[Relevant documents: First Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings Bill, Governance of Restoration and Renewal, HC 1800, HL Paper 317; Government response to the Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, May 2019, CP 90.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am delighted to be opening the Second Reading debate on the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill. This has been a very long time coming. Today we can move decisively to end inaction and protect our Parliament for future generations. Let us not be under any illusion about the possible consequences if we fail to take action. The tragic fire at Notre Dame has served as a stark reminder of the risks to this historic building. There is no doubt that the best way to avoid a similar incident here is to get on with the job of protecting the thousands of people working here and the millions who come to visit.
Members of this House will be well aware of the problems in the Palace. There have recently been three significant incidents of falling masonry—in Norman Shaw North, outside Black Rod’s Entrance, and at the door to Westminster Hall. It is only through luck that none of them has led to any serious injuries or even fatalities. Operating on luck is absolutely no way to proceed. We would not be forgiven if one of those incidents had caused significant harm to a visitor or a member of staff.
There is an ongoing need for round-the-clock fire patrols, given that there have been 66 fire incidents in the Palace since 2008. That is why, by the way, I have undertaken my fire safety training for the building—and I would strongly encourage all hon. and right hon. Members to do likewise.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about the threat of fire. For a long time now, I have been arguing that we should get on and put in fire doors. I am delighted to see that they are now actually being put in. Can she confirm that all these long corridors, voids and spaces will at least be protected by fire doors? I would have thought that we could do a deal with English Heritage to get that past it. It is better that we are safe than that the place burns down because of the fears of English Heritage.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have taken enormous steps, at great expense, to try to put in place some temporary fire doors to protect this place. But of course he will also know that the way we keep our fire safety licence is by 24/7 patrols of people going around the Palace making sure that fires are not breaking out.
As I say, there have been 66 fire incidents in the Palace since 2008, and over the decades—
The Leader of the House mentions the issue of great expense. I know that this Bill is about the mechanisms and not the plans, but I am concerned that in building a temporary Chamber, we are building a white elephant without any purpose beyond 10 years. Will she look at alternative building techniques like those used in the 1950s and those used for the Olympics in 2012 for buildings that are not built for a 50-year life but for a shorter life, which would be much less expensive to the taxpayer?
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s contribution. She will understand that the House of Commons Commission looked very carefully at the options for a temporary decant, which could mean eight or even 10 years out of this place. She will also understand that, from a security point of view and from the cost-effectiveness point of view, the House of Commons Commission looked at the best combination of both those things. Temporary structures that are not possible to secure, and structures that are by their nature temporary and provide no legacy value, were also looked at carefully, but the decision that was taken to move to Richmond House provides permanent legacy value as well as the cheapest—or at least equally cheap—cost to the taxpayer.
Most people must be in favour of something happening, but I question the timing. There are many people in all our constituencies who are hungry and face destitution. How dare the Government bring forward a Bill before we are out of austerity and have made good those cuts in the living standards of the very poorest? Surely we should not be considering whether this fire door or that fire door works and whether the scheme is temporary until we are out of the age of austerity and have rewarded those who have paid most, which is the poor.
I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman, and I completely understand his point. He will appreciate that the Palace of Westminster is in the state it is in precisely because Members have made those exact points for more than 150 years. The reality is that it is now costing us a fortune every single day—money is being spent by the taxpayer to patch and mend a building that is beyond patching and mending. Seizing this bull by the horns and doing something proactively about it is designed to give good value for taxpayers’ money, instead of what is happening now, which is spending more and more money to try to restore something while we sit here, which will be much more expensive to do.
On the point about legacy value, would it not be better to have a Chamber that we could use for more constructive purposes? Rather than this adversarial approach, we could have a circular or semi-circular Chamber, with electronic voting facilities, so that we do not build in obsolescence, and we could then use it afterwards—for example, for citizens’ assemblies and other forums where we want to engage with the public.
I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that the purpose of the Bill is merely to establish a Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority, which will give the best value for money against a professionally run project that seeks to restore the Palace of Westminster. The shape of the decant Chamber and parliamentary procedures for voting can be discussed any day of the week. All Members are encouraged to feed in their ideas and suggestions to the northern estate programme, which is separate from what we are talking about today, and I encourage her to do so.
The hon. Gentleman raises a point that has been made at various points over the many decades that we have been discussing this work. He will appreciate that Parliament is the home of our democracy. It is a vast building with two Chambers, all the Committee Rooms, all the offices and so on. Moving away from this Parliament permanently to another location would not only involve huge expense, but would require entirely relocating Government, because we in Parliament are within the whole Whitehall set-up, where the Government of the United Kingdom work. The costs would be utterly unbelievable.
May I take my right hon. Friend back to the point made by hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) about the future use of Richmond House? It was not so many years ago that people were saying that all the Committee Rooms in Portcullis House were not really necessary, because we have plenty of Committee Rooms here in the Palace. Actually, they are necessary—they are used a lot, and demand exceeds supply. I think the same will be found with Richmond House: when it is given back, and we move back into this place, it will be well used by not only Parliament but the public.
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly good point. In recognising the importance and the obligation of restoring the Palace of Westminster, we have to look at how the temporary decant, which is for eight to 10 years, can provide a legacy that we can use, that the public can use and that young people can use for Youth Parliament meetings. We can have parliamentary archives and permanent exhibitions, and as he says, Committee Rooms will be available for all-party parliamentary groups or for members of the public to visit their Parliament, so that we have much greater accessibility. Those should be the priorities.
I will make a bit of progress and then take some more interventions.
Over the decades, there have been countless water leaks, floods, sewage leaks, and lighting and power outages, and these incidents are about much more than inconvenience. They demonstrate the rapidly deteriorating state of the Palace and the increasingly urgent need to act. The restoration of the Palace should have started literally decades ago, and the House authorities are now managing far too many serious risks, at great cost to the taxpayer. My concern is that the pace of deterioration is now much faster than our ability to patch and mend.
Only last week, I went on a tour of the basement, and it is clear that the Palace is not fit for purpose in the 21st century. There are widespread mechanical and electrical faults. There are wi-fi issues that disrupt parliamentary business all day long, every day. Paint is peeling off the walls in the basement, revealing the asbestos that it was designed to conceal, at great risk to the health and safety of visitors and Members. There are 15,000 people who work in this place, and we have more than 1 million visitors a year. We have a duty to their health and safety.
There are many mice running freely through the cafés while people are eating. One has even taken up residence in my office and rustles around in my bin of an evening. There is no doubt: we need a cost-effective programme of work to restore one of the most famous buildings in the world and the home of our democracy.
I commend the Leader of the House for grasping this issue, which has been around for many years, and progressing it. Does she agree that it is important for Members to also engage in the northern estate programme, which is a precursor to the restoration and renewal programme? I draw the House’s attention to two sessions coming up on
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, who is the spokesman for the House Commission and has supported the work to get this Palace restored. He is right to point to the work under way on not only Richmond House as the temporary decant but the northern estate programme. Unfortunately, some of the other buildings used by Members require urgent upgrades to wiring, plumbing, air conditioning, bomb-proofing and so on. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the need for all Members to provide their feedback on our plans to upgrade those buildings.
I thank the Leader of the House for approaching this on a cross-party basis and the way she has engaged so far with the Finance Committee, of which I am a member. She is right to say that this is a moment of decision. We have had reviews, committees, commissions and reports. It is not a case of going back; it is about making a decision today. I agree with my right hon. Friend Frank Field about austerity, but this is not about austerity or restoring this Palace. It is about ending austerity and dealing with this Palace. Is that not right?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman; he makes a very good point. We of course recognise the needs of the poorest in our society, and as a Government and a Parliament, we always seek to alleviate poverty, but this is a very significant issue. We want to preserve for future generations our historic building, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and the home of our democracy. Frankly, we have to work from somewhere, and this building is extraordinarily difficult and complex to review. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his work on the Finance Committee.
This Parliament will have the opportunity to look at the outline business case, which will set out clearly the costs and deliverables during 2021, once we have established the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority in statute. I hope the House will agree to do that today, so that those bodies can get on with the work to ensure that we get the best value for taxpayers’ money.
My concern, putting on my hat as chair of the all-party group on archaeology, is not with what is in the Bill but with what is not in the Bill. The Leader of the House will be aware that when the underground car park was built some decades ago, proper archaeological conservation did not take place, and part of the old palace of Edward the Confessor was probably lost. Given the importance of the UNESCO world heritage site and the working democratic Parliament that this is, will she strengthen the Bill by taking on board the recommendations from Historic England about recognising
“the need to conserve and sustain the outstanding architectural, archaeological and historical significance of the Palace of Westminster” in the Bill, so that travesties such as that cannot happen during the extensive work we now need to undertake?
I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s point. It did in fact come up during the pre-legislative scrutiny, which I am keen to come on to. The decision was taken that this should be a parliamentary project, and what the Government are seeking to do in bringing forward the Bill is merely to facilitate the will of Parliament. We are setting up a Sponsor Body, which will be made up of seven parliamentarians and five external members, so that it can establish a Delivery Authority. Those bodies—the Sponsor Body in consultation with parliamentarians, and the Delivery Authority in consultation with many external stakeholders—will be able to decide the best way to proceed. It was felt that putting restrictions and specific requirements in the Bill might tie the hands of the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority, and we were unwilling to do that. We want them to have the maximum ability to take things forward in the appropriate way, in consultation with all parliamentarians.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a case for extending the scope of the Bill to include the road network outside so that all works can be properly co-ordinated and we can avoid the situation we have now, with the road closed for non-essential roadworks when both Houses are sitting?
I think my right hon. Friend will garner a lot of sympathy across the House for his view. Again, we are trying to keep the scope of the Bill very narrow. It is merely to facilitate the establishment of the Delivery Authority for the purpose of restoring the Palace. However, he may be aware that consideration is going on of how, from a security point of view as well as from that of facilitating parliamentary business, we can ensure that the roads outside and the arrangements going on in Westminster also support Members in going about their business.
I am expecting my right hon. Friend to get to this point, but I may not be around. [Interruption.] Hang on a second; this may be a long way into the future. Once we are decanted, I would like to think we are going to return. I do not want to think that this place could be turned into some sort of museum that members of the public will come through; I want it to be a living piece of history to which we will return. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that will be the case?
I certainly hope, and I think all of my right hon. and hon. Friends hope, that my hon. Friend will be here when we come back to this place. He is extremely young, and I am sure he will still be around. Yes, it is in the Bill that this is the home of our Parliament and that we will certainly be back here.
The Leader of the House is being very generous in giving way. I agree with much of what she has said. The Bill sets up the Delivery Authority and the Sponsor Body, and we are not going oppose that. She is also right that we need to work from somewhere, and of course we need value for money. May I ask her, however, whether she regrets not going back to look again at a new build in central London, which was of course the cheapest of all the options when the original assessments were done?
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work on the House of Commons Commission. He certainly worked very closely with the other Commission members to consider the options available. I can say to him specifically that, since the appalling terror incident two years ago, a security review has been carried out, and it was very clear that parliamentarians, particularly elected Members of Parliament, need to be within the secure perimeter of the Palace at all times during the day, so for reasons of security as well as cost-effectiveness, the decision was taken to go with the Richmond House development.
I would now like to make a bit of progress, and particularly to address the fact that there are some who want to see this place become a museum. That would not of itself absolve us of our responsibility for restoration and renewal. The Palace is part of the UNESCO Westminster world heritage site. It is our obligation to maintain it, and the health and safety concerns of this Palace will need to be addressed regardless. Even if we were to move to a new permanent location, these works would still need doing. We cannot simply wash our hands of it. It is also worth remembering that when the Palace was finished in 1870—with debating Chambers, Lobbies, Committee Rooms and offices—it was purpose-built to serve as the home of Parliament. It would obviously be incredibly expensive permanently to relocate Parliament elsewhere. It would mean uprooting the Government Departments and agencies based around Westminster, and the cost of doing that would, frankly, be eye-watering. That is why the Government are committed to making progress with R and R, and why we have supported Parliament in bringing forward this Bill.
Has the Leader of the House actually done any assessment of the costs of relocating entire Government Departments out of London? Wanting to relocate civil service jobs to other parts of the country has always been the Government policy, and surely that would be a good thing to do. Frankly, this entire country ends up with all its politics being far too London-focused, when we should be having far more of those jobs in other parts of the country. We would certainly love a lot of them in Yorkshire. I am concerned that she seems to be dismissing the idea of moving Government Departments to other parts of the country without actually have done any proper assessment of that.
I am slightly disappointed to hear the right hon. Lady’s intervention. This Bill is about setting up a Sponsor Body and a Delivery Authority to restore the Palace of Westminster, which, as I have just said, we are obliged to do whether or not we stay here. There is always a considerable amount of work going on to assess and analyse the location of various different Government Departments and agencies right around the United Kingdom. Today, however, we are simply looking at the Second Reading of a Bill that enables us to undertake our legal duty to restore this Palace, whether or not we stay here. It is not for us to consider under this Bill to the whole of government. I hope that all hon. Members will appreciate that we are seeking to facilitate Parliament’s decision that we must take very seriously our financial, fiduciary and cultural duties to this place.
The House was very clear in early 2018 that work needed to be taken forward to protect and preserve the heritage of the Palace. I want to pay tribute to the hard work of Members and staff who have got us to this place. In particular, I would like to mention my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman and her Committee, which undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill; the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, which recommended that we decant; my predecessors as Leader of the House, my right hon. Friends the Members for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) and for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington); Meg Hillier, who eloquently made the case last year for a full decant; Chris Bryant, Tom Brake and the shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, who agreed to support the Bill; and my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, who always speaks with such passion on this issue.
I have this horrible feeling that the Leader of the House is winding up or coming to the end, and I just want to raise the issue of planning. One of the biggest threats to the whole project is if the northern estate programme, which is essential to delivering R and R, ends up by being delayed by lengthy judicial review or planning problems. The advice seems to have been given that if we include some kind of planning provision that brings planning into the Sponsor Body or the Delivery Authority, that will make this a hybrid Bill. However, the Olympics Bill was not a hybrid Bill, and that had a planning provision that was granted to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, so why can we not do the same for this Bill?
I am only just warming up—I have hours to go. But the hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. The question whether to take planning into the Bill was certainly considered, but unlike the Olympic Delivery Authority, which I think had four or even five planning authorities to deal with, this project has one, and it was felt that working closely with the local planning authority would be the most effective way of enabling proper scrutiny while facilitating the Bill’s progress.
I am taking my right hon. Friend at her word that she is not near the end of her speech. I thank her for her kind words, but I have not so far heard mention of accessibility for those with disabilities. The scrutiny Committee felt very strongly about that, not least because two members of the Committee themselves suffered from disability, and made us aware of just how inaccessible the present Parliament is for those who are visually or physically impaired.
My right hon. Friend makes an absolutely vital point. First, in planning its consultation the Sponsor Body—as I have mentioned, made up of seven parliamentarians and five external members—will look very carefully at the report she has produced, but at the same time the Bill contains very clear provisions that specific focus on accessibility should be a core part of the work. However, we do not want to force too many strictures on the Sponsor Body, which will legitimately have a requirement to consult all Members and take their views into account before deciding who to consult further.
I want to make a bit of progress, then I will give way again.
I also want to acknowledge the right hon. and hon. Members who, like myself, arrived at this issue with a degree of scepticism, and have since carefully considered the issues that we face and concluded that the right decision, and the bold decision, is to take action before we run out of time. So the Bill’s Second Reading today, and its subsequent passage through both Houses, offers Parliament a unique opportunity to save this iconic and, to many, beloved building.
Since becoming Leader of the Commons, I have been determined to see the restoration project succeed. In early 2018, motions were brought before both Houses that gave the R and R programme its broad direction, with the House agreeing to a full decant over any of the other options. That moved the programme forward in the most substantial way to date, so the Sponsor Body, made up of seven parliamentarians and five external members, was established in shadow form in July 2018. It is currently taking forward the preparatory works needed. The draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill was published in October 2018, to enable the governance arrangements needed for the R and R project to be put in place, and a Joint Committee under the excellent chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden has undertaken diligent work in scrutinising the draft Bill. The Joint Committee reported on
In the report produced by the Committee that I served on, we suggested to the Government that there should be a nations and regions capital fund, to make this a truly UK-wide project. I believe that the Leader of the House will struggle to get the support of public opinion if this is another massive London-centric capital project, so will she agree to have another look at that proposal, which I put forward and which was accepted by the Committee?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to the Joint Committee. As I said to him outside the Chamber, I will happily look at any proposal that he wants to put forward. Just to be very clear, however, the Palace of Westminster is a unique, world-famous building. It is owned by the people of the United Kingdom. It is not a London-centric project. It is one of the most visited and photographed buildings in the world, it has over a million visitors a year, and it is absolutely vital for the entire United Kingdom that we do not allow it to fall to rack and ruin.
I turn my attention to the Bill before the House. It is crucial in establishing the necessary governance arrangements to provide the capacity and capability to oversee and deliver the restoration and renewal of the Palace. Both Government and Parliament are determined to ensure that the R and R programme represents the best value for money for the taxpayer, and that will be a guiding principle as we take the Bill forward. It is imperative that Parliament keeps the costs down.
The Bill will put in place significantly more transparency and rigour around the funding of this programme. As a Government, we are working with Parliament to facilitate the right combination of checks and balances within the governance structure to properly deliver the programme. The Bill creates a Sponsor Body that will act as the client on behalf of Parliament, overseeing the delivery of the R and R programme. The Sponsor Body will form a Delivery Authority as a company limited by guarantee to manage and deliver the programme. The design of the governance arrangements in the Bill draws on best practice from the successful delivery of the London 2012 Olympics.
I shall make a bit more progress, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
However, in formulating the governance arrangements, it has been essential that Parliament as the client has sufficient oversight of the programme. That is why the Bill also establishes how the works will be approved by Parliament. In particular, Parliament will be asked to approve the overall design, timeline and cost of the works, as well as the budget. The Government are determined that the work will deliver the best possible value for taxpayers’ money, so the Bill creates the Estimates Commission, which will be responsible for reviewing and laying before the House of Commons the Sponsor Body’s estimates of expenditure. It is through these annual estimates that the programme will be funded, and approved by Members of Parliament. In addition, the Bill puts in place a number of financial controls. They include requiring the Estimates Commission to consult HM Treasury on the annual estimates for the funding of the R and R programme, and to have regard to any subsequent advice that it gives.
We are confident that the arrangements being put in place will deliver the necessary restoration works, and at the same time protect public money.
The Leader of the House has referred a number of times to the Olympics, which has some similarities to this project. One reason why that project was so successful was that Tessa Jowell did a fantastic job of engaging all the Opposition parties, securing their agreement. Now the Leader of the House is engaging in the same process but, as I understand it, there is about to be a leadership contest in her party. Clearly, if she becomes leader, she will be committed to this project. Has she secured the support of all the other potential leaders of her party, to ensure that the project can reach completion in 2031 or thereabouts?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point, because of course this project is a parliamentary project; it is not a project for Government. Very specifically, I have taken steps to ensure that the Bill will succeed any changes of leadership, any changes of Government, so that we will be back in here in the 2030s, under the sponsorship and leadership of Parliament as a House. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Consultation—cross-party, cross-House—is absolutely key to the success of this project, because there is no doubt that by the mid-2030s, even the next leader of the Conservative party may still not be around.
I thank the Leader of the House for what she said about estimates being laid, so that at least there will be clarity about how much we intend to spend. However, she will be aware of the difficulty debating the current estimates, when we can talk about anything except for the actual estimate. May we have an assurance that when these estimates are laid, we will be able to discuss the actual sums of money, not simply what they will be spent on?
I think I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. In essence, the Estimates Commission will be made up of parliamentarians, with lay member support, and those estimates will be laid before the House of Commons for debate and approval, with commentary from HM Treasury. Also, the hon. Gentleman should remember that the outline business case, which will be the initial proposal for deliverables and costs, will come before Parliament for it to vote on, and that should take place during 2021. I think I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that this House will have the opportunity to vote on, and debate, the finances; but I will perhaps provide him with further advice on that outside the Chamber, so that I can understand exactly the point that he is trying to solve.
Very briefly, as a correction to the point that has just been made, following a recommendation from the Procedure Committee—again, following a long campaign—we do now discuss estimates on estimates days, so that point is not accurate and we can deal with this during estimates days.
Several times, the Leader of the House has referred to the seven parliamentarians who will be on the Sponsor Body, but the Bill says no fewer than four and no more than eight. The Joint Committee chaired by Dame Caroline Spelman suggested that they should be elected Members. Should there not be more Members of the House of Commons than Members of the House of Lords, and would it not be a good idea for them to be elected?
This is a matter for the House to decide. I am talking about seven parliamentarians, because that is what is currently on the shadow Sponsor Body. It is, of course, for the House to make such decisions. The parties put forward their nominees, and that is the reason there are four peers and three Members of this House. This is precisely a very good example of where it is for the House to decide what structure it wants. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall make a bit more progress.
The Bill is not simply about restoring an old building in an urgent state of disrepair. This is about the ambition we have for a 21st century Parliament, which is more family-friendly and a truly modern workplace. The work we are undertaking provides Parliament with the opportunity to consider the daily working of the Palace. It is clear that the programme should seek improvements to the Palace for people with disabilities to gain access, but there is also an opportunity to resolve issues with long queues at visitor entrances and to offer more inclusive access to Parliament across the country by improving some of our broadcasting services.
The work will also provide employment opportunities right across the UK. The programme will require specialist skills, which, especially in the heritage sector, tend to be found in small and medium-sized enterprises. Apprenticeship schemes right across the UK will be able to engage in the work of restoring the Palace. This is already happening on other projects being carried out on the parliamentary estate, such as the encaustic tile conservation project. R and R also offers the opportunity to enhance the experience of students visiting Westminster, whether through improved educational facilities in the Palace or the opportunities of the Richmond House replica Chamber.
As hon. Members across the House know, I passionately believe in making Parliament a more family-friendly place to work. R and R will provide an opportunity to help make our workplace the best it can be in supporting Members to balance the long hours they work in this House with their family commitments and better reflect the public we are here to represent. That is just a run-through of some of my own views, but I recognise that all Members will have opinions on what they want to see delivered as part of R and R. That is why the Bill includes a specific duty on the Sponsor Body to consult parliamentarians on the strategic objectives of the R and R works.
Members across the House will also have views on the decant to our temporary workplace during R and R. In passing the motions in early 2018, Parliament was clear that as part of R and R it would temporarily leave the Palace, so that the restoration and renewal work can be done more quickly and more cheaply.
One concern people have expressed to me, and which we all have concerns about, is mission creep. Will the Leader of the House explain clearly how she sees the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority ensuring that once the case is set, future generations do not add in bells and whistles that will cost a lot more?
I hope I can assure the hon. Lady that the outline business case will be the project outline. The Estimates Commission will lay the annual estimates to the House for it to reject or approve. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady’s Public Accounts Committee and others, including the National Audit Office, will want to look very carefully at value for money and to ensure that there has not been scope creep. I absolutely accept the point she makes. This is a parliamentary project, so a very important feature will be that Members accept and respect the fact that we are seeking to restore this place at the best possible value for taxpayers’ money.
The work on the decant of the House of Commons is at present led by the House authorities and is not the responsibility of the Sponsor Body. I know that many of those who are engaged with the programme already, through visiting the booth in Portcullis House and reading the consultation strategy, will have had their own views and made them known. I have heard plenty of positive comments about the innovative and modern plans for the temporary Chamber, but there may well be something specific that Members would like to see. I therefore hope that everybody will feed their ideas and views into the consultation on the plans for the temporary decant and for the northern estate project.
I want to point out that the redeveloped Richmond House will provide a number of potential legacy benefits, the first of which relates to business resilience. All major organisations require a contingency plan. The works to Richmond House will provide a more robust future resilience plan, making sure that Parliament is prepared for business continuity, should it ever be needed, outside the Palace. Secondly, there is no doubt that it will improve the experience of the more than 1 million visitors to the parliamentary estate each year. The replica Chamber could become a hub for educational facilities, where schoolchildren could learn at first hand how Parliament works and could hold regular debates. It could become a home for the Parliamentary Archives, and it could be a location for major parliamentary and other exhibitions. The views of Members will be very welcome.
Thirdly, Richmond House is well placed in terms of security. The Murphy review, following the tragic murder of PC Keith Palmer in 2017, brought home the need for a fully secure perimeter around the Palace. Richmond House is the only option for decant within that secure perimeter. I encourage all Members to provide their views during the consultation on Richmond House, which is currently under way. However, I want to remind Members that the Bill before the House today is not concerned with where we will go while the works take place; it solely puts in place governance arrangements in order to deliver the vital works to the Palace at the best value to taxpayers.
To conclude, the time for patching and mending this place has come to an end. Those of us who are fully aware of the speed of deterioration of the Palace know that the sensible and decisive option is to facilitate a full restoration project. The choice before the House is to preserve the Palace of Westminster as the home of the UK Parliament for future generations or to keep risking a catastrophic failure, which I believe would be an unforgivable dereliction of duty. I look forward to hearing today’s contributions, and I commend the Bill to the House.
May I start by offering the House the apologies of the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend Valerie Vaz? She has a long-standing personal commitment and has asked me to step in. I hope I can be an adequate substitute for her—as always, I shall at least do my best.
I pay tribute to the Leader of the House for her excellent introduction to the Bill. My understanding is that over the past few months she has brought together Members from right across the House, in what has been a very difficult process. She has managed to find consensus, and I pay tribute to her for that.
In opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition I should say that we are pleased to support the Bill, which has followed a long process of assessing and reviewing the state of the Palace of Westminster and of determining how best to proceed.
The House debated and voted on restoration and renewal on
To protect Parliament from the possibility of irreversible damage, it is vital that the R and R process starts. The Leader of the House referred to the tragedy of Notre Dame, but it is worth reminding ourselves that this very Palace itself was born out of destruction by fire in Victorian times—there is historical precedent for taking these measures now.
By 234 votes to 185, the resolution required that “immediate steps be taken” to establish a shadow Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority, and that their “statutory successors” be established by legislation in due course. The House of Lords approved on
I thank everyone involved in drafting the Bill. It gives effect to the resolutions voted for by Parliament last year and seeks to establish the statutory bodies that will be responsible for the restoration and renewal works in the parliamentary estate. It establishes the governance structure within which the bodies will operate. They will be able to make strategic decisions on the restoration and renewal programme so that the Palace of Westminster can be secured as the UK Parliament for future generations.
With the establishment of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, the Sponsor Body will have overall responsibility for the restoration and renewal programme, act as a single client on behalf of both Houses and be empowered to form a Delivery Authority as a company limited by guarantee. The Delivery Authority will formulate proposals in relation to the restoration works and ensure their operational delivery. This two-tier approach, which, as we have heard, was used in the successful London Olympics project, is the best structure to deliver a value- for-money programme that commands the confidence of taxpayers and parliamentarians and is accountable to them. The costs of the project are of concern to all parliamentarians and the public.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the points made by Frank Field and Helen Goodman. The hon. Gentleman’s party has campaigned long and hard on austerity, quite understandably. Of course we have to make this building safe, but does he not think that it might go down rather badly in Labour heartlands that we are spending huge amounts of money on building a permanent replica Chamber, which will be a white elephant, when there are cheaper options for a temporary structure?
I thought that the Leader of the House answered that fairly during her speech; there will never be a right time to do this. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has been recruited to join those of us who oppose the Government’s austerity policies. I look forward to his joining us in the next Opposition day debate, whenever the Leader of the House grants us one. I have to say, though, that today is not the day for making partisan comments attacking the Government’s austerity programme.
We have kicked the can down the road for too long. As a result, I worry that costs are higher than they would have been if the job had been done previously. As the Leader of the House said, we now have to grab the bull by the horns, and her position has my support.
It is important that the programme provides value for money, but it is also right that we remember that this is one of the most historic and iconic buildings in the world and that preserving that history will come at a cost. The Bill establishes a Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission. The Estimates Commission will lay the Sponsor Body’s estimates before Parliament and play a role in reviewing the Sponsor Body’s expenditure. Crucially, if the anticipated final cost exceeds the amount of funds allocated for the works, the Estimates Commission can reject the estimate and require the Sponsor Body to prepare a new one.
A Joint Committee, chaired by Dame Caroline Spelman, who is in her place, scrutinised the draft Bill, which was published on
The Joint Committee published its report on
“the basic structure of governance proposed by the draft Bill is the correct one.”
The Government response was published on
“a Treasury Minister should be an additional member of the Sponsor Body”— which it said would
“underpin the hierarchy of decision making” and
“provide clarity to those delivering the project”.
The Government did not accept that proposal and insisted on
“a fundamental role for HM Treasury in being consulted on the annual estimates for the funding of the…programme.”
In our view, that extra person—the Minister—could be an ad hoc member of the Sponsor Body, attending when necessary, and would equalise the number of MPs and peers. As my hon. Friend Chris Bryant pointed out, peers have an extra place.
The Opposition spokesperson is making a good speech. One of the reasons some of my colleagues on the Committee and I were so keen to insert that line into the report was that part of the success of the Olympic project was that Government bought into and were right behind it. At the moment, the Leader of the House is exercised in trying to progress this, but there is nothing that binds the Government in. Although the Chancellor of the day will sign the cheques, it is fundamentally important for a Treasury Minister to sit on that Sponsor Body to make sure that the decision making is done properly through the whole process.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that contribution and for emphasising the point I am making. This is about driving forward the process right from the start and getting buy-in across both sides of the House.
I will highlight five areas: public engagement; the education centre; carbon emissions and environmental sustainability; skills and employment conditions; and modernisation and heritage. One of the Joint Committee’s key recommendations was for public engagement to be included in the Bill. It recommended that the Sponsor Body should
“promote public engagement with and public understanding of Parliament.”
“appropriate that this should be part of the Sponsor Board’s role”— and that responsibility should lie with Parliament instead. In our view, the Sponsor Body has an important role to fulfil in engaging the public with its work and the ongoing works. In that way, the public are involved in their Parliament at all stages and are aware of the process.
“take account of ‘the need’ rather than ‘the desirability’ of ensuring educational and other facilities are provided in the restored Palace.”
But in their response, the Government instead raised
“the need for the R&R programme to deliver good value for money.”
The Government mentioned “cost” and “value for money” 13 times each in their 29-page response. Although it is important to keep costs in check, it is concerning that the Bill does not mandate the refurbishment of education facilities and the creation of new outreach spaces. Everyone should take pride in Parliament’s enduring legacy for education, and young people especially gain a tremendous amount from Parliament’s Education Service, which serves to inform, engage and empower young people to understand and get involved in Parliament, politics and democracy.
The education centre in Victoria Tower Gardens has been a massive success, as have the outreach services. Indeed, it was my great pleasure, just this morning, that children from Blue Coat Primary School in Chester were visiting the Palace of Westminster and taking advantage of the educational facilities. The education centre and its facilities and facilitators should have a secured future both during the works on the northern estate and in the Queen Elizabeth conference centre, where the House of Lords will be, and after the works are completed. Education about parliament and democracy cannot be interrupted.
I had the pleasure of visiting Montenegro, where 50% of all its primary school children go through its education centre. Obviously, with a slightly different history, they need to learn about democracy. Does my hon. Friend agree that because the education centre is a temporary building, we need a long-term solution for that, and that some of the works at Richmond House could plug that gap?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. I had not realised until recently that it was only a temporary building. It has become such an important and integral part of Parliament’s work, and her suggestion is well made and I hope will be well listened to.
Let me turn to environmental sustainability. I was delighted that Parliament recently passed the Labour party’s historic motion declaring a climate emergency. It is important to consider the environmental impact of the restoration and renewal works. Designs for the buildings incorporated into the northern estate programme, and those being planned for restoration and renewal, emphasise the high efficiency of equipment and operational energy use and electricity as the principal power source, based on projections of future grid decarbonisation.
The Committee on Climate Change’s report, “Net Zero—The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming”, recommends an emissions target of net zero greenhouse gases by 2050, and Parliament has a plan for that. I understand that within the necessary constraints of heritage and conservation planning the refurbishment will support the energy efficiency of the buildings involved, using more energy-efficient building fabrics, including, where feasible, in the Palace of Westminster. However, environmental sustainability must now be locked into the heart of every decision we make.
The illegal practice of blacklisting is an issue that hon. Members have raised in the House, as have I. I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a member of and have gratefully received support from the Unite and GMB trade unions. While this is a matter for the Delivery Authority, we must remember that the practice of blacklisting is illegal and has caused untold harm to people’s lives. We have a wonderful opportunity to invest in people’s futures by upskilling them. We can harness the current skills of specialists from around the UK and train and encourage more young people, especially women, into this area. We must also send out the clear message that this is a prestigious project and that companies that have been involved in blacklisting construction workers will not be welcome to submit bids. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support this position.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his work on blacklisting. He raises the matter with me regularly. Does he agree that investment in skills must be a priority if we are to avoid importing a lot of people, probably from the EU, to work on things as varied as the carvings, the masonry and the windows? If we do not invest in skills now, those people will simply not be there.
I absolutely agree. I hope we can also see this as an opportunity to train people in situ during the project, but someone has to do the training itself, so we will certainly have to upskill our people.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, a lot of work is going on and firms are doing exactly that—bringing in apprentices and training them in specialties. I know that because one of the major firms is in my constituency.
Sadly, blacklisting is still rife in the construction sector. There are experienced construction workers and others in associated trades who cannot find work today or who are given a job offer only to find it withdrawn without explanation a couple of days later. Blacklisting wrecks lives, careers and families and damages workplace health and safety. When McAlpine was given the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben contract, it caused consternation because it had been up to its neck in blacklisting. Many large construction companies were part of the cabal of firms associated with the Consulting Association and faced legal action from trade unions on behalf of the blacklisted members. Numerous of those have now admitted their culpability and paid into a compensation scheme, but several others have failed to do so. I shall press the simple case that any construction company that has been found to be associated with blacklisting workers and failed to accept its wrongdoing and compensate workers for that treatment should be publicly excluded from bidding for these prestigious contracts. This is a chance for Parliament to express its opposition to the terrible practice of blacklisting, and we should embrace that chance.
It is incumbent on the Sponsor Body to ensure that all areas of the country benefit from this programme. London benefits from having Parliament physically located here, so the delivery body must ensure that work is fairly shared out across the country—a point that the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts made in an intervention on the Leader of the House. I am proud that Donald Insall Associates, the country’s leading heritage architectural firm, based in my constituency and led by Tony Barton, is already working as conservation architect on the restoration and renewal project for the Palace and is advising on the northern estate. We must ensure that businesses small and large from across the UK have similar opportunities.
Finally, there are many ways in which we can respect the heritage of Parliament and replicate it while modernising it and making it accessible to everyone. This is a diverse nation and people have different needs. There are many people with disabilities that are not overtly visible. We need to be imaginative in working out how this place can be accessible—for example, to those with autism. We are told the noise in Portcullis House often reaches very high levels, and this has perhaps not been taken into account previously, although it was referred to earlier by the right hon. Member for Meriden.
Hon. Members have made various contributions to the consultation. I am told that my hon. Friend Chris Ruane, who has worked hard on bringing the idea of mindfulness to hon. Members and their staff, has asked that hon. Members and their staff benefit from a meditation room. These are ways of introducing new ways of working to an historic building.
In conclusion, we have a duty to protect this heritage building and world UNESCO site, and the restoration and renewal project will help to make this a more modern and compliant place to work with better access facilities for everyone. We can get this right, after so many years of kicking the can down the road, so that this place is fit for future generations.
The fire at Notre Dame was a stark warning that historic buildings are incredibly vulnerable to catastrophic damage, either from failure to repair them in a timely fashion or indeed during repair itself, although, to be fair to the Government, they had decided before that awful tragedy to get cracking on this project. It is important for this generation of MPs to note that this should have been started many decades ago. For the benefit of members of the public, some of whom are watching in the Gallery, I should explain that the difficulty for parliamentarians in starting this project has been that it is difficult at any time for us to argue the case for spending money on our place of work. This is not any old place of work, however; it is a world heritage site, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore it and renew it—two words of equal importance.
I was honoured to be asked to chair the draft legislative Committee on the Bill and was blessed in the composition of its membership. Its members were very knowledgeable and played an active part, some of them providing continuity, having come from other Committees that had already worked on the project, meaning we did not just reinvent the wheel.
What caused me most concern was the length of time before Parliament could decant and work begin in earnest. It was on
I think we are all willing to decant, so that is good news. I thank the right hon. Lady for her chairmanship of the Committee, whose work was concluded with dispatch but thoughtfulness. She will be glad to know, hot off the press, that the Public Accounts Committee has received a letter from the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence that should speed up our departure because we have now, I hope, resolved the issue of the MOD car park.
Yes, I was very pleased to hear that news hot off the press. It is very significant. For the benefit of others hon. Members, I should explain that the potential hold-up caused by our not being able to access the car park belonging to the MOD could have added three years to the project and resulted in an estimated additional cost of £350 million. I am delighted that common sense has prevailed. None the less, that still means, on the evidence the Committee was given, that we cannot decant until 2025, which is six years hence.
As the Leader of the House said, there have already been some near misses, with falling masonry and leaks—including one in this Chamber that interrupted proceedings. As a working environment, it is far from ideal for the staff, who outnumber parliamentarians in this place and often spend more days per year in Parliament grappling with the practical difficulties of a building that is deteriorating—quite apart from the rather depressing impact of working somewhere that feels like a building site.
For visitors, the experience is also unsatisfactory as large parts of the buildings are covered in scaffolding and hoardings that make them inaccessible and, as I hear many tourists commenting, unattractive to photograph when people have come all the way to do just that.
As I said earlier, the members of the Committee included parliamentarians with disabilities. I am sure that Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell will not mind—I have already spoken to them about this—if I pay tribute to the way in which they made us aware just how difficult it is to work in this place. We have practical experience of that, having moved from Committee Room to Committee Room for our hearings. There are hearing loops in some of those rooms, but we found in practice that when a loop was switched on for a hearing-impaired member of the Committee, the microphones went off. Even for those who do not, as far as we know, have any hearing difficulties, it was at times very difficult to hear the evidence that was being presented. Such barriers to the ability to work in a place that requires everyone to be able to access it put people off working here, serving here, and putting their names forward as parliamentary candidates. As we restore and also renew Parliament, we must make really sure that those barriers are removed.
The inaccessibility of the building to those with disabilities is a wrong that urgently needs to be put right, and it must be addressed during the decant. I am talking not about the building that we will eventually have, but the temporary building. Beyond that, however, we need to give expression in this legislation to the public’s desire to be better served by their Parliament. To that end, there needs to be extensive consultation. That will be part of the role of the Sponsor Body, but it has not escaped us as parliamentarians—and this is, as much as anything, for the benefit of the public—that MPs are not in good odour in the country, and the work of Parliament is coming in for a lot of criticism. People have views on how they want to see Parliament working better. There is no better opportunity than this project for us to consult them on the kind of changes that they want, and, as far as possible, to determine how we can deliver them.
The main reason for the delay is the chosen plan for the decanting of Parliament to a replacement building on the site of the present Richmond House. Because Richmond House is a listed building, it will be more difficult to demolish and rebuild it under planning law. The Committee took the view—which I am sure was correct—that under the Bill as it stands, Parliament is not taking separate planning powers to itself for this purpose, but will be subject to the same planning regime as everyone else. We were told, however, that the demolition and rebuilding of Richmond House would cause some delays, as there would inevitably be strong objections from those who value its heritage. This is not a “ready to roll” solution. The decant to Richmond House also requires some of the footprint of what is known as the northern estate, which is presently undergoing refurbishment and will not be available for some time. I am glad that the Government have accepted the Committee’s recommendation for the “rolling together” of those who are overseeing those repairs with the Sponsor Body, because that would surely optimise our ability to complete the work at speed.
In the light of the Notre Dame fire, I urge the parliamentary authorities to review the list of decant options that they discarded before deciding on the demolition and rebuilding of Richmond House. As I have said, it is not a “ready to roll” option. I appreciate that a primary reason for its selection was the security of all who visit and work on the parliamentary estate, and I am very grateful for that concern for our lives. However, other buildings in the vicinity are considered secure enough to host international conventions with high-profile participants, and all the options still require staff, parliamentarians and visitors to walk to and from the site of the parliamentary decant building in any event. That security risk cannot be avoided. The Committee was concerned by the implicit view that the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre is deemed safe enough for peers to use, but not MPs. I found that distinction between categories of parliamentarian rather strange.
As the Second Church Estates Commissioner, I wrote to the Leader of the House asking why Church House had been rejected as a decant option, given that it had been the default decant option for 40 years and had set an historical precedent, having been used by Churchill as Prime Minister during the second world war to decant both Houses at different times. I have a simple way of approaching the issue: if Church House was good enough for Churchill, it ought to be good enough for us. Moreover, Churchill was kind enough to oversee the installation of a bomb-proof roof over the Chamber and a blast wall around it. However, I am no security expert, and I must acknowledge that the security threats that we face in the modern age may be subtly different from those that were experienced during world war two.
May I ask the Leader of the House to think once more about the options that might enable us to decant more swiftly? Let me also correct a possible misapprehension. When I wrote to her, I was envisaging not a temporary building in Dean’s Yard, but a straight swap between the whole of Church House—which has room for 460 employees—and Richmond House. I have another addendum: when we decant, can we please ensure that we still have the chapel facility that we currently enjoy in the Undercroft?
I am grateful for the acceptance of a number of the Committee’s recommendations, including the recommendation for the merging of the present works committee on the northern estate with the Sponsor Body proposed in the Bill. That is good, and may help to accelerate the project. However, we also recommended that a Treasury Minister should be appointed to the Sponsor Body, because it is taxpayers’ money that will be used, and the Treasury will have every interest in keeping an eye on the costs and value for money of the project. Today I received a letter on that subject from the Prime Minister, and I think it is worth sharing her response with the House. She points out that there are
“financial safeguards” in the Bill, and adds:
“This includes a fundamental role for HM Treasury in being consulted on the annual estimates for the funding of the R&R. As part of this process”
—this is the important bit—
“any comments made by HM Treasury on the annual estimate must be laid before Parliament.”
So we shall be able to see the Treasury’s response, but we must be able to debate it as well. I should be happy to hear the Leader of the House confirm that later.
I think that a political figurehead will be needed to answer questions in the House, after the model of the late Dame Tessa Jowell, whom we will eternally remember with gratitude for the success of the Olympics. I am sure that the Leader of the House would do that just as well, but to deliver continuity it would need to be done by the office holder rather than the person. Given the length of time that the decant and the construction will take, it is important that we do not suffer a corporate loss of memory in the process. I hope that the Leader of the House will be that figurehead, and that her successors will take on the role with equal enthusiasm in the model that she has demonstrated.
We must bear in mind that the Bill covers both restoration and renewal. We must not slip into the short- hand of talking just about restoration. It is also important for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve the whole United Kingdom. I pay tribute to Neil Gray for speaking up for the devolved nations—all of them—because every part of the United Kingdom must benefit from this. As others have pointed out, that was an important feature of the Olympics.
I remember visiting a small business in the north-west of England in the aftermath of the Olympics. Its owner told me proudly that it had produced one of the features that helped to make the buildings in the Olympic Park more sustainable. That had the knock-on effect of creating and sustaining jobs in the business, and it meant that people benefited well beyond the environs of Westminster. This project must do exactly the same, and—as Christian Matheson pointed out—it must offer apprenticeship opportunities to both men and women, so that part of the legacy is an increase in the number of people with the skills that are needed to restore heritage assets throughout the UK. Those skills are currently in short supply.
The Committee also received evidence from Historic England, which asked us to amend the Bill to make specific reference to heritage. Parliament is a world heritage site so the need to conserve the outstanding architectural, archaeological and historical Palace of Westminster should be explicit. I believe this is crucial because, as Historic England points out, heritage conservation should be within the scope of sustainable development which underpins the planning system. It is not about preserving this place as a museum; it is about making sure that its unique historical significance has a sustainable future. The Government agreed to give this further detailed consideration.
The Church of England has to balance the twin demands of heritage and future sustainability all the time. People are often unaware of how we make cathedrals more sustainable with solar panels on the roof—which people cannot see—and renewable energy features that people benefit from in not sitting in a cold church building. People often think it is impossible to do these things with listed buildings, but that is simply not true. Historic England has been very supportive of efforts to make these heritage assets sustainable and we should do everything possible to improve the sustainability of the Palace as part of this project.
The evidence given by the head of the church buildings division of the Church of England to the Committee urged Parliament to become what she called an “intelligent client” by asking hard questions in timely fashion and being disciplined about not interfering with the project in ways that lengthen it and add cost unnecessarily. I encourage all Members to heed this advice as the restoration and renewal of these great buildings gets under way. Most of us are, I think, unlikely still to be here when the project completes but this should reinforce our efforts to get it absolutely right for future generations so that we can answer any future criticism and say that we gave this our very best endeavours.
The Government are to be congratulated on grasping the nettle where previous cohorts of politicians shrank from the task, and I hope the Bill, as amended, will be passed speedily through both Houses to get a long overdue project under way.
Of all the things this House can do to endear itself to the good people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, spending billions of pounds on renovating the place where we, the Members of Parliament, do our work probably, just about, would not make the top 10. In these days of austerity and with us still going through all the horrors and psychodramas of this crazy Tory Brexit it almost seems like it is designed to intentionally wind up the good people of this country. So I sincerely wish this House all the very best in trying to sell this to a sceptical and, frankly, had-enough nation.
The hon. Gentleman is critical of spending money on the UK Parliament so it amuses me that there are colleagues of all of ours up the road, as he would say, in a wonderful, splendid modern Parliament building that cost the taxpayer quite a lot of money.
I will say two things to the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] She is already hearing a chorus on one of them: it cost less than Portcullis House. And if she wants to know about the difficulties in designing a Parliament and creating a Parliament she only needs to look at the experience of the Scottish Parliament. That was one of the first pieces of work that the Scottish Parliament went into, and I can tell the hon. Lady that it was not particularly easy; there was real discontent about it. That is what this House and Members will experience; that is what they have got to look forward to, because they will have to try to sell this to a sceptical nation, and I wish them all the very best.
On that, let me declare an interest—or maybe a disinterest. Me and my colleagues do not intend to be here at the end of the process.
I was going to tell a few jokes in my speech, but I think we have heard the funniest one already: the idea of the Labour party gaining any seats from the Scottish National party is the best joke we will hear.
Let me declare my disinterest: me and my SNP colleagues are not going to be here. We are probably not even going to be here at the commencement of the project given its tortuous progress. So we will let other Members get on with their vital restoration and renewal work while we get down to the business of restoring and renewing our beautiful country in the shape of the priorities of the Scottish people.
I like the fact that those in charge of this call it restoration and renewal—R and R. Who doesn’t like a bit of R and R? Everybody likes that. If they called it the restoring of a Parliament for the Members of Parliament of this country I am sure they would have a few more difficulties in trying to explain that to the people of this country. And good luck to them in defending the £4 billion to £6 billion that they will have to spend on restoring and renewing this place.
My hon. Friend may recall that when the National Assembly for Wales had a new building the cost was £60 million, and the Conservative party in particular ran a full-scale campaign against that expenditure, yet it seems very relaxed about spending well over £5 billion on this Parliament.
I have to say very candidly to my hon. Friend that I have given up trying to second-guess what this Conservative party says about anything when it comes to spending in this country.
I think the people of the United Kingdom will now be trying to figure out how many schools and hospitals £4 billion to £6 billion could build, and I am pretty certain that all other Members will be reminded of that right up until their posteriors return to these restored and renewed green Benches.
Of course I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
Just so the hon. Gentleman knows, I agree with him: every £100 million we spend on this permanent replica Chamber is £100 million less for teachers and doctors and nurses and all the rest. I just want the hon. Gentleman to know that I am fully on his side.
It is always curious what we pick up in the way of allies when we are going through particular issues and projects. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that additional comment.
It just so happens, as I will touch on in my own contribution, that I was on the Holyrood progress group, which was in charge of building the Scottish Parliament building, and I can remember the sound and the fury and the brickbats that came my way, John Home Robertson’s way and Linda Fabiani’s way as we proceeded with the project, yet I am bound to say this: I think my SNP friends will agree that now that the building is finished Scotland is extremely proud of it and nobody mentions the price any more—and I for one am proud to have been involved in building such a landmark in Scotland’s history.
I am tempted to say, “So it’s all his fault then,” but I will not do that—and I stress that I only said that in jest before the hon. Gentleman gets all shirty. He is absolutely right: the Scottish Parliament had a tortuous progress, and I commend the hon. Gentleman because I know he served on that group with distinction and hard work, and that project was down to those people who designed all of that. We should not forget, however, the fuss that was created for a very modest building that cost less than Portcullis House.
We are talking about something that it is said will cost £4 billion to £6 billion, but nobody actually believes it will cost that; it is never going to cost £4 billion. Most people suspect that that figure will come in at closer to £10 billion or £12 billion, and that is before we even find out all the different things that will be underneath as we start to dig under. We have already heard about Edward the Confessor; that was just in the car park of this building. Goodness knows what else will be discovered and the archaeological programmes that will be undertaken. So I salute the other Members of this House in their bold and courageous move and look forward to them selling this to the people of this nation; and from afar we will be watching and wishing them all the best as they get down to restoring and renewing this building.
But I agree that this building is falling down and becoming a hazard to all those who work here. Decades of neglect and indecision has seen to that. Anybody who stands still for a moment in this place now stands a very good chance of being hit by falling masonry. It is so overrun with vermin that even the mice in this place now wear overalls. Because of decades of prevarication this building is practically falling down. The failure of successive Governments to face up to their responsibilities means we now have a building that could face a catastrophic failure or massive fire at any time.
Everyone has drawn the comparisons with Notre-Dame and that is right. The Leader of the House has given that example in her many comments on this; she has said the example of Notre-Dame shows why this is now imperative. But there are key differences between this House and that cathedral on the Seine: one is a building where people think they speak to God and the other is Notre-Dame cathedral.
It will probably not come as a great surprise to learn that me and my SNP colleagues do not share the same dewy-eyed affection and nostalgia that some Members feel towards this place. I have to say that I personally love this building. It is a truly iconic building, and it is a real pleasure and privilege to work in it; walking down Victoria Street to work I feel a sense of pride that I am coming to work in what is a fantastic building. But I have to say that I could probably just about discharge my responsibilities as a Member of Parliament from somewhere else.
This is a beautiful building, but it comes with particular historical baggage. It was very much associated with a height of empire when it was built, and with some of the worst excesses of global imperialism, which we have to concede was a feature of the 19th century United Kingdom. It is a building that is ingrained with 19th-century power relationships, and with a historical cap-doffing, forelock-tugging culture. We even have one part of the building where we refer to people as lords and ladies, and we actually think that is okay! What type of building is this that creates this kind of culture? If we are serious about being a new, modern 21st-century Parliament, we should have a building that reflects these new ambitions and aspirations. We should not be trying to shoehorn Parliament into a mock-Gothic Victorian tourist attraction. Why are we not thinking properly about this?
I always love the hon. Gentleman’s banter, but I must gently point out to him that Stewart Hosie is a member of the House of Commons Commission, and I remember feisty discussions in which I was worrying about the value for money for taxpayers and the hon. Member for Dundee East was insisting that the money must be spent and that we had to get on with the project. Pete Wishart is telling a slightly different story now, but it is his Scottish National party colleague on the House of Commons Commission who wants this work to go ahead.
The Leader of the House is right in one respect. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East was the Scottish National party member of the House of Commons Commission, but I am now the new member of that commission. Let me make it clear that we are all for moving out of this place—of course we are. We have to move out. It would be ridiculous to try to stay in a place that is practically falling down and that is infested with vermin. It is no place for our visitors to come to and it is imperative that we should move.
I am coming on to talk about what I think we should be moving out to, and what we should do to ensure that we get value for money, because that is the key feature in our discussions today. We know that this very technical and mechanical Bill provides for the governance of the project, but it is very much caught up in the whole idea of how we present a modern Parliament in the future.
My hon. Friend is right to say that no one is arguing against spending any money whatsoever. This is about achieving value for money and doing the right thing. Let us look at the new Scottish Parliament, with its new, modern Chamber that is accessible to everyone; it has electronic voting and even has normal daylight coming in. That is what that money was spent on. What is being proposed here is simply to do everything up but keep it exactly the same, even though it is not fit for purpose.
That is the key point. Why are we taking this place apart, only to reassemble it in the same way and do the same old bad things in the same old venue? It is so unimaginative. Whoever presented this idea really must have been up all night thinking about it, mustn’t they? “Let’s just come back to the same place that we are going to be leaving! And when we leave this place temporarily, let’s just create a carbon copy for us to use before we come back to this place!” That makes absolutely no sense.
When I look around this building, I get a sense that it is a sad metaphor for Brexit Britain. It is dilapidated, falling to bits around our ears and unloved, and it could go up in flames at any minute. Is that not a truly fantastic representation of the Brexit Britain that we are heading towards? Perhaps this Parliament and this building are exactly what this country deserves. The Leader of the House is right to say that we have to move out, for the sake of the thousands of people who work here and the many visitors who come here. It is for them that we must move out, but to move out simply to come back to the same building, with all its cultural and historical trappings, is a serious mistake.
It is a real pity that we were not listened to when we were going through all these Committees, when we proposed selling this building off to the private sector. People would be queuing up and biting our arm off to get hold of a place like this. It is a UNESCO site and one of the most iconic buildings in the world. They would be fighting each other to get their hands on it. Selling it off to the private sector would obviously save us billions of pounds on the redevelopment costs. We could then move out to a new building that would meet our requirements as a modern 21st-century democracy. It would meet all the security arrangements that we obviously need, and it would actually accommodate all 650 Members, which is more than can be said for this place. Why was this not thought about seriously? I think it is a huge deficiency that that was not done. My hon. Friend Neil Gray tried to ensure that that proposal was properly considered in the Committee, but it was not even given the time of day. The House has definitely let the country down by not considering it.
Let us imagine what would happen if we did sell this place off. I would like to see it become a museum to British democracy, where people could come and be amused by how Members of Parliament behaved and did their business in the early 21st century, braying like perfidious donkeys on speed to show their approval because they are not allowed to clap, and wandering around in circles for hour after hour just to register their decisions on what happens in this place. People would laugh out loud at the fact that Members referred to themselves as “honourable” and “right honourable”. I can just imagine the joy and amusement that would be brought to visitors from around the world who came to a museum of British democracy here in the House of Commons on this UNESCO site. It was a failure of diligence of the House not to consider that option.
We now have this Bill, based on decisions that were taken last year. The Leader of the House was right to say that it is all about the governance involved. It creates the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, and we will also have the Delivery Authority, which will operate as a company limited by guarantee. This is reminiscent of the London Olympics, but I was here when the London Olympics were first being considered, and I can tell the Leader of the House that the way in which the Olympics Delivery Body was shaped was not exactly a positive experience for us in Scotland, or for Wales and the regions of the United Kingdom.
What I remember about the way in which the London Olympics were designed was that we got next to nothing in the way of contracts. Large sums of our lottery money were diverted to pay for activity down here, and there were years of wrangling over the Barnett consequentials. The Government attempted to define the spending in London to build all that activity as UK-wide spending. If I remember correctly, it was only following the intervention of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this was eventually resolved in a Joint Committee. That experience was not good for us, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts has to be supported. This has to be a project for the whole of the United Kingdom. We were all shocked by what happened at the Olympics, and this new project has to be seen to be of real benefit for the nations and regions of the UK. I hope that when the Bill goes into Committee, my hon. Friend will be listened to carefully and patiently—[Interruption.] Christian Matheson says he wants to be listened to as well. I think we have an alliance here, and knowing him and my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts, it would be a formidable one that would obviously deliver what we want. I look forward to them getting substantial and solid results. I see that the Leader of the House is perhaps wondering how she will be able to take them on to ensure that we all get the right results.
We have no issue with the northern estate programme. Looking at the plans for Richmond House, it is hard to see how any alternative could be designed. I know it was a hard job to figure out where we would go, and I do not think there is any issue about how this should be done. Richmond House was the right choice. Looking at the figures, I see that the works there have been vaguely costed at about £500 million, and that it will then become some sort of education centre. That has not yet been specified, so we are not too sure about what will happen there.
However, the plan seems to be to create a carbon copy of this place in Richmond House. Have we all seen the photographs of this? I am looking round, and I see that most Members have done so. It will be almost exactly the same as this place. What is the point of that? What is the point of moving all this somewhere else for six years, only for that place to become something else again? Why are we not using this opportunity to do something more imaginative? Why are we not thinking about all the difficulties that we have in this place, including our laborious processes and the ridiculous and silly conventions? Apparently it is even the job of the Speaker to dress the male Members of this House! How about looking at some of the ridiculous, absurd things that waste our time and get in the way of how we approach our business in this House? Why can we not go away for a few years and do things like a 21st-century Parliament? What is wrong with that? What is wrong with the idea of going to the northern estate, doing something different and then coming back here? Members can then come back to this 19th-century palace and get on with their usual business, but it shows such a lack of imagination.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is having fun, but there is a kernel of truth in that. One reason why they are having to demolish Richmond House is that the House authorities insisted that they wanted a Chamber of exactly the same size and these very wide division Lobbies, which means that we have to demolish a whole listed building. If we had modern voting during the temporary decant, as they do in every other Parliament in Europe, and just had a card to put next to a machine, we would not need the Division Lobbies, and we would not need to demolish Richmond House.
I am warming to the right hon. Gentleman. That makes it two interventions in row that contained practically nothing to disagree with. Alliances are building up all over the place and—who knows?—we might actually be able to make some progress when it comes to modernising this place and making it look and feel like something belonging to this century, not the 19th century. I am pretty certain that he is already thinking, “I’m going to vote for this guy for Speaker,” because that is the sort of agenda that I will be putting forward. We need proper reform of this place, and it cannot come quick enough. I am looking forward to support from right across the House for that agenda.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I can see that I am wearing your patience a little thin, so I will end by saying that the SNP will not oppose the Second Reading this evening. I hope that some of our modest suggestions and proposals will be at least considered—even just for the temporary decant. There is no reason why we cannot do things a little differently and be a bit more imaginative in how we do our business. We could have a look and see whether our absurd conventions actually have any value and work for us. Let us redesign how we work in this place.
We will be watching just how much the project is going to cost, because I must say again that this is not going to go down well. I do not think that the public have actually caught on to this yet—they might have done after my speech—and I do not think that they have really realised what this House is doing with this money. If the price tag is going to be £10 billion to £12 billion, I can only foresee difficulties, problems and issues as the process progresses through the House. Best of luck with it all. The SNP will not oppose the Bill tonight. We will try to get something for the nations of the UK and regions of England, and I hope that the House considers that as the Bill goes through Committee.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate, which relates to an issue that nobody really wants to address. I take the point made by Pete Wishart about the cost of the programme. Nobody likes the cost, but the truth of the matter is that if a building of this nature was in private ownership, we would be demanding that the private owners did the repairs and brought it up to standard. This building is important not just for the United Kingdom, but for the world. I welcome the Bill, and I welcome the Leader of the House’s commitment to getting on with the job, as it has been pushed to the side for far too long because it has been too difficult.
I understand the opposition and dislike of my colleagues who would prefer us not to decant. However, anybody who visits the basement to see the conditions down there—electrical pipes running next to gas pipes and air conditioning pipes—would not want to work down there for very long. Anybody who opposes this move should be sent to work down in the basement for six weeks—six hours would probably be quite sufficient.
However the decision is not just about the basement. The fire safety systems are antiquated, and fire officers are required to patrol the Palace 24 hours a day to be on the lookout for fires. Some of the essential mechanical and electrical services are up to 130 years old, such as the heating, drainage, lighting, water, ventilation and communications. Repairs are needed to Victoria Tower to preserve our Parliamentary Archives, which holds millions of records. I hope that a new home will eventually be found for some of those archives, because that could be an important part of the building in the future.
The Palace was built using Anston limestone, which quickly began to decay, and little was done to prevent its decline during the 19th century. The Bill and the associated proposals address something that has been put to one side for years. Asbestos, which was used extensively during the post-war rebuilding period, is present throughout the building and obviously needs to be replaced. The vast majority of the Palace’s 4,000 bronze windows do not close properly, letting water in and heat out. Many of the historic parts of the Palace are at significant risk.
This programme is the right course of action, and setting up a Sponsor Body to liaise with the House and with the authorities in both Houses is the kind of thing that we need. However, turning to schedule 1 to the Bill, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is wedded to the fact that the people who are already on the Sponsor Body should not be there for the next five years. It has taken a long time to get the Sponsor Body operating. Its members were appointed through a proper system, and I do not favour the idea of reappointments, because a lot of work has already been done.
I fully accept that we must keep a close eye on the cost of this building, but I also look to the example of what happened when Portcullis House was built. There was a lot of criticism about the cost. It did not help that it was built above Westminster station, which added a lot of extra variables, but look at how the building is used today. It is a solid part of Westminster, and it is always in heavy demand when Parliament is sitting—the rooms where Committees meet and the larger meeting rooms—and we can face problems when a group of schoolchildren comes down, for example. The situation has got better, but it is still quite difficult to book a room.
The Leader of the House has been incredibly patient and good at listening and taking on board all the representations. When we had the debate a few months ago about whether to decant, it was interesting that all the previous Leaders of the House voted for the decant. Every single one of them voted for it in a Division that was completely free for Government Members. Given my right hon. Friend’s views on public spending on big projects, which I will perhaps leave to one side at the moment, I can well understand why she was very reticent to say, “Let’s decant. Let’s move out. Let’s do it that way.”
However, one just has to look at the problems, at what is going on around the House at the moment, and at all the work that is going on year in, year out. Lots of that work cannot take place at the moment, because it would make places inaccessible. I reluctantly came around to the decant idea, but I was previously of the view—I partly regret this, but I understand why it has not been done—that we should take planning powers and become our own planning authority. I recognise that thought has been given to that and that we have decided not to go down that particular route, and I accept that. However, the simple fact is that this is an island building. We are employing the Sponsor Body and using the best available advice for how to do not only a proper renewal job but a restoration job. This is a building that we wish to protect not just for our generation, but for generations to come. Now that the scaffolding has been removed from the north face of Big Ben, people can see the difference made to the clock. I hope future Parliaments and future generations will make sure to keep on top of the restoration project once it has been completed.
Members said earlier, “Leave it for a little while, because we have had enough of austerity and we should not do this.” This project will take six years to get under way. Even now, a lot of the work on this project is not about the bricks and mortar part of the job, nor the decant, but about the planning process. It is about making sure that we get the equipment and materials right so that we can look back on the project and say, “Yes, they did make it right. They did get the aesthetics right. They did get the building right.”
The one thing I always point out to my constituents when they come down to Portcullis House is that the stone is from the Ann Twyford quarry in Birchover in my constituency. Portcullis House is a fine building we are proud of. Once the restoration of this building is done, I want to make sure it is in a similar position.
I warmly commend Sir Patrick McLoughlin for his speech, and we now move from the dales to the valleys. I think he and I would agree that, as the Leader of the House said, when we first looked at restoration and renewal—I first looked at it in 2008 when I was Deputy Leader of the House—we saw it with a sceptical eye. I represent one of the poorest constituencies in the land, and I would love to see large amounts of money spent on infrastructure projects in my constituency to improve the national health service and to save people from the food bank existence that many in work still have to pursue. The truth is that this is not either/or but both/and. We have to tackle the poverty in our land and we have to make sure that this building is put right.
I know Pete Wishart wants to live in this building, however horrible he was about it, and my one major difference with him is that I do not think we can just sell the building as it would no longer be the icon that it currently is. Every Hollywood movie filmed in London, if it wants to show the United Kingdom, shows this building. The building would no longer be that icon if it were just a hotel. Frankly, I do not think anyone would want to take on the building on a commercial basis unless we had already sorted out the plumbing, the electricity and all the mechanical engineering. In actual fact, it would be more expensive for us to find a completely alternative venue, rather than to make this building good.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does he agree that, as the building is a UNESCO world heritage site, it is the responsibility of the Government, through the Treasury, to fund the work or to make sure it happens?
Absolutely, and the point has been made many times not only by my hon. Friend but by the Public Accounts Committee, which she chairs, that this is a cost-saving measure, rather than something to our detriment.
The Leader of the House mentioned many of the problems in the building, including the falling masonry and the danger of fire, but I want to start with the stench. Maybe this year more than any other, but the stench on the Terrace, on the Principal Corridor and in the basement rooms is absolutely appalling because the building’s drainage system is from 150 years ago. There is a beautiful piece of Victorian engineering down in the basement underneath the Speaker’s garden, but it is not fit for the 21st century. We need to be doing these things better.
For that matter, as my hon. Friend Christian Matheson said admirably from the Front Bench, we need to get to a place where all the energy we consume in this building is used efficiently and is carbon neutral. That will be possible only if we have a major renewal of the mechanical engineering aspects of the building, which will be 75% of the bill.
I sometimes feel we are like King Canute trying to prevent the sewage from climbing up the stairs towards us. That is fitting because, of course, King Canute was the first person to build a palace on this piece of land at the beginning of the 11th century. It is bizarre that The Times has its office in a portakabin on the roof of this building. We would laugh at any other country in the world that looked after a UNESCO-listed building in such an appalling way.
The cloisters, one of the most beautiful parts of the building, are completely hidden to the vast majority of the public. They were built by Henry VIII, and who knows whether Thomas Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell or whoever else kept their horses in there? It does not matter, because the truth is that this beautiful perpendicular architecture is falling apart on our watch as we simply do not have the capacity to do all the work that needs to be done to the building at the same time.
We have dragged our heels. They may be beautiful heels, but they have been dragged for far too long. I am delighted that the Leader of the House, perhaps seizing the moment after the terrible fire at Notre Dame, which brought home the fact that a building is at most danger of fire during such work—exactly the situation in which we find ourselves—is taking advantage of the moment to put on her wellington boots and stomp over to Downing Street to say that now is the time to bring forward the Bill. I am enormously grateful to her for doing that.
We have already made some decisions, and I know people will want to review and revise those decisions endlessly into the future. Dame Caroline Spelman did a good job of making sure that the Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings Bill did not keep on revising the decisions we have already decided. One of the things we have decided is that we will move out in one fell swoop and that we will come back. That does not necessarily mean that every single aspect of the Chamber will look exactly as it looks now.
We have to make sure this Chamber has proper disabled access. That will be complicated but, as the Joint Committee heard, there are many churches across the land that have had to deal with precisely these issues and have done so very beautifully and elegantly in a way that meets all the statutory requirements while respecting the history, the tradition and the architectural beauty of the places concerned. I am sure we can do that in this Chamber so that, for instance, a Clerk would be able to sit at the Table in a wheelchair, if necessary. Or, for that matter, an hon. Member in a wheelchair would not have to sit at the Bar of the House but could sit somewhere else—they could even be a Minister, a shadow Minister or the Speaker. All these things should be obvious to us today.
Other Members have already mentioned the issues for partially sighted people. Some years ago when I sat on the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, which my right hon. Friend Mark Tami might mention later, one of the things that came home to me most strongly is that the dim lighting in this building makes it particularly difficult for people with partial sight to feel confident as they go around the building, to read papers and to take part in discussions and debates. That obviously affects Members of both Houses.
We have also decided that we will decant to Richmond House—that is a decision. There is no point constantly revising it. That is what is going to happen. I say to those who want constantly to revise these issues that, by doing so, all we would be doing is delaying, delaying and delaying, and every year of delay is another £100 million added to the bill.
We have also decided in principle to set up arm’s length bodies, just as the Olympics were delivered, with the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority, which is precisely what this Bill introduces. I fully support that process. There are, however, some problems that will need to be addressed in Committee and during the Bill’s remaining stages. The first is the issue of planning. The biggest risk to this whole process is the planning process. If we end up in protracted planning rows with Westminster City Council or if there is a judicial review, which could take many years, about either the northern estate programme or the restoration and renewal programme, that could put paid to the whole project. Everyone might at that point throw up their hands and say, “Oh gosh—this is too impossible. We will have to go back to ‘patch and mend’.”
I really want us to make sure that we have made the right decision on the planning question. The Committee considered the matter, but I think it was given wrong advice—bad advice, if I am honest. Notwithstanding the earlier comments of the Leader of the House about the difference between this and the London Olympics Bill—five local, planning authorities in east London were involved in that Bill, but only one is involved in this one—the repeated advice seemed to be that if we included a planning clause in this Bill, it would become a hybrid Bill.
I do not think there is any reason why this should become a hybrid Bill solely because of that. If we wanted to state that this was not to be such a Bill, that would be entirely within our power. It would be perfectly possible for us to say that we would give planning to the Delivery Authority, which could do exactly what was done during the Olympics: chair a planning committee, present planning proposals to itself and consider them openly. It managed to carry everybody with it, and the process was not confrontational; it simply meant that things could be done in a time-efficient way.
Members may not be aware of this, but one of the issues that has plagued us now for more than a decade— 16 years, I think—is what lighting we can put in Westminster Hall. We have put forward endless proposals; I have seen at least a dozen sets of pictures of what the lighting could be, yet we have still not managed to replace the hideous things up there now. I fear that we are going to go through exactly the same process—round and round in circles, not voting in Division Lobbies but trying to persuade another authority that we are doing the right thing.
I also want to raise accountability to Parliament. At the moment, there are more peers than MPs among the membership of the Sponsor Body. As the Leader of the House said, there are seven members, and the Whips Offices decided that the individual parties should nominate—not elect—people for it. Those on the Sponsor Body will be the major conduit for accountability to the House of Commons. They will make sure that the project does not run completely out of kilter with what Members of this House or the House of Lords think acceptable. I think it would be better if there were more Members of the House of Commons than of the House of Lords on the Sponsor Body because we have the primary responsibility for finance and have done since the 17th or maybe 16th century—and, after all, we are the representatives of our constituents.
Secondly, it would be better if Sponsor Body members were elected rather than appointed. Our experience thus far of electing Select Committee Chairs has been entirely positive: they have a mandate of their own and manage to bind views across the whole House. In general, transparency is a good thing. I note that the Leader of the House, when giving evidence to the Liaison Committee about something completely different last week, said that she is always in favour of elections whenever possible. I very much hope that we will be able to make that change during the passage of the Bill.
The Committee considered questions to the House, which could be made easier. Members will have genuine questions—why wouldn’t they, given that this will be one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country? There will have to be somebody who answers for the Sponsor Body. That cannot be an external person; it needs to be a Member of Parliament. My suggestion is that the vice-chair of the Sponsor Body should be a Member of the House of Commons and respond to questions in the House. We should set aside a time every six weeks or so for 10 or 15 minutes of questions.
As Members will know, the next step is the northern estate programme. As chair of the finance committee, I would prefer that programme to move on a couple more steps before it is handed to the Delivery Authority and Sponsor Body. We are close to presenting a planning application to Westminster City Council and we need to get a little further down the road before we hand it over; otherwise, there is a danger that the Delivery Authority and Sponsor Body will get obsessed with the Northern Estate programme rather than with developing a full budget and costed plans for restoration and renewal.
We should be ambitious in this project. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire expressed valid concerns, and although I disagree with some of them, there is no point in our coming back to a building that looks exactly the same as now in every single regard. It has to have much better access for the public. My constituents have a long way to come if they want to see Parliament. At the moment, they find it difficult to do a proper tour of Parliament unless they can get here by 10 o’clock on a Monday morning. That is really difficult to achieve, especially for a primary school.
I would like us to have a system whereby the Gallery is much more convenient for members of the public to use. Perhaps they might even be able to talk in the Gallery, so that what is going on in the Chamber can be explained to youngsters, rather than their having to go out of the Gallery to have it explained. I see no reason why members of the public should not be able to tweet when they are in the Public Gallery, as visitors can when they go round the Bundestag or most other Parliaments. I would like us to have much easier physical access for disabled people, not only to the Gallery, which is obvious, but because the rest of the building needs to feel far more like it belongs to the whole of the public in this country.
My final point is that we will not be able to deliver this project unless we train thousands more British people to be able to do the work. It is not just about the crafts, such as being able to cut stone and make new gargoyles. No doubt there will be a new gargoyle of the Leader of the House, or the next Leader of the House, or, if the Leader of the House becomes Prime Minister, perhaps several gargoyles—[Interruption.] Or one of Mike Freer, indeed; that would be an even nicer gargoyle.
It is not just the craft skills that will be needed; we will need skills at the high-tech end of energy conservation, information technology, cabling and central heating in a system such as this, as well as conservation. I really hope that we will set up academies in every part of this country—we should be doing so now—so that young people from every single constituency in the land will think about working in this building as a matter of pride. I hope that at least 100 or 150 youngsters from the Rhondda end up working here, so that it is genuinely a palace for the people again.
I thank the Leader of the House for her introduction—it was a clear and useful indication of why we are here to debate this matter—and I particularly thank my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman, who has obviously gone through the Bill carefully.
I listened to Pete Wishart with interest, and I mostly understood him; as he knows, there is a language difficulty, but I did understand him—[Interruption.] If he addresses me, he has to do so very slowly. I do not agree with him, partly because this building is an iconic symbol of democracy. I say that as an ethnic minority immigrant from the Commonwealth, where some of the parliamentary buildings, particularly in Australia, are very much the same and run on the same lines, although the language in the Australian House in particular gets a little heavier than it does here, or than would be allowed here. I bring a lot of guests to Parliament—I run functions and so forth in the House—and to them, when they stand in the Chamber, this place is the epitome of democracy. The people most affected by it are the Americans. Over the years I have brought hundreds of them to the Chamber, and they envy us for what we have. We have to keep it.
I thought the need for works was well established—the Leader of the House set out various points as to why—but then I read some articles in the Sunday papers and it was quite clear that it had not been understood. I have brought members of the national press down and traipsed them through the underground. They understand, but not everybody does, and they also understand why it is going to cost so much money: it is an enormous task. The basic structure of the building is sound. Yes, bits fall off inside and outside, but that is superficial. Really, it is about the infrastructure underneath. I discovered that the House has been looking into doing something about the structure down there since 1904; it has taken us a while to get here.
We need to discuss the size of the task, which will mean, for all those members of the press, a little repetition. Most Members are aware that the House has a basement, which has a long passageway that runs the whole length of the building. The 86 vertical chimneys running from that passageway were originally designed for ventilation. This of course means—this had not been thought through—that a fire starting in that passageway could whip up any or all of those 86 chimneys and create a real disaster. If that happens, and if no life is lost, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire would feel all right about the fact that this iconic building had gone because we had not done the works.
At present, the chimneys carry a mass of electrical services of varying age, many of which are defective. We have gas pipes, air-conditioning conduits, steam pipes, telephone systems, communication fibres, and, as has already been mentioned, a ghastly old—1888—overloaded sewerage system. This infrastructure serves the whole building from end to end, moving up through the chimneys, and there is a duplication right across the roof as well. In the days when people did not know about asbestos, that material was literally and liberally splashed everywhere by brushes from buckets. As I have mentioned, the sewerage system consists of two large steel tanks that collect from a very large pipe that runs the whole length of the building. The system was put in, as I have said, in 1888 and suffers from repeated bursts.
A full decant was agreed by the House in the January 2018 resolution. Then there are the current security requirements. Those of us who arrived here 10 years ago did not need those security requirements then, but we do now. The whole security atmosphere has changed, so anything that we do and anywhere that we decant to needs to be within the current but enhanced security envelope. As Chris Bryant has said, we need to decant to the northern estate. The work that should have been done there does not go back to 1904, but it does go back decades, which is why we have the difficulty and the cost. The cost of refurbishing that building to modern standards will be enormous.
The complexity of the task is quite staggering. It is for that reason that I am 100% behind setting up the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority. Although the ultimate task is the restoration and renewal of the parliamentary buildings, it makes sense that the major works enabling the decant to the northern estate and Richmond House should be undertaken by that body. I note the point that the hon. Member for Rhondda made. It is possible, if not probable, that, by the time those two authorities are set up and under way, the planning would have been—I hope—secured for the northern estate and perhaps even for Richmond House. I wonder—I say this slightly with tongue in cheek—whether Richmond House will be delisted and a new building of quality put in. The building must be of quality. We cannot have a Perth tent stuck in the middle of that space. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Heritage England to list the new building. My only nervousness relates to what has been said by others: we must move quickly for the safety of the building and for the people in this building—but quickly will mean many years.
I come to this debate, as others have already said, having sat on various Committees, bodies and boards regarding the restoration and renewal project. I was on the first Joint Committee, which assessed the independent options appraisal and reported in September 2016. I have been a member of the Finance Committee, currently chaired by Chris Bryant, which has looked at this project and at the northern estate programme since I was elected in 2015. I am currently a member of the shadow Sponsor Board for the R and R project, and I served on the Committee chaired by Dame Caroline Spelman, which scrutinised this Bill. Although I have been sceptical of this project, I have approached the work of all the bodies I have served on constructively. I will come to my concerns later, but I will first address the areas of consensus that I think are important.
There is no doubt that this Palace is in need of significant work. It has been neglected for decades by the British political class who call it their home, and it is now this generation of politicians who need to take the difficult decisions about the building’s future. Members will not be surprised if I, like my hon. Friend Pete Wishart, do not hold much sentimentality for the building itself as the home of Parliament because I can see how modern Parliament buildings allow politics to flourish elsewhere. However, I do acknowledge that this is an important listed building and a world heritage site, so action is required.
If we are to insist on Parliament remaining in this building, we have to acknowledge that crowbarring a 21st-century Parliament into a 19th-century building will require compromises and premiums. It will cost more for us to get a less functional building than if we were to look at a new building. That said, we are where we are—that is, discussing a Bill to progress the project. I agree that, should the project go ahead, it can only realistically be achieved if Parliament is fully decanted, as the risk to personal safety, project delays and cost overruns all significantly increase with any form of partial decant. I concur again with my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire that we have a responsibility to the safety of staff. I also agree that the delivery model of the Sponsor Board and the Delivery Authority is the right one. As has been said, the London Olympics derived much of their success from their organisation, and this project seeks to mirror that model. However, other factors in the success of the London Olympics were the support of the Government and the support of the public, and there is some work to do on both fronts with regards to this project.
Ever since the first Joint Committee was ready to publish its report, the Government have been lukewarm in their support. It is hardly surprising that while another controversial issue has been at play, the Government would want to kick this one as far away from them as possible, although I acknowledge that this Leader of the House has driven the matter of late. A line of discussion in the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee was how to bind the Government in—to make them owners and cheerleaders for this project. One way to do so would be to have a Treasury Minister appointed to the Sponsor Board. The Chancellor of the day will be signing the massive cheques for this project, so it would seem sensible to have them as part of the operational decision-making process, but this has not yet been accepted by the Government. In spite of the recent enthusiasm for getting on with the job shown by the Leader of House, that is a point of concern for me.
There has always been a concern about the reaction of the public to billions of pounds being spent on the workplace of politicians, and I believe that our constituents’ scepticism will be most keenly felt the further they are from London. As it stands right now, this project will be another massive London-centric capital project. London and the south-east already benefit from a third of UK capital spending, coupled with all the job creation and economic benefits that come from it. I am a massive sports fan and a former athlete so I was a supporter of the London Olympics, but there is no doubt that we have lessons to learn from that process. The most important lesson is the way in which good causes funding was sucked away from the nations and regions to pay for the Olympics. In Scotland, that amounted to £75 million. We heard just last week—seven years on—that £30 million of that money is to return over several years. In that sense, there is no doubt that it was the London Olympics and not the UK’s Olympics.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We are looking at getting jobs and business from around the country into the project. I hope that the Sponsor Body insists on a proper evaluation to check that that aim is actually being delivered on, and that we do not get charlatan contractors promising the earth and then not delivering for constituents across the country.
Yes, and that is a line from the report that the hon. Lady and I both helped to author, alongside the right hon. Member for Meriden. The devil will be in the detail as this project progresses. It will be important not only that the Government accept that fact—and that that is clear through the Bill’s progress—but also that the Sponsor Body is attuned to it, so that we do not see the same mistakes again. If this project has any chance of gaining political and public support, it must be a genuinely UK-wide project, and that means that we should see discernible benefits across the UK. That was a topic that I and others on the scrutiny Committee were keen to explore. I have a possible solution that I have already discussed and that I hope the Government will take seriously.
I apologise for being absent for part of this debate because I have been chairing a Select Committee. It is on that point that I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman’s advice. Does he agree that the public would be deeply shocked if we were seen to be building obsolescence into such an extraordinarily expensive project by not having the capacity for electronic voting posts in Select Committee Rooms on the northern estate redevelopment, so that at least, if this place got its act together with modern practices, we would not be interrupting repeatedly, and at length, Select Committee hearings by the way that we vote in this place?
That is a very good point. It is clear from the hon. Lady’s intervention, among others, that the majority view—in this debate, certainly, and in others—has been that we cannot return to a Parliament that is identical to the one that we leave. There have to be changes made; there has to be progress. I hope that that will be borne out in the passage of this Bill and the discussions that follow.
My suggestion for how to make this more of a UK-wide project was contained in the pre-legislative scrutiny report. It was not apparent that the Leader of the House acknowledged it in her direct response, but I thank her for acknowledging it earlier and saying that she will consider it. Alongside a commitment from the Government to ensure that contractors and skills are procured from across the UK, as Meg Hillier mentioned, there must be a greater discernible benefit for the nations and regions. I have already explained how London sucks in the majority of the limited capital spending that there is by Government. This project, when it begins, will clearly put incredible pressure on capital spending elsewhere in the UK, and so will compound London’s dominance in those terms.
My answer would be for a nations and regions capital fund to be established as part of the project. This would see money going to all corners of these isles to allow relevant authorities to progress capital projects, boosting economic growth and job creation locally and countering any negative impact from such a massive project going on in London. One way of doing that would be deciding on a percentage of the overall cost of the project and then allocating it too each nation and region on a proportionate basis.
I am approaching this issue constructively and offering ideas in good faith. I just hope that the Government will respond on the same basis.
I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman; it was a pleasure to serve under her chairmanship on the Committee that considered this Bill. I have to say that as the Committee wound its way through many hearings, I got more worried, not less. As my right hon. Friend has mentioned, we were told that the full decant may now slip beyond 2025—a figure of 2028 was given. There is a real danger of us fiddling while Rome burns. We are told repeatedly, and I am sure it is true, that this building is an imminent fire risk. Mention has been made many times of the fate of Notre Dame. There is no doubt at all that we would be judged very harshly by history if this iconic building, which is undoubtedly the symbol of the nation and recognised throughout the world as the symbol of our parliamentary democracy, was put at risk through our inaction.
The simple point that I have been making is that if we are in imminent danger of fire risk—if we are deploying, quite rightly, these fire watchers—then we have to take action now. Personally, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you told me that matters were so dangerous that we had to decant this very year, I would accept that. I would take professional advice. The safety of this building and the people who work in it is absolutely paramount.
But we are in danger of setting up such a cumbersome structure that we delay too long to undertake this work. It is understandable with a major project like Crossrail, which we plan ab initio and know will take many years, run to many billions of pounds and go through very complex planning procedures, but we have to get on with this now. As I said, I will take any professional advice on how we do it, but it seems that a lot of work can be done. It is a mystery to me why the cloisters have been lying empty for at least 18 months. I have long been campaigning for fire doors. I know that there is an English heritage point about this, but I am pleased to see those doors being put in place. The fundamental issue must be safety.
I agree that Members of this House must take control of the Sponsor Body. I do not want to see a committee composed of the great and the good—so-called experts—starting a project that will end up being a feeding frenzy for architects, surveyors and builders and will cost many billions of pounds. Although Christian Matheson swept aside my intervention, I think that the points made by Pete Wishart are apposite. There is no appetite among the general public for Members of Parliament to spend billions of pounds on their own building. When the public look at their schools and hospitals—
We all know that painful balance, but as my hon. Friend Chris Bryant said, it is not either/or. We need to do both. Does he agree that we all have a responsibility to champion this and to remember that we in this Chamber represent only 650 people who work in this place at any one time? There are 1 million visitors a year and thousands of staff, and we are doing this for them, as well as for the public.
I do not deny for a moment that the work has to be done. It has to be done properly, but we are in danger of creating a gold-standard operation in building a permanent replica Chamber. That is not just a worry for people like me, who perhaps share my political prejudices about public spending and spending other people’s money in the way we would spend our own. Many others share that worry. Simon Jenkins recently wrote an article in The Guardian in which he excoriated the cost of building a permanent emergency Chamber.
I do not deny that the work has to be done. I accept the vote of the House of Commons. I campaigned against it. It was quite a narrow vote. The debate has not reflected the fact that many Members of Parliament share my views on this, but we have decided to decant if necessary. I have accepted the will of the House. There will come a time when it may be necessary to decant. The point I want to make is that if there is a serious and imminent danger, we have to get on with the work now, and work may have to be done around us if necessary. It is said that this is impossible. I do not know, but so often in the private sector—
Yesterday at Defence questions, Mr Speaker made it very plain that, because of all the speculation in the media about changes to the legal protection of veterans, he expected the Ministry of Defence to make an oral statement in the House today. It elected not to do so and instead put a written statement on the Order Paper this morning. I have just treble-checked in the Library, and that statement has still not been made available at almost 4 o’clock. In all the years I have been in this House, I have never known a written statement not to turn up by 4 pm.
This is symptomatic of a three-way war between No. 10, the Northern Ireland Office and the MOD about who is in charge of veterans policy. Could you try to overcome this chaos in Whitehall and use your best offices to find out when today—if, indeed, at all—we will be given the written statement on this critical issue that we have been promised all day?
The right hon. Gentleman has raised a very important matter and, absolutely, the veterans of this country need to know what is going on. Promises have been made to this House, and I do not think it is acceptable that no written ministerial statement has been laid. However, it has now been raised, and I am sure people will look into this as a matter of urgency and find out where this written ministerial statement is. I hope that it will soon be available for all Members—I am hoping it is only seconds or minutes away—because I too do not understand why, at this time of day, it has not been laid for Members to take it on board. I am sure this will now be looked at as a matter of urgency.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House and to you, but because I had come hot-foot from the Library, when I first rose I had not noticed that the Leader of the House was in her place. I do not know whether she could rise briefly to explain to the House the inexcusable delay of this critical WMS that affects veterans across the United Kingdom. Can she perhaps assist us?
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I can say that I am very sympathetic to my right hon. Friend, and I am afraid I do not have an answer, but I will pursue this straightaway.
The message is out there. Let us look forward to an early written ministerial statement.
I think the right hon. Gentleman was about to give way to me at the time—before we were so rudely interrupted. Earlier, he raised the issue of the cloisters being vacated, and the fact that there is nobody in there, but no work has started. He is absolutely right, and this is deeply frustrating for an awful lot of Members. We have raised this in the Finance Committee and, I think, in the Administration Committee. One of the difficulties is that we are engaged in roughly 20 major estates projects, including the Elizabeth Tower, the cast-iron roofs and the courtyards—there are many very important projects—and there simply is not enough room on site to be able to house so many staff, feed them, provide them with a place to change and all the rest of it. This is a difficult site on which to be able to do so many major projects while we still have a fully functioning House of Commons and House of Lords.
That is a fair point about the cloisters. I am just making my own point that the most important risk is that of fire, and I would have thought that we should drop everything else and try to deal with that.
I said earlier that I have accepted the will of the House, and it may well be necessary to have a decant, but I think it would be possible, certainly if we got rid of the September sittings—this point has not been mentioned yet—to make quicker progress. Undoubtedly, some of the problems we have been experiencing in recent years have revolved around the September sittings. I certainly believe that the Leader of the House could take professional advice on this, and if we could break up for the summer recess on
The issue now is no longer about decant or no decant; the issue is whether, in the current economic climate, we can justify knocking down a grade II listed building, which was only completed in 1987, to accommodate a permanent replica Chamber of exactly the same size as the Chamber we are in, with Division Lobbies of the same size. To facilitate that, we will have to knock down a perfectly good listed building, which can be renovated and restored. By the way, this building, designed by Sir William Whitfield, has won numerous awards. The announcement that we were going to knock it down came just as he was approaching his death, and nearing his 100th birthday, and it is a strange way to celebrate the best of British.
When people, such as Chris Bryant, say that we could circumvent this process by giving ourselves planning powers, I just do not think that washes. I do not think it washes politically, and I do not think it is the right thing to do. We have to go through the normal planning procedure. This is a listed building. There will be long delays. The House must know that, already, campaigning organisations like SAVE are gearing up, preparing for a full public inquiry. Indeed, I have no doubt that there will be a full public inquiry; and there should be a full public inquiry. That could entail years of delay. Also—it is almost relevant to the point of order—there have already been disputes between the House authorities and the Ministry of Defence about the use of the car park. All these things are adding delay on to delay.
I should have thought that in the current economic climate, it would be possible to get on with the work as quickly as possible, and when it became necessary to move, to move to a cheaper option. My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden mentioned Church House, but there may be security concerns. When the original Committee met, they were simply going to build a replica House of Commons in the courtyard of Richmond House, which would not have entailed demolition. Then they found that the measurements were wrong; but the courtyard is still there. We do not necessarily need a replica the same size as this Chamber. We do not necessarily need to vote during a short period in the way that we do now. As I mentioned, we could use voting terminals in the Lobbies. There are all sorts of ways of doing this job more expeditiously and more cheaply, and equally safely. That is what I would suggest.
I have had meetings with Sir Michael Hopkins, the architect of Portcullis House. He designed the building during the problems with the IRA. It is absolutely bombproof. It is not ideal, but an emergency Chamber could be placed in the atrium of Portcullis House—an infinitely cheaper option. I agree it is not ideal, but actually we do not want to be too comfortable.
The problem I fear is that we may become too comfortable. If we are in a replica Chamber that looks almost exactly like this one—although it seems to have a more IKEA, Swedish feel to it, in a nod to modernism—I think we will become too comfortable. Many Members fear that, as the architects, builders and surveyors get hold of this project, and as more and more asbestos is discovered, and more and more problems, we could be out, not just for five years but for eight or 10. That is a real fear.
I personally believe the Leader of the House; I know that she is absolutely committed to our coming back. Other Members are worried that there will be more and more debate about whether, when we come back, we should change the whole nature of this place—our procedures and all the décor and so on. The Leader of the House has to convince us that every bit of the Barry structure—this iconic building—every bit of the Pugin decoration, which is admired worldwide, will be replaced exactly as it is, so that after five or eight or 10 years, we come back to Committee Rooms, to a Chamber, to Lobbies, that look identical. Of course the electrics, air conditioning and sewerage will be safer and better, but she has to convince Members of Parliament that the building will be exactly the same; because this is an historic building. It sums up what our nation is all about.
Not many Members—I think only three of us, including the shadow Leader of the House—attended an exercise last week in which, within an hour, the House authorities organised the House of Commons moving, in an emergency, to the Chamber of the House of Lords. They can do that within an hour. We went there. The tables were changed around. We sat on the red Benches—probably the only chance I will ever get to sit on the red Benches. It was a very enjoyable experience, I have to say. Lovely décor. Very civilised atmosphere. Much less confrontational than this place. But it can be done. And I commissioned an architect, who worked pro bono, who proved that it would be possible for the House of Commons, in an emergency, to move there and to take services externally if we were dealing with them here. My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden has also mentioned Church House.
It is not widely known that there is a flat-pack Chamber of the House of Commons, which could be set up in, for instance, Methodist Central Hall in an hour if there is an emergency. We really do have to be cognisant of public opinion. Of course we have to spend the money that is necessary; of course we have to make this place safe, but we cannot treat ourselves differently from the way that we would expect, for instance, local authorities to treat themselves in a similar situation.
When my own local authority, West Lindsey, had to move from its old guildhall to the modern guildhall, it used innovative ways of working with the private sector. When it created the chamber, it did not seek to create the old fashioned chamber, surrounded by wood and all the rest of it, which could only be used once a month. It created a room that could be used for other purposes.
The problem with creating the replica Chamber is that once we leave it what will it be used for? It is said that it will be an education centre. We have a good education centre with a mock-up of the House of Commons. I know it is only a temporary structure, but it could be made permanent. Do we really need an entire replica Chamber for 20 or 30 primary school kids? The Leader of the House said we can use it for other purposes. Every other business in the country which has to move a part of its business to another part of its premises makes sure that it can be used for other purposes. We must do the same, otherwise we will be criticised by the public, because it is their money. In creating a space, it has to capable of being used for other things.
I was one of those who took part in the contingency exercise—I think I have even less chance of ending up in the House of Lords than the right hon. Gentleman. The temporary Chamber could be used for all kinds of things. We regularly have vastly oversubscribed Westminster Hall debates, usually on important matters raised via petition by the public about how terrible the Government’s policies are, where it is standing room only and Members are not able to speak. The Scottish Parliament Chamber is used much more flexibly, for example for the Festival of Politics and Youth Parliament debates. There will be plenty of use for a temporary space that will hopefully be much more modern and accessible than this one, which he seems to just want to restore to exactly the way it is now.
When we create the temporary space it has to be able to be a modern structure that can be used for many purposes—exhibition space, Chamber, Youth Parliament and education centre—but I am not convinced that creating a permanent replica of the House of Commons that is exactly this size, with the Press Gallery and five rows of green Benches, is absolutely necessary. Anyway, I have made my point.
There is one point I would like to raise before I sit down. I was approached by the chairman of the Press Gallery. When we move to Richmond House, the number of offices for the Press Gallery will be dramatically reduced from 150 or thereabouts to 60. We should be aware of that problem. I hope the Leader of the House is also aware of it and takes action on it.
We have a fundamentally sound structure in terms of materials: it is old, but it is fundamentally sound. We have a problem in terms of the mechanics, the electrics and the sewerage. That is solvable. We can undertake an operation that is safe and timely, but our fundamental concern, after safety, must be our taxpayers’ resources. I will end on this point: let us not treat ourselves differently to how we would treat local government. Let us do this job well, but let us do it in a cost-effective way.
I hope what I am about to say will be helpful to the Leader of the House. As I said in an intervention earlier, my history is that I served as a member of the Holyrood Progress Group up until 2004 with two other elected Members of the Scottish Parliament. I therefore know a bit about what it was like to be in a temporary structure, at the top of the Mound, before moving into the new building we created in 2004. The temporary building we were in at the top of the Mound in Edinburgh was the original IKEA Parliament, if ever I saw one. I want to make three points today.
First, when I was a child in my home town of Tain in the Highlands—we all know about the pride of small towns—it was said among the good Tainites that the stone that comes from the quarry behind the town was the second choice for the Palace of Westminster. Sadly, I fear that that turned out to be something of a myth, but it was a lovely myth to believe in at the time. When we came to build the Scottish Parliament, we deliberately went out into the regions of Scotland to use materials. What is used outside and within the building, and in Queensberry House, is Caithness flagstone, a beautiful material. That was a considerable boost to the industry and the economy of that part of Caithness. The building is clad with granite from Kemnay in Aberdeenshire. My point and my plea to the Leader of the House is this: as and when works proceed here, could we make the most strenuous effort not necessarily to use Caithness flagstone —although I very much hope that we would—but to source materials from different parts of the UK? That would be one way of selling the project, if you like, to the people.
Secondly, when I rose to my feet in the temporary Chamber at the top of the Mound, one thing that was very apparent to me—my wife is disabled, and I take on board the very good points made by Dame Caroline Spelman—was that the access to the temporary building was frankly appalling. Because I was married to a disabled person, that fired up my passion for making the new building absolutely disabled-friendly. When times got tough, which they most certainly did, that was my guiding light. I was damned if I was going to give way on that. We were going to complete this building and it was going to be the best thing for my wife and all the other disabled people. As I said in my intervention, the flak that we got was unbelievable. I say as a friend to the Leader of the House and to everyone who will be involved in this project in future that there will be flak and there will be trouble. There always is with a project of this nature, but be of good heart.
The flak got particularly bad when I had to announce the winning design for the reception desk in Holyrood. I was chairman of the arts committee—[Interruption.] I see Pete Wishart nodding; he will recall this. I chaired a small committee and we had the television cameras and the newspapers there. I said, “Ladies and gentleman, I am very proud to say that this is the winning design.” A certain newspaper—I almost called it a rag—called the Daily Mail asked a tricky question of me, which was, “How much did it cost?” I said, “Well, cost wasn’t really a consideration,” and the civil servants whispered to me, “£88,000”—for a desk. At that point, the world fell on my head.
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recall, I was on the front page of every single newspaper in Scotland—not a place someone wants to be when the publicity is as bad as that. My daughter took one look at the Daily Record, published that Thursday morning, and said, “Oh Dad, you’re finished.” But we pulled through and today, as I said, the building is seen to be an icon of high-quality modern architecture in Scotland. When I say to people, “What about the desk?”, they say “What desk? What are you talking about?”
I recall, of course, the hon. Gentleman’s little difficulties with that desk. I am interested in his views on the expectations versus the reality, which was one of the issues with the Scottish Parliament. If my recollection is correct, the cost of the Scottish Parliament was estimated to be £50 million and it came in at something like 10 times that cost. Is it not best just to be honest and up front with people as we go down such routes? We should not suggest that this can be done on the cheap and that it will only cost a few billion pounds when it is not going to be that at all. Be up front and honest and I am sure, if the Government do that, that they can learn from the experience that we all had to go through bitterly in the Scottish Parliament.
That is very sage advice. To get the record as straight as I can within what we know, much as I was very friendly with and admired hugely the late Donald Dewar, at some point as the Bill that established the Scottish Parliament passed through this place, I think he said on the record that it would cost some £40 million, and therein lay the trouble, because we were never going to build very much for £40 million.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, except that £40 million was for a rebuilt Parliament—a reconstructed building—which was to be opposite St Andrew’s House. The £400 million that the new-build Parliament ended up costing could not be compared as a result, and that is where the hilarity in the press came from.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. Nevertheless, that is the way things work in the press. That millstone was around our necks for the rest of time. I say to the Leader of the House, “Be of good heart”, because these things do go away. We now see people coming into the Scottish Parliament, saying, “What a splendid job you did. Well done.”
My third point has already been hinted at by other speakers. When we came to do the fine woodwork in the dining room, the Committee rooms and so on, the sad fact was that we did not have those carpentry skills in Scotland or anywhere in the UK. We had to go to eastern European countries to find them. Sadly, I suspect that that is the same today as we embark on this project. The point was made about establishing apprenticeships. That is absolutely correct: we should take on young people—although they do not necessarily have to be young—who are willing to learn these new trades. If we have to import the skills from other countries, let us do so, but let us build a bank of people who have these skills. I am thinking of the woodwork and, as has been mentioned, the masonry. I doubt whether we have many masons who can do the standard of work that we see in this building. That then is something for the future, and it could be banked as we embark on other projects the length and breadth of the UK to restore what is one of our greatest heritages—the built heritage—right from my constituency down to Cornwall and the south of England.
It is quite correct, as others have said, that we should be open about the price. This issue bedevilled the project. The public will say, “It’s an awful lot of money”, but if they think we are being honest, they will forgive us. If they think we are being a bit clever with the facts, they will not, believe you me. Every few months, the three of us on the committee held a public question and answer session with Members of the Scottish Parliament—and, far more dangerously, with members of the Scottish press—and it worked. People came along and threw us some hellishly difficult questions, and we had to answer them as best we could—if we could not, we took them away and tried to come back. That willingness to be open was part of getting it through. I do not doubt that all involved in what is done in this place in the years to come will be equally open, but it is well worth remembering that.
I will sum up with some appeals. Let us see if we can source local materials. I think about the flagstone of Caithness. When we came to get the oak—one of the main features of Holyrood—we went to the Earl of Cromartie in the county of Ross and Cromarty and bought some splendid oak trees from him. It was very good of him, though he got a good price. When I was in the deepest trouble of all, with this wretched reception desk, when I thought my political career was over—at the ensuing election my majority was slashed, though luckily it rose again in the election after that—the present Duke of Buccleuch stepped forward and, out of the goodness of his heart, gave us free, gratis, the oak to build the reception desk. I have waited very nearly 20 years to put on the record in this place how extremely grateful I am to his grace for his generosity.
In conclusion, I say well done to the Leader of the House. The nettle has been grasped. It was not an easy one to grasp, but future generations will bless the people involved for having had the courage to do what is being done.
It is a pleasure to follow Jamie Stone and to hear his wisdom. He is right that if we do not start by being open and honest about the challenges, we will be on a hiding to nothing. In that respect, the project has been bedevilled with problems, which I will touch on, but I hope that today, when it seems there is broad consensus for the Second Reading, we will be able to move forward.
I welcome the Bill and the personal determination of the Leader of the House to get it through. Her predecessors, for understandable reasons and the reality of politics, were a bit nervous about taking this forward, and there were challenges in getting the vote through in January 2018, but we are here today, with huge progress having been made, and I congratulate her on getting us to this point.
As the Leader of the House knows, this is just the beginning. I want to touch on the history—though that has been well covered by others; on the very real risks; and on the future plans, including the costs. I have the privilege of chairing the Public Accounts Committee. Sir Edward Leigh was one of my predecessors, and although we do not agree on every aspect of this issue, we absolutely agree that we need to watch taxpayers’ money very closely. As he rightly says, it is not other people’s money; it is the money our constituents work hard for and expect to be spent wisely.
As others have said, we have put this off for far too long. Sir Paul Beresford talked about 1904; others talked about what happened 40 years ago. We have pushed this problem away for far too long. It is heartening that it was only seven years ago that the former Clerk of the House commissioned a survey to look at the matter. He feels that that is a long time, but in the grand scheme of things he should be congratulated because it has moved things on much faster than at any time in the previous many decades.
I had the privilege of looking at this on the Public Accounts Committee—I will touch on that and the finances a little later—and while serving on the Joint Committee under the chairmanship of Dame Caroline Spelman. I thank her again for her stewardship of that Committee. We saw the shadow Sponsor Body at that time.
Others have talked about the risks. It is worth remembering that there have been 66 fires since 2008, as you will be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker. At any one time, there are eight fire wardens patrolling this building. As the Leader of the House said on the radio this morning, only at the end of last year there was one that could have been catastrophic, not for the whole building, but for a certain section of it. It was lucky that it happened during the week, because the patrol pattern must be a bit different at weekends. If it had happened at the weekend, it might not have been discovered so quickly.
My hon. Friend Chris Bryant, in eloquent fashion, highlighted the “big stink”. The big stink of previous times led MPs to decide that it was time to build a sewerage system for London, but we are now suffering our own big stink in parts of the building. It is not nice, it is not healthy, and it is really pretty terrible for the staff working in, particularly, the basement rooms who have to put up with it. We must keep remembering that it is the staff who matter.
Mice are rife in the building. Unlike the Leader of the House, I have not yet seen a mouse in my office, but men repeatedly crawl into the cavity above my office, which is close to the roof, and often, especially when I am here during a recess, I see men crawling into holes in different parts of the building such as the upper corridors. They are doing excellent work, and I applaud them for that, but I know that it is more expensive for them to do it at times when we are not here than it would be if we could decant. That is another reason why the Bill is so important. Of course, asbestos is also a huge problem, and one whose full extent we do not know at this point.
Future plans are critical, and even given the consensus here, different opinions have been expressed about what should happen next. It was heartening to speak to representatives of the Sponsor Body in the Committee, and I have had an opportunity to meet its chair, Liz Peace, on other occasions. She has made clear that its role must be to make it easier for us to make the decisions about how we work, but not to tell us how to do it. That would include ensuring that the building has a connectivity that will be future-proof. For example, we could, if we chose, have video booths instead of the phone booths that still exist across this place. The body could allow discussions about how we vote and how we operate, but could not impose them on us. A building shapes us, and, as we said in the Joint Committee, it is important that not just MPs and Members of the House of Lords but everyone—including the members of the public who use this building—is consulted about what they want to see.
The pressing issue, of course, is that of the mechanical and electrical “guts” of the building. Dealing with that will involve about 80% of the work, the bit that we shall never see. We shall come back, and it will have been sorted out. It currently costs several million pounds to remove all the wiring from a riser. The riser must be replicated outside the building while people inside, working in asbestos conditions, in shifts, in spaces the size of a small fireplace, remove all the old wiring and other equipment and replace it. That takes more than a year, sometimes two years, and, as I have said, it costs millions of pounds.
There is, however, a huge opportunity for us to renew this UNESCO world heritage site. The right hon. Member for Gainsborough made some important points. Like a number of other Members, he talked rather disparagingly about an IKEA Chamber. I do not think that we are seeking an IKEA Chamber, but I hear what those Members are saying. The “replica” Chamber has been portrayed as though it would be an exact replica of this place, but the plans are actually quite flexible. We have an opportunity to shape its future and decide how permanent it is: whether it can turn into something else later, or whether it can become an overflow, either permanently or as a flexible space. It is important for us to become involved in a positive way, and nail that now, so that eventually the Sponsor Body will be able to take over.
It is vital that we improve access for those with, for instance, mobility issues. The right hon. Member for Meriden touched on the issue of the frankly embarrassing loop system in this place. As a teenager, a member of my family was very embarrassed about admitting her deafness, and would have been mortified by the idea of coming to a building like this and having to wear what is effectively a big necklace with a clunky thing attached to it. She would not have felt able to participate. We need to be sensitive to the way in which we label people, as we currently have to do.
In fact, we were surprised to learn that there was a loop system. It was only because we had the privilege of serving on the Committee with Lord Stunell that we learned about it. Otherwise, we would never have known. I think of all the people who have visited the House during the 14 years for which I have been here, and whom I have never been able to inform about the loop because I simply did not know about it.
We also have an opportunity to use the “dead space” between buildings better. I think of the restoration of Hackney town hall, a beautiful 1930s building. Glassing over courtyards has provided a usable space while preserving the beauty and integrity of the building. When people talk about IKEA, we think of the light wood for which it is famous. When old buildings are restored—when workmen go back to the wood and re-polish it—it often turns out not to be dingy and dark, but a great deal brighter and lighter. However, it is a long time since that was done in this place.
Safety is, of course, critical. I sometimes joke, rather cruelly, that at least I am based near a stone staircase, but the reality of that cruel joke is that many staff are in little cubby-holes a long way from a proper fire exit route, and it is not acceptable that we have left it so long for them to be supported. We need to allow for smarter technology to be built in so we future-proof this building, and we need to think, as we allow the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority to get on with it, about our vision for what we would like to see in this place: not tinkering with it every step of the way, not changing the business case and the plans once they are set in stone, but allowing that flexibility to be built in. We must also make it clear at the beginning if there are areas where we do or do not want to see big change.
There are huge opportunities to secure better access for visitors, and to make some money out of this building when we are not sitting. I work in the old Palace now thanks to the privilege of the office I hold; it provides me with a beautiful office. I get to see the House differently from when I was working in other parts of the building, and it is like the Mary Celeste in recess or on a Friday when Members are not around. There is a opportunity if we think flexibly to make sure this place is used more effectively by the very public we are here to serve.
The Bill Committee focused a great deal on the governance aspects. The Sponsor Body is critical because we effectively hold it to account for the money that will be granted for this project. Its chief executive, who is not yet appointed, will be the accounting officer. It is important to get that on the record now, because we might not all be here in future and I hope that future Members will hold that accounting officer personally to account for how the money is spent in this place—and not just here on the Floor of the House when we are discussing estimates but in other forums as well.
The Sponsor Body will set up the Delivery Authority. The people on the Sponsor Body, which has been set up in shadow form, are key figures at the moment. They were appointed for a three-year term and they are less than one year into their term. I echo the comments made by Sir Patrick McLoughlin about the need for continuity. I am absolutely in favour of open recruitment, but given that these people went through a full and open recruitment process for the very same job—albeit that it is in shadow form rather than in statute and were appointed less than a year ago—there is scope to roll their term over to at least the end of their three-year term and then have the recruitment process continue as normal. I hope the Leader of the House will consider that so we can get started now on this project.
As Neil Gray said, we discussed in Committee the Government having a Treasury Minister on the Sponsor Body to get Government buy-in. I know there can be issues either way, but we must consider that in Committee to see what skin the Government of the day need to have in the game. Of course, the risk is that the Government of the day could decide to pull the plug; one Treasury Minister would not be able to stop it, but would be able to keep a beady eye on taxpayers’ money, alongside other Members of the House on the Committee.
We talked too about the election of Members to the board, which I naturally support, with one caveat.
The Joint Committee gave some thought to this, and the view was that members of the Sponsor Body should come to the House as Members representing the House of Commons Commission and others representing the Church Commissioners to answer from the Back Benches. We learned from Jamie Stone that the more open we are the better, so I would say that that infrequent appearance might not be enough, and at certain points in the project we might want to have far more open access both to Members of this House and the media, because it is not just Members of this House who need to know about it; this is a taxpayer-funded project that the people of the UK need to know about and need to know that questions can be asked about it.
We need to make sure we scrutinise this fully and properly. I talked about the election of members to the Sponsor Body. We on the Committee wanted that, but the Government did not accept it. My one caveat about having elections is that we must make sure we have full balance across the House. I will probably want to press this in Committee, because we want to make sure that, for example, smaller parties such as the SNP are not disadvantaged if there is an open vote across the House and Members vote on party lines, as may happen. Given the excellent support and input of the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts and others, it would be invidious to cut out a Member because their party label meant they would not secure the votes. That must be considered, but of course in principle I support elections for all the reasons that others have highlighted.
The scrutiny of this project is vital. This House will scrutinise it, the Estimates Commission will put the proposals forward and, thanks to the mechanism worked up with the Procedure Committee through the Backbench Business Committee, we can get those estimates and discuss them and the detail here.
We have made sure that under the Bill the National Audit Office will have the powers to audit the Sponsor Body, the Delivery Authority and the project. The Public Accounts Committee will, as of right, be able to hold evidence sessions on the National Audit Office reports and examine the numbers in detail. I will no longer be the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee when all this happens, although I hope to have some input in the early stages. I am laying down a marker for my successors, however, because the length of the project means that at least another couple of Select Committee Chairs will be looking at this.
That is incredibly important advice. One thing that assisted us with the Holyrood project was getting public endorsement every so often that the books were fine. I stand full square behind what the hon. Lady has said.
The Comptroller and Auditor General at the National Audit Office is coming to the end of his term at the end of this month, and one item on my list of things to talk to the new Comptroller and Auditor General about is ensuring that there is a good and thorough process. Of course the National Audit Office does an excellent job, but we need to ensure that this is on its radar in the right timeframe and that we work up a way of ensuring that everything works effectively. We need to get in early to ensure that costs are not suddenly ramped up at the end.
I need to talk a bit about costs, and I will come to that in a moment. Other Select Committees will of course have the chance to examine these issues and, as the Leader of the House has said, there will be a further chance for this House to have a say in 2021. It is important that we build in scrutiny of the evaluation of, for example, the jobs and the money and of where the contracts are being let. In our speeches today, we have all been putting pressure on the Sponsor Body seriously to consider having a mechanism for ensuring that the wealth opportunities from this huge, amazing, international project are shared fairly across the UK wherever possible, and we must ensure that it is held to account for any pledges that it makes. We will hold its feet to the fire on this, and other Select Committees will have a role in that regard as well.
I want to touch on the northern estate. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, who is no longer in his place, suggested that it might be better not to glue that project to the main Palace project. However, my Committee believes that it is pretty vital that the Sponsor Body manages both projects, because they are so interconnected. The fact that the cloisters have now been empty for 18 months even though that was an urgent project is not a demonstration of a lack of will—there are many issues involved—but with all goodwill to the Clerks the House, they are not project managers of major projects. The whole point about the Sponsor Body is that it will have the expertise to hold those who deliver these big projects to account and to ensure that they get on with it. It is important that we also hand over the northern estate to a body of people who really have that expertise.
I am pleased that the Ministry of Defence car park issue now seems to be resolved, as it was getting ludicrous. The Committee was horrified to discover that a delay in that area could have meant a three-year delay and hundreds of millions of pounds in extra costs. We will also get future office space and more flexibility over the buildings as a result of any new buildings on the northern estate.
I remember when I visited New South Wales—I was there on holiday; this was not done at the taxpayer’s expense—I went to the head of the Sydney Olympics and was given the opportunity to visit the New South Wales culture minister. They had an amazing project to work with local businesses to help them to get ready to bid for projects on the Sydney Olympics. This helped businesses to learn how to procure and to work out a whole list of everything that would be needed on the Olympics. I would urge the Sponsor Body to adopt a similar approach, so that hon. Members who have already expressed an interest in bringing business, opportunities and work to their constituencies can show their local businesses what will be needed. For example, we will need to know how many wood carvers and stone carvers will be needed, so that the people out there who know how to do those things can gear up and be ready when bidding for that work starts.
I want to finish by talking about the important issue of costs. We need to nail them down, but we must not rush to pluck a figure from the air. The costs that we have been talking about so far—around the £4 billion mark—were indicative figures based on 2014 prices. They are not the true cost of establishing the work necessary to improve this building. That cannot be known until the business case has been worked up and we actually discover what is behind things. There will be a number of known unknowns, because every time we remove a bit of wood panelling there may be asbestos behind it. We just do not know, because the building’s plans are not accurate. There will need to be figures in the business case, but a proper contingency must also be built in that will have to be explained to the Sponsor Body in case the Delivery Authority needs to draw on it, and the relevant bodies need be held firmly to account. To put inaccurate figures out now would be unhelpful, and we must ensure—the Leader of the House will be on this—that the figures are in the realms of reality.
No matter how expensive the project is, we must be honest with the taxpaying public about what is being spent. However, there will be no blank cheque. The Public Accounts Committee, under my watch or that of any successor, will keep a close eye on things, as will Members of this House, but we need to get on with the project now. We need to get the Sponsor Body in place, and it needs to appoint the Delivery Authority. I congratulate the Leader of the House on, I hope, getting us to a consensus tonight.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As you say, it is my first appearance at the Dispatch Box in 18 years—12 years as a Whip. I nearly got here on a Friday when Sir Christopher Chope had a Bill. I was ready and primed, but he did not actually move the Bill, so there we are. Things come to those who wait. I also thank Matt Chorley at The Times’ “Red Box” newsletter for making my appearance his trivia question of the day.
I should state that I am a member of the shadow Sponsor Body, and it is a pleasure to serve on it with several other Members. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in today’s proceedings. The tone of the debate has been positive, which reflects the growing understanding that this project cannot wait. We really must get on with it and establish the appropriate governance arrangements.
Some Members have suggested that this not the right time to be doing this, which I suppose is understandable, but to some extent that is why we are here now. Quite frankly, it has never been the right time to do it. I can understand that Governments of whatever colour could say, “Well, we’d rather leave it to somebody else,” but that is what we have been doing since the second world war, when the roof and various other work was bodged, and we are paying the price for that today. If we had addressed some of those concerns many years ago, we may not be facing the problems that we have today.
My hon. Friend Chris Bryant made some important points about planning, which I certainly have worries about. We must keep a firm eye on planning to ensure that it does not hold up the project, because if the northern estate project is delayed, everything else will suffer and the timescales will slip, as they have already.
Dame Caroline Spelman, with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings Bill, raised some important points, referring to the growing risk of delay. Like several other Members, she mentioned disability issues and the importance of doing whatever we can to make this place as disability-friendly as possible.
Now, where do I start with Pete Wishart? I will be honest with him that he was fairly far down my list of people to vote for to be Speaker, but the idea of making him live in this place is suddenly very appealing.
Sir Patrick McLoughlin spoke in great detail about some of the considerable problems we have to face. Sir Paul Beresford, with whom I have the pleasure of serving on the Administration Committee, stated how important it is to consider how people view this place—not only in this country, but around the world—and that the northern estate project should be placed under the Sponsor Body’s responsibility as soon as possible. Neil Gray, who like me has had the pleasure of serving on every R and R body so far, told us of his desire to have a modern Parliament within the current structures.
Sir Edward Leigh raised his concerns about slippage and what he saw as the complex nature of the project’s governance. I agree with what he and other Members said about the cloisters. Speaking as the Opposition accommodation Whip, moving people out and causing all those problems only for us to walk past it every day to see that, in fact, nothing is happening is a lesson that we should learn for the future.
Jamie Stone told us of his experience in the Scottish Parliament, which is useful, although I do not think we will be taking his advice on buying desks. My hon. Friend Meg Hillier spoke of the need for honesty in costs and for getting on with addressing the problems we face.
A number of years ago, many of us believed that we could somehow carry on doing the work around us, but the evidence clearly points otherwise. Importantly, as a number of Members said, it is not just about us in the Chamber or those in the other place; it is about the thousands of people who work here—many of them work longer hours than we do at the moment—and the more than a million people who visit this place every year.
From a health and safety point of view, this building is simply not fit for purpose. We need to restore and renew it to be fit for the 21st century. I would suggest to any Member who has not done so that they visit the basement to view the extent of the challenge facing us. It is not just below ground; it is above ground, too. A number of Members have spoken about how masonry is falling on a fairly regular basis, and we need only look at the netting around the building to understand the threat.
The biggest threat, and a number of Members have mentioned this, is fire. Although a lot of work has been done, we need only look at the terrible events at Notre Dame to realise how quickly a fire can take hold and threaten not only the entire structure of the building but, importantly, the people who work in it.
A key component of the proposed decant is the completion of the northern estate programme, which has perhaps gone somewhat under the radar, with a lot of the focus being on the Palace itself. The public consultation is under way, and I am sure many hon. Members have taken the opportunity to view the model or diorama—I never know the correct term—of Richmond House and the northern estate. I encourage Members who have not seen it to do so.
It is a bold design that will provide a positive legacy, with a building that can be adapted for a variety of uses, as well as office accommodation for Members of this House. There will be a second Chamber that we can hold in reserve, and we could use it for conferences and a whole host of uses that the Leader of the House has mentioned. It certainly will not be a white elephant. I think it will be a very useful part of this House.
I accept that the proposals for Richmond House are controversial and have generated interest. Some have argued that we should go to a different location, but I can assure the House, as the Leader of the House did, that a considerable amount of work went into considering numerous other locations. Again, if purely from a security point of view, Richmond House makes so much sense because it can easily be brought within the secure zone, which is a requirement that is, unfortunately, now far more important than it would have been a number of years ago—it is one of the key things that we have to think about. It is about protecting not only us, as Members, but all the people who work here, too.
We need to press ahead as quickly as possible with the northern estate project, which is central to the whole R and R programme. I am delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch that the dreaded MOD car park question will hopefully be solved, or has been solved, which should lessen the delay we were facing.
I would like to press the Minister on a key aspect of the R and R programme, about which a number of Members have spoken: legacy. I do not just mean the buildings, although they are important. I mean legacy in terms of the skills and apprenticeships that the programme will deliver—a legacy that should stretch far beyond London and the south-east.
The programme must be open to employees of businesses large and small across the UK. The procurement process needs to be fair and transparent, with companies across the country bidding for work. I hope that roadshows will go around the country explaining the opportunities. We cannot have a situation in which contracts are given to the same companies as always, which those giving the contracts are comfortable with. For all the talk about stretching out there, the rules and regulations can effectively debar smaller companies from entering the process.
This project may be based in London, but it must not be London-centric. Legacy must include better access for the public, improved educational facilities and the creation of new outreach spaces. As numerous Members have said, we must also make sure that the building is made as disabled-friendly as possible. That includes removing small stairways where we do not need them and also relates to the noise within the building. There are also issues that I had not thought about, to be frank. For partially sighted Members, clear glass doors with nothing on them are a major problem—we may think they look nice, but they can be a major obstacle. People across the House should be involved in looking at what we are going to do.
My personal experience as a member of the shadow Sponsor Board is that external board members—including Liz Peace, the excellent chair, who has been mentioned—play a positive and important role. Continuity is so important. I agree with other Members that there does not seem to be an allowance to enable existing members to go into the statutory body; they would have to go back through the process they went through a year ago. The danger is that we could lose that vital experience at a critical time for the project. At this point, I want to put on the record my thanks to Tom Healey, who has served the shadow Sponsor Board as director and is now returning to the House. He is a hard-working chap who has served us very well. I wish him all the best for the future.
In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend Christian Matheson highlighted five key areas to which I hope the Government will respond. The Opposition welcome the Bill today, and I wish it speedy progress. We have put off this vital work for 70 or perhaps 100 years. Let us be bold, let us be brave, and above all let us get on with it.
My thanks go to all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this debate. I congratulate Mark Tami on an assured début at the Dispatch Box. As a still relatively new Minister, it is nice to congratulate someone who has served for less time than I have.
The restoration and renewal of this historic Palace of Westminster is our duty to future generations of not just parliamentarians but of all who serve and take part in democracy in this country. The Bill is a vital step towards ensuring that we fulfil it. As many speakers have mentioned, we cannot underestimate this task. We have heard about the significant state of disrepair that the Palace is currently in. Anyone who has taken even a brief tour of the basement will have seen the scale of the project that we need to undertake and the desperate urgency of doing so.
The restoration and renewal programme is and will continue to be a parliamentary project. We will all have the opportunity to engage in the work and put forward our views on what improvements we would like to see for the Palace as a whole. All parliamentarians will have the opportunity to vote on the proposals for restoration and renewal in due course. This debate was an opportunity to hear what many people think, and it is only right that I start with the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, who just spoke. He was absolutely right to talk about the need for this project to have a legacy. That legacy cannot just be revamped 19th-century buildings or better presented artworks; it has to be a legacy that stretches throughout the whole United Kingdom, in respect of job opportunities, apprenticeships for young people, the revival of skills and the reinvigoration of crafts that may not even exist at the moment.
And, indeed, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and in the constituencies of all Members from across the House. That way, we can start to look at upskilling and at what FE provision is there now, and FE institutions can start to develop course plans and to introduce lecturers and so on, so that we get those skills ready for when the project happens.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that passionate advert for the skills of residents in Ogmore. I have also heard from the Rhondda, from Bury St Edmunds, from Aldridge-Brownhills, from Bournemouth, from South Northamptonshire and everywhere else. The hon. Gentleman is right: one reason why I am keen to get on with this and get the Delivery Authority set up is that, as we saw with the Olympics in 2012, there will be benefits throughout the country. In 2012, businesses in his constituency and in mine benefited, either through the supply or through direct contracts. The right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside made the point well that this project might be happening in London, but it should not be a London-centric project. I will certainly be keen to see us extending skills.
The Minister speaks of his commitment to this not being a London-centric project. I am sure he will have already heard our proposals for a nations and regions capital fund, and I am sure that capital funding would be welcome in Devon and the south-west. Does he agree in principle with the idea of such a fund?
Of course, as the Bill progresses, the Government will be interested to hear all proposals that come forward. Let us consider the work that is already going on. For example, the cast-iron tiles on the Elizabeth Tower are being produced in the Sheffield area, and the tiles for the encaustic tile conservation project have been manufactured at a factory in Shropshire. There will be plenty of opportunities for businesses throughout these four nations that make up this United Kingdom to be part of a project that all nations will be able to look to over the coming decades.
Let me turn to the detail of the views expressed today. I shall start with Christian Matheson, who opened the debate for the Opposition. I thank him for his constructive approach. He was an excellent stand-in for the shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, whose name appears on the Bill in a sign of the consensus we have been able to achieve. I recognise some of his points about opportunities for skills and education arising from the work. It is about making sure that businesses know how to put themselves forward. There are plenty of models—for example, Heathrow airport is currently working on trying spread its supply chain throughout the United Kingdom. I hope the Delivery Authority will be able to learn from that, although we need to get the thing set up, via the Bill, before it can.
My right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman was an excellent Chair of the prelegislative scrutiny Committee. I pay tribute to the work that she and her Committee did to enable us to bring forward the Bill. She was right to highlight the fact that disability access in this building is from another era. The facilities reflect different attitudes to those with disabilities—not just in the visible examples, such as staircases that are hard or impossible for anyone with mobility issues to climb, but in those hidden aspects that make this building not the place for accessibility that it should be. Let us be blunt: we stand in the Chamber and argue that businesses and public services should be accessible, but we need to make sure that the building in which we do that arguing sets the bar, rather than just meeting a minimum standard.
As the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside said, it is interesting to hear the comments of Pete Wishart. To anyone who raises the potential for spending on this project, I say that the alternative is not to spend nothing. The alternative is to carry on with a make-do-and-mend process, which is not making do and which is not going to mend the place. Public money will still end up being spent in great amounts on this building, achieving worse outcomes. I would certainly reflect on the contrast between some of those remarks and the role that Stewart Hosie has played as part of the Commission. Again, this is a choice about how we deal with the pressing issues of this building. There is no question of them not being dealt with at all.
When I was making my speech, the Minister was, I think, at an Adjournment debate elsewhere so I am surprised that he is even able to make a comment on these matters. I am not suggesting that at all. I agree that we have to do something with this building, but let us be imaginative about where we decant to and what we come back to. We do not always have to do the same things again and again and again.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course I take an interest in the remarks that have been made. These works have been looked at on many occasions by professional advisers who are coming up with appropriate things. We can all talk about being imaginative, but the reality is that there has been a great deal of analysis that has gone into this project. Come 2021, the House will again be able to scrutinise the detail of business cases, to take votes based on real estimates and to scrutinise the estimates to ensure that everyone has the information that they need to make a decision.
On this topic of possible cost overruns, a number of colleagues have talked about the possibility of the northern estate being delayed because of planning problems, which could be very expensive indeed. Can the Minister tell us more about that possibility and how we are going to reduce that risk?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. On planning, he will be aware that this project will follow the usual planning rules. We do not intend to make Parliament a special case; we will still liaise with Westminster City Council. On the detail in relation to the northern estate, I am happy to write to him and also place a copy of that letter in the Library. That would enable me to give him a detailed reply to his concerns. I am conscious though that, when we engage with the city council, we will do so as any other applicant would. We must be very clear that we are not setting ourselves in a special place because we are the UK Parliament.
Let me move on now to the comments of my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin. He quite rightly pointed out that, if this building were in private hands, we would insist on its repair via the law that we pass. That also applies in terms of conserving its heritage. I also pay tribute to the role that he plays on the shadow Sponsor Body, bringing his considerable experience of Parliament to bear in doing so.
It is always a pleasure to hear from Chris Bryant. I know that, like me, he also managed to nip into the other debate to make a contribution, showing his passion for his work. Again, mention was made of his work on the Joint Committee of 2016. It was almost as if we managed to duplicate ourselves to ensure that we could achieve the feat of being in two places at once. We appreciate the comments that were made, especially the ones around planning, but again I have to say that there is a difference between these works and the works of the Olympics in terms of not having four different projects and of not having four different planning authorities. Again I say, it would be a low step for Parliament to look to put itself above other procedures and other organisations dealing with similar buildings.
My hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford talked about the iconic nature of this building and the vast scale of the task—no one can underestimate the vast scale of the task. On the nature of this building, I sometimes make the point on a tour that this is probably one of the few places that literally has history attached to a broom cupboard because of what happened on the night of the 1911 census. Again, it rams home the fact that every part of this building has a history.
Let me move on to the comments of Neil Gray who gave us his considered thoughts. I note that he said that he wanted a Treasury Minister on the Sponsor Body. The point that I make is that we are clear that this a parliamentary project, not a Government project. I also noted the comments of Meg Hillier, who said that we can explore that matter in the Bill Committee. The Government’s view is that, while there will be some engagement with the Treasury, a Minister being on the board could confuse the roles and may not necessarily be the best way of ensuring that this project progresses.
My right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, as always, gave a passionate speech showing his great knowledge and skill, and making very clear the risks that we are running if we decide not to grasp this nettle. He talked us through the options. I know he has been a passionate proponent of particular outcomes for this project, but it is right that whatever option we look to take—whatever our thoughts on particular aspects of the project—we move on with this Bill and set up the Delivery Authority to allow it to happen.
It was interesting to hear the experience of Jamie Stone with the Scottish Parliament building. I actually saw the desk to which he referred only last week when I visited my opposite number in the Scottish Government. The hon. Gentleman is probably right to say that there will be some flak along the way in this project; that is almost inevitable. However, he is also right to say that this needs to be a project across the whole Union, not just one for the normal contractors, and that it should be something in which we can all take pride.
I found the comments of the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch particularly interesting, as she outlined the role that the Public Accounts Committee will look to play in overseeing this work. As she reflected, it was the work of the hon. Lady and her Committee that persuaded many Members to vote for the motion, given that the House supported her amendment by a majority and then supported the substantive motion that has brought us to where we are today. I am sure that many Members of the House will hope that such an approach will continue.
It is extremely important that we make progress with the restoration and renewal project so that we can secure this historic Palace for future generations. That is why I am pleased that the House passed the motions in 2018 voting for a full decant, and why I am pleased that this Bill is being debated today. As the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster said in its report, the Sponsor Body will need to set clear timelines for completing the vital works. It is very much my hope that we move back into this historic and iconic building as swiftly as possible afterwards. Indeed, the Bill provides for this. At the point that we vote on the design and funding for the project, we will have a better understanding of the timescales and will be proceeding—if it is the decision of the House—based on that timetable. If the timetable or costs shift significantly, the House will have the opportunity to vote again.
Concerns have rightly been raised about the cost of this project, and we are determined to ensure that the R and R programme represents best value for money for the taxpayer. That will be the guiding principle as we take this Bill forward. We are confident that the governance arrangements set out in the Bill can and will deliver the necessary restoration works while guaranteeing value for money for the taxpayer, as there is not an unlimited amount of available funds.
The Bill puts in place a number of core financial safeguards that have been signed off by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. To mention just a few: Parliament will be given an opportunity to vote on the annual expenditure of the Sponsor Body; the Estimates Commission will have the power to reject draft estimates if the project is going over budget; the Comptroller and Auditor General will conduct annual financial audits in relation to both the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority, and of course has the relationship with the Public Accounts Committee that the Committee’s Chair touched on in her speech; and finally, Parliament will vote on the cost of the substantive building works. The Government are clear that the work must represent good value for tax- payers’ money, and the programme needs to be delivered on time and on budget.
The R and R programme is at its heart, and will continue to be, a parliamentary project. That is why the Bill ensures that parliamentarians have a clear voice as members of the Sponsor Body, and establishes a specific duty on the Sponsor Body to consult with parliamentarians on strategic objectives for the restoration and renewal works. Parliament will also have a significant role in approving the proposals for the works, including the scope, delivery method and cost.
The importance of engaging the public has also been mentioned, and I completely agree that the public need to have a clear voice in this historic project about the Parliament that represents them. This project will provide an unparalleled opportunity to get the public to engage with Parliament and democracy—both during the programme and through providing a lasting legacy. How we engage the public in R and R is ultimately for the Sponsor Body to define, working alongside the Delivery Authority. However, the Sponsor Body will have the chance to engage innovatively with the wider public about restoration and renewal, and I would expect that to be across the entire United Kingdom, as I touched on earlier.
If I may sum up, this Bill ensures that we establish the governance bodies that will be able—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I want to put to him the point that has been put to him by several members of the Sponsor Body. The Bill says that we will have to undertake a new recruitment process for the new Sponsor Body as opposed to the shadow Sponsor Body. I realise that he may not be able to give me a definitive answer at the moment, but may I ask him to understand the concern that has been expressed in all parts of the House about this particular clause, bearing in mind that the people who are taking on this role at the moment, and will continue to do so, were recruited only after a proper process in 2018? Those of us who feel that this is important would like them to carry on with that job for some time. I think that to go through the whole appointment process again would be a mistake.
I hear the point made by my right hon. Friend. The Government remain open-minded on this and will clearly consider the comments made as the Bill progresses through the House. I hear the strength of the representations that he has made, and they will certainly be taken on board as the Bill progresses. As I say, it is ultimately a matter for the House to determine.
This Bill ensures that we establish the governance bodies that will be able to deliver on this project in a timely and cost-effective manner. This will enable our return to this Palace to conduct parliamentary business, ensure continued and more inclusive public engagement through increased accessibility, and fulfil our responsibility to secure for future generations this historic grade I listed building—a building that has seen moments of history take place within it. Ultimately, the Bill ensures that the proper mechanisms are in place to enable the restoration and renewal works on the Palace of Westminster to be conducted with the expertise and safeguards that are necessary for a project of this magnitude both in size and historical significance.
It is a privilege to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I look forward to working with colleagues in Committee to take it forward. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second Time.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I understand the point he makes. He will have heard, as the House has heard many times, Mr Speaker insisting that any important announcements that are made by Ministers should be made first here in the Chamber and not elsewhere. But it is my understanding, having listened to the Prime Minister’s press conference this afternoon, that she has every intention of coming to this House tomorrow and making a statement where all Members will have the opportunity to ask the appropriate questions. I hope that sets the hon. Gentleman’s mind at rest.