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Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body

Volume 698: debated on Monday 28 June 2021

I beg to move,

That Marta Phillips, Dr Simon Thurley and Simon Wright be appointed as external members of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body under Part 1, Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019.

The House will be relieved that I do not intend to detain it long. The 90 minutes available for this debate may be more than is necessary, but it may help if I explain that I am bringing this motion forward on behalf of the Sponsor Body. Schedule 1 of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 states that the Sponsor Body must consist of between two and four external members, excluding the chairman. The current external board members were appointed on 1 July 2018, when the Sponsor Body was still in shadow form. Their appointments were confirmed by the House on 24 March 2020, as the body became a statutory organisation. Under the Act, a member must be appointed for a fixed term of not more than three years, although they can be reappointed. Their terms will therefore expire no later than 31 June 2021.

I am not going to delay people for long either. I just wonder: we are doing all this appointing of people to the Sponsor Body, but are they ever going to mix a bucket of cement?

I think it unlikely that Marta Phillips, Dr Simon Thurley and Simon Wright will mix buckets of cement on the estate of the Palace of Westminster. I am glad to say that work is going on. I have reported already to the House that the fire safety work has taken place and been tested across the estate, and I think that eight miles of pipe have gone in. Preliminary works are under way to make the preparations: Derby Gate is almost completed, and there will be a move of MPs into Richmond House. Many things are happening that will allow the restoration and renewal to take place, so I hope that that gives some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we keep up the pace to get to the full restoration and renewal. As for the individual members of the Sponsor Body mixing cement, that may be something they did in the earlier stages of their careers, but I do not think they will be doing it tomorrow.

A recruitment process for external board members has been undertaken by the Sponsor Body in recent months, and the interview panel included the chairman of the Sponsor Board, a parliamentary member of the Sponsor Board and an independent panel member. Following the recruitment process, the Sponsor Body has reappointed three of the four current external board members. I am grateful to all the external members of the Sponsor Board for their work so far. Today’s motion will approve the reappointment of Marta Phillips, Dr Simon Thurley and Simon Wright, and I therefore commend this motion to the House.

As custodians of this beautiful place, we face serious duties for which almost all of us here are supremely unqualified. The Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority were therefore established in order to bring in the skills and qualities and, above all, the knowledge and experience that we so obviously lack to the essential process of restoration and renewal, untroubled by any political considerations that we may have and aided by the relevant qualities. I understand that the new members to be appointed will bring such qualities. We have to give this magnificent building the love and care that it needs, and in order to do that, we need the right people in the right place at the right time.

It is good that Simon Thurley is there, but would not my hon. Friend be surprised if such an eminent historian as Mr Thurley were to support a proposal that the parliamentary archives should be hived off to Kew, probably never to return here again? Is it not important that the parliamentary archives should remain here in Parliament and in Westminster?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because it gives me an opportunity to agree with him most wholeheartedly. There are many other things on which we all have personal preferences that we would like to pronounce on. I, for one, would like to see the restoration of the cloisters to the parliamentary Labour party as soon as possible. For that, we need stonemasons and stonemasonry apprenticeships. If some of those could be allocated to some of my constituents in Bristol West, I would be most happy. I also recommend, to colleagues who have not had the pleasure, receiving a briefing from the parliamentary Sponsor Body engagement staff. I had a wonderful briefing today on the matter of voids. I will never again look at the grills under the Chamber in the same way, Madam Deputy Speaker, knowing what I do now and what it looks like underneath.

The Sponsor Body, of course, does know of what they speak. I am looking forward to seeing them get on with buckets, stonemasonry and whatever else they may need to do in order that we may preserve, enhance and give this building the love it needs to restore it to the fullest possible health and effectivity.

I had not intended to respond, but as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned the archives I would like to say that I entirely agree with him. It is extremely unfortunate that the Victoria Tower, a purpose-built archive, should not continue to be used for that purpose. I am deeply concerned about the lack of engagement there has been with Members of this House about the proposal, which many of us felt was rather sprung upon us. I am delighted to note that there seems to be cross-party consensus, with the shadow Leader of the House in favour of keeping the archive in the Victoria Tower. I hope that that will be taken on board by other authorities.

Question put and agreed to.