My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I open the Committee stage of this Bill. My noble friend Lady Smith—who, as the House will know, was a member of the original Joint Committee and spoke with her usual eloquence and depth at Second Reading on behalf of these Benches—unfortunately has other commitments and cannot be here until later but is very much hoping to join us as soon as possible. Meanwhile, my noble friend Lord McNicol and I are holding the fort.
I am moving Amendment 1 and speaking to Amendment 16, both of which are in my noble friend’s name. It is right that we start today with amendments to Clauses 1 and 2 that aim to ensure and reiterate that the core purpose of the restoration and renewal programme must be to enable the Houses of Parliament to continue to serve as the UK’s primary legislative and democratic institution.
Clause 2 lists areas to which the sponsor body must have regard, but the work of Parliament, legislation and the representative democratic function is not referred to anywhere in the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Smith said at Second Reading,
“That is a serious omission. At no point should the sponsor body … lose sight of that”.—[Official Report, 8/7/19; col. 1675.]
Our amendments seek to remedy this. The House will be aware that, as this project progresses, it is vital that we bring the public and Parliament with us. We must make both aware that the works are imperative not only to preserve this historic building for future generations but to ensure that this country can long benefit from its constitutional role.
By stressing the significance of the works for the sanctity of democracy, we can better demonstrate that the costs and work involved are vital and necessary, and we help address and dissuade notions that this is only for the benefit of parliamentarians. Safeguarding Parliament’s role in our constitution is of vital benefit to everyone in the UK. Through these amendments, this House can do more than send this message; we can ensure that this principle is at the forefront of consideration for the sponsor body as works progress.
Amendment 16 would legislate that the sponsor body must always take regard of the primary democratic and constitutional functions of Parliament during the project. Amendment 1, meanwhile, would ensure that while the decant takes place the aim of the works will be to facilitate both Houses’ return so that their democratic and constitutional functions can be upheld and continued.
The importance of including in the Bill the broad principle that the works must never lose sight of the fact that they are taking place to maintain Parliament as a place of democracy was underlined by noble Lords from across the House at Second Reading. I hope that the Government will agree and bring forward proposals on Report to ensure that this principle is incorporated into the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am happy to speak in support of the amendment that has just been so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. It is important we remember that the principal functions of this place are its constitutional, legislative and scrutiny functions. That should not be forgotten. That said, in many of the debates we will have in Committee, we will remember many of the other things that happen in this place. I was going to say it is a village; it is probably larger than that in terms of the number of people who work here. However, at the end of the day, if it were not for the democratic and constitutional functions that take place, most of that other work would not materialise.
Although it is not one I signed, possibly through omission rather than as a deliberate act, the words “at the earliest opportunity” in Amendment 1 are important, because there is an urgency in this: both in starting now and, when the works start, in getting back in as soon as possible. Throughout the whole process, it is important that we try to maintain the pace. We will come later to an amendment I have tabled about timelines. We all know from large public works that there is often a tendency to delay, but I hope that once we get out it will not be very long until we get back in.
My Lords, any amendment which improves the Bill is obviously a good thing, but I was not clear from what my noble friend said how this amendment does so. It is not clear to me how the words,
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”,
“at the earliest opportunity that its work and democratic and constitutional functions can reasonably be delivered in the restored Palace”,
are in any way different. Could my noble friend answer that when she responds?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for moving the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. The Government entirely agree that it is important for the sponsor body and delivery authority to ensure that the R&R works enhance and protect the work of Parliament. This focus is reflected in the fact that the Bill requires that the majority of the members on the board of the sponsor body are parliamentarians.
As part of its strategic vision for the programme, the shadow sponsor body has been clear that restoration and renewal must deliver a building that supports Parliament’s core function as a working legislature both now and in the future, using high-quality design and technology. This includes facilitating any procedural changes that may be requested by either House.
When drafting the Bill, the Government have been careful not to prescribe either what Parliament does or its procedures, as these are clearly a matter for Parliament itself. We are concerned by the reference to the “democratic and constitutional functions” of Parliament in this amendment, as we are mindful of potential legal challenges in respect of the exercise of the powers contained in the Bill. For instance, we must be careful not to unintentionally invite the courts to consider matters that are the preserve of Parliament, such as the question of what the “democratic and constitutional functions” of Parliament are. Doing so could call into question the separation between the courts and Parliament.
Noble Lords will know that the Companion explains that the principle of control by Parliament of its affairs, free from interference by the courts, is often called “exclusive cognisance”. We are concerned that the inclusion of this wording in the Bill could be seen as Parliament waiving the exclusive cognisance of the House, and so we have reservations about the wording of the amendment.
The best way to ensure that the R&R works enhance and protect the democratic and constitutional role of Parliament is to ensure that Parliament has a final say on the plans for a restored and renewed Palace. The Bill sets out very clearly that the works cannot commence until Members of both Houses have approved the delivery authority’s proposal for the design, cost and timing of those works in the outline business case. This will enable parliamentarians to determine whether the designs for the restored Palace and decant enable Parliament to carry out its democratic and constitutional functions. Significant changes to the design, timing or cost will also have to go back to Parliament for agreement. For these reasons, we are confident that the sponsor body will ensure that the parliamentary buildings works enhance and protect the work, and democratic and constitutional functions, of the Houses of Parliament.
Obviously, this is a matter for noble Lords to consider, but as I have set out, we have some legal concerns. I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord that the principle behind the amendment will be central to the work of the sponsor body and the delivery authority. I am sure that the parliamentary authorities would be happy to provide further advice on this if needed. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. After today, I will look at the legal and constitutional issues that she raised. I am very grateful for her reassurances about accepting the principle. If we feel that we need to reinforce that, we will come back on Report.
In answer to my noble friend Lord Adonis, the “earliest possible opportunity” reference will be taken up in later amendments and so we will respond to that in due course.
I thank in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, for his contribution. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.