Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 24th March 2020.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 6:34 pm, 24th March 2020

I welcome this motion. I served, under Dame Caroline Spelman, on the Joint Committee that recommended that we proceed in this way. I have done a considerable amount of work on the subject over the years because, as the Leader of the House said, our primary concern should be the saving of public money.

I would like to have served on the sponsor body, but it was not to be. I wish those who have been appointed every success, because they have a very important task. Given the crisis that we are facing, we have to think again, and I am sure that when those on the sponsor body address the subject, their No. 1 concern will be to save public money, ensure the safety of Members and preserve this historic building.

Even before the public health crisis that we are facing, there were difficult decisions to be made about public spending, increases in taxation and trying to divert resources from London to the north of England in particular. Even before this crisis, which will probably necessitate the largest expansion of the state since the second world war, I think that people would have started to look askance at our spending billions of pounds on ourselves when there might well be a cheaper alternative. When the sponsor body has its first meeting, it might consider that this is the moment to review the whole project and look at whether we can do it significantly more cheaply than the present option.

When the House voted, quite narrowly, for a full decant, we were in a very different world. Of course, the original Select Committee on which my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg served accepted a full decant on the basis that it would be possible to create a temporary Chamber in the courtyard of Richmond House. The Committee was actually given the wrong measurements; the incompetence of this is beyond belief. It was then announced that because it was no longer possible to create such a Chamber, which the authorities claimed would have to be exactly the same size as the existing one, with the same size Division Lobbies—the whole works—it was now proposed to demolish all of Richmond House, at a cost of many hundreds of millions of pounds.

I have been working with SAVE, the architectural heritage body. We have come up with well-costed proposals, designed by architects, to create much more cheaply, if it was deemed necessary to have one, a temporary Chamber in the courtyard of Richmond House that was exactly the same size—[Interruption.] It would be exactly the same size as this Chamber. There is absolutely no need to demolish Richmond House, which is an award-winning listed building.