I am speaking in support of this motion, and I welcome the appointment of Kirsty Blackman to the Sponsor Body. It is important that Members of all parties are properly represented on the board, and I fully expect her to represent the House to the highest standards. It is vital that MPs sit on the board of the Sponsor Body to carry out their duties to scrutinise R and R. Although the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 established an independent Sponsor Body to carry out the R and R project, which is an essential part of the legislation to streamline the project, it is essential that there is a mechanism to ensure that the House’s views are heard. We are the guardians of the taxpayer’s money, and R and R will involve vast sums of public cash. It is right that the project is completed, but it is essential that Members are in a position to scrutinise the way it is spent in line with the Act, which of course stipulates the importance of value for money. As a comparison, the cost of a new school is between £20 million and £30 million, and R and R may cost well into the billions.
As the Chancellor has made so very clear, the public finances are in a difficult state, and the Budget was a reminder of the huge efforts we need to make to ensure that the budget is balanced and our nation’s books are in good health. It is only right that we find ways of economising with R and R, and that means prioritising fire safety, making sure that our No. 1 focus is on stopping the Palace succumbing to the same fate as Notre-Dame. I commend the House for the progress on the fire safety works so far, with thousands of new sprinklers and many miles of piping in between them.
It is clear that the terms of debate on R and R have moved on significantly since the Act was passed, and of course the make-up of the House has changed since then. Some of the lessons we have learned from the hybrid system can be applied to R and R, and it is right for Members to raise this with the Sponsor Body. We know that the hybrid proceedings are a poor second best, but surely they are a very important temporary option that can be used in restoration and renewal if it means saving hundreds of millions or billions of pounds in construction costs and minimising the need for a full and lengthy decant.
This appointment comes at a critical time in the R and R process. The future of the project is becoming more apparent before us, and Members must be able to engage. The programme is on track to commence the main phase of works in the mid-2020s, which is why it is so important that the broadest possible consensus is achieved across the House. I welcome the appointment of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, and I hope that all Members agree that she will do an excellent job in holding R and R to account.