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

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. As several others have already said, this is not primarily about us; it is about the safety of the thousands of people who come to visit the building, the 8,000 who work in it, and the 15,000 who have passes.

Sir Hugo Swire was absolutely right to say that it is crazy that great big scaffolding has been put up in the Cloisters to make work possible on one of the most beautiful bits of the Palace, one of the other bits that survived the 1834 fire—the cloisters that were put in by Henry VII and then Henry VIII. The problem is that at the moment we simply do not have the capacity and the capability within the House authorities to get those major pieces of work done in the House. That means that parts of the building are falling apart, water is coming in where it should not, and we are degrading a national asset. That is why it is so important, as Sir Patrick McLoughlin said, to set up a proper sponsor body and delivery authority to do this properly—to bring in really high-quality staff and to make sure the work is delivered on time and on budget, as we can do in this country.

In all honesty, motion 1, if left unamended, says, broadly speaking, “Let’s not do anything in this Parliament.” It is not the long grass; it is the very, very long grass. I believe that would be an utter dereliction of our duty, which is why Historic England, who are, after all, the Government’s own advisers on the built heritage in this country, have said that if we were to go down that route, they would have to put this building on the at risk register. That is a profoundly shocking thing for us to be told if we are not going to take action.

Motion 2 is mildly better. I am a bit disappointed in the Leader of the House that she is not going any further than motion 2, because that motion also means that we refuse to make a clear decision now. It means that we try to set up a sponsor body and a delivery authority, for which we want to get the best people, without giving them a clear direction of travel. It means that they will be repeating the work that was done by the Joint Committee.

We produced our report 16 months ago and it is only now that we are getting the debate, so my bet is that when this sponsor body reports, with the three options that it has looked at, the Government will not want to table the motions. There will be a general election coming up; there will be some issue that has to be sorted out, and the debate will be another two years after that. I say to hon. Members that if they are thinking of voting for motion 2, they will have to make this decision all over again in four years’ time, by which time the risk will have increased—and the cost.

That is why I support amendment (b) to motion 1. It implements the unanimous recommendations of the Joint Committee and the Public Accounts Committee; it sets up a sponsor body and a delivery authority; and it takes an in principle decision. It is the only way to take an in principle decision today.