Restoration and Renewal (Report of the Joint Committee)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:36 pm on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 5:36 pm, 31st January 2018

We are worried, and we are right to be worried, about the costs of the replica Chamber. It has been said to me that it may be necessary at times, if we carry on with this work—nobody is denying that we should proceed with it as fast as possible—that this Chamber may have to leave. I fear that if the replica Chamber is built, we will be out of the Palace of Westminster for up to 10 years. We will be too comfortable, so we have looked for and have consulted on alternatives. We tracked down Sir Michael Hopkins, the architect of Portcullis House. Nobody had raised this idea with him before then—he built the most bomb-proof, the most secure and the most expensive, by metre, building in the country—but the atrium of Portcullis House is exactly the right width, with this Chamber and the Division Lobbies, for an emergency Chamber for a few months. It would not be too comfortable there, but it is possible. Westminster Hall has been mentioned. The Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman, mentioned Church House, which is built to bomb-proof standards. There are alternatives if we have to move out, so get on with it.

The argument that the Joint Committee has established beyond peradventure that it is cheaper to have a full decant is not accepted by many experts—I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley. It was not accepted in the Deloitte report, which talked about net cost analysis. The Joint Committee report did not take sufficient cognisance of the cost of the replica, the work of the patch-up, which will have to be done in the coming years and months, the security costs and the VAT costs. All these costs have been factored into the Deloitte report. There is no time to go into detail, but do not accept the facile argument about the two proposals. We have the decant proposal, which would stop 1 million people a year visiting this building and have all the other disadvantages that I have talked about—do not accept that the decant proposal is much cheaper. Many accountants and experts take an alternative view.

Before we proceed to a vote, let us listen to the hon. Member for Ealing North and remember the thousands of employees working in this building. Of course, we want them to be safe, but we also want them to have a job, and what would happen with a full decant? This is urgent. We must get on with the work now, build the fire doors and so on, and let us remember this historical point—the hon. Member for Rhondda has made many historical points, and I will end on this one: when this House of Commons Chamber was destroyed by firebombs in 1941, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, representing the best in their two parties, made a conscious and absolute decision that this House of Commons would not be bombed out of its historic home, and that is why we moved to the Chamber of the House of Lords.

I commissioned an architect, pro bono, who proved conclusively that this would be perfectly possible. He looked at all the wiring issues, the sewage issues, all that we have talked about, and found that it would be perfectly possible. Are we really being told that in this day and age we cannot divert sewerage and electrical wiring? They do it all the time in the private sector. They build pop concert arenas for tens of thousands of people in two or three days, but we are told by the experts that it is impossible to resolve this problem. I return to my historical point: when the chips were down in 1941, Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill decided that this Chamber would not move from this building. I therefore urge colleagues to vote down the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch and vote for motion 1. We must get on with the work.