Skip to main content

Palace of Westminster: Restoration and Renewal

Volume 802: debated on Thursday 12 March 2020


Asked by

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath to ask the Senior Deputy Speaker whether the restoration and renewal of Parliament will still proceed.

My Lords, in early 2018, both Houses passed resolutions agreeing to a full temporary decant from the Palace of Westminster to enable much-needed restoration and renewal work to take place. Subsequently, both Houses passed the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 to establish an independent sponsor body to oversee the programme and the delivery authority to carry out the works. The main provisions of that Act commence next month and work to support the programme continues.

I am grateful to the Senior Deputy Speaker for laying where we are on the line. He will be aware of reports that some Ministers wish to stop the full restoration and move to a bodged plan of annual maintenance programmes, which will take decades to complete, cost more money in the long run and put Members, staff and visitors at risk. Will he echo the words of the Lord Speaker in his letter to the Times yesterday, making it absolutely clear that this House will not find any going back acceptable? We should stick to the legislation we enacted last year.

The commissions of both Houses met last Monday and a statement was released after that. Naturally, the majority of the agenda was on coronavirus, but the statement was clear that there is no change to the plans. We continue to plan for the QEII for restoration and renewal. I emphasise the Lord Speaker’s letter of yesterday, which was mentioned. He said that swapping

“full restoration … for a one-year ‘quick fix’ is fanciful … a sticking plaster solution is simply not feasible … Vacating the entire building while the work is undertaken is a far more cost-effective option and avoids having to work around MPs and peers. That is why both Houses agreed in 2018 to a full decant of the palace and enshrined this in an act of parliament. To go back on this … would place an unacceptable burden on the public purse”.

The House of Lords Commission agreed with that in its entirety.

Does the Senior Deputy Speaker share my concerns that this, like all public sector procurement, will drag on for much longer than planned and cost much more, and that, by the time Parliament is eventually asked to move back in, it will have become so comfortable in its new premises that it will not come here?

Again, that is speculation, like the media stories of the past week or two. I will reserve speculation but tell your Lordships that the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 established a sponsor body and a delivery authority to ensure independent oversight and management of delivery, accountability and costs. That was very important, because we can think back to some projects—I have the construction costs of the Scottish Parliament in mind. In 1997, the White Paper estimated these at between £10 million and £40 million. In 1998, when Holyrood was named as a site, the cost was £50 million. In 1999, the Scottish Parliament voted to continue the project at £109 million, and in 2004, when it was completed, the report of the Holyrood inquiry, led by the late Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, estimated the final cost at £414.4 million. That is why we have established the sponsor body and the delivery authority and built in independent oversight.

Does the noble Lord recall that when this building was built, the cost and delays incurred were largely caused by incessant political interference in the process? Will he ensure that our colleagues in another place are reminded that the reason we have set up a sponsor body and a delivery authority is to avoid those delays and additional cost and that the consensus across this House is that those bodies should now be fully empowered to get on with it?

They will be fully empowered if we continue with the proposals by April this year. In every discussion that the Lord Speaker and the Speaker have had, that issue has been foremost on the agenda.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his answers, but I would like to correct him on one point. The two commissions met on Monday, but we did not discuss this issue at all because the Commons commissioners left prior to this discussion taking place. There was a very valuable meeting on coronavirus, but there was no discussion between the two commissions on this issue because the people from the Commons left the meeting.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, hit on a very valuable point about interference in the project. The joint commission—a committee of both Houses—met for months and months, supported by a lot of expertise and work from experts and professionals in their field. It came up with an option that it thought the most cost-effective and least risky for the future of this building. This was then endorsed by an Act of Parliament passed by both Houses. Is the Senior Deputy Speaker aware that, for each year of delay, the bill increases by around £100 million? On top of that, there is the increased maintenance of the building and we lose the opportunity to have a building that is more cost-effective by not doing the work needed on this one. The biggest risk, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, comes from politicians chopping and changing their minds, as Mr Barry’s War, an excellent book, which I recommend, illustrates. If Ministers want to change the process, will they have to repeal the legislation and bring forward a new Bill? Have there been any indications from government Ministers that that is the case?

The answer to that question is no, but I remind the Leader of the Opposition that I quoted precisely from the joint statement. That is very important and this project continues. She asked about the timeline; I remind Members that in 2012, an independent options appraisal was undertaken and it was endorsed in 2016. The 2012 independent appraisal said:

“There will be irreversible damage if major works are not undertaken.”

Those of us who meet to discuss this keep safety in our minds, because we have to protect Members, staff, contractors and the 1 million visitors who come into this Chamber. A number of keen observers of Parliament on social media have tweeted this week:

“This is history repeating itself. Who will carry the can when a catastrophic event happens at Westminster and one or more persons get seriously hurt or injured?”

We have to keep that in mind when we are meeting as a joint commission. The timeline is long and the safety elements are urgent; we continue in that way. Other comments are speculative and we will leave that to that realm.