I was not too happy about the mention of early retirement before you called me, Mr Speaker.
I rise to support amendment (a) to motion 2. In doing so, I find myself in some slightly strange company: the principal sponsors of the amendment are four aristocratic knights of the realm, the Chair of the Defence Committee and my humble self. That shows that this issue arches across any political divide.
From listening to the debate, it worries me that some are casting this in terms of mods and rockers—traditional, antediluvian tweed-wearing crusty port sippers who want nothing to change whatever, and the young meritocratic thrusters, epitomised by Pete Wishart, whose normally sunny and pleasant disposition has, I suspect, been poisoned by the awful reality of the cost-overrun at Holyrood.
There are two emotions permeating the debate today that we really need to consider. In everything we say and do, we must give credit to the Leader of the House, who has done an extraordinary amount of work on this. In some ways, it must be tempting for her to take this Gordian knot and just slice through it. One of those emotions can be summed up in this way:
“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”.
That was a tribute to our Scottish friends. The second emotion involves recognising that this building is not just a matter of stone, porphyry, marble and stained glass. It is not just a structure; it is a home, a statement and a place of democracy. It stands for something in this nation and beyond, far more than mere bricks and mortar. This is the place where democracy lives. It is so easy to say that we could move elsewhere and that it would still be a Parliament, but it would not be the Palace of Westminster. It would not be the building that has survived fire and bombing—it has survived the most horrendous impacts and we have somehow come through—and it is crucial that that footprint be retained and we maintain our presence in this building.
When the Leader of the House introduced the debate today, she twice used the word “iconic”. It is one of the most overused words in the British language. It is a word that we toss around; we call London taxis iconic. We use the word very promiscuously, but if ever that word had a resonance, a meaning and a reality, it is in respect of this building. This is the iconic building. Let us not even think about the tourists who come here and who would be displaced if we moved to the QE2. Let us not think about those things. Let us just think about what this building means as an icon of representative democracy, where the people’s voices are heard in this building, in this Chamber, in this Palace of Westminster. We cannot lose this. We have fought too hard over generations to maintain and keep it.
Yes, there is work to be done, but is it really beyond the wit of humanity to come up with some kind of compartmentalised, bulkhead system whereby we could do the work in sections? There is only one sewage pipe—I do not want to go into the dreadful scatological details—but surely we could section it off and work on one bit and then another. I am prepared to lay down my liberty and to work in that coprophiliac hell down there if that needs to be done. What needs to be done must be done quickly. Let us all agree on that. Let us also agree that moving to Perth is not an option. But whatever we decide to night, let us not take lightly the duty and responsibility that weighs on our shoulders to preserve, maintain, keep, endorse and support this place, this home of democracy, this true icon of all that we hold dear.