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Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 22 September 2021

I beg to move,

That Sir Edward Leigh be appointed as a Parliamentary member, and that Paul Lewis be appointed as an external member, of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body under Part 1, Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019.

I remind the House that the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 established a sponsor body, which has overall responsibility for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster and acts as a single client on behalf of both Houses. The body is comprised of parliamentarians and external members, including the chairman. That ensures the right balance between cross-party and cross-House parliamentary support for the works, and the appropriate external professionalism and expertise.

As required under the terms of the Act, the motion before the House seeks to appoint a Member of this House and an external member to the board of the sponsor body. That follows a fair and open competition for the external member position, following the departure of Brigid Janssen, and the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) to his new position as the Minister for Security and Borders at the Home Office. I pay tribute to both for their contribution thus far. They have worked hard during the current stage of the restoration and renewal programme, in which proposals for a fully detailed and costed plan are being developed prior to their consideration by Parliament in due course. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his reappointment to ministerial office.

In their place are two excellent candidates, who I hope the House will agree will provide valuable insight and perspectives into the sponsor body’s efforts. It is perhaps embarrassing in his presence to lavish too much praise on my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), but he unquestionably deserves it. He is a distinguished and long-serving Member of this House and I expect that few know their way around the ins and outs of the palace and what really needs to be done quite as well as he does. He brings a wealth of experience to his position. He currently serves on the Public Accounts Commission and he ably chaired the Public Accounts Committee for nine years. He also served on the Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings Bill. I am sure many Members will agree that he is one of the House’s experts on parliamentary restoration. I expect him to support restoration and renewal with a keen eye for scrutiny on public spending, otherwise known as taxpayers’ money. I expect him to show support for an architecturally sound, historically sympathetic and beautiful restoration and, of course, an understanding of what Members would vote for as elected representatives.

Secondly, I turn to Mr Paul Lewis. He is a chartered civil engineer with more than 40 years’ experience in the construction and property industry. His early career was spent with the Laing group in design, planning and construction on a variety of projects in the United Kingdom and abroad. He is currently a director and senior adviser to Stanhope, having worked for 35 years at the company since its infancy. In addition, Mr Lewis holds a personal, non-executive position with the royal household as an independent adviser on the Buckingham Palace resurfacing programme. He is also a non-executive director at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. The sponsor body believes that Mr Lewis’s experience and knowledge from his work on a multitude of large, complex developments will be a great asset to the board and to the restoration and renewal programme. His ability to be on the board of two royal palaces is a rather splendid confirmation of his high abilities.

We know that the restoration of this historic palace is essential, but we also know that the works must represent value for money for the taxpayer. The Government will continue to work collaboratively with the sponsor body to deliver that. I remind the House that the programme must be focused on the vital works, not gold-plated add-ons. Costs must be kept down and the work delivered on budget and on time. This is an important task and I wish both new members well. I commend the motion to the House.

I am, of course, pleased to hear of the appointments to fill the vacancies on the sponsor body. We in this generation of parliamentarians have been allotted an important job of work and it is our duty to see that it is done in, yes, the most cost-effective way, but the most cost-effective way for the long term as well as the short term. This building, which we all love so much, must be preserved for future generations not only of parliamentarians but, more importantly, of the people of this country, who are democrats who value the democracy that this building so embodies.

I pay tribute to the outgoing members of the sponsor body board for all their hard work and dedication, to which the Leader of the House is right to have drawn attention. I join him in his tribute. I welcome both new members to the sponsor body board and look forward to working with them both, with their different qualities, attributes and experiences, to which the Leader of the House referred. I look forward to their applying the keen eye to which the Leader of the House referred to public spending and to the fact that public expenditure is only going to get worse if we do not make sure that we do the right things in a timely manner. The more we put off the inevitable, the more the costs will escalate and the more, in the long run, we will have to spend taxpayers’ money to preserve this building and enhance it in ways that are entirely necessary if it is to be preserved for the long term.

The Leader of the House and I often spar on this topic, and we both know that in many ways we have agreed to disagree, in a respectful manner that I hope will continue. I believe that is good, because it allows for proper and constructive debate and scrutiny.

I urge all right hon. and hon. Members—particularly the new members of the sponsor body—to consider, if they have not already done so, including in their conference recess reading the excellent “Mr Barry’s War” by Caroline Shenton, late of this parish. It is a particularly useful book and is pertinent to the process. I hope that the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) has read it—[Interruption.] He is nodding, so I take that as assent. If he has read it, he will, I hope, have observed, as I did, that the moral of the tale is that the more politicians meddle in things that they do not understand and are not qualified to understand, the less well the process will go. That does not mean that we should not have proper scrutiny, hence the presence of not only the right hon. Gentleman but my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on the sponsor body.

It is important that Members are on the sponsor body board and scrutinise decisions, but it is also important that we do not pretend to be architects and engineers. That book tells us great moral tales of what happens when Members pretend to be engineers when they are not. That is how we end up with voids that are fire risks. That is how we end up with ideas that sound great in one’s head but are not so great when they are built into the fabric of this wonderful building. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will take my plea to heart over the conference recess. I know that the book is available in the Library because I returned it only recently.

I also hope that we can start to approach the task with the degree of urgency that is required. The Leader of the House will not be surprised to hear me refer to full decant, because he knows my view. That is what this House voted for, for good reasons and after thorough scrutiny and consideration. We cannot keep putting off the decision. As the Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Gainsborough know, the sponsor body will soon complete a review of whether a continued presence could be maintained in a cost-effective way. I trust that all new members of the board will take note of the cost-effectiveness requirement when they consider whether a full decant or a continued presence is the most cost-effective use of taxpayers’ money. I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I commend the new members to the sponsor body.

I just want to say a couple of things. First, I thank the outgoing member, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), who has done a great job, particularly in answering questions from Members in this place. He has really led on that and we have appreciated it. We disagree on a lot of things, but he has been excellent at representing the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body. I also welcome my new colleague, the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), and thank the board for the work it did and the process it went through to ensure that Paul Lewis, whom I welcome to the board, was chosen.

Let me pick up a couple of points made by the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). Do you know what? Me and my colleagues are very keen that we get out of this place, and we will be quite happy to just leave you guys to it—that’s fine. I think that there are an awful lot of better ways that taxpayers’ money could be spent, but the hon. Member for Bristol West made some good points about what the House has voted for and what we are now being asked to look at. I still have concerns about the way in which the governance structures are working, because, for example, the House of Commons Commission is making suggestions that seem to be in contrast to those made by this House. That is not a tenable ongoing position, because we will end up in a situation where the sponsor body board is not going to be able to do the things that it is supposed to do because it is being overruled or given three different sets of instructions that drastically vary from each other.

I also thank the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) for all the work that he has done, and welcome the new members, Mr Lewis and, of course, the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). I am sure that they will be keen to build a business case as quickly as possible—the business case that this place needs and that will be put to the House, because the one thing that we cannot do is what we have been doing for too long: kicking the can down the road.

With the greatest respect, the Leader of the House is a champion can kicker. He is one of the best can kickers I have ever seen. He is an expert at can kicking. No one is better in this House. But we cannot keep doing that, because not only is this about the Chamber and this place; it is also about the other buildings on the parliamentary estate. Portcullis House has a leaking roof and an atrium roof that is becoming increasingly unsafe. Norman Shaw South was out for five weeks. It was just fortunate that that happened when the recess was under way. Even the usually reliable Parliament Street building is leaking in places. We really need to get on with the job.

The one thing that I would say to the new members of the board and to the House is that nobody on the sponsor body wants to create Disneyland. I have been there—it is terrible! I did not enjoy Disneyland. We are not going to create it and we are not going to spend the sort of money that the Leader of the House thinks we are. The only people living in a fantasy world are those who think we can put this off and ignore it, and that ignoring the issue does not cost money. It does. It is costing a fortune—year in, year out. We really need to get on the job and make sure that we have a Parliament that is fit not just for now, but for the centuries ahead.

Question put and agreed to.