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Restoration and Renewal Programme Board

Volume 827: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2023

Membership Motion

Moved by

That this House concurs with the Commons message of 8 February, and

(1) notes the report from the House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords Commission on the membership of the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board (HL Paper 138), published on 24 January;

(2) notes the names of the Members of the House of Commons appointed to the Board on 7 February;

(3) appoints Lord Collins of Highbury, Lord Morse, Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury, and the Clerk of the Parliaments, as members of the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board; and

(4) agrees with the Commons that Paul Duffree, Steve Hails and Sir Jonathan Stephens should be appointed as external members of the Board and that Nigel Evans MP should be Chair of the Board.

My Lords, this Motion invites the House to note the decision of the House of Commons to appoint members to the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board. The Motion further invites the House to appoint the proposed Lords Members, the external members of the programme board, and its chair. The parliamentary and external members proposed were agreed unanimously by the Restoration and Renewal Client Board, which comprises the House of Lords and House of Commons commissions. The membership proposed for the programme board is set out in the report to your Lordships, which the House is also invited to note. The appointment of the programme board delivers the final piece of the new governance structure for the restoration and renewal programme, as agreed by both Houses in July last year. I beg to move.

My Lords, I wonder whether I could just ask my noble friend a question. He very kindly answered a Written Question from me quite recently, which indicated that the cost spent on restoration and renewal in the last two years is over £200 million, and the cost in respect of this coming year is anticipated at a further £85 million. That is £300 million being spent largely on design and corporate costs and other matters. It does seem to be an excessive amount, so can he assure me that this new body will have the necessary expertise and resources to ensure that money is spent wisely and carefully?

My Lords, further to the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I often get asked by people outside this House, “When did you agree to that?” It was agreed by the House of Lords and was passed, I am told—but I cannot remember it because we do it on the nod. We do too much on the nod in this House, and this is one example. Again and again we have been looking at this.

Going back over 10 years, we had the pre-feasibility study; we discussed it and set up a whole structure. That structure has been continuing and—as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said—we have spent hundreds of millions of pounds already, and nothing has happened. If we had agreed what some of us were suggesting—that we should build a new, purpose-built building away from here that would satisfy all our needs, have offices for every Member and for staff, have facilities for the disabled, who have great difficulty getting around this awful building, and provide proper services, that could have been built now, for a few hundred million pounds—well, a few billion. Then we could have sold off all the buildings around here—Portcullis House and all the others.

We could have moved out of this building, so that it could be restored slowly, securely and made into a good museum—a museum of democracy. Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower would still be there. As was suggested at the time, we could recreate great events in history in the other Chamber and here. We could have used this whole building in another way. But we did not do that and we are now going into yet another phase which will cost more hundreds of millions of pounds. We are already going to spend £7 million just on the front door.

£9 million is it now? You see, it has gone up £2 million since yesterday. We have been putting up scaffolding all around the place, spending millions and millions of pounds, but this building will never be satisfactory. It will never be good for people to get around and do a proper job.

I mean no disrespect to those who have been suggested as members. They are excellent. They are all younger than me, particularly my noble friend Lord Collins. Of course, the Clerk of the Parliaments is the youngest of all; he is the baby of the lot. The other two are only in their 70s. Will they still be around when we even get to the next stage of this hilarious—no, not hilarious: awful—exercise that we are undergoing at the moment? At some point, is someone going to say that this is all going in the wrong direction and we should not be doing it? In the 21st century, a modern and dynamic country, as the United Kingdom purports to be, ought to have a modern, dynamic parliament building and make this into a museum, which it could be appropriately.

My Lords, I am not looking to join the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in his garden shed across the way, but there is a very real issue of accountability. We are already talking about millions and millions of pounds. Nobody is quite clear how this has happened. I am delighted that we have a new commission. Who is making the decisions and when will they be made accountable to Parliament for this huge spending of public money that a lot of us disagree with?

My Lords, I remember when we moved from the old governance system to the new one. Without any disrespect to the Members mentioned today, I am not at all confident that we have the expertise inside this House and in the Commons to do the job. An outside body should be doing it. This has been going on for 10 years. Only this morning, I was leaked on by water coming from yet another falling ceiling. It is a national disgrace that we have been talking about this for at least 10 years. We have no answers on when and if we are going to move out—and, if so, where. We do not know when the work will start and when it will be completed. We spend more time discussing governance than getting on with the job. I want to see it started.

My Lords, I too have no disrespect for the members who have been suggested. The composition of the programme board is common to noble Lords and external advisers. Can the Senior Deputy Speaker confirm that there is some oversight to ensure that the members appointed by the three bodies are gender-balanced? We have ended up in a situation where are spending significant public money and there are only three women—all appointed by the other place—on the programme board. In the run-up to International Women’s Day, we should be giving the best example to companies, charities and other bodies by having a gender balance on such an important body.

My Lords, first, I would like to be excused from any future museum of democracy. Secondly, I have a very simple question, as someone who served on the scrutiny committee for the now long-forgotten 2019 legislation: could the Senior Deputy Speaker give us an idea of the timeline for the first report back?

My Lords, we should remind ourselves that we had agreed a plan in both Houses. Mr Rees-Mogg had other ideas. If the bill is to be placed on anybody’s desk, it should be on Mr Rees-Mogg’s.

I strongly disagree with what my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said about museums and this building. To use the word rightly for once—it is misused almost every day—this is the iconic parliamentary building in the world. We have a duty to keep it as such, and to ensure that it is passed on to future generations as a living Parliament and that it is in good order. We need to resurrect the plan that was agreed and get on with it.

My Lords, before we go any further on this matter, we should look to what has been done so far. A number of people have raised the issue of the modernisation that has taken place already. Scaffolding has been around this building for three, four or five years. I do not know whether anyone knows about construction, but that needs to be paid for. As far as I can see, we have spent millions of pounds on scaffolding and achieved nothing.

My Lords, will the Senior Deputy Speaker take on board and perhaps review what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said about having completely outside advice on how we go forward?

My Lords, noble Lords’ interventions show how strongly we all feel about this matter and that we do need to make progress. Even the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, cares about the building, even if he wants a different story to it than many of us do. Personally, I believe we have a responsibility as this generation’s custodians to get on with the task.

One of the reasons why it is really important that we pass this Motion is to get the governance arrangements agreed. I do not think that we can go backwards: the decision of both Houses was that we needed to change the governance arrangements. That is where we need to be today.

I obviously entirely endorse the essential nature of scrutiny, of financial probity and of transparency. That is why it is really important that there are these layers of scrutiny. In the new arrangements, the client team will scrutinise and provide assurance of the delivery authority’s proposed annual estimate. The programme board will review and, if satisfied, recommend the estimate to the R&R client board, which reviews and, if satisfied, approves the estimate for submission to the Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission. That commission must take advice from His Majesty’s Treasury.

In addition—and I think this is helpful to noble Lords on probity—I am delighted that one of the nominations from this House is the noble Lord, Lord Morse, a former Comptroller and Auditor-General of the National Audit Office. I think I can say that he is going to become vice-chair of the programme board, which is extremely helpful. I should also say that the delivery authority has its own accounting officer, internal audit function, and risk assurance and audit committee. This is subject to the external audit of the National Audit Office.

When asked about the supplementary estimates recently, His Majesty’s Treasury described them as “taut and realistic”. Those who are conversant with the Treasury will understand that well. I would be the first to say that it is absolutely essential to have the scrutiny not only of our own Finance Committee but of the two Houses’ audit committees into the activities of the in-house client team, which is the new joint department within their purview.

Bearing in mind what my noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, it is also important to emphasise the expertise and experience, and the essential nature of what we went through in having 102 applications, from a range of diverse backgrounds, for external members of the programme board. We came forward with three people who were clearly outstanding and will be of immense benefit to the programme board.

What I would also say is that it is very important that we all take responsibility; this is our task and that is why all these decisions—picking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett—will come back to the House. For instance, towards the end of this year Members of both Houses will be invited to agree a strategic case for the programme, setting out a shortlist of options for delivery of the works as considered by the programme board and the client board. A final business case will be brought to both Houses one year after the agreement of the strategic case.

I have one last point I should mention because it is very important. The very considerable sum of money that has already been spent has provided us with surveys, which we otherwise would never have had, of the condition of the Palace, design work to inform the future end-state of the Palace and indeed any future temporary accommodation. On investment in digital capabilities—I am afraid I am not very conversant with some of these—I am assured that the development of essential tools such as information modelling is now vital to a building of this complexity and a programme of this scale.

So, in picking up the points made by noble Lords today about a range of matters, I ask the House to recognise that the most important thing is to get this moving and to get us into a better state so that we can fulfil our responsibilities regarding the custodianship of a building that is iconic not only to this country, but to the world—as is apparent to the many noble Lords who travel the world—so we must look after it.

The noble Lord has heard the views expressed from around the House. I feel very privileged to come and work in this beautiful building every day and, like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I want to see it preserved for future generations, but we have to get a move on with this now. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, we need proper financial scrutiny and probity; we cannot spend hundreds of millions of pounds and not see anything happening. That is really important. I fully support the report and I wish the body well, but we have to get our act together and get a move on with this now.

I know the noble Lord does care desperately, but we have not heard one word this afternoon about the architectural and historical importance. Can the noble Lord make sure that this will be included?

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and that is why this is imperative. Subject to the passing of this Motion, the programme board will meet next Monday. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, one of the requirements of the external candidates is a knowledge of heritage. That is clearly important, and given that this is a UNESCO world heritage site, it is absolutely our responsibility to do this project well, caring for this great and magnificent building.

May I just ask the Senior Deputy Speaker to bear in mind that it is not just people from around the world who admire this building and see it and its purpose as iconic? I have taken dozens and dozens of groups round this building over the years and not a single person has said to me, “I wish this was made of glass and concrete and stuck somewhere outside the capital”. I do not know whether anyone else has come across someone who said that—maybe my noble friend Lord Foulkes, but no one else.

My noble friend and I are noble friends. It does not need to be glass and concrete. Other countries, such as Australia and Brazil, have done it, and they are some really good buildings. In the United States, the Capitol is a really effective building, because Senators have offices where we do not. I do not understand why we cannot keep this as a building for all sorts of other purposes but have a proper place to carry out the work of a proper legislature. I will introduce my noble friend to many people who think the same—my noble friend Lord Maxton is one of them, by the way.

Many years ago I was brought in to give a view on this, because I had been involved in major projects, and I agree totally with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I have never come across something of this size where the number of committees involved is just extraordinary but where nobody has any real authority. Most of all, the management structure—who actually runs it and gets it going in its format—does not have people from my background with the experience to be able to do it.

My Lords, what should go in a museum is not the building but the methods by which we try to hold an enormous Executive to account. That requires a totally different approach through the strengthening of the structure and resources of committees to get to the bottom of what the Executive are up to. When we do that, and improve the committee system, we could begin to see what improvements we need in committee structures—quite a different approach from the one in use.

My Lords, the Netherlands and Canada have reused their fine and ancient buildings to good effect, and that is what we must seek to do here. On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, made, one of the areas that will be considered—we have already considered it in some of the committees I chair—is the sort of facilities we will want for committees in a repurposed Parliament. We should make progress and get this on its way.

Motion agreed.