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Palace of Westminster: Restoration and Renewal

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020


Asked by

To ask the Senior Deputy Speaker what plans there are to inform Parliament on the next stages of the restoration of the Palace of Westminster.

My Lords, the shadow sponsor board and programme delivery team have already been working with staff and Members to understand the functions of the House and capture our requirements for the refurbished Palace. The next stage will be to engage more widely with Members on plans for Lords decant. A strategy for this engagement has now been formalised, with a view to starting in spring 2020.

My Lords, I thank the Senior Deputy Speaker for his reply. When will the plans for converting the Queen Elizabeth II Centre into a temporary Chamber and accommodation for the House of Lords be made public? Just as importantly, when can we have the information on the cost of the building works needed for the project?

My Lords, on the costs, today I picked up with my mail a copy of the booklet entitled Restoration and Renewal Members’ FAQs. It contains 11 sections in total with 77 questions. If I recall correctly, the issue of costs is set out on page 12. Perhaps I may give your Lordships the costs for the House of Lords. From the 2014-15 financial year to the end of quarter 3 of this financial year, the House of Lords had spent £28.2 million on capital costs and £18.4 million on resource costs. As far as the rest of the project is concerned, all that is laid out comprehensively on the same page.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Senior Deputy Speaker for that information. This is a huge project of national importance and it is right that the whole UK should be engaged with it. The point has been made that we must bear down on the costs as much as possible to ensure value for money. However, will he convey a message back to the Government and others involved? Every single time there is a delay to this project, not only do the project costs increase but the costs of maintaining the building as it is rise significantly. Every Member of your Lordships’ House will have a story to tell of something that has gone badly wrong and the damage that is done. Indeed, this morning I had an electrician working in my office. For this project to proceed, it has to be mindful of the costs and ensure that there are no further delays because they just increase those costs to the taxpayer.

I could not agree with the noble Baroness more. This is a timely Question. It was two years ago today that we approved the Motion agreeing with the other place that a full and timely decant was necessary. Restoration and renewal has a long history in which we as Members have been extensively involved. That includes the work undertaken in 2015 and 2016 by the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, which recommended that a full decant would be the best option. In 2018 and 2019, there was pre-legislative scrutiny of the parliamentary buildings Bill, of which there was scrutiny by this House in 2019. The Bill then became the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019. What says it all in terms of the safety of the building is that we have 24 full-time firefighters employed in it—that is the full story. There is an urgency to this project.

My Lords, will the Senior Deputy Speaker convey to No. 10 the message that however effective its red herring of York has been in putting us off the scent, and whether your Lordships finish up in York or Exeter or Hendon police college, we still desperately need to see safety and security in this building improved, given that there have been an astonishing seven falls of stone-masonry in 12 months? I emphasise the point that has just been made, which is that every week of delay increases the costs and risks of a catastrophic failure in this building.

On the noble Lord’s point about moving elsewhere, an option to move Parliament out of the Palace to a new purpose-built building was included in the restoration and renewal pre-feasibility study published in 2012. The House of Commons Commission reviewed it in 2012, decided to rule out the option of constructing a new building away from Westminster and agreed that no further analysis of the option would be undertaken. Our House Committee met in October 2012 and took a similar view, and in 2018 both Houses agreed resolutions that affirmed their commitment to the Palace of Westminster being the home for both Houses of Parliament. In light of the media stories over the past few weeks, Liz Peace, the chair of the sponsor board, attended the last meeting of the House of Lords Commission and said that she would write to the Leader of the House of Commons and the Leader of the House of Lords stating that it would proceed with the project until it heard otherwise.

My Lords, as the security threat shows no sign of diminishing, can the Senior Deputy Speaker assure us that every care will be taken in arrangements for the safety of Members of both Houses when we are physically separated in the way proposed? Safe access at all times needs to be a priority.

The consultative committee on security, a joint committee of both Houses of which I and a number of Peers are members, has that subject very much on our agenda. It is a big issue. On the state of the building, there is scaffolding up by my office. It is nothing to do with restoration and renewal; it is to do with masonry falling as I look out of the window.