Restoration and Renewal (Report of the Joint Committee)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:07 pm on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee 6:07 pm, 31st January 2018

My Committee’s work did not particularly look at that aspect. We were looking at the refurbishment side. The hon. Gentleman sat on the Joint Committee and agreed its report. The National Audit Office assessed the robustness of the methodology used in that report—it did not do a full analysis, because such assurance is a very long job—and it assured us that the work was thorough and credible.

There was a sampling of some of the examples we have heard from other hon. Members tonight, and the costs were considered in order to extrapolate the indicative cost figure, the order of magnitude. The work of the Joint Committee was robust and thorough, as far as it could go, but until Members of this House make a decision, we cannot go into the full detail of the figures. That is why we need to make a decision.

The Palace of Westminster is, of course, a world heritage site, which means it comes under UNESCO rules. I have been in touch with Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s assistant director general for culture—I have copied our correspondence to the UK permanent delegation—and under UNESCO rules the UK Treasury is responsible for funding this building and making sure it is preserved as a world heritage site.

By December 2018 the Government have to provide information to UNESCO about their plans for this building, and in 2019—incidentally the year that we are expected to leave the European Union—we will also be on the world stage because UNESCO’s committee will consider the Government’s decisions and proposals and assess whether they are acceptable and will do enough to preserve this world heritage site.

As other hon. Members have said, it is not about us. It is about members of the public and the staff who work here, but this is also an internationally iconic building. Are we really saying that we are unable to make a decision tonight to ensure that we work up full costings and a full programme of work so that we can get on with the job, as the Public Accounts Committee concluded?

I have also seen correspondence from David Orr and Jennifer Wood, the external members of the Palace of Westminster restoration and renewal programme board, who wrote to David Natzler, the Clerk of the House, in March 2017 and last week to reiterate their “serious concerns” about the “continuing delay” in holding debates on this issue, so I congratulate the Leader of the House on ensuring that we had this debate today. They also say that

“the idea that the debates…will not be a Decision in Principle but instead would give approval to a shadow Sponsor Board and shadow Delivery Authority and commission them to study further options before bringing the matter back to Parliament” is a matter of concern. They say that one of the motions

“envisages only essential work doing this Parliament followed by a further review before 2022 to consider the need for comprehensive works…We are dismayed by these developments and seriously concerned about the level of risk that is being tolerated.”

We have heard about the risks and safety issues, and it is a real concern to me that we must move forward. We cannot keep putting this into the long grass. We have to make a decision.

Let us be clear: we are a group of people who, as my hon. Friend Chris Bryant said, aspire to run the country. In doing that, we have to make decisions. We need to make a decision tonight about this building. Of course it is going to cost money but, let us face it, it is not as if the Treasury is going to give that money to something in my constituency—we cannot see such things as equivalents.

This building is at risk unless we make a decision. Let us move forward and get the full costings and the full programme of works so that we can get on with the job.