Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:13 pm on 19th June 2019.
“(1) The Comptroller and Auditor General may carry out an examination of—
(a) the Sponsor Body; or
(b) the Delivery Authority; or
(c) both the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority
under section 6 of the National Audit Act 1983.
(2) For the purpose of an examination of the Sponsor Body or the Delivery Authority, or the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority, under section 6 of the National Audit Act 1983, the Comptroller and Auditor General shall have a right of access at all reasonable times to relevant documents held or controlled by a person in circumstances in which that person has or had a contractual obligation to supply goods or services directly or indirectly to the Sponsor Body or Delivery Authority, and the Comptroller and Auditor General shall be entitled to require from such a person holding or accountable for any such document such information and explanation as are reasonably necessary for that purpose.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) a person has a contractual obligation to supply goods or services indirectly to the Sponsor Body or Delivery Authority if and only if that person has a contractual obligation to supply goods or services that arises from a contract which is a subcontract in relation to a main contract between the Sponsor Body or Delivery Authority and another person or body.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), a contract is a subcontract in relation to a main contract if its performance would fulfil, or contribute to the fulfilment of, an obligation to supply goods or services in the main contract.
(5) In subsection (2) “relevant documents” means documents that relate to the contractual obligation to supply goods or services.”—(Mark Tami.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 1, in clause 2, page 2, line 16, at end insert—
“(f) to require the Delivery Authority when allocating contracts for construction and related work to have regard for the company’s policies on corporate social responsibility, including those relating to the blacklisting of employees or potential employees from employment.”
Amendment 6, page 2, line 21, at end insert—
“(h) to undertake, and publish, an annual audit of the companies that have been awarded contracts for the Parliamentary building works, with a view to establishing their size and geographical location.”
Amendment 7, page 2, line 44, leave out “desirability of ensuring” and insert “need to ensure”.
This amendment requires the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, in exercising its functions, to have regard to the need to ensure that educational and other facilities are provided for people visiting the Palace of Westminster (rather than requiring it to have regard to the desirability of ensuring that such facilities are provided).
Amendment 4, page 2, line 46, at end insert—
“(h) the need to ensure that economic benefits of the Parliamentary building works are delivered across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, in terms of contracts for works and in any other way the Sponsor Board considers appropriate.”
Amendment 5, page 2, line 46, at end insert—
“(h) the need to conserve and sustain the outstanding architectural, archaeological and historical significance of the Palace of Westminster, including the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site.”
Amendment 8, in schedule 1, page 10, line 20, at end insert—
“( ) See also paragraph 7A, which makes provision about the appointment of the first external members.”
This amendment signposts the new paragraph 7A inserted by amendment 9 (which deals with the appointment of the first external members of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body).
Amendment 9, page 12, line 2, at end insert—
“Appointment of initial external members
7A (1) The person who, immediately before the commencement day, was the chair of the shadow Sponsor Body is to be treated as having been appointed on that day as the chair of the Sponsor Body in accordance with paragraph 2.
(2) Appointment by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) is to be treated as being for a term of 3 years.
(3) A person who, immediately before the commencement day—
(a) was a member of the shadow Sponsor Body (other than the chair), and
(b) was not a member of either House of Parliament, is to be treated as having been appointed on that day as a member of the Sponsor Body in accordance with paragraph 3 (external members).
(4) Appointment by virtue of sub-paragraph (3) is to be treated as being for a term ending with the last day of the period of 3 years beginning with the day on which the shadow Sponsor Body was established.
(5) An appointment by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) or (3) ceases to have effect at the end of the period of 1 month beginning with the commencement day unless, before the end of that period, the appointment is confirmed by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(6) Paragraphs 2, 3 and 6 do not apply in relation to a member who is appointed by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) or (3).
(7) In this paragraph—
“the commencement day” means the day on which section 2(1) comes into force;
“the shadow Sponsor Body” means the body, established in July 2018 in connection with the restoration of the Palace of Westminster, which is known as the shadow Sponsor Body.”
This amendment provides for those who were external members of the shadow Sponsor Body immediately before clause 2 comes into force to be appointed as the first external members of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body.
I rise to speak to new clause 1 and amendment 6 on behalf of my hon. Friend Meg Hillier and myself, and amendments 8 and 9 on behalf of Sir Patrick McLoughlin and myself.
New clause 1 seeks to give statutory powers to the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine the preparedness of the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority to undertake the parliamentary building works required. Importantly, that power would come now, rather than looking at the project in the years to come. The new clause would not mandate the Comptroller and Auditor General to do it, but it would give him the power and the opportunity to do so if he considered it appropriate. For public confidence, it is vital that this project delivers and is seen to deliver value for money for the taxpayer. There is clearly uncertainty about what exactly we will find when we start the work on the building. As we have already seen with the Elizabeth Tower, we can actually find some quite large increases in costs.
It is not currently easy for the CAG and the National Audit Office to access a company’s records of contracts. They can look at a contract between the Government and a body in the private sector, but the NAO does not have access rights to such companies’ accounts. While that is not detailed in the new clause, I hope the Government will look at it. Greater access and transparency is vital in this respect. In saying that, we do not want to put extra burdens on small and medium-sized enterprises and other companies looking to tender for work. In fact, as I will explain, we have to do everything to ensure that they actually tender, but I ask the Minister to look at this issue, because it will be important in the future.
Amendment 6 is very straightforward. It calls for an annual audit of all the contracts awarded under the programme so that we can see both the size of the companies and, importantly, where they are and where the money is spent around the country. This project, by its very nature, is based in London, but it should not just be a London-centric project. This is a national Parliament, and the work needs to be spread across the whole of the UK. I know that other amendments also look at that.
I entirely agree that where work has to be done, it should be spread around the country. Is the right hon. Gentleman envisaging that the audit should take into account the policy issues? For example, will it look at whether it is good value to move MPs out of this building, or whether there is some easier way of doing this without something so fundamental?
As someone who has been involved in this from day one, I would say that we have looked at this very carefully, and the decision to decant from here was not taken lightly. A lot of work went into that, and I think we have made the right choice.
The two amendments in my name and that of the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales provide that the external members of the shadow Sponsor Body, including the chair, will be automatically transferred to the statutory Sponsor Body on the creation of that statutory body. As a member of the shadow board, I can say that I greatly value the work and experience that the external members of the shadow board have brought to bear, and I think it is important that that carries on. The amendments cover the members who only last year went through a fair and open competition, based on merit, to be appointed to the shadow Sponsor Body. Given that the shadow Sponsor Body has only recently commenced its work, it is important to retain these members, for now, for the continuity of the restoration and renewal programme. I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing in Committee to work with the right hon. Gentleman and me on these amendments, which I hope the Government will accept.
These amendments will transfer all the external members of the shadow Sponsor Body to the statutory Sponsor Body. The chair will be appointed for a term of three years from the date the Sponsor Body is established in statute. The terms of the other external members of the Sponsor Body will be three years from the date the shadow Sponsor Body was established in July 2018. Once these terms have expired, the chair of the Sponsor Body will be responsible for setting the members’ fixed terms, which cannot exceed three years. The Bill provides that, in doing so, the chair must have regard to the desirability of ensuring that appointments do not all expire at the same time. These amendments are a practical way forward, and I hope the House will accept them.
I am very happy that there should be proper audit and review, and I think the right spirit was struck by Mark Tami in speaking about his proposal. However, I would like to raise the bigger policy issue. The underlying Bill he is seeking to amend says that the Delivery Authority is
“to formulate proposals relating to the design, cost and timing” of the works, so it is not a done deal. I am very pleased it is not a done deal, because I think a lot of work needs to be done before committing to the plans that this House has not had a great deal of time to consider in this forum. It has been considered elsewhere, but perhaps other MPs have views that ought to be taken into account before we decamp from this important part of the Palace and embark on such fundamental works. When the audit looks into these matters, I hope it will take into account the wider issues of value for money and convenience, and the functions of this building.
I pay tribute to the way in which a number of contractors and their staff are doing fundamental works to the Elizabeth Tower, while enabling us to use this building as if there were no interruption. They have done a remarkable job of not intruding on the work of Parliament. So far they have run a very safe site, which we all welcome. It shows that fundamental works can take place while we are using the buildings in the way that was intended. It is a good model. There are also a lot of roofing works going on at the moment, which again shows that these things can be done without fundamental and expensive change.
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that because the Elizabeth Tower works are going on while we are sitting here, we could somehow remain in parts of the Palace of Westminster while the works on it are carried out? Will he reflect on which parts of the Elizabeth Tower are used for parliamentary business and which parts we are hindered from accessing as the works are going on?
Of course, when the works need to move on to parts of the Palace that MPs use more often and more directly, alternative arrangements will need to be made. However, I do not think that means that all MPs need to move out of the old Palace for a long period of time, when it has been shown that bits of work can be done around the historic Palace without everybody having to decamp.
The right hon. Gentleman is being kind in giving way. To support my hon. Friend Neil Gray, in my 14 years in this Parliament, I do not think I have been in the Elizabeth Tower once. I think that strengthens the argument that has just been made from the Scottish National party’s Front Bench.
I do not think it does at all, because I have also pointed out that there are a lot of roofing works going on. The hon. Gentleman is using the parts of the building that are being reroofed without being interrupted in his work. Again, I pay tribute to those who are carrying out the works without the need for fundamental change.
If we want value for money, we need to ensure that before any full plans are adopted, the Delivery Authority has done a proper job of analysing the options.
I also make a more fundamental point about our democracy. I know that there are many Members here who do not want to restore a proper independent democracy in Britain and are doing their best to ignore the wishes of the British people, as expressed in the referendum. It would be doubly ironic if they not only had their way on that, but said that we cannot use the historic Palace in the way that was intended for a long period. That would be a symbol that the public’s wish—
Order. We need to keep to the Bill and the amendments. I know that a man of great stature like the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to lead the House where it is not supposed to go. I think that he was giving way to Mark Tami.
To reinforce your point, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was about to say that we have had these arguments for ever and a day. We could have them again, but this debate is about the governance.
Hence why I am sure Sir John will now go back to where he wanted to be.
I am very willing to do so. As I say, I welcome the principle that where works are conducted, there needs to be a proper audit. However, I go back to the intervention that I made at the start of the debate, when I said that any audit should also look at the policy, because I note that the legislation we are being asked to approve today makes it very clear that the policy has not been finalised. We are setting up authorities and bodies to sort out both the policy and the implementation, so I submit that the audit must apply to the policy as well as to the implementation.
I will speak to amendment 4, which appears in my name and in those of colleagues not just in the Scottish National party, but across the House. The amendment would insert something that presently does not appear anywhere in the Bill, but which is critical for the project to enjoy not only political support, but the support of the public, particularly in the devolved nations.
Nowhere in the Bill is there a commitment that the project will see benefit derived outside London. However, clause 9, which is about spending issues relating to the project, extends and applies to Scotland. That means that taxpayers in Scotland will pay for their share of these works on a project in London but, with the way the Bill is currently drafted, will get nothing in return. We have had warm words, but according to what the Bill actually says, which is what matters, this will be another massive capital project in London, which already enjoys a huge share of UK capital spending—a third of it goes to London and the south-east.
Why is this important? Of all spending, capital spending derives the greatest economic benefit, bringing higher growth and employment to the areas where it occurs. Right now, London and the south-east benefit from a third of all UK capital spending. This multibillion-pound project will widen that gap and, as it has been designated a UK-wide project, there will be no Barnett consequentials. I think that this project should go beyond Barnett and that there should be a capital investment fund, proportionate to the total cost of the project, to be allocated on a shared basis to the nations and regions. Perhaps it could be a requirement that the money is spent on restoring and renewing old buildings in those areas.
If amendment 4 does not pass, there will be nothing in the Bill to mandate the Sponsor Board or the Delivery Authority to ensure that any spending, any procurement or even one single job is gained outside London, where the project will obviously be based.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that some £400 million of common taxpayers’ money was spent on the Edinburgh Parliament, and no equivalent English Parliament has been granted? This is the Parliament of the Union, so we all share in it. His fellow countrymen and women voted to stay in that Union and are proud of their Union’s Parliament.
It is for the former Secretary of State for Wales to promote the idea of an English Parliament, not for a Member of the Scottish National party.
I applaud the hon. Gentleman on his amendment. I will be happy to support it if he presses it to a Division. If we are really serious about dealing with the huge geographical wealth inequalities within the British state, surely we should debate moving this Parliament outside London and the south-east.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. He will be aware that I pushed that idea when I sat on the first Joint Committee that reviewed the options appraisal. Unfortunately, I was outvoted 11 to one on that occasion, but it is something that the SNP has looked on favourably in the past.
Obviously I do not expect any kind of quota system for a nations and regions fund, which would fall foul of procurement law, but I do want something that ensures that the Sponsor Board and Delivery Authority have to at least be cognisant of discernible UK-wide benefit.
Why do we need to have this debate now? Look at what happened with the London Olympics. I am a massive sports fan and a former athlete, although I did not get to such heights as the Olympic games. However, I was a supporter of the London Olympics. As a fan, I watched it with interest. It was a fantastic event. However, it took a massive fight by my colleagues who were here at the time to ensure that there was even a semblance of UK-wide benefit. The Scottish Government received a fraction of what they should have had in Barnett consequentials, and the lottery good causes funding for Scotland was raided to help pay for the games. Only now, seven years on, are we starting to see some of that charity money returning, but it will be spread over several years and many groups needed that money years ago. Estimates at the time put the Scottish contracts won from the London Olympics in the tens of millions, when £7 billion of contracts were up for grabs.
My colleague and good friend is making a powerful speech. In describing the raid on the Scottish lottery budgets at the time of the Olympics, he is highlighting that what is happening here is another not very well disguised London subsidy from the pockets of Scottish taxpayers. This is why the Union is creaking. I say to Scottish Tory MPs who acquiesce in this: “You are not Unionists if you are doing this; you are submissionists. You should be making sure that Scotland gets its fair share of any subsidy that goes to London.”
Order. Come on—let’s stick to what the debate is about.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I thought it was a perfectly reasonable intervention.
I am the judge of that, not you, Mr Gray. Come on!
Returning to the London Olympics, at the time, 4,200 Scottish companies registered their interest in providing services, while fewer than 200 actually secured any business. Most galling of all was that £135 million of legacy funding was made available for grassroots sport, but to be distributed by sports governing bodies south of the border. No extra funding was made available for Scottish sports governing bodies. There is no doubt that that experience left a bitter taste. We are not here to debate the London Olympics, but that is the last major infrastructure project similar in status to the restoration and renewal project, which is London-based, without full Barnett consequentials and with a similar delivery model—I will come back to that.
I was there during the London Olympics and remember only too well the wrangling that went on because of the Barnett consequentials issue. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to want something on the face of the Bill that assures the rest of the UK that it will get some sort of benefit from this project. If it does not, we will have years and years of the type of wrangling we had over the London Olympics, and what a waste of time that was.
I totally agree, which is why I am pushing these amendments.
The hon. Gentleman is making the case that there is too much capital expenditure in London and the south-east on this project. I remind him of the massive expenditure on the two aircraft carriers built in Rosyth in southern Scotland, at enormous expense for the Union’s taxpayers, for the benefit of Scottish companies and Scottish labour.
Order. We have a debate on amendments and Members are meant to be speaking to those amendments. I am not going to let the debate drift to wherever people decide they want it to drift to. We will now go back to Mr Neil Gray. We need to get back to where we should be.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been referring to a relevant project, which was similar in status to the one under discussion today and one from which we should have learnt lessons. My colleagues and I have done our very best to be constructive in all our dealings on this issue, but there will come a point where we will have to ask for how long we can be ignored on an issue of fundamental importance to us, which is the fair share of resources. I fully expect this project to go beyond £10 billion, when all is said and done. If the project is Barnett-ised, that would mean a transfer just shy of £1 billion to Scotland. Right now, the Government are unwilling to contemplate not only some form of capital investment spin-off, but even a subtle instruction to the Sponsor Board to ensure contracts are secured across the UK. That is not acceptable and there must be a revision of that approach.
On the other amendments, we will support Labour’s amendment 1 on blacklisting companies. Amendment 5 is a little bit concerning for me. I understand the intention from Tim Loughton, but as I have said before this project will throw up irreconcilable conflicts which will make for very difficult decisions. One will be the conflict between access for members of the public versus heritage. Amendment 5, as well-intentioned as it may be, will make it far more difficult to make this place more accessible to disabled people. Besides, if this is just going to be a project to empty everything out and return it all back as it was but a bit cleaner, then what on earth is the point? The building contributes to the culture here, which is elitist, inaccessible and out of date, and that must change. We support amendment 6 as a way of improving the Bill, but it does not in itself satisfy our desire for greater emphasis to be placed on the Sponsor Board and the Delivery Authority to ensure the project has discernible UK-wide benefits.
In conclusion, I intend to press my cross-party amendment 4 to a Division to test the willingness of the Government to do more than just talk about this being a UK-wide project. We have seen what happens in the past: they are no such thing. We need concrete action to confirm that.
I will do the rather unusual job, Mr Deputy Speaker, of talking to my amendment, which is amendment 5. I am delighted that the shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, added her name to it. I am sure that will help to persuade the House that it would be a worthy addition to the Bill.
Amendment 5 adds an additional consideration for the Sponsor Body to have regard to. It is a probing amendment, but if anybody annoys me I will press it to a Division and see what the House thinks. I speak with my hat on as the chairman of the all-party group on archaeology and as a proud, sometime jobbing archaeologist.
There are a lot of fossils around here.
There are certainly a lot of fossils on the Scottish National party Benches. [Laughter.]
I thank the Minister for meeting me on this subject the other day—I know he takes an interest in it—and I pay tribute to the work done by the previous Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom, who worked over such a long time to make the Bill possible and put so much of her energy into it.
I support the Bill. I support the arrangements for the status, role and functioning of the parliamentary works Sponsor Body. It is a huge undertaking, as I think we all acknowledge, which we absolutely need to get right. I do not want to do anything to make the Bill in any way unduly prescriptive and impede the flexibility of members of the board, who face a huge and challenging task to help to restore and rebuild the Palace. I get all that and I take no issue with the need to move out of this place as soon as possible for the work to be done. What slightly concerns me, however, is that all the amendments we are considering today, and indeed all the amendments that were considered in Committee and during the other stages, are really about process.
There are lots of perfectly valid considerations about the companies that will undertake the work, the economic benefit that should flow across the nation and the membership of the Sponsor Body. Those are legitimate debates to have, but at no point does any amendment actually refer to the unique archaeological, historical and constitutional significance of the building about whose work and future we are talking. No amendment mentions that. At no point was it even discussed in Committee. I was very surprised, when I read the Committee stage in Hansard, that it did not come up once. That is why my amendment, which is supported by Historic England and the all-party group on archaeology, is necessary. I was specifically tasked at our last meeting to raise this issue. The archaeological community is concerned about the absence of the consideration of heritage in the Bill.
I know that we have moved on, but when the underground car park was built some 40 or 50 years ago archaeological rigour was not quite as thorough as it might have been. It is likely that part of Edward the Confessor’s original palace—a hugely significant building both to the nature of this whole area and its interrelation with Westminster Abbey—was lost in the construction of that car park. That was a piece of archaeological vandalism. We must absolutely make sure that, in the considerable work that will need to take place in this Palace, the full archaeological integrity and importance of the building—what is under it, what is on it and what is next to it—is appreciated and we do not lose the opportunity to investigate more the history of this place or destroy, in our pursuit of getting a building that is more sustainable, user-friendly and so on, all that in the process.
These are very important considerations and I am glad my hon. Friend is raising them. One of the problems in dealing with a building that has 1,000 years of history on its site, as a royal palace and as legal and government buildings, is to know which era or eras one is most concerned about, what one is trying to conserve, and what one can hope to re-use or conserve. Does he have any thoughts on that complexity when there is so much history on site?
I will come on to that in a minute. It is said that all archaeology is destruction, because when you take something out of its context you cannot return it to that context. It is therefore absolutely essential that the context of what we find—part of archaeology is what you do not find and might have expected to—is absolutely respected and recorded in order to fit together the jigsaw puzzle, particularly for such an important building over so many centuries, and, most likely, over 1,000 years.
I reassure my hon. Friend that at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage, which I had the privilege of chairing, archaeological significance was indeed touched on. A number of members of the Committee had the opportunity to tour these premises and it became very clear to us that there is great deal more than one can actually see. The deeper we go in any excavation work the more unknown are the important artefacts that may remain below. There was also the rather tragic but true fact that about 17 chimney sweeps are unaccounted for. When we come to deconstruct and reconstruct the building, we need to be very mindful that there may be human remains deep down or within the building—[Interruption.] It is a fact and we need to be very respectful in how we go about these works.
My right hon. Friend makes a very valid point. I had not considered the prospect of mummified chimney sweeps as part of the archaeological excavations. I am pleased to hear that this issue was considered in pre-legislative scrutiny, which makes it even more surprising and even more of an omission that it did not make its way into the Bill. It is absolutely crucial.
My right hon. Friend and I entered this House on the same day back in 1997 and I have travelled around an awful lot of it, but there are still parts of it that I have not explored. I was privileged enough to go right up into the roof of Westminster Hall during repair work on the beams. I saw the original graffiti when some of them were restored and the ways they had been put together. However, there was a great sadness at that stage. We lobbied through the all-party group on archaeology for a dendrochronology investigation of the beams, because it is likely that when their last major restoration took place in or around 1820, many of them originated from the hulls of ships broken in Portsmouth dockyard, as happened in many cases—an old part of my house is made from beams of ships that, it is thought, came from the 15th century. It is highly likely that some of the ships used here took part in the Battle of Trafalgar. We might have a major part of this country’s long history within the confines of this Palace, yet despite our entreaties no investigation took place when the work was going on, even though that would have made it much easier and given us yet further explanation about how this place was put together. It is really important that we do not miss such opportunities, which we will not have again.
I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s amendment and I understand what he is trying to achieve. However, one of the great conflicts in this project will be between the need to restore heritage and the need to deliver greater access, particularly for disabled Members and disabled members of the public. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his amendment, as it stands, tips the balance in favour of heritage, and where does he feel the balance needs to be struck?
I absolutely do not accept that—the two are not mutually exclusive. The list of considerations that the Sponsor Body must “have regard to”—not “have a veto on” or “be a more important consideration”—includes “value for money”,
“safety and security of people”,
the protection of the environment, being “sustainable”, ensuring that it is accessible to visitors, accessible to people working here with disabilities—absolutely—“improved visitor access”, and ensuring that
“educational and other facilities are provided for people visiting”.
I absolutely agree with all those—they are exceedingly crucial and worthwhile—so why is there a problem with adding that the Sponsor Body should “have regard to” the fact that this is a unique building?
It is not just a UNESCO world heritage site. Probably uniquely among UNESCO world heritage sites in this country, it is a working building where history is still being made. The history of the fabric of the building still has relevance to the ongoing organic development of our constitution and the way we govern this country. That is why it was so important that when people said, “Why don’t we just turn this into a museum and have Parliament move into a purpose-built building?”, the point was made that that would completely ignore the importance of the heritage, history and cultural background of this place, which we could not repeat in a soulless, characterless, heritage-less, new, modern building. It would completely change the whole character of what we do here.
Again, an additional complication is that this is a complete Victorian rebuild of an earlier building, which also reflects the Victorian view of the history that predated the building. We therefore have a double time capsule: it is a piece of Victorian Britain and it is their view of the previous few hundred years.
My right hon. Friend is dealing with the really modern stuff—I will go back a bit further in a minute.
As you know more than many, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Palace of Westminster is one of the United Kingdom’s most famous landmarks for UK citizens and it attracts thousands of tourists every year. The reason Parliament is committed to investing billions of pounds in the restoration and renewal programme is to protect the Palace, which is falling down, and its historical legacy for future generations. Considering that this could well be the whole nation’s most ambitious and costly restoration project ever undertaken, it seems remarkable, extraordinary and bizarre that heritage is not listed as one of the matters to which the Sponsor Body should “have regard to.” It should not “take precedence”, but it should just “have regard to”. That is why my amendment inserts, as an additional regard:
“the need to conserve and sustain the outstanding architectural, archaeological and historical significance of the Palace of Westminster, including the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site.”
What could be controversial about that? I am not trying in any way to impede disabled access. I want disabled access to work in a complementary way so that people, whether they are disabled, come here as tourists or are UK citizens, can continue to appreciate this building’s historical importance. By putting an historical and archaeological consideration in the Bill, it would and should mean that people with disabilities have equal access to be able to appreciate the archaeological and historical features of the building. It would not just be that the lift cannot go somewhere, so they will not see some of the building’s features that they might like to.
As I said, this is a living piece of history. Great things have happened in this building, which still shapes our constitution. Last year we celebrated the centenary of women at last getting the vote. The cupboard in which Emily Wilding Davison—[Interruption.] Perhaps I could have a little bit of attention from other Members on these Benches. The cupboard where Emily Wilding Davison hid on the night before the census, in 1911, was one of the most significant wheezes of the whole suffragette movement. It happened here, and the significance of that is that she was able to put the address of this place on the census form. Women were not able to stand for election or become MPs, and they were not even able to access the Public Gallery, bizarrely. That happened in this place, but that cupboard was completely neglected. It was only some years ago when Tony Benn pointed out that that was a really significant part of our history, yet it was just a cupboard full of computer servers. It is still just a cupboard full of computer servers, but at least it has some historical narrative next to it, and it did feature in a rather louche BBC drama, “Apple Tree Yard”, which probably got more interest in it than anything else we might say in this place.
In some ways, the hon. Gentleman is making the point that I referred to about the balance that will have to be struck between what he wishes to see in heritage being protected and people being able to access the building. He will know that access to particular cupboard is by stairs in Westminster Hall. It will not be easy to provide step-free access or a lift facility to get there, so where does he see the balance being struck in preserving heritage—the steps in Westminster Hall and that cupboard—and allowing access for disabled people?
The hon. Gentleman does not know. Access might be provided through the cloisters if there were some compromise between access and—[Interruption.] That is what it is all about. It is impossible to compromise between two things if one of them is listed in the Bill and the other is apparently inconsequential. That is the whole point.
Let us take an example. Last year, as part of the 100th anniversary of the suffragette movement, there was for a long time a very imaginative display in Westminster Hall, part of which involved the reconstruction of the flue gallery from which women had had to listen to the proceedings of an all-male membership. That gallery, where the hot air went out, was reconstructed, and several of us recorded some of the debates that had taken place in those days. I was asked to play the part of William Pitt the Younger, which I think I did with some aplomb, and for many months my voice boomed up through the reconstruction of the flue.
We should recognise and respect the historic significance of objects such as that cupboard. It might even be reconstructed somewhere if it proved completely impossible to facilitate disabled access to it without causing huge architectural damage, but if that is not on the face of the Bill it is not a consideration. It might actually help people with disabilities to be able to enjoy more of the archaeological and cultural heritage of the place as well.
The explanatory notes are quite helpful. Page 3 states:
“Parliament has a clear role in approving the…cost and timing of the R&R Programme.”
However, it also states that Parliament has a clear role in “approving the design”. Does the hon. Gentleman not take any comfort from the fact that all his concerns—and, indeed, the concerns of my hon. Friend Neil Gray about access—can be addressed when Parliament as a whole is considering, and having an input in, the design of the final project?
What is the downside of including the archaeological and historical significance of the building on the face of the Bill as an equal consideration? For some reason, the hon. Gentleman wants to discriminate against the uniqueness and the constitutional historical importance of the building. If anyone is guilty of discrimination, it is him. I just want to see everything on a level playing field because of the significance of the building.
Great things have happened in this building. The hon. Gentleman may not agree about this one, but in 1305 the trial of William Wallace took place here, and we all know what happened to him. In 1649 there was the trial of Charles I, which absolutely changed our constitution. The fact that we are where we are today, and the fact that the only person not allowed into this Chamber is the sovereign, result from an event that took place a few yards from this Chamber. The trial of Thomas More in 1535 is integral to the relationship between England and the Church of Rome, and to the supremacy of the monarch as the head of the Church of England.
Then there is the discovery recently—I say recently; it was in 2005—of the remains of the King’s High Table. I think it is a disgrace that that table is not on display in the Palace of Westminster. In 2005, some work was being undertaken in Westminster Hall because of subsidence on the steps. In the course of an archaeological excavation, people took up some of the flagstones —quite rightly, to explore what was going on—and discovered some table legs, made of perfect marble from Dorset. It transpired that they were part of the sovereign’s High Table, which features in mediaeval tapestries showing the king seated at it, in his High Chair, presiding over banquets in Westminster Hall. That was one of the original purposes for which the Hall was built.
We do not know that.
We do not know that for sure, and I defer to the hon. Gentleman’s expertise, but it is a good story—
Order. It might be more helpful to the Chamber if the hon. Gentlemen had this discussion afterwards.
If the hon. Gentleman turned up to meetings of the all-party parliamentary archaeology group more often, we could have the discussion there.
It has nothing to do with what we are discussing, or listening to, in respect of the Bill.
That table is part of the heritage of this place. It is thought that it may have been broken up by Cromwell to symbolise the fact that the monarchy was over and the new rule had begun. It is a really important part of the Palace’s heritage, and I think that it should be brought back from the museum and displayed here, with a considered explanation of where its origins and historical significance may lie.
If we look at the façade of the whole Palace, we see, for instance, the inspiration that came from the Henry VII chapel in Westminster Abbey, going back to the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
It is remarkable that what I have described in those few vignettes has made this such an important building, and continues to contribute to its importance. People come here not just to see the building with all its wonderful statues, carvings and other features, but to see the living embodiment of a Parliament that is working and doing its daily business in this place. Much of what we discuss is relevant to what we can see in the basement, in the roof, in Westminster Hall or in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.
After detailed evidence sessions, the Joint Committee concluded that the Bill should
“recognise the significant heritage which the Palace of Westminster embodies.”
The Government welcomed that recommendation in principle, and said that they would look into it further; but alas, since then—as we heard earlier from my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman—we have heard no new arguments for not listing heritage in the Bill.
I know that the Minister will argue that the considerations that I am trying to insert in the Bill are covered by planning law, and by the various agencies—English Heritage, as was, and others—which will have an input. However, things that have happened in the past have led to the neglect or destruction of major features in the House. I think it is crucial—and sensible—that when the Sponsor Body is carrying out all its other important functions, someone should be able to ask, “And how does that preserve, or promote, or make more accessible or available or better explain, the archaeological, historical and architectural importance of this building?” That is all I am asking. I do not think it unreasonable, and I think that many others, in another place, will advance a similar argument. Many of them have, perhaps, been in the Palace for many more centuries than I have, and will talk with more authority.
I do not disagree with anything that my hon. Friend Tim Loughton has just said. If his amendment were incorporated in the Bill, I would have no worries about it. However, I am not sure that he should have as many worries as he has articulated. I served on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. Those who are involved in this project or have taken an interest in it may disagree on many things, but one thing on which they are absolutely agreed is that we must preserve, 100%, the historical and architectural integrity of this building. Indeed, my approach to the renewal and restoration of Parliament is based on that premise. I hope that when we return to this place after the work has been done, we will notice hardly any difference. No doubt there will be better disabled access and no doubt computer systems and lighting systems will all work much better, but in the architectural significance to which my hon. Friend refers, we should notice no difference.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that our ignoring the need for this work and putting it off for 70 or 100 years has led to the loss of important stonework and so forth? It has been allowed to go to rack and ruin.
That is a valid point and I think we all agree with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is wrong on one point, however. It is possible at the moment to get a wheelchair into the Crypt chapel and into that cupboard he was talking about through the Cloisters. Incidentally, the Cloisters have lain empty for a long time. They were used just as offices, but they are an extraordinarily interesting part of this building. That area is not on the line of route; the public are totally unaware of it. It is a medieval remnant; it should be open to the public, and should be used as public open space. We could have done that years ago; instead, the Cloisters have been empty since—I think—Conservative or Labour researchers moved out.
I would have mentioned that. The Cloisters are rather interesting because of the bomb damage during the war. The Labour research unit was there, and in one office—I doubt its occupants realised this—is the medieval altar of one of the early Plantagenet kings from when this was a royal palace. Nobody ever sees it; it is not appreciated, and it is not in the guidebooks at all. That sort of thing needs to be flagged up and made accessible.
My hon. Friend has done a service in flagging up these historical vignettes, because they are extraordinarily interesting. I think everybody agrees with him that this place is not a museum; the whole point is that it is a living building. History is being made at the moment in our debates, at a most interesting political time, and all these little historical facts need to be incorporated into the restoration and made available to the public. I am perfectly happy with the amendment. I suspect that the Minister might say that it is not necessary, but this issue has been flagged up and it will be an important part of the debate.
You, Mr Deputy Speaker, will not want me to engage in past controversies about whether we should decant or associated issues, but—this is particularly relevant to new clause 1, and I refer to my days on the Public Accounts Committee—I have long thought that this will be the biggest feeding frenzy in the Exchequer for years and that there is a real risk it will get out of control. This is where the SNP has a valid point. The public will not forgive us if we allow this work to become a feast for the architects, surveyors and all the rest. Without getting into all the controversy over whether we should decant or not—I accept that we have to decant for a time—what has worried me is that once we leave this building and we lose control, it will be possible for the Delivery Authority to become a sort of self-perpetuating institution, spending taxpayers’ money without our having any adequate control, as guardians of the taxpayer. We should always spend this money not as if it is somebody else’s money but as if it is our money. We should always think, “What would we do if it was our money? Would we do this work in this way?” The SNP has a perfectly valid point.
I do not agree with the SNP plan to make this place a museum, however. Even if it became a museum, we would still have to do all the work, because this is a world heritage site. We have to make this building safe from fire and flood and to repair the general dereliction that comes with time. We as parliamentarians should not worry too much about whether we should decant; we should worry instead about the taxpayers and about doing a good job. We are repairing this building and not trying to create anything new and fantastic. I am very happy to improve disabled access and so forth, but that is where we should start, and we should constantly take control of costs, which is where new clause 1 comes in.
I have worked for years with the National Audit Office and I think it is a superb institution, but I hope the Minister can deal with what worries me. New clause 1 says:
“the Comptroller and Auditor General shall have a right of access at all reasonable times to relevant documents held or controlled by a person in circumstances in which that person has or had a contractual obligation to supply goods or services directly or indirectly to the Sponsor Body”.
That is the nitty-gritty; that is key. The mischief will come not from the Delivery Authority; it will come with our contractors and subcontractors. We must have the ability through the NAO to bore down into the detail and hold these people to account.
I will take the advice of the Minister on new clause 1. He might well say that it is not necessary, but I hope that he does not just dismiss it. I know it is an attitude in reserve of Ministers to say, “It’s not necessary; it’s already covered by something else” but we must have some mechanism for holding these people to account, otherwise the taxpayer could catch a tremendous cold.
I am perfectly happy with the other amendments; I am perfectly happy that the Delivery Authority should
“have regard for the company’s policies on corporate social responsibility”,
but it would do that anyway; that is modern procurement practice. I am perfectly happy that it should consider the value of work that comes to the regions, as called for in amendment 4; this again is good modern practice. However, these points in a sense are all subsidiary. We do not want PACs in the 2020s and 2030s informing us time and again that this project has cost not £4 billion, but £5 billion, £6 billion, £7 billion or £8 billion and that we have been out of this building for not four or five years, but for six, seven, eight, nine or 10 years.
We have to take a grip now, and the way to do that is not to hand control to the Delivery Authority. I am not saying that it is in any way wrong, and it is certainly not corrupt, but many of its advisers and experts come from the world of architects, surveyors and builders and they have a certain ethos, and if we tell them we want a gold standard operation and that cost is of no importance, they will take us for a ride. They will not do it deliberately or corruptly, but I firmly predict that we will have PAC hearing after PAC hearing and we will be shocked at the waste of public money.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says about the Comptroller and Auditor General having access to the records under new clause 1, but I am concerned that there is not a sufficient value-for-money assessment and that we might be, to put it in general language, taken for a ride with this project.
Value for money is what the PAC and the NAO are about. That was a very good intervention.
I hope the Minister can convince us that his No. 1 concern is safety—this is a world heritage site and we do not want it burning down or flooding—but the No. 2 consideration must be value for money. That is what worries me—again, without going into past grief—about many of the present plans. We have heard about architectural significance from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, and I am worried about the proposal to demolish Richmond House. It is an important modern building that has won architectural awards, but I am worried not just that we might be knocking down a listed building but that this would again create an opportunity for waste. I will always look for the cheapest option, and I have been arguing that if we have to leave the Chamber—I accept the decision of the House that we will leave for a time—we should use the courtyards to build a temporary Chamber rather than knocking down large parts of Richmond House.
Unfortunately, we have told the Delivery Authority that there has to be an exact replica of where we are standing, with the same size Chamber, the same height and the same width in the Division Lobbies. I am not sure that that is entirely necessary—[Interruption.] Chris Bryant is shaking his head. If I am wrong, I am wrong, but I am saying that if we can have a cheaper option with a narrower temporary Chamber that can be used for other purposes afterwards, and if we have to have electronic voting and not go through wide Division Lobbies, we should consider all those options. This is not a matter for today, but it all comes down to value for money, and it is important that we highlight these matters in these debates.
New clause 1 seems to imply, in answer to a question I was asking earlier, that the Comptroller and Auditor General would have a duty to examine policy value for money with regard to how much work is done, the timing of the work, whether we need to move, and so forth. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely fundamental that that should be part of the process, because the way in which the most money is likely to be wasted is through policy error rather than through contractors slightly overdoing a contract?
Yes; my right hon. Friend has made a worthwhile intervention, and perhaps I have been too unfair on contractors. My experience of public sector contracts over the years is not so much the importance of those in the private sector who work for us, as that it is our fault for treating these projects like a Christmas tree. We have our own prejudices and policies, we constantly change personnel, and we add things on to the Christmas tree. The private sector—either correctly or incorrectly, depending on the way we feel—then takes the opportunity to charge us more and more. We have to grip this now.
I am slightly worried about amendment 9, and perhaps the Minister and my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin, who tabled the amendment, can reassure me that there is nothing in it that takes away the democratic right of us in this Chamber to elect the members of the Sponsor Body and to dismiss them if necessary.
The intention is to avoid a cliff edge, because we could lose their experience at a crucial time. That is why it was felt that we really need those people to carry on and then have a system where they are subject to elections and are replaced. We did not want to have a cliff edge at the start of the project.
I take some reassurance from that. I was trying to understand the amendment. I have no problem with my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales, who is doing a good job, but I do not want us to give away our democratic right to elect the people we think should be on the body.
Just to clarify, the amendments cover only the external members, not the parliamentary members, so parliamentary members will be appointed in the usual way and will not transfer in that way.
I do apologise. I am glad that I raised this matter, however, because that has reassured me that we will constantly have control over who we send on to this body. I think I can end there. I hope the Minister will reassure me that even if he cannot accept new clause 1—I accept that that is often the default position of Ministers—he will be able to argue that the Comptroller and Auditor General really can drill down into all these contracts, because that will be absolutely vital.
I rise to speak to the amendments standing in my name on the Order Paper, and with your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would also like to talk briefly about some of the other amendments. Before I do that, I thank the Minister for the way in which he has conducted himself during this process. I accept that this has not necessarily been a party political process, but he has sought to engage with me and colleagues on my side of the House at every stage of the process. We have not always agreed, but he has always been there to consult, and I am most grateful for the way in which he has conducted himself.
I want to speak briefly to amendment 5, to which Tim Loughton spoke so admirably that it has the support of my hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, the shadow Leader of the House. I also want to speak to amendments 8 and 9, tabled by Sir Patrick McLoughlin, to which Sir Edward Leigh has just referred.
We believe that these amendments are self-explanatory and straightforward. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned, this is a world heritage site, and the intrinsic value and history of the site must be in our minds throughout the lengthy process. We therefore believe that amendments 8 and 9 are common sense, and I will certainly be supporting them.
Moving on to new clause 1, I commend my hon. Friend Meg Hillier—I am unsure whether my right hon. Friend Mark Tami said this while moving the amendment, but I believe that she is currently chairing the Public Accounts Committee and is therefore unable to be in the Chamber—for her work. In basic terms, the new clause aims to ensure that this multibillion-pound taxpayer-funded project gets the most effective scrutiny possible. The hope is to highlight to the public that the utmost efforts have been made to ensure that the strongest possible audit of the project’s value for money has been carried out. Given the value of the contracts involved—we have heard suggestions of a total project spend of between £5 billion and £10 billion—it is particularly important that we set up the necessary scrutiny.
The new clause would ensure that effective access arrangements were in place to allow the Comptroller and Auditor General to scrutinise the relevant information held by contractors, subcontractors and grant recipients of the bodies. To date, there has been no clear commitment that the CAG will be granted value for money access. The current uncertainty could be overcome through the provision in the Bill of a suitable right of access for the CAG, which would be helpful and not at all detrimental
New clause 1 is not prescriptive in defining what the CAG would do, because that would undermine his independence; it simply ensures that appropriate scrutiny is recognised in statute. By writing the new clause into primary legislation, companies would know that the eyes of the CAG were on them and that all their work would be available. That level of audit is vital to ensure true value for money and to keep a lid on overspending.
Amendment 7, which is in my name, relates to the provision of the education centre. Again, the Minister has shown an interest in that particular area. The amendment focuses on securing the future and developing the capacity of our fantastic education centre in the renewed Palace. The Minister made some important points in Committee about allowing a degree of flexibility within the Bill to prevent prescriptive legislation from hindering the creation of future innovative facilities. Indeed, as he stated, facilities that
“we might have considered sensible 30 years ago may not necessarily be the other facilities that we consider sensible today.”––[Official Report, Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Public Bill Committee,
The same logic could be applied to the creation of future facilities, so the amendment is intentionally open, allowing for future ideas to develop with the renewed Palace.
However, there is no question but that the creation of an education centre must be unambiguously defined within the Bill. Let us not forget that the current education centre is a temporary building that will no doubt be removed during the restoration works. The education team does a brilliant job of engaging young people in Parliament and politics, and that success must continue on the renewed parliamentary estate. It is therefore crucial that a concrete commitment is made to guarantee the refurbishment of our vital education services. The education centre cannot be an optional extra. It plays a vital role in helping schoolchildren to develop a political understanding and in engaging the politicians and public servants of the future.
Indeed, as we have already heard, the intrinsic value of the Palace of Westminster stems from the history that has been made within its walls. The educational opportunities of experiencing the history created in this place at first hand are invaluable, so education facilities must take centre stage in the planning of the restoration works. We have been presented with a unique opportunity to enhance the education centre and to allow for wider engagement, particularly with younger audiences.
I am sure that Members throughout the House will agree that awareness of and political engagement with Parliament is a vital part of encouraging people to become politically active and politically engaged. The education centre should be part of the legacy of this programme of restoration and renewal, to encourage greater awareness and involvement in Parliament. Such engagement with parliamentary politics is more important now than ever.
The restoration and renewal process is a project of national significance, and it would be a mistake to overlook the opportunity to create an innovative new education or learning centre at the heart of Parliament. While the cost of renewal will be high, the benefits will be great. We could create a newly refurbished education centre with accessible, modern resources for those wishing to visit the building and engage with the work of both Houses.
Amendment 7 would secure the creation of an education centre while allowing flexibility within the Bill, which the Minister called for in Committee, for the creation of future unforeseen facilities. Such flexibility would keep the door open to new ideas and changing technologies leading to new demands on facilities. Again, I thank the Minister for his positive engagement in this area.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch for her work on amendment 6 and to Neil Gray for his work on amendment 4. Both amendments cover the important area of spreading work around the United Kingdom, and I moved a similar amendment in Committee.
I am sure the House will agree that this project presents a fantastic opportunity for any company to work on a building of such historic significance, and it is only right that regions and nations across the UK should have the opportunity to benefit from it economically. Crucially, amendments 6 and 4 are not prescriptive and do not restrict the legislation or define how the Sponsor Body or the Delivery Authority should spread economic benefits around the country, nor do they define which companies should be awarded the contracts. The sole aim of the amendments is to provide the public with confidence that, wherever possible, the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority will make efforts to ensure that opportunities are provided to relevant companies across the whole country, as opposed to being given solely to companies in London and the south-east.
In highlighting where the work is going, the hope is that the project’s positive impact on the UK as a whole will be clear to the public. Unless we measure and monitor what is happening, people and businesses may lose out. I see that Mr Prisk is in his place, and he made an excellent point in Committee that this would be a way of demonstrating the project’s value to the whole country and, therefore, of selling the project to the whole country. I have not forgotten his telling contribution in Committee.
I am pleased to have signed amendment 6, the key part of which is the annual audit of companies. My experience, from a distance, was that Wembley started as an important national stadium—admittedly for England—but the endgame was that many of the companies involved did not have any local accountability. I am afraid that the Football Association lost control of the project, so it is important that this place has an annual audit to know who is building the project, what they are doing and whether they are doing it properly.
As a trade union official during the construction of Wembley, I have mixed memories of the conduct of that project, but my hon. Friend makes a fair point. Amendment 6 is not onerous, and it would allow for an audit that gave us the opportunity to keep a handle on where the work was going and how much of it was being spread around—no more, no less, but at least it would give us an opportunity to see what was happening.
The point I was trying to make in Committee was simply that, yes, this is a substantial investment—many billions—but, equally, if we get this right, it is a huge investment in trades and crafts right across the country. My only problem with the audit notion is that it is post decision making. If we are to make sure that there is a reasonable sharing of the procurement process, the policy needs to be set before the contracts are issued, not afterwards.
The hon. Gentleman is right that this could be a bonus for the whole nation. That is covered by amendment 4, but if the Sponsor Body, the Delivery Authority and the main contractors know they will be audited and under scrutiny, I hope that will help to focus and concentrate their minds on where they give the contracts.
This is an important point. Of course we must not tell the Comptroller and Auditor General what to do, but in recent years we have tried with the National Audit Office not just to do this post hoc, as we did in the past when, years after the event, we would look at some scandal or waste of public money. The Comptroller and Auditor General now tries to look at these contracts as they come on stream. He started to do that with the Olympics and, although we cannot tell him what to do, I hope we can encourage him to look at this as it goes through.
As a distinguished former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the right hon. Gentleman is able to give the House that guidance, for which I thank him.
The project will also reveal part of our industrial history. When the building was first constructed, it drew on crafts and skills from across the country, and some of the companies involved might still be around in one form or another and be able to bid again. It was a national endeavour, not a London endeavour.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for pointing that out; he is right. Perhaps the successor companies of some of those original suppliers will be able to bid—what a lovely connection that would be.
Some of the work for this project can clearly only be done in London. Obviously we are not going to move the Palace lock, stock and barrel to another part of the country, so the work has to be done in London. But efforts must be made, where possible, to include a diverse geographical range of companies. It is an opportunity to change old habits and step outside the old London-centric focus in which projects in our capital city are so frequently dominated by large London businesses—the point made by my hon. Friend Dr Drew.
I hate to correct my hon. Friend, but I am going to anyway. Quite a lot of the work will not be done here. The parts of the clock are currently not in London but elsewhere in the country, and the cast-iron roofs have all been made elsewhere in the country. There is a real opportunity to build old trades, which perhaps we have not used for a very long time, all across the country. There could be benefits for every part of the country.
If I am going to be corrected, I would choose always to be corrected by my hon. Friend. The point I am making is that whatever is made elsewhere in the United Kingdom will eventually have to be installed here in London, but he is absolutely right, and the amendments show that we hope to encourage such opportunities. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside pointed out in Committee that in practical terms that would require the widespread promotion and advertisement of contracts across the country. Market engagement and involvement must begin early and reach as widely as possible to include geographically diverse companies. I re-emphasise that the amendments are deliberately open and do not prescribe which companies should be considered; they would simple ensure that contracts were measured and monitored with consideration of the geographical context and the value context.
Furthermore, amendments 4 and 6 focus on the size of businesses bidding for contracts. This project provides us with the opportunity to upskill and invest in small and medium-sized enterprises as well as larger businesses. We must ensure that we support our thriving and exceptional small business sector, which regularly still feels cut out of large Government contracts. Efforts must be made to integrate small specialist companies and prevent big companies from winning contracts and subcontracting to companies that they already know and work with, rather than opening things up more widely.
Without placing those promises and that scrutiny in primary legislation, there is no guarantee that the Sponsor Body will not disregard any lack of geographical diversity. I see no harm in placing such a guarantee in the Bill. I hope that all Members recognise that it is a practical, common-sense amendment.
I give way to my next-door neighbour from Alyn and Deeside.
Before my hon. Friend moves on from procurement, the other point, particularly for smaller companies, is that the actual cost must be kept to a minimum. If it costs about £10,000 to enter the process, small companies will not risk that sum of money, because it means a lot to them, whereas it means nothing to big companies.
My right hon. Friend from the other side of Boundary Lane in Chester is absolutely right. We have to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises not simply by telling them that it would be good to bid for the contracts, but by making it as easy as possible for them, and by identifying and removing the barriers.
Finally, amendment 1, which stands in my name, is about corporate social responsibility and blacklisting. I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I am a proud member of Unite the union and the GMB, and I have received support from both in the past. However, I remind the House that I have tabled the amendment on my own initiative and with the support of hon. Members, not at the behest of any trade union, because we believe that it is the right thing to do.
In Committee I tabled an amendment that might be considered stronger than amendment 1. That previous amendment called for the Delivery Authority to proscribe from the bidding process any firm that had been involved in blacklisting and had not subsequently signed a recognition agreement with a UK-registered trade union. The amendment was narrowly defeated. Nevertheless, I did welcome at the time the Minister’s strong condemnation of blacklisting as a practice, and the support of other hon. Members in Committee. We can condemn, or we can take action. Aside from legislating to outlaw blacklisting, this project is the most direct influence we can have on making a stand against this terrible practice, because this House, along with their lordships’ House, is the ultimate client and can set the terms.
I remind the House that blacklisting is pernicious. It destroys lives, it is dangerous, and it is still going on. Skilled and qualified tradesmen are still refused starts, or are finished up on a job after just a couple of days, without explanation. If a workers’ name appears on a blacklist, it may well be because he or she has been a trade union representative or—more likely—because they have in the past complained about poor health and safety standards. Construction is a dangerous business. Site managers are under pressure to keep costs down, but that can lead to lower standards. Too often, the men or women who have been willing to stand up for their fellow workers and challenge lax health and safety regimes are the ones who have been marked down as troublemakers, when the truth is that in many respects they do their employers a service.
I remind the House of the scale of the problem. The Consulting Association is the most recent example of an organised blacklist—that we know of. In 2009, its offices were raided by the Information Commissioner’s Office, and it was found to be running an organised blacklisting operation, with 3,300 names. In the 2008-09 financial year, subscribers spent £87,749 on name checks. That means that, at £2.20 for each check, 39,886 names were checked. I emphasise that that was in just one year.
Amendment 1 gives the House another opportunity to make a statement and take a stand against blacklisting. I have listened to colleagues, and the amendment is less prescriptive than the one considered in Committee.
My hon. Friend mentioned both Houses leading the way; in 2013, the Welsh Government introduced a ban on the involvement of companies that blacklist and do not recognise trade unions in the public procurement process, such as the building of new schools and hospitals. That ban is already in place and it is working well. Because of those Welsh Government contracts, lots of organisations in Wales have cleaned up their act and now work constructively with trade unions and make sure that they have the most constructive processes, particularly in respect of health and safety.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that illustration of how action of this kind can raise standards. When we raise standards in the construction sector, we save lives. It is a dangerous sector and whenever standards are allowed to fall, workers are regularly harmed, maimed and injured.
I commend the shadow Minister for tabling the amendment; we will of course support him in his endeavours. He talks about taking a stand; of course, the House of Commons did not take a stand on the contract for the Elizabeth Tower and suffered immense reputational damage as a result. Does he agree that now is the opportunity to take a stand and ensure that that reputational damage does not continue?
We did take a reputational hit on that contract, unfortunately. The hon. Gentleman says that this is the opportunity; the fact is that there will not be many more opportunities, because we are the principal client on this programme so can set the terms.
The amendment is a lot simpler than the one tabled in Committee: it simply calls for the Delivery Authority to take account of a bidding firm’s policies on corporate social responsibility, including on blacklisting. It does not mention proscribing any transgressors from bidding and it does not mention trade union recognition agreements, but it does ask that CSR is considered. As I have just said, as the ultimate client for the programme, we would be doing the right thing if we put this requirement in the Bill. In doing so, we would send the message to the construction sector, and to workers in this dangerous industry, that we take the matter seriously and take their health seriously.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does he agree that the changes made to the wording of the amendment since Committee give more scope to the authority to have regard to a company’s policy on corporate social responsibility other than in respect of blacklisting? Have I read that correctly? If so, perhaps my hon. Friend could give the House an example of where else that might be valuable for the promotion of the highest standards in contracts.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but what we have tried not to do is to be too prescriptive in what we tell the Delivery Authority to do. The Minister had expressed concerns about being too prescriptive in the past. As long as companies can demonstrate that they have a corporate social responsibility policy—they might want to bring various different factors into that—that would be a start.
The Bill does nothing more than ask for that CSR programme. It is not prescriptive. It does not tell the authority who to give the contracts to or how to go about allocating contracts. It simply asks that, when considering bidders for work, it takes into account CSR policies. As most legislation on blacklisting relates only to data protection law, which has not been updated for several years, it would be important to place this amendment in the Bill to remind all and sundry that we consider it important in this most prestigious of contracts.
After the Committee stage, I was contacted by the chief executive of Sir Robert McAlpine—a construction company that I have been repeatedly critical of in the past with regard to its practice of blacklisting. That included, I say to Neil Gray, being critical about its being awarded the Elizabeth Tower contract. The chief executive assured me that the company was no longer involved in the practice. He said:
“I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you our commitment to ensuring that blacklisting stays firmly in the past…We have a zero tolerance policy towards blacklisting, illegal or unfair recruitment practices, and while blacklisting is part of the industry’s history, I can assure you that it has no place now or in the future at Sir Robert McAlpine. We are the first UK construction companies to gain Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority accreditation—positioning us as a leader in the industry. Despite this being an industry-wide problem, we were one of only eight companies that settled the claims brought by the unions and other groups in the High Court.”
I make this point and quote from the letter for two reasons: first, as he has taken the trouble to contact me, it is right that he is given the right to reply after I had been very critical of him; and, secondly, it demonstrates that there are firms that do see blacklisting as a problem and no doubt have developed CSR policies that I am sure they would be only too pleased to present to the Delivery Authority. Indeed, those firms that have abandoned blacklisting would surely be only too pleased to see this amendment in the Bill because in putting a marker down, however gentle, we are helping to stop the race to the bottom and requiring standards, which as McAlpine tells me, it is already meeting.
For those firms that have not abandoned blacklisting, they will be given pause for thought as they seek to apply for contracts, or seek to give contracts out to their subcontractors. I remind the House that existing laws on blacklisting are weak, based largely around data protection laws with some gangmasters legislation. All Members say that they are appalled by blacklisting—the Minister told us that very strongly in Committee and I believe him—but this is a gentle amendment, which allows us in the gentlest terms to put our money where our mouth is. Yes, we should condemn, but we should also do something about the problem in one of the few major construction contracts in which we will have any direct influence. I therefore commend the amendment to the House.
It is a pleasure to reply to the fantastic debate that we have had this afternoon. I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have engaged with this important Bill from the Joint Committee through to Second Reading and Committee stage, and now today on Report. The input of all Members has been invaluable, and I particularly appreciate the kind remarks from the shadow Minister about the engagement that we have had. Similarly, I have also had a constructive engagement with the spokesperson from the Scottish National party, Neil Gray, in taking this project forward. Clearly, there is a consensus across the House that this work is essential for the safety of our staff and visitors, to establish better facilities to support the Palace’s function and to ensure that it can continue to be the home of this UK Parliament for generations to come.
Before addressing the main amendments, it is worth saying that there is not a “do- nothing” option here now. Just carrying on patching and mending is more expensive than taking the decision to grasp hold of this project and move on. This decision is not just about spending money. We will carry on doing that. This is a decision about whether we want to set up a governance body to do the work in an organised and structured way that is clearly accountable to this House, and with a Sponsor Body that has the majority of parliamentary members who, again, would be accountable to Members both of this House and of the other place.
Let me turn to the amendments. I always think it is nice to start on a positive note, so I will start with amendment 7 on education, which was moved by Christian Matheson, who made some very good points in Committee. Having reflected on those points afterwards—and having had discussions with the hon. Gentleman, to which he alluded—we will certainly accept and support this amendment. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts said when we were discussing heritage issues that there are going to be decisions to be made all the way through this project, and although we were keen to have a Bill that is a framework allowing the Delivery Authority to get on practically, it did seem rather inconceivable that Members in this House or the other place would support a project that did not include an education centre. As an inevitable part of the project, it makes sense to make an education centre a need, rather than a desire. This does not unduly constrain the ability of the Sponsor Body to take the project forward. Therefore, the amendment will enjoy my own support and I am sure that it will also enjoy broad support across the House.
Amendments 8 and 9 relate to the transfer of the shadow Sponsor Board’s external members—not the parliamentary members. When the Sponsor Body comes into existence, there will be a need to reappoint parliamentary members, who will form the majority of the body via the usual ways. The amendments are about transferring the external members. Mark Tami and my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin made the powerful point that we have just got the Sponsor Body going—I think it was last year—and gone through a full recruitment process for external members; therefore, rerunning the process a year later may not produce a benefit, but could produce inconsistency. As we look forward to 2021, when the main votes on business cases and the main estimates will be presented to this House with comments from the Treasury, there is a need for consistency. As Members will have noted, the amendments would slightly alter the terms; the chair would have a slightly different term from the other external members. Terms can last for up to three years, so the chair would come to a point whereby there was effectively a phasing of appointments, and we are liaising with external members of the Sponsor Body in that regard.
Although we felt that the original drafting of these amendments gave a flexibility, it was one that was very unlikely to be exercised. This would have produced a situation whereby people who had just been appointed and were just getting into this incredibly complex project would find themselves having to reapply for their roles, with debates about whether they would initially be prepared to do that. However, I certainly support the amendments as tabled today, and the Government believe that they propose no threat or danger to the Bill.
My hon. Friend Tim Loughton gave a passionate speech, setting out his superb knowledge of the archaeology and history of this Palace, including its outstanding value as a world heritage site. My hon. Friend made important contributions in this debate and on Second Reading, in which he reminded us how easy it is to overlook, and in some cases destroy, our heritage when undertaking extensive building projects. In particular, he cited the damage that was believed to have been done to the old palace of Edward the Confessor when the underground carpark was built. I am sympathetic to his point and, like all of us here, I am keen that the work is undertaken in a way that preserves the unique heritage of this building for future generations while respecting the fact that there is no intention for this building to become a museum; it has to continue to be a functioning Parliament for visitors, the staff who work here and others.
I am happy that the Minister is, as I understand it, supporting the amendment to which he is referring. But let us just be a little bit careful about some of the things that are often portrayed as absolute facts of our history in this building that turn out to be myths invented by the Victorians, such as the fact that the two red lines are two swords’ lengths apart. They are not. In fact, they only appeared in the 19th century when people could no longer wear a sword in the Chamber.
It is always a joy to hear another expert on the history of this building.
We have some concerns about the wording—not the thrust—of what my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham has said. For example, the Government recognise the significance of the Westminster UNESCO world heritage site designation, but note that that encompasses an area larger than just the Palace of Westminster: it also includes Westminster abbey and St Margaret’s church. I am mindful of the possibility that the inclusion in the Bill of the UNESCO status of the Palace of Westminster could be misinterpreted. The Government also share the concerns of the Joint Committee that explicit provision aiming to protect the heritage of the Palace could override opportunities to renew and enhance its purpose.
I appreciate the evidence supplied by Historic England and congratulate it on its solutions for ensuring the preservation of heritage on other projects, such as Lincoln castle, Manchester town hall and St Paul’s cathedral, while also increasing disability access. I certainly encourage the Sponsor Body to engage early with Historic England about the works so that it can learn from those projects.
It is also worth noting that the House is not its own planning authority: in seeking planning permission, there will be the usual protections. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on archaeology, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made a passionate case. If he is prepared to withdraw his amendment, there could be some useful engagement with him, his group and Historic England, to look for an appropriate wording that could be inserted into the Bill in the other place. That would cover the legitimate concerns he has picked up.
I thank the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside and Meg Hillier for tabling new clause 1, which relates to the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General, whom it would provide with the right to carry out examinations of the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority under section 6 of the National Audit Act 1983. Such examinations are commonly known as “value-for-money assessments”.
The new clause also makes specific provision for a right of inspection and interrogation in respect of information held by contractors and subcontractors for the purposes of the conduct of value-for-money assessments by the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority. Although I am sympathetic to the principle behind the new clause, the Government are unable to support it due to the potential impact on small suppliers, which, unlike larger contractors, might not be able to engage with that type of audit.
It is worth noting that scrutiny of the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority is already provided for in the Bill. Existing legislation also ensures scrutiny of contractors—for example, section 6 of the National Audit Act 1983 already applies to the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority. That provides for the Comptroller and Auditor General to carry out examinations into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority, given that the Bill requires the accounts of both bodies to be examined and certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Additionally, article 5 of the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 (Rights of Access of Comptroller and Auditor General) Order 2003 means that, for the purposes of their audit function, the Comptroller and Auditor General will have the right to inspect and interrogate information held by the Sponsor Body’s and Delivery Authority’s contractors and subcontractors. The Bill provides that the Comptroller and Auditor General will have the same powers as they do in respect of any public body when it comes to audit and examination.
Subsections (2) to (5) of the new clause go beyond the Comptroller and Auditor General’s current powers in relation to other public bodies. That is the provision allowing the Comptroller and Auditor General to access documents and information held by contractors and subcontractors for the purposes of their value-for-money assessments. Those subsections would be an extension of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s powers. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s current powers, provided for in section 8(1) of the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000, allow for the Comptroller and Auditor General to access documents and information held by contractors and subcontractors for the purposes of their audit functions only.
Will the Minister remind the House of the latest estimate of the total cost of the whole project and the timing of the payments—how many years?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. To be clear, the Bill is about setting up the governance framework. I can reassure him that once the Sponsor Body is established, it will set to work on a business plan and detailed set of costings, which then need to be approved by Parliament; it cannot go ahead and implement the project without doing so. There will also be Treasury commentary on the estimates that come before this place. We will reflect on it in engagement with the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, but it is almost certain that the NAO will wish to look at the quality of the Treasury’s work, so that the Public Accounts Committee can make recommendations to the House.
It would clearly be inappropriate to modify the Comptroller and Auditor General’s powers on the face of the Bill. Any extension of powers should be properly considered, fully consulted on and affected globally and should not be done as part of this specific case. Indeed, such an extension of powers could make the parliamentary building works less attractive to potential contractors.
It is worth pointing out that the Bill already puts in place transparent and accountable funding mechanisms for the parliamentary building works. Schedule 2 specifies that the Delivery Authority is required to prepare a statement of resources, which must be submitted to the Sponsor Body annually for the latter’s review and approval or rejection. If the Sponsor Body accepts the statement provided by the Delivery Authority, it will be reflected in the estimate prepared by the Sponsor Body and submitted to the Estimates Commission for the financial year to which the statement relates.
It is almost certain that the Sponsor Body will be subject to extensive parliamentary scrutiny, and its parliamentary members may, for example, answer oral questions in this House and the other place. I hope the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside feels reassured that there is a range of abilities to audit and that it is unnecessary to press his new clause.
The Government have just announced their net zero strategy. Will the work of the Delivery Authority take account of that strategy, and will the terms of reference include this building being net zero ready?
The Delivery Authority and Sponsor Body will be required to adhere to any legislation that has been passed in this place. Members have touched on disability issues and heritage issues. The Bill also refers to environmental considerations. We are keen to ensure that this is not a question of one interest automatically trumping another. Heritage issues will not automatically trump disability issues, and disability issues will not automatically trump environmental issues. There will be a range of choices to be made by Sponsor Body members, and they will then be held to account by Members on their decisions and how the project is taken forward. We certainly know that not taking the project forward will not improve the environmental impacts of this Parliament—in fact, quite the opposite.
I turn to amendments on which there is more disagreement, starting with amendment 1, tabled by the hon. Member for City of Chester. As he rightly said, I made it clear in Committee that I see blacklisting as a scourge. It is an inappropriate and shameful practice. However, we have concerns about particular aspects of the amendment, even though we appreciate the intentions behind it.
Provision is already made in legislation against blacklisting. The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 already provide mechanisms by which the Delivery Authority will be able to look into the practices of prospective suppliers in relation to blacklisting. In particular, it is also open to the Delivery Authority to exclude a provider from participating in a procurement where it can demonstrate a violation of obligations in the field of national social and labour law. That would include a breach of anti-blacklisting legislation. I could go into the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010 in more detail, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman is very familiar with them.
It is a mandatory requirement for potential suppliers to declare that they have not breached any of the exclusion grounds, including labour law obligations. A completed declaration is also required of any organisations that potential suppliers may rely on to meet the selection criteria, including essential subcontractors. If a prospective supplier declares that they have been found to be in breach of the anti-blacklisting legislation by a court or tribunal, it would be reasonable for the contracting authority to ask to see details of the judgment.
The Government believe that the Bill provides mechanisms to address the concerns that the hon. Gentleman rightly raised. For example, it would be open to the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority to make specific provision within the programme delivery agreement between the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority provided for in clause 4. Such provision could require construction companies to declare their policies on corporate social responsibility for the Delivery Authority to consider. Of course, whether such provision is made in the programme delivery agreement will be for the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority to agree upon, but I am sure that members of the shadow Sponsor Board here today—including the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside—are listening carefully to the issues that he and other Members have raised.
While I understand the principle behind the amendment, the Government do not consider it necessary. We consider that the current legislative framework and the Bill’s provisions already include the necessary safeguards to ensure transparency, accountability to Parliament through the period of the parliamentary building works and ongoing scrutiny of the parliamentary building works. Parliamentary Committees will also have the opportunity to scrutinise works that are ongoing. While the Government cannot support the amendment, we believe many measures are in place that will allow us not only to tackle blacklisting but to ensure there is constant accountability to this place on the widest range of environmental, social and labour legislation, and to ensure that this project is an exemplar of them all.
I now turn to amendment 6 and the amendment from the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru—amendment 4—which are on a similar theme of looking to spread the work across this United Kingdom. In many ways, I welcome the enthusiasm of the hon. Members for Airdrie and Shotts and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the right hon. Members for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) in wanting to make this project one that really represents the whole Union, so that for generations to come and decades for come, Scottish Members of Parliament will be able to see in this House the symbols of being part of this Union Parliament.
Where I have concerns, sadly, is in how this amendment relates to procurement law. The Delivery Authority will need to create a level playing field as per the public procurement rules. Within these parameters, it is of course open to the Delivery Authority to encourage nations and regions across the UK to participate fully in and to benefit from the works processes. For example, the Delivery Authority may take steps to ensure that companies UK-wide are aware of the bids process by taking out advertising in regional media outlets and perhaps by doing roadshows, as Heathrow airport has done. However, in developing its procurement strategy and assessing bids, it would not be lawful to factor in the geographical location of companies. Adjusting the playing field in the way the amendment prescribes would, I am advised, expose the Delivery Authority to challenge under procurement law.
I thank the Minister—well, I think I thank the Minister, who has just said he is not going to support my amendment—but this will not of course fall foul of procurement law, will it? There is no prescription here, and no quotas are set out. All the amendment does is to reiterate some of the comments that have been made by this Minister and previous Ministers and Leaders of the House that this will indeed be a UK-wide project with discernible benefits across the UK. Why on earth can a very wide-ranging amendment such as this not be enacted to guarantee the words of the Minister, unlike in the case of the Olympics, where that did not happen?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his overall constructive intervention. The problem is where the amendment says
“in terms of contracts for works”,
which implies a change to how the Sponsor Body would assess procurement, and where it says
“and in any other way”,
which is an unusually wide statement to put in a piece of primary legislation and could in effect give the Delivery Authority and the Sponsor Body in particular very wide range to do things that may not have been the intention of this House. Unfortunately, while I appreciate the intention of amendment 4, it is not one that the Government can recommend the House to accept or support.
I will now move on—I am conscious of the time I have been going on for—to amendment 6, which is on the similar theme of having a report. Again, I appreciate the intention behind this amendment, which is the wish to spread this work across the United Kingdom. I have been clear that this is about spreading it not just to the nations, but to the regions. We all wish to see it go to places such as the south-west of England—Karin Smyth, a fellow south-west MP, is in her place—and to make sure that this work is shared.
What we do not think is right is to put this in the part of the Bill that the amendment suggests. Given the intention for reporting, this could be put in the part of schedule 1 that already lists, for example, the annual statement of accounts and the report on the building works that must be presented and laid. It would make sense to work on such an option and present in the other place something that sums up these areas, without putting it where it would look unusual and making sure that we do not violate the procurement rules.
I am pleased to hear that the Minister will look at this proposal in the other place. All amendment 6 asks for is an annual report to see how we are doing at spreading the work around. Hopefully, we will do very well, but I think we need a report to see whether the work is being spread around or is still stuck in the south-east.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the intention of his intervention. We have listened to Members’ submissions, but we feel it would be better to introduce an amendment to schedule 1 in the other place, because it would sit more appropriately with the other reports that will be made.
I have outlined the Government’s position on the amendments. I welcome the broad level of consensus that has been achieved and look forward to the Bill making further progress.
On the basis of what the Minister has said, I will withdraw new clause 1. However, we will keep the matter under review, because the project involves very large sums of money, as a number of Members have made clear.
I welcome what the Minister said about amendment 6. We will certainly return to it in the other place. I am delighted that amendments 7, 8 and 9 will be supported by the Government.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.