Restoration and Renewal (Report of the Joint Committee)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 5:18 pm, 31st January 2018

I confess to being one of those who holds this building in enormous esteem. There are bits of it I do not particularly like, but I have to say that the experience of walking through Westminster Hall, looking up at the angels, carved in probably the 14th century and supporting the roof, is one of the great joys that I would want every single one of my constituents to be able to experience at some point. It is against that background that I care passionately about what we do.

It is not just that we enjoy being here and fought to be here, because we wanted to come into this building and change the world and this country in the way we think is right according to our particular light; it is that we know we are trustees of this building for future generations. The best political generations in our history are the ones that have taken that responsibility the most seriously. In the early 19th century, they did not do it well and it led to a massive fire in 1834, which destroyed ancient paintings and buildings that had been here since the 13th century and before. My terrible fear is that if we do not take our job as trustees seriously now, regardless of party political advantage or, I say to my SNP friends, of ideological interest, we truly risk losing one of the great treasures of this country.

The problems have already been laid out. As the Chair of the Administration Committee, Sir Paul Beresford, said, there is a single 130-year-old drain that could burst at any time. There is a high-pressure steam heating system next to high-voltage electricity cables, with wires that are decaying into flammable dust every day, next to gas pipes, phone cables, broadband cables and running water, all wrapped in asbestos.

To answer the point made by Dr Johnson about asbestos, about two years ago the Clerk had to ring the Leader of the House to say that part of the central heating system had burst through some of the asbestos around the cabling, which was immediately next to the air conditioning system of the Chamber of the House of Commons. There was a real danger that he would have to close the Chamber and Parliament indefinitely until that was sorted out. The real problem is that we have a central heating system that is elderly, at high pressure and could burst at any time. It normally takes us about two and a half weeks to switch it on because of the fear of its doing that. That is the real problem about asbestos in the building.