a building site would constrain the work and be a health as well as a security hazard. Even if Members wish to remain on site, we really cannot expect our staff to do so. More than 7,000 people work in Parliament. They do not get a vote in this, but we have a duty of care to them. I am not prepared to vote in such a way that may put them, and indeed our visitors, at risk.
My second point is to draw attention to and endorse the requirements stipulated in paragraph 8. That should reassure those who are worried about whether we return or not. We need to move out and we need then to move back in. All the plans are predicated on that and this will be enshrined in legislation. We need to deal with the various suggestions, embraced by one or two speakers today, that we should move out permanently and Parliament be located somewhere else in the country. There are two obvious problems with this, one political and the other financial. Parliament is where it is because government is where it is. If we move to another part of the country, government will have to move as well.
We could create our own Bonn or Brasilia, but the problem with that is the cost of creating new buildings and relocating thousands of civil servants and parliamentary staff. It would have to be created at enormous expense in addition to restoring and renewing the Palace of Westminster. The Palace is a world heritage site and cannot be neglected. Returning to the Palace, then, is necessary politically and is inescapable from the perspective of cost. I fear that we will not be heading off to Birmingham or, indeed, Hull. If we were starting from scratch or dripping in enormous wealth, it might be different.
My third point is that there has to be an effective delivery authority and, as drawn out in the report of the Public Accounts Committee, good governance. In replying, perhaps my noble friend could say more as to when the legislation to establish the sponsor board and delivery authority will be introduced and what form the board will take. We need to ensure value for money, but—as has been stressed—we need also to avoid interference in operational matters by parliamentarians. We need to set the policy, but we need a delivery authority of the sort that delivered Crossrail and the Olympics. As the PAC also noted, there needs to be external assurance within the programme, alongside the creation of an audit committee. It is also important, as it said, that the National Audit Office is empowered to audit the delivery authority and to carry out value for money studies. Perhaps my noble friend can confirm that this will be the case.
The message from this debate is quite clear. The sooner we get on and legislate the better. Churchill had an appropriate phrase: “Action this day”.
My Lords, I rather regret that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, is not in his place, because I have had the undoubted pleasure for the last two years or so of being able to tease him weekly as to the date for a debate on the restoration and renewal of your Lordships’ Palace. Each week, the noble Lord would say, “Yes, there may well be a date coming, but I can’t tell you exactly when”, until just after Christmas, when he promised a debate fairly soon and then promptly cancelled. Like everyone else in this debate, I am delighted that we have finally got a date for it and that the Commons has seen sense and endorsed a sensible resolution that we now have before us.
For some 13 years or so I had responsibility for the only royal palace that I know to be owned by a local council—it was once described as the most expensive council house in Britain. The history of the Royal Pavilion is instructive and oddly relevant to our discussions. It was bought on a mortgage by the council in 1850 from the Crown for £50,000—roughly equivalent to £5 million today. The Royal Family expected the palace to be demolished and promptly stripped the building of most of its furniture and fittings. Many of these have been returned only recently.
The borough sensibly decided to retain the building and in the 168 years since it has been used for many different purposes, notably as an Indian hospital during the First World War. There was again talk of demolition in the 1920s, but restoration was begun using money gifted by the Government as recompense for wartime damage. Restoration stopped in the 1930s and it was not until after the Second World War that more work was undertaken. Some of this was less than clever, particularly the use of fibreglass in replacing damaged minarets, but the primary problem with the restoration was that it was undertaken in fits and starts with differing visions for the building and an uneven flow of capital to complete a programme of works. It did not help that it was subject to an arson attack in 1975, or that during the great storm a minaret tipped through the roof of the music room. However, by then the council had determined that a full and managed restoration programme was essential if the pavilion was to play a full part in the regeneration of the emerging city by the sea.
As council leader, I often struggled to sell restoration and renewal, but what did help were three factors that are relevant to us. First, the building had an iconic status. It is one of the top 20 recognised UK buildings. It also had a massive drawing power for tourists, with 3.5 million coming to Brighton and 350,000 going through its doors each year. Thirdly, it was at the heart of a citywide regeneration strategy, which created jobs and opportunity.
In recent years, our Royal Pavilion has struggled to compete for capital resources, but my experience of it, going back over 30 years, tells me that we should have little truck with the delaying Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. To prevaricate over the R&R programme will generate only greater costs and a further deterioration of the building’s fabric. Those responsible for our Parliamentary Estate have known for a quarter of a century that the day would come when agreeing to a full decant would be the only realistic option. As we in Brighton recognised in the mid-1980s, the need for a full and continuing restoration programme is essential.
In preparation for these few comments, I had a look at the 2012 pre-feasibility study and preliminary strategic business case document. The executive summary lists many of the problems that noble Lords referred to during the course of the debate. They have worsened in the six years since the report was produced. It noted at paragraph 3 that,
“there has been no general renovation of the building and its services since the partial rebuilding of 1945-50”.
Further, it noted at paragraph 4:
“If the Palace were not a listed building of the highest heritage value, its owners would probably be advised to demolish and rebuild”.
Clearly that is not a course of action that we can endorse.
These arguments are redolent to me from my time running the city council. Neglect and building programmes running in fits and starts is not the way to do things. However, there are very good arguments for tackling the nervousness about the investment of public money into the Parliament building. It should be seen as an opportunity by the Government, rather than a burden. Three points are important in this respect. First, as many others have noted, it is an amazing opportunity to regenerate London’s icon of democracy. As we seek to restate our identity as a nation it is ever more important, particularly in this year, as we celebrate the landmark move forward in the partial suffrage of women. Secondly, we should use the opportunity to rediscover and reinvent the crafts and skills that the original architects and designers gave rise to in creating this Parliament. In that context, the arguments that noble Lords have made for apprenticeships and a centre and school of excellence are very powerful. Thirdly, we should showcase those skills and talents and make a virtue of the investment. After all, this building is what we stand for. It is what makes our country different, unique and, at times, virtuous.
In welcoming the debate and the Motion, I say this: it has been a long time coming—most of my time as part of the usual channels. Of late our prevarication has come to symbolise the fragility of the current Government —worried about their Back-Benchers, frightened of their shadow, nervous about their future and scared that they will be judged badly for seeming to be interested only in themselves. I am glad that those narrow party interests have been set aside. I now think we should get on with the job.
My Lords, I must admit that I had feared that this project was being very skilfully directed into the long grass, so I was delighted that the other place selected the most urgent of the options at its disposal—what I would call the “For heaven’s sake, let’s get on with it” choice. I am delighted and a little bit surprised, in that way when you think, “Yes, that was a bold decision and it was the right thing to do”. I am delighted to support the Motion. I very much appreciate my noble friend Lord Naseby’s amendment, because each time we look at an alternative it helps us to sharpen the case and to work out what we have to accomplish if we are to get the most urgent option right.
I was privileged to be a member of the Joint Committee. I start by paying a significant tribute to its co-chair, my noble friend Lady Stowell. This was not an easy group to corral. There were many rabbit holes that we sniffed around and nearly went down. To bring the group back to what we were trying to accomplish, to make sure that we had the evidence to support our recommendations and then to produce a report that went only so far as the recommendations allowed but set a path forward that could be actionable, was no mean feat. The feedback we have received from noble Lords today reflects the quality of the work that went into it. I also thank the staff, who were able to derive a coherent narrative from what were often very interesting debates on the various choices.
My other observation that I bring to noble Lords’ attention is on how the Joint Committee worked. Everybody on it started out with a very healthy scepticism about whether we really needed to spend all this money and whether we really needed to turf everybody out. So we really did test all the assumptions that were being made and all the evidence that was presented until, frankly, we went on this journey that took us to a unanimous point of view that the Motion that we are debating today was and is the only practical way forward. Like all good exercises in science, we essentially disproved all the other theories and were left with this one.
The other thing I want to discuss is what I have learned from other big projects about what works and what does not. Generally, when I have been involved in these things I have found that it is incredibly important—this may sound slightly simplistic—to really understand why you are doing something and to test what I call the “why” so that you can make the case very clearly and get your objectives very clear. That enables you to prioritise, which always becomes very important because you know what matters most, and it also forms the basis of the narrative you use to bring everybody else with you. You have to get that right first, get agreement on it, and then you can move on to the “how”. I have spent a lot of my life in that transition between the why and the how, stopping people constantly revisiting the why and saying, “Can we please just take all that energy and devote it to getting the thing done in a really brilliant way?”. So I am delighted that we are at that transition point here.
I will give some examples, starting with London 2012. It is quite hard to think about why you want to stage an Olympics. You spend seven years getting ready for something that lasts a few weeks in the summer, so creating a narrative about why we were doing it, what it would mean for regenerating parts of the East End, what it could mean for volunteering, what we could do with the Paralympics to change people’s attitudes to disability, what we could do to show the rest of the world that we were not just a quaint country with an interesting history but that we might have something to offer for the future, too—all that stuff became part of why we were doing it.
HS2 is another interesting example. We started out thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice to get to Birmingham quickly, or for people in Birmingham to get to London more quickly?”. We were not so sure about that, so we thought that maybe it was important to have more capacity. Then eventually we engineered our way into a regional economic policy, with the northern powerhouse, because you have to make it all fit together before you can really justify spending that much money on a railway line.
I am now involved in trying to build an extra runway at Heathrow. We had to get the Airports Commission to persuade us of the economic benefits and that we could deal with the environmental costs in a way that enabled a sensible trade-off. Brexit is the biggest project we are currently facing. Noble Lords might contend that the problems we are having with the “how” is because it is really difficult to understand the “why”. For me, it is really important to bottom out that why.
I think that this is a good project because most of the why is really powerful: the overwhelming need to avoid catastrophic failure seems to me a pretty good why. What you tend to get when you are pulling a bit of fabric is that you know it is going to break at some point; you are not quite sure exactly when or exactly where but it is going to be a mess when it does. You generally want to repair it before you get to that point.
I come to a couple of things that I think are really important once you have got the why out of the way and you are focused on the how. The other parts of the why, by the way, are to do with the fact that we now have the opportunity to design a building for the 21st century rather than the 19th century, so you can accommodate technology and you can make sure that it is giving access, both from a physical and a democratic point of view. You may, again, want to make it a showcase for the things that this country can do well. We need to be careful about the decant. I think that decant is a wonderful word—it sounds like a luxury thing to happen to you, to be decanted, so I love the description—but we need to be flexible about what we expect from our decant options or we will get lost and never be quite happy with what we are offered.
As many noble Lords have said, we have to get the client side right. The structure we have come up with—the Olympic structure, the Crossrail structure—is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Projects generally have a problem because of political interference and the client here is a bunch of politicians, so that, for me, is by far the biggest danger. If we can organise ourselves to empower the committees to get this done, it will be a great achievement.
Finally, when you have the chance to do a project such as this, it is really important to get the whole country involved. Whether it is getting everybody behind the fact that this is a building we all love and care about, that it stands for things that really matter and that it is a nationwide thing, or whether it is the way we go about building it and developing skills and how we distribute the contracts around the country, this has to be a project for the whole country, not just for London.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her hard work and sheer determination in getting this Motion on the Order Paper today. I also express, on behalf of the Finance Committee, our delight and, frankly, relief at the outcome of the votes in the Commons last week. Our committee reviewed in detail the evidence about the most effective way to proceed with restoration and renewal, and we were unanimous in our view that the only way was a full decant; it was the best, quickest and most effective way to restore the building for future generations. It is therefore greatly to the credit of the Commons that it took the bold move that it did, and we should not be diverted from its conclusion that we now have to stop debating the options and start a programme of works.
My noble friend Lady Brinton and the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Blencathra, made the point that the refurbished building must be fully compliant with disability access legislation, but we should go much further than the minimum standards. We should make it as easy as possible for every member of the public, regardless of their disability, to come to Parliament and, crucially, to feel happy and comfortable when they come here. Other noble Lords have made some excellent suggestions about a range of issues, including better use and better configuration of space, a two-stage tender process, further examination of the issues around Richmond House and the need to be vigilant about both cost and specification changes—something that our Finance Committee spends a great deal of its time doing.
Before making some suggestions of my own, I will say a few words about the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. Having visited the basement on a number of occasions, I find his description of it as not “completely up to scratch” something of an understatement. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, graphically described what the basement looks like so I will add only that there are also 9.5 square metres of mechanical and electrical plant housed in 128 plant rooms, a mile of passages, seven miles of steam pipes, and 250 miles of wiring, which, if laid end to end, would reach from here to Newcastle, and we have absolutely no idea what most of it does. The place has asbestos in almost every nook and cranny, and our fire patrols work tirelessly 24/7 to keep us safe, despite some very substantial challenges.
Therefore, for me partial decant would be the worst of all options. Whichever House stayed in the building would be sharing it with a huge construction site. There would be the danger of flood, fire and asbestos release, almost certainly resulting in evacuations and major disruption on a scale we can hardly imagine. The extensive temporary mechanical and electrical plant that would need to be built prior to stripping out the old systems would be housed in temporary buildings but these would be major buildings, two or three storeys high, and they would have to be secured to the Palace by drilling large holes through the historic stonework. These would fill up most of the courtyards and would present major safety and security challenges. Partial decant would take years to complete and at a huge cost. So for all those reasons I cannot support the amendment.
I will put forward two suggestions that I believe should be considered for the finished product. The first is that we should take the opportunity to open up our amazing Parliamentary Archives to the public. The archives include more than five miles of priceless historic collections dating back to 1497. These are held on behalf of the public and should be accessible to them. The restored Estate should therefore incorporate space to showcase parliamentary history, our precious documents and some of the tremendous range of parliamentary art, a huge amount of which is, of necessity, stored well away from public view.
Secondly, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that we should make better use of parliamentary time by introducing electronic voting. Opposition to this appears to centre around two principal objections. The first is that parliamentarians could hand their voting cards to staff and disappear from Parliament, leaving others to vote on their behalf. The second is that Ministers and Back-Benchers could no longer mix. Making sure that only parliamentarians vote is straightforward. There could be face-recognition booths, discreetly placed around the Estate, using technology very similar to the e-passport gates at all major airports. We would use these to cast our votes securely, and the system would run a face-recognition test each time. The second concern might be addressed by the architecture of the restored building, which should encourage free flows of people and lots of circulation space. But because the opportunity, especially in the Commons, to buttonhole a Minister on a matter of public policy or a constituency issue is indeed valuable, we could also consider a system where the first vote of each day is carried out in the traditional way and electronic voting is used for the rest of the day. These reforms would greatly reduce disruption to meetings across the Estate and release us all for an hour or more a day; 500 or 600 hours a week saved at each end of the building would be a big productivity gain.
I want to say just a few words about how the project should be delivered. As chair of the culture, sport and tourism committee of the London Assembly, my job was to monitor the delivery of the highly successful Olympic and Paralympic Games. This project, too, is on an Olympic scale, and there is much that the sponsor board can learn from the Games. The four key players—the noble Lords, Lord Deighton and Lord Coe, together with David Higgins and John Armitt—played an absolutely crucial role. I have no doubt that without their talent, commitment and hands-on management, the Olympics would never have been the amazing success they were. It is therefore crucial that we find people with the equivalent experience and the commitment to take on this project and make it a success. I, too, would be delighted if the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, could be persuaded to do this.
Given the time pressures, let us resist the urge to bring the restoration work to a halt for two or three weeks every year by returning for a State Opening. State Openings are not cheap. If you take the costs incurred by Parliament, the Royal Household, Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan Police, the overall cost to the public purse cannot be far short of £1 million a year. As we spend taxpayers’ money on preparing this building for future generations, let us save some by ceasing, for a time, this great pomp and ceremony. We could also perhaps continue to save taxpayers’ money, while at the same time preserving the best of tradition, once the Palace is reopened. We might even consider confining the frequency of State Opening to just one a Parliament, immediately after a general election. Each year in between, the Prime Minister could set out annual updates on the Government’s programme in an Oral Statement, with an opportunity for the Commons to vote on its content.
Moving out of this building may be inconvenient and cause upheaval, but failing to do so carries huge risk. Meanwhile, getting on with the job offers very substantial opportunities. Architecture can so often set the tone for the way the occupants of a building operate. This restoration is therefore an opportunity not just to secure the future of the building but to reform Parliament so that it better serves the public. In a few years’ time, I hope we will all inhabit the Palace of Westminster and serve in a Parliament that is more efficient, accessible and transparent. This is an exciting and fascinating project, and today is the start of making it a reality.
My Lords, I think we all welcome the Motion moved by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the opportunity to discuss it following last week’s vote in the other place. The Government’s Motion has already been agreed by MPs, and we have been asked to support the same Motion so that the preparatory work can begin. I found this debate quite enjoyable and surprising in many ways. It is rare that there is such wide and deep agreement on the principle of an issue across your Lordships’ House. Having such agreement in principle means that we can move on to some of the detail and can set up a sponsor body, with MPs, Peers, Government and officials represented on it, and a delivery authority. They will undertake the necessary work outlined in the Motion to report back to Parliament on costs and other issues.
When the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster was set up in July 2015, few thought it would take so long to get to this point, given the acknowledged urgency of the issue. For almost a year, we met regularly to read reports and question witnesses. We took evidence and interrogated that evidence and, as the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, said, we brought to that committee a healthy scepticism. We were looking for how best to proceed to the next stage. The Motion we are considering today reflects the recommendations of that committee on what should happen next. I think all members of the committee will appreciate the many comments that have been made about our work, and I join other noble Lords in thanking our colleagues on that committee. I pay particular tribute to four noble Lords, and I hope other noble Lords will forgive me. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, was joint chair of that committee, and it was difficult at times to steer us through, keep us from going down various rabbit holes and keep us sticking to our purpose. The expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, and my noble friend Lord Carter was extremely valuable. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, will agree. Chris Bryant, an MP member, showed great commitment, dedication and knowledge, and I think most of us fell somewhere in between those two. I am really encouraged that the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, is working on a new runway at Heathrow, and if he could be persuaded to deal with Brexit I think we would all be very grateful.
The noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, and my noble friend Lord McKenzie were right to ask why the committee did not address moving away from Westminster to a new building. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, addressed that point. The committee did not consider that because it was not in our remit. In 2012, constructing a new building while having to repair and maintain the Palace of Westminster was ruled out as the most expensive option. Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, government departments and the whole infrastructure of government and Parliament and what goes with them are in one place and to move would be very difficult. That mixture of recognising the history and the costs involved—the romantic and pragmatic—ensured that this site in Westminster will remain the permanent home of Parliament.
Despite being structurally sound, this great, iconic building is, like many of us, feeling its age. Decades of patching and making do have left a legacy. Its status as a UNESCO world heritage site has been threatened by the poor state of repair, as my noble friend Lady Andrews informed us. The scale of the work needed, as outlined in the report, alongside the importance of the building constitutionally, historically and architecturally presents unique challenges that should not be underestimated.
Despite having spent most of my working life in and around this building, until I served on the parliamentary fire committee and then on the Joint Committee on restoration and renewal, I have to admit to an ignorance of just how much has to be done to ensure that this remains a functioning, working building. It is a bit like a swan which glides on the surface of the water but underneath is paddling furiously. This was mentioned by many noble Lords and noble Baronesses. I have to say that my knowledge and fear of the parliamentary sewerage system stays with me every day. The system dates from 1888, and there is just one very large sewerage drain along the entire length of the building, from one end to the other, with two old tanks. The mechanical and electrical works in the bowels of this building do not recognise any distinction between your Lordships’ House and the other place. As we know, fire, floods, power outages and burst sewerage pipes do not recognise the boundaries either.
All the services with cable and pipes run from one end to the other. Many cables and wires are no longer live, but they have been added to over the years in a completely ad hoc way. Often the only way to find out whether a disorganised bunch of wires and cables still carries services is to cut them and then see whether anything stops working. There must be hundreds of miles of cables, usually in fairly small cavities and spaces that are difficult to access and often surrounded by asbestos. It is often only due to the skill of those who work on this operation that so much of the mechanical and electrical services in the depths of the basement are kept working long past their expected expiry date. The 90-plus risers throughout the building, and the narrow corridors and tunnels that carry services and cables, can also carry fire.
All noble Lords have been asked to carry out fire safety training, either online or with a member of staff. I will not ask noble Lords to raise their hands if they have undertaken it, but I will perhaps just say the take-up has not been universal. We currently therefore have fire wardens patrolling the Palace seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There is much evidence and acknowledgement of the risks and the potential of catastrophic failure of one or more services and the danger of fire. These increase daily, and we should recognise and pay tribute to the staff who deal with and manage them. We need to take action and do so in the most cost-effective, efficient and also visionary way.
However, managing a project of this size and scale and trying to work around the business of Parliament—which is far more than just debates in the two Chambers—over a period of 30 years or more would be both inefficient and more expensive. It would also run a greater risk, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, of us being bad clients during that time. I think the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, hit the nail on the head when he said that clients change their mind the longer a project continues.
I was persuaded by the evidence that a full decant was the better option. It became clear that there was no decant-free option as, however the work is undertaken, at varying times different parts of the building will have to be vacated and occupants relocated. Each time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, graphically described, new temporary mechanical and electrical services would have to be installed to bypass the decanted area. There also remains the risk of asbestos being found at any time during the work, and a larger evacuation being required. A longer timescale creates greater risk of a catastrophic failure requiring an emergency evacuation or hurried decant—and that lack of strategic planning would be at a higher cost both financially and businesswise.
At this point, I think I am allowed to share a secret with your Lordships’ House. My early days as Leader of the Opposition were eventful. Almost immediately, with some ceremony and warnings, I received a large brown envelope marked confidential. If I was expecting some exciting state secret, I was very soon disappointed. But it was a warning: traces of asbestos had been found in a pipe or riser that, depending on the outcome of extensive and urgent tests, could necessitate the sealing of the Commons Chamber. At that stage, no one knew what the outcome would be. If such action had to be taken, what would happen next? The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, will recall the inconclusive discussions about the possible use of this Chamber for MPs and about how both Houses could continue their business. Fortunately—as agreement on that was proving somewhat difficult—an emergency decant was not necessary then, but it is hard to imagine that during the course of any major work a similar emergency may not occur again.
To reject a total decant would allow the phased approach that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, proposes in his amendment, but that was rejected by both the committee and, now, the House of Commons. All the evidence points to such an approach meaning increased costs and significant ongoing disruption. The noble Lord cited how Peers previously used the Robing Room after the Second World War. It is worth noting that the average attendance of Peers at that time was roughly 30, significantly lower than today.
Surely it cannot be cost effective to reconsider all the options that the Joint Committee has already considered. What is needed now is to move on. However, there are issues to address. The first is cost. We are already concerned about the high cost of the work that is required here when other urgent work is required around the UK. However, I welcome the Motion before us, which recognises this issue and the recommendations regarding it. As other noble Lords have said, this is not about us. I certainly recognise that if we move out in 2025 and come back five years later, I will be 71 at that point and I think other noble Lords may be slightly older. However, with 8,000 staff, around 15,000 pass holders and hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to this place, either as tourists or for meetings, we have a duty of care, and that duty extends to the future. We are the trustees and custodians of this building for future generations.
Secondly, continuing to patch and mend would be shockingly expensive. I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, had drafted some Parliamentary Questions on this and received Answers that showed that the Government cannot even give estimates for the future because the scale of deterioration is so great that it is hard to estimate what the costs might be.
We need to examine the opportunities carefully. Around three-quarters of the total cost will be in the mechanical and electrical work, both in equipment and of course in the labour that is required. As my noble friend Lord Blunkett emphasised, we should charge the sponsor board and delivery authority not just with ensuring value for money but with maximising the opportunity for companies across the UK in both providing labour and manufacturing. There is a huge opportunity for high-quality apprenticeships in various trades. Many noble Lords made the point about future planning and future-proofing, and said we should not build in works that are going to be obsolescent. We should also introduce the highest environmental standards and most up-to-date technology to examine all the ways in which we can ensure the lowest running and maintenance costs in future as well as the ongoing long-term savings that can be made.
I endorse the comments by the noble Lords, Lord Maude and Lord Carter. This is primarily a place of work that seeks to welcome visitors, but we need to provide a better and safer work environment for all those who work in it. The noble Lord, Lord Maude, spoke of the rabbit warren of narrow corridors and staircases. When he said that, I was reminded of a visit by a five year-old friend of mine, Sam Parker, a Harry Potter fan, who came here recently. As he looked around the building, he looked up and exclaimed, “Oh, it’s Hogwarts!”.
We have an opportunity to ensure that Parliament abides by the laws that we pass but do not follow regarding disability. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her comments on this. It is a great strength that our Parliament is so open and accessible to visitors, and we should grasp the opportunity to improve that and provide for people with disabilities, including limited mobility, sight or hearing. As my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, we should design for democracy.
I think the noble Baroness the Leader will have heard the House. The message is loud and clear: the time for delay is over. We need to appreciate that there will be planning time, but I think she has also heard that many think that 2025 provides quite a lot of planning time, and there should be a robust and energetic approach to moving forward. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said, there is any question of putting this debate off to reconsider it later, I think the message is loud and clear that Parliament expects that we should be taking action now.
Finally, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have spent so much of my working life in and around this building. I can still remember, as I am sure many others can, the excitement of visiting as a teenager with my school, never once dreaming that I would one day come back again as a Member of the other place and now of your Lordships’ House. Over the years, I have brought in hundreds of guests, mainly as a guide for my former constituents, and I have loved their enthusiasm for this great and historic building. I want future generations to experience that same excitement and for us to acknowledge the history of this iconic building, but it must also be a living, working Parliament relevant to the future.
I was touched by the comments of my noble friend Lady McIntosh. She said that we have to honour the past and protect the future. The time has come for us to get on with it.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this important debate. I am also grateful for the near unanimous support that has been expressed from all sides of the House in support of the Motion, and for the number of noble Lords who pointed out that this may be the only time that this happens while I am Leader.
It has been a high-quality debate, and noble Lords across the House have eloquently set out the risks that this building faces and acknowledged the work that needs to be done. I was also very impressed by the number of noble Lords who have been on the basement tours. I have been on several myself and can only agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews: they alarmed me.
I will now try to respond to some of the points raised in the debate. The noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Jones, the noble Lords, Lord Carter, Lord Stunell, Lord Kirkwood and Lord McKenzie, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, all rightly talked about the need for the management of risk and safety and raised valid concerns. To contain the risks in the run-up to decant, the Strategic Estates team is carrying out a programme of fire safety improvement works which are due to be completed in about a year and will conduct a further round of medium-term mechanical and electrical works but, as noble Lords have rightly said, these are sticking plasters and not a long-term strategic solution.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised the issue of Member communications, and communications with Members of both this House and MPs will of course be important throughout the programme. It is anticipated that the sponsor body will establish a number of consultative forums to which Members of both Houses will be able to feed their views, which will cover the wide range of issues that your Lordships have spoken about today and, I hope, allow the expertise of both this House and the other place to feed in to make sure that we do the best we can by this building. The two House Commissions and the domestic committees in both Houses will of course continue to play a key role.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, also rightly mentioned staff consultation. The Joint Committee took evidence from parliamentary staff but, as with Members, it will be important to ensure that the sponsor board takes into account the views of staff and feeds them in to the programme. It will take that extremely seriously.
The noble Lords, Lord Blunkett, Lord Kirkwood, Lord Cunningham and Lord Newby, and my noble friend Lord Maude all rightly talked about renewing democracy and looking at the use of this building. There will of course be scope in the programme to support changes to the way in which Parliament works and how the building is used by Peers, staff and MPs. Public access and engagement, as the Joint Committee noted, will be an important theme in the design stage and I am sure that the sponsor board will wish to engage widely with both Members and the wider public.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friends Lord Lingfield and Lord Deighton rightly talked about the need for the regional distribution of work. The use of off-site workshops has the potential to distribute the work around the UK and, possibly, speed it up. We are already seeing this. The cast-iron roof panels, for instance, are being refurbished in south Yorkshire, and the tiles being replaced are manufactured in Shropshire. I very much hope and expect that as we progress the work, this will happen on a grander scale.
The noble Lords, Lord Blunkett, Lord McKenzie, Lord Stunell, Lord Lisvane, Lord Bassam, my noble friends Lord Lingfield and Lord Deighton and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, all talked about apprenticeships and skills. The programme will require a large, highly skilled workforce with both traditional and modern skills. The programme team has already been in contact with Crossrail, the Building Crafts College that my noble friend Lord Lingfield mentioned and others to discuss how we might establish an effective apprenticeship programme to encourage and make use of it as part of the renewal of this building.
I assure the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Carter, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra that a major element of the proposed works will include significantly improving disabled access in the palace, which does not currently meet modern standards. I hope that the noble Baroness will bring her expertise to bear on some of the work in this area. She rightly raised some important issues which need to be looked at.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Naseby, Lord Newby, Lord Cormack, Lord Cope, Lord Renfrew, Lord Freeman and Lord Lingfield, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, all referred in various degrees to the QEII Centre. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the centre was identified by the Joint Committee as the preferred option for temporary accommodation for the House of Lords, including its Chamber. However, these recommendations are subject to the approval of this proposal, followed by further feasibility work and value-for-money assessments. I stress that no decisions have been made at this stage. A number of commercial implications will need to be considered. In the meantime, the centre remains fully open for business. The QEII Centre would not close immediately and there will be time for further work on developing additional conference and events capacity in London. Closure of the centre would need to be carefully managed to ensure that the impact on London’s commercial reputation as an international meetings capital and the UK’s reputation as an important meetings destination are not unduly prejudiced. I assure noble Lords that those thoughts will be in the mind of the sponsor board.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler, and my noble friend Lord Cormack both asked about Portcullis House and Richmond House. The use of Portcullis House is a matter for the Commons commission as it forms part of the Commons estate—as Millbank House forms part of the Lords estate. Redevelopment of Richmond House will be addressed by the Commons, but any work that happened would retain the historic Richmond Terrace, as well as the grade 2 listed parade on Whitehall. This work will need to be considered more fully and no final decisions have been made.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about maintenance costs. The outline business case will include whole-life cost, which includes both construction costs and ongoing maintenance costs thereafter, usually over a 60-year period. We spend many tens of millions of pounds each year on keeping this building going. The R&R programme offers scope to reduce long-term maintenance costs significantly. My noble friends Lord Horam, Lord Renfrew and Lord Maude, the noble Lords, Lord Haworth, Lord Lisvane, Lord Vaux and Lord Addington, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked about the 2025 start date. Noble Lords all understand the extent of the work that will need to take place and adequate time will be needed to allow for the completion of the Northern Estate programme, arranging temporary accommodation for the Lords, completing the design work, procuring the contracts and establishing the sponsor board and delivery authority. But the timescales have not yet been finalised and noble Lords can certainly be reassured that I have taken on board comments about the speed at which we can do the work. However, as noble Lords have also said, we have to get this right and deliver it well, so there will be a balance between speed and making sure we do it properly.
The noble Lords, Lord Lisvane and Lord Stunell, and my noble friend Lord Norton asked about legislation. If both Houses agree to this Motion, which I very much hope they will, they will take away the very clear message to make progress as quickly as possible. I assure noble Lords that I and the Leader of the Commons are committed to introducing a Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.
My noble friend Lord Renfrew asked about archaeology. We certainly understand the importance of archaeological access during the programme. The remains of the old Palace still lie under Speaker’s Court and Old Palace Yard and clearly the sponsor board will have to take that into consideration.
As many noble Lords have said, we and Members of the other place are merely custodians of this Palace. It would be irresponsible of us to ignore the pressing concerns that have been expressed around the Chamber. The Palace is part of our national heritage, a major tourist attraction and a cherished part of the fabric of this country, so it is right that we make sure we do what is needed to restore and renew it.
A rolling programme of works, which my noble friend Lord Naseby proposed in his amendment and advocated in his contribution, would take several decades to complete. Despite the scepticism of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, we believe that it would cost much more money and would certainly cause significant disruption to the business of both Houses, which would continue to sit in the Palace while the majority of the work took place. The observations of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on Brighton Pavilion were instructive, and the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, highlighting his experience on major projects, were extremely valuable.
The other place has reached a decision. This debate has shown that the decision also commands consensus around this House. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Doocey, said, we cannot prevaricate any longer, risk worse damage to the Palace and allow our services to finally give way. We have conducted a series of studies from 2007, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, mentioned, through to the review in 2012 mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Cunningham and Lord Lisvane, the independent options appraisal of 2014 and the Joint Committee’s important report in 2016, which was well outlined by my noble friend Lady Stowell, which recommended full decant. It is difficult to see what further policy options can be brought to bear. We now need to get on to the planning for how best to deliver the preferred option. I and the R&R team and, of course, the commissions and others who will be involved, will certainly reflect on the many thoughtful and practical suggestions noble Lords have put forward today. We should be anxious to avoid any decision today that prevents us making timely progress. I hope therefore that my noble friend will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I listened carefully to all but two of the speeches and was pleased at the number of noble Lords who raised and debated the elements that I suggested needed debating. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for raising the key point about finance. The issues I have raised are now on the record. I hope that they will provide a yardstick against which the project can be measured as it goes forward, and that they will be thought about. Nevertheless, I recognise that the vast majority of those who have attended today are most definitely in favour of the matter going forward without further ado. I too, of course, want action and to see things move forward. Against that background, I seek leave of the House to withdraw the amendment.
House adjourned at 8.53 pm.