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Amendment 4

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 7:20 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Lord Blunkett:

Moved by Lord Blunkett

4: Clause 2, page 2, line 26, at end insert—“( ) to promote public understanding of, and engagement with, the Restoration and Renewal programme and its objectives.”

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 6 and 10 and will endeavour to be brief. Rather than repeating myself later, I will set out here why it is important that this amendment should be in the Bill. I suspect that I will have a slightly more uphill struggle than on the amendment we debated before the Statement, but I hope not, because I am seeking consensus. Once again, I am deeply grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and other noble Lords on this and subsequent amendments.

We have to have some understanding of why it is important to have some essential elements written in the Bill rather than in letters from present or past Leaders of the House, or reassurances from the Dispatch Box. It is patently obvious that nobody knows who the Minister will be from Thursday onwards. I suspect—I have written about this—that there may be an election sooner rather than later, so elected Members in the other House do not really know who will be there. As far as we are concerned, the grim reaper can determine whether we are here or not rather rapidly.

On staff servicing the sponsor body and members of the sponsor body who are not in either of these Houses, it is obvious that going for promotion, or leaving for another job or another part of the country is part of life. Therefore, the notion that a letter of assurance or a word or two from the Dispatch Box, or even, importantly, the trust we place in existing sponsor body members and staff is not worth the paper it is written on or the emotion it uses. Who knows who will be here by the time we decant and, certainly, by the time we return?

I place on record that none of what I am going to say disparages either the commitment or the appreciation of Ministers or sponsor body members, or Liz Peace and her team; I have nothing but respect for their work, their good offices and their words. However, we need to ensure that the electorate, who are already totally disillusioned with politics and Parliament, feel that this has something to do with them. As we discussed on the consensual amendment on the economic benefits to accrue from the restoration and renewal programme, if we can get them, so on the political gains that can be made: there is the need to gain consent. That is why these amendments endeavour to ensure that the Bill, whoever is in this House and serving on the sponsor body, and the direction they give to the delivery authority, make it absolutely clear what Parliament’s will is.

What is Parliament’s will? Is it determined by ephemeral Ministers or by a letter that may or may not have been sent months or perhaps years before? Is the will of Parliament to be determined only when the delivery authority eventually comes back with a scheme that, frankly, will not be amendable anyway, because it will have been put together as a package? We may be able to choose whether we have a slightly more or slightly less expensive scheme; I hope that we will go for something more than the lowest common denominator. If we do not, people will be even more aggrieved at the billions we are spending if it is just about electronics and pipework, and a little bit of restoration. These amendments are intended to be a positive way to ensure that the sponsor body is able to understand the will of Parliament, expressed by the Bill, which is, seriously, the only way in which Parliament can reflect the true will of this House and the other place on this prolonged project, and do so with consensus.

It is important that public engagement at every level on these and later amendments supports our intentions—I think that all of us have the same intentions; they cannot be otherwise. I have said to Ministers that if the amendments tonight and subsequent amendments were already in the Bill, would anybody feel that they had to take them out—would there be a move to do so? The argument is that this confines the sponsor body in some way and that it is determinist, preventing it having flexibility in the way it proceeds and what it does. None of the amendments prescribes, because I have deliberately watered them down; none of them is deterministic or confines the sponsor body and the future delivery authority in any way whatever. They reinforce and send a message out to the public that we care about the engagement with them; we want them to understand what is taking place in their name, with their money—to ensure that that reaches out, as Amendment 10 says, to the regions, and that we do so with the support of future generations.

I will say one other thing about the nature of Parliament as well in reaching out and selling the restoration and renewal programme to the public. Does anybody seriously believe that the sponsor body is not inherently part of Parliament? It responds to Parliament, and as we discovered in the Joint Committee, its methodology is very much about the estimates committee and the commission, but it is part of and represented from this House and the other House on the sponsor body. Essentially, it is part of the parliamentary process. However, it cannot simply hand over promoting and communicating the restoration and renewal programme now and in the future to the public. It must have a role in doing so. People have said to me, “This isn’t the role”, but it is in the letters of the former and current Leaders of the House that were sent to the sponsor body and circulated to us all that we do not need to bother putting something in the Bill, because it is the role of Parliament to sell the Bill. If we look at the attendance on the restoration and renewal Bill in this House tonight, or the engagement in the House of Commons, does anybody seriously believe that the 600 or 650 Members of the other House, depending on the boundary changes, will spend their time going out, explaining, engaging and selling this programme to the public? Your Lordships must live in a different world if you believe that, and if you do not, you should support the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Conservative

My Lords, I speak in support of the amendment and share the views of my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.

To me, the principles of this massive investment are that of course it is about the engineering, heritage and security of the House, the comfort of Peers and Members of the House of Commons and their ability to do their jobs, but the most important legacy will be to contribute to the rebuilding of trust between Parliament and the people. It is not uncommon for infrastructure projects of this size to have important secondary benefits without which they can be deemed a failure.

Delivery of rebuilding of civic trust in our country is a massive focus that needs to be seen more clearly in the Bill. That can be best secured by two major themes. One is through access for the public to the Houses of Parliament. This is an uncomfortable subject, because there are serious considerations about the practicalities and impact on parliamentarians of having more members of the public in and out of the House—and on security arrangements. But given the huge amount of money that we are set to spend, we need to reconcile those two considerations and ensure that members of the public have a much better opportunity to meet their MPs and come to talk to Peers about legislation going through the House to educate themselves about what is going on. I am mainly thinking about schoolchildren having civics lessons to understand what Parliament is up to and observing legislation going through on the issues that they care about. We all feel frustrated that our wonderful Galleries are not more filled, but who can blame people for not coming to watch legislation being passed when it is so uncomfortable, the wait is so long and the experience is so profoundly negative?

Those three things need to be squarely addressed. The way the Bill is written at present puts parliamentarians and their desires very much at the front of the process. That is right in one respect—this is a parliamentary building and parliamentarians will drive the process—but I should like the public to have a much clearer voice.

The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, spoke very well about the limited expectations we should have for Members of Parliament engaging with their constituents on the difficult and sensitive subject of how billions of pounds will be spent on this building. A consultation processes is described in Clause 5:

“The Sponsor Body must prepare a strategy for consulting members of each House of Parliament for the purposes of section 2(3)”.

That is a thoughtful and pragmatic approach, because I am sure that the noble Lord is correct that once we are presented with a difficult plan, it will be very difficult to tweak and change it, because a huge investment in professional services will have gone into it; to try to change the staircase, move things around and put the kitchen on top of the sitting room is, as all householders know very difficult, when you have reached that stage.

It is critical that the public have a voice from the very beginning and that questions of access and education are hard-baked into the project from the very beginning. You can use modern forms of consultation to get a very clear, subtle, deliberative snapshot of what the public might want from a project, although it is very complicated and they may need to have both it and the options explained to them.

We should tweak the amendment to include the public clearly in the consultation process. What would people like to see from a modern, 21st-century Parliament? How would they like to meet parliamentarians to discuss constituency matters or legislation? How would they regard matters of security and travel? How would they get to Parliament and how would they like to see their children engaged in education and civic programmes?

If we do not face up to this challenge—if we brush it off and put it in the too-hard-to-try bucket—my fear is that we will invest, say, a billion pounds, trying to get the plan right but it will then be rejected by the public. It will be met with unhappiness and discord. I have seen it happen with infrastructure projects time and again. Then it will be sent back to the drawing board and we will have wasted time and money, whereas, if we grab the nettle at this early stage, take the plunge and listen to what the people want in terms of engaging, accessing and educating themselves on Parliament, we can save a huge amount of the budget, get a better product and save some money at the same time.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:30 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment. I absolutely agree with everything that has been said. Frankly, it is a no-brainer for the Government not to agree with the amendment. Apart from anything else, if they do not, they will be seen to be offside with common practice these days in restoration projects.

If the House were to come to the Heritage Lottery Fund—I declare my interest as deputy chair of the board—with a proposal for a fairly significant grant, as the House may still do although we could not fund the whole thing, the very least we would expect is a clear strategy. It is not necessarily as simple as consultation; I mean a serious public engagement strategy which would allow us to tell who would actually benefit, how their voices had been collected and heard and how they had been reflected in the proposal. We would not consider proposals which could not provide us with that obvious proof of public benefit.

What we are considering here, for all the reasons we know and which the noble Lord has again spelt out, is a national project of the greatest public benefit that we could conceive of. By not acknowledging that in the Bill or making clear plans to involve and listen to the voice of different communities around the country, we are missing a massive opportunity. We also neglect our public duty.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

Did I follow my noble friend correctly in thinking that the lottery might fund parts of the restoration and renewal work? I would strongly deprecate that. This should be paid for by the Treasury.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

No, my Lords, I did not say that. I was making a hypothetical case that, were such a grant to be considered—I am not saying that it would be—it would have to satisfy different conditions. Of course I agree that this is a public project for national Treasury funding.

I have now lost my thread completely. This is the second time that my noble friend has interrupted me when I was developing my strategic thinking. I return to the principle. It is extremely important, for all the reasons we know, that this change is owned by the people we are here to serve. It is absurd not to recognise them in the Bill or to give them a voice.

We know how to do this, although it is complicated. At what point do you start involving people? How do you structure it? How do you reach out? How do you collect the voices, as it were? But we do it every day in major and minor projects around the country. It is not a miracle; it is a science.

To take just one example before I close, the National Museum Wales has, I am delighted to say, just won a national museum of the year award. In its redevelopment, which involved a great deal of new building, it involved thousands of people from all manner of excluded groups in the local and national community. The result has been transformational in their and our understanding of what people expect from a national museum.

This is not a museum. We have a much greater duty. But those principles and methodologies can certainly be adopted and followed.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support the amendments and the spirit in which they have been moved and spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Bethell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews.

In my involvement both in the Joint Committee and in taking part in debates, I have been very conscious that we are here as trustees. That has implications not only because we have responsibility—we have to get on with it, because we would not be thanked by the public if we dithered and an accident happened which destroyed part of this important part of our national heritage—but, as trustees, we are temporary. There are 650 Members of the other place here by election. Those of us who are here are, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said, at the hand of the grim reaper or may choose to take retirement. That makes it important to remember that we are here but there is a great public out there, to whom we owe responsibility. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said, it is important that we try to understand what they want from what is, in fact, their Parliament—a place where they can engage with not only Members of Parliament but Members of your Lordships’ House. How can they get their views across? How can we use this place for education, so that we bring up a new generation of citizens who want to take part in the democratic process?

The amendments are directed at engaging the public more in what we are doing at the moment; I suspect that those who know about it are somewhat cynical about it, so an explanation of why a large amount of money is being spent might go a long way. They are also trying to gauge what the public wish to see in how we spend that money. When the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, talked about access and people wanting to talk to their MPs, I reflected on the fact that, when we voted earlier this evening, my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath asked me, if I got a chance when I spoke this evening, to say that he thinks that it would be a good idea to have a coffee shop in the Royal Gallery because it is a large space that is not used for much else, except on historic occasions, but which could clearly be adapted and changed. I rather suspect that, on first hearing, people would say, “Oh, we can’t do that”, but has anyone ever asked? It would be a good place for that, in the same way that Portcullis House has become a meeting place for discussion and discourse for Members of the House of Commons—you can take people there. That is perhaps worth thinking about if we want to engage the public more.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Conservative

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, that we are trustees, or custodians, of this Palace of Westminster, which ultimately belongs to the public that we exist to serve. Clearly, we need to ensure that, through this programme of works, the Palace that belongs to the public and the people who occupy it are in a position to serve the public better.

I also support the need for public engagement with and consultation on these works. I would counsel one thing, however. During the debate, I have been a little worried by comments about attempts by us to help the public to understand better what this project is all about. At the moment, those of us in positions of great privilege and some power think—too often and mistakenly—that we are the ones with all the information and that we need to impart it and impose it on other people. As has been made clear by other noble Lords in their contributions, we want to understand better what the public expect from their Parliament and reflect on what they want so as to influence how we change.

However, I would go one step further: we must be frank and understand that the process of consulting people is another opportunity for us to show that we are changing and that we want to serve them better. I want us to ask about what it is that people want to see us change in terms of our behaviour as parliamentarians. If we can understand better what they want from us in terms of how we behave—to show that we take them seriously and listen to them in carrying out our work—we should consider what we need to do differently in terms of how our building is formatted, refurbished and renewed to make sure that we are better placed to show that we are listening and responding, and to give people confidence that that is what this is all about.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, I echo what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, said about making much better use of the Royal Gallery. I referred to this in my speech at Second Reading. I wish him luck because it will mean taking on the fully entrenched forces of the officialdom of the House, but I will willingly make one last attempt at getting a coffee bar in the Royal Gallery. I will join the noble Lord; perhaps my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, might also commit themselves. It may be that, if all the party leaders and many noble Lords converged on a maximum point of pressure, we could persuade the authorities of the House to act. This might be the moment: if we have a series of speeches on this, a revolutionary change that would make this place far more accessible could be brought about. Part of the problem with the House of Lords is that it is largely inaccessible to the public because the points of entry are so narrow and constrained; it is almost impossible to get here unless you have an appointment with a Peer who meets you. The number of meeting places that are not offices is also limited. Perhaps we will have brought about a revolutionary change by the end of the debate.

I am very sorry for interrupting my noble friend Lady Andrews. I was anxious to interrupt her because, when she mentioned the lottery, I could see the Treasury’s eyes gleaming at the prospect of possibly being able to pass on large parts of the cost. It is important that we establish that this is absolutely a public project. If the Victorians could build this extraordinary Palace—Mr Gladstone was very mindful of the public finances—we in this generation can certainly live up to our responsibilities.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 7:45 pm, 22nd July 2019

For the record, Mr Gladstone came on to the scene for this particular building a bit late, did he not?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

Actually, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer when a large part of the work was being carried out. I assure my noble friend that Gladstone took a keen interest in the allocation of the public finances; my noble friend and I can correspond on this matter afterwards.

The amendment moved by my noble friend seems at one level to be a statement of the obvious but, on another level, the fact that it needs to be stated is of some importance in itself. The two changes that he essentially wishes to make are: to enlarge the sponsor body’s duties to include promoting to the public the work of R&R; and to add to the sponsor body’s duties consulting not only Members of each House but members of the public. That should not need to be said; it ought to be obvious that that should happen. However, there are two reasons why this is important. First, I do not think that the Government are racing to accept the amendments; I am looking at the noble Earl. If so, there must be some reason why. It is precisely because the actual duties will be expanded in a way that the Government think will be distracting to the sponsor body. Why would the Government regard them in that way? They impose additional duties.

However, those duties—the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was completely right about this—are exactly what we would and should expect of the sponsor body in two respects. First, it is a matter of self-interest: the body is going to spend a lot of money—the figure of £4 billion has been touted before but, from my intimate knowledge of how infrastructure projects go, I think that we can safely assume that it will be significantly larger. When the inevitable controversy comes, as it will, about the cost, overruns, delays and everything else, the sponsor body, your Lordships and the other House of Parliament need the ultimate protection possible, which must surely come from having engaged with the public and having proper public promotion and displays. Westminster Hall needs to be full of displays about the work that will be undertaken and we need the visitor centre to do the same. That is important. Secondly, part of the justification for the spending on this work is that it will enhance public access significantly.

To extend the point about what happens at the end of restoration and renewal, not having proper citizenship education is part of the problem. My noble friend Lord Blunkett has done more than any other Minister—in history, I would venture to suggest—to put citizenship at the core of what we teach in schools. It is hugely important. However, we still do not pay nearly enough attention to it. In particular, we do not make visiting Parliament, engaging with parliamentary institutions and meeting parliamentarians a systematic part of secondary school education, as it should be. Since the Germans’ massive renovation of the Bundestag’s beautiful old buildings in Berlin—at the behest of British architects, as it happens—they have had comprehensive programmes for schools and schoolchildren proactively to visit Berlin, tour the German parliament and meet their parliamentarians. We do not do that here. Even with all the expansion we are talking about, the creation of a visitor centre and all that, it all depends on people wanting to come here, whereas we should be proactively engaging. This problem goes to the wider issue: the further one goes from London, the more disengaged people feel from their parliamentary institutions, not least because they hardly have any contact with what goes on here. Their schools are much less likely to come here.

I am struck when I meet school parties—some I show around; many I just meet when I am walking around the Palace—and ask where they come from. They disproportionately come from London and the area immediately around. Why? Because if you have to proactively seek to come here and cover expenses and things of that kind, it will particularly be private schools—we come back to this issue—who will come here. We have to end this. We are now in a massive Brexit crisis because of the massive alienation between a large part of our people and our parliamentary institutions.

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Conservative

The noble Lord makes the point well, but I think he is too limited in his analysis of the problem. It is not just that schoolchildren do not understand the parliamentary democracy they live in. They do not see for themselves the opportunities that lie in the Civil Service and other forms of public service. There is a massive disengagement between schools and universities and the whole ethos of public service. There is a good argument that that kind of personal contact with Parliament would do a huge amount to invigorate a sense of public service that is missing at the moment, particularly in the schools to which he refers—schools outside London and non-grammar, non-independent schools.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, I agree with every word the noble Lord has just said.

What I would like to see in this Bill—as noble Lords know, I always try to push things to extremes—is a duty on the sponsor body to see that, once the restoration and renewal work is completed, there are facilities and arrangements in place for every schoolchild in the country, during the course of their secondary education, to visit the Houses of Parliament, have a tour and get the opportunity to see the work we do.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I have to take the noble Lord to task on engagement in schools north of the south—if you see what I mean. Not enough of us take part in the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme, but many do, and I assure the noble Lord that the majority of schools I go to are not private but state schools, and they engage through citizenship. They are often either GCSE-level or sixth-form level—I have been to a couple of primary schools as well—but they do come down. With this project we have a chance to enlarge on that, but I would hate to think that people following this debate would think that we do not engage already. On the whole—I cannot speak for others—I have been to state schools, certainly not private schools.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness on her work. I did not say that we do not engage at all; I said that we do not engage nearly enough. The overwhelming majority of state secondary school pupils across England do not have any engagement, will not have come here on a visit and will not have met their parliamentarians. We should take that as a criticism of us—this institution—because it is.

My noble friend Lord Blunkett is pushing the door further—which he does so brilliantly on these occasions —so that we at least recognise in the Bill that the public exist and that the promotion of public engagement should be a duty on the sponsor body. These amendments seem entirely uncontroversial, unless the noble Earl is going to argue that they are distracting to the work of the sponsor body. If he does, I hope that at the very least he will agree to consider that issue further. If they are distracting, we are admitting that engaging with the wider public is a distraction to the work of the very body and the restoration and renewal programme that should seek to serve this wider public interest.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate—I have an amendment a little later—but it seems to me that we are touching on an extremely important subject. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for tabling these amendments. Following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has just said, we need to make some practical suggestions. I entirely agree with him when he says we must have exhibitions in Westminster Hall—of course we must; people must know what we are doing—but we need to take them out to the country. I would like to see an exhibition on our restoration and renewal programme in every town and city hall in the country. It is not impossible—indeed, it would be very easy to do it—and modern technology makes it easy to simulate, project, let people have virtual reality shows and all the rest of it. We ought to go to every town and city in the country, so that whether it is Lincoln, where I live, or Wolverhampton, the city next to the constituency I represented for 40 years, people should be able to go and see.

There should be a follow-up, of course, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is right that we should get as many schoolchildren as possible, because it should be part of the citizenship education of every child in this country to come to Parliament. Citizenship is a Cinderella subject; it is badly neglected in many schools. They pay lip service to it, but do not engage in the way they should.

I go further, because I believe we should also endeavour to ensure that people in every university in the country know what we are doing. After all, it is from the universities of this country that most elected parliamentarians —and, indeed, most appointed parliamentarians—in the future will come. If we are to engage in a proper way, we need to do it systematically, practically and with concrete suggestions such as those I am putting forward. Whether it is part of the renewal body’s remit to draw up that programme or whether it wishes to set up some committee of both Houses to discuss the practicalities, that detail is a little further down the line, but that it should be done is very important. Indeed, it must be done.

We are embarking on an enormously expensive exercise. I believe it is totally justified. Democracy is beyond price, and this is the greatest secular building in our country, but it belongs to everyone. This is the people’s Palace—the people’s Parliament. They should know what is being done, why and how. After all, at the end of the day they are paying for it. I would like to see a practical programme drawn up, and nobody would be better able to direct and help in that than the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. If he wanted to get a few like-minded souls around him, I for one would very happily be involved.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I will just correct the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, because he said this place belongs to everyone. With respect, it does not. We were talking about having a coffee bar in the Royal Gallery—which is a wonderful idea—but a few years ago I asked if I could have a concert there in aid of a charity. I asked Black Rod—not the present Black Rod, of course—who was in charge of the room. He said, “No, you can’t”. I asked, “Why?”. He said, “It belongs to Her Majesty and she won’t allow it”. I asked, “Who advises Her Majesty?”. He said, “I do, and I shall advise her not to”. I asked, “Why is that?”. He said, “It’ll wear the floor out”. It was one of the stupidest reasons. In planning, building regulations and everything else, this is technically a royal Palace. We have to sort all these things out before we end up finding we cannot do something because of some idea that has been around here ever since the place was built.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 8:00 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group and some of the later ones, particularly those in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Bethell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. I was sad that I was not able to take part in the Second Reading but I hope to make up for it now.

For me, the pertinent questions are: who is the restoration and renewal project for, and what is it intended to achieve? The Bill is incredibly unambitious. It is designed to keep things roughly as they are—or, in some cases, exactly as they are—to serve those people who currently occupy the building, whether MPs, Peers or staff. I love the idea of a coffee bar in the Royal Gallery—it might warm it up—because it is almost unusable at most times of the year. However, it is only partly right if we look to MPs, Peers and staff for what is appropriate for the future.

Public engagement has to be at the heart of the project. If we do not engage the public properly, they will not see this as a good use of money. We are talking about billions of pounds of public funds from the Treasury and it must not look like an upgrade for our offices; it has to look like part of the national fabric. We must therefore involve the public in renewing the heart of our democracy.

It is a fundamental principle of our parliamentary democracy that no Parliament can bind its successors in law, and yet this Bill will do exactly that. This building will be set in stone for decades. It will take a decade to start the work and a decade to complete it and in that time we will not take into account the fact that our society is moving on. The public can be more radical than we are. We tend to get stuck in mud with our processes. We have a new clock, a new system with the Lord Speaker and so on, but these changes have been incredibly slow. Public engagement will suggest more radical things than we do here.

Once the building is done, there will be no opportunities for moving on, changing our systems or doing anything new or perhaps more democratic. Whether it is introducing an elected Chamber, electronic voting or whatever, it will be much harder because people will say, “We cannot do that because we have just spent billions on recreating what we had before. It will not fit and we cannot spend any more money”. This country has undergone massive constitutional changes over the past couple of decades and it is illogical to persist in the way we are going when society is moving on. We cannot afford to be blinkered about what is happening around us. For these reasons, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, are essential. The sponsor body must have as one of its central purposes the duty to ensure that its work accommodates future concerns, changes and political developments. If it does not do that, it will be seen as a huge waste of money.

I would go even further with public engagement and say that we should parallel the sponsor body’s work on restoring and renewing the building with establishing a citizens’ assembly, which is what Theresa May should have done with Brexit. Such an assembly could offer a way in which to restore and renew our whole political system. A Government with vision past the next few months would breathe life into a new era of citizenship and change public engagement for the better. This place is not a museum but a working building, and we have to accept that work sometimes changes.

These amendments are vital. I regret that they have been watered down—I would have supported the unwatered-down version—but I will support them at any further point in our work.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

My Lords, I add my support to the amendments, which are important. I also endorse everything that has been said about citizenship and education, and the role that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has played in that.

The Bill is unfortunately titled. The title is somewhat misleading because it places the emphasis on restoration and renewal of a physical entity—the Palace—rather than the restoration and renewal of Parliament as an institution. That should be at the heart of informing the debate as we go forward because we have to configure the Parliament in order to fulfil the functions that both Houses fulfil.

In its recent report the Liaison Committee endorsed the view that we have a number of functions which are not confined to the legislative-Executive relationship but encompass as well the legislative-public relationship. We should see this through the prism of not only the relationship between Parliament and government but the relationship between Parliament and those outside who the institution serves. I endorse the point that we are trustees. We need to look at it in that perspective and consider how we can configure or reconfigure space to fulfil those functions. That should be the driving force. We should look at it dynamically in terms of our functions, not as some fixed physical entity.

Reinforcing that—this point has been touched upon—is the context in which the discussion is taking place: how people outside see the institution, which, at the moment, is not positive. The recent audit of political engagement by the Hansard Society tracked the extent to which there is dissatisfaction with the way our system works. The proportion of respondents who feel that the system of governing needs a great deal of improvement stands at 72%—the highest level it has been in the audit series. The level of distrust has been a change of kind and not only extent. By that I mean that people used to distrust MPs; now they distrust the House of Commons. That is a challenge that we have to face up to and address. We have to see it in that context.

We need to think about how we relate to those outside the House in the way that has been stressed, and I agree with most of what has been said. That encompasses not only seeking to educate but, as has been stressed, engaging with people outside Parliament—not only in terms of restoration and renewal but how we craft an institution that can continuously engage with people outside.

The noble Baroness who has just spoken seems to think that we are going to be stuck with whatever the fixture is. However, one can anticipate that and have flexible space that is adaptable to needs as they change over time. In that context we need to anticipate and address the, if you like, known knowns and think about the known unknowns and the extent to which the Palace may be configured on that basis.

We need to configure space so that we can enable greater interaction between Members and those making representations and, has been stressed, those who wish to be present for proceedings. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said. It reinforces my point about not just seeing the Palace as a fixed body but that dynamic of how we relate to people outside, creating space here for that purpose but thinking how we can configure it in such a way so that we can engage with those outside who cannot come here as well.

I wholly endorse what has been said. It is important that it is in the Bill, for the reasons that have been given. It should be at the forefront of what we are doing. My noble friend Lord Bethell referred to it basically as a secondary function, for reasons I understand, but we should stress it as a primary function in terms of what this institution is about. That has to be at the forefront throughout the work that is undertaken and, for those reasons, I endorse the amendments.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I support the amendments of my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lady Smith and that of the noble Lord, Lord Bethall.

A number of themes have emerged from the discussions over the past 50 minutes. The amendments were eloquently outlined by my noble friend Lord Blunkett and that set the tone for the rest of the debate on group five. There has not been a voice against the amendments and I would not like to be in the noble Earl’s place in trying to respond across the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, touched on the rebuilding of civic trust. He is absolutely correct. There is a misconception about the restoration and renewal project among those outside who do not know much about it that it is about us improving the place for the benefit of parliamentarians and spending large amounts of money in doing so. We all know that it is actually about maintaining the heart of our democracy and the benefits it brings as a centre of education and heritage.

A number of noble Lords spoke about education. I have been in the House only for a year and one thing I went straight into was working with the education and schools engagement team. For those who have not had that opportunity, I highly recommend it. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, talked about reaching out to all secondary schools, but some of the most engaging conversations I have had have been with primary school children. My noble friend Lord Adonis is correct that not enough schools are coming into the House, and we should encourage that more. We should use this as an opportunity to reach out further; the sponsor body should have the ability to do that and should hold it at the forefront of its mind when thinking about what the Palace should look like once we go through this process. It should think about engagement with education and schools. That would be to all of our benefit.

There are other organisations across civil society, including the trade unions. To go right back, the Joint Committee’s recommendation was that the sponsor body should,

“promote public engagement and public understanding of Parliament”.

When this was in its infancy and being pulled together, there was talk of a public understanding of Parliament.

We all know what happens with large infrastructure projects—and this will be a large infrastructure project. Too often, sometimes for unforeseen reasons, they overrun in time and expenditure. Parliament will not have the time to do the work on this—there is a lot of other work that Parliament needs to do—so putting it in the Bill and adding it as a responsibility for the sponsor body will help us to deal with some of those issues. If we do not get out there and tell the story of restoration and renewal, we could see many of the criticisms and problems that have arisen with other large infrastructure projects.

To touch on another amendment, we should ensure that businesses across the UK benefit from the economic advantages that the project will bring. Some of the contracts should go out across the UK, and that should remain at the forefront of the sponsor body’s mind.

If my noble friend Lord Adonis gets his wish and we end up with a coffee shop in the Royal Gallery, I am more than happy to help out as the first barista. I support the amendments.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lord Bethell for tabling these amendments. As has been clearly explained, they seek to require the sponsor body to promote public understanding of and engagement with the restoration and renewal programme. The amendments would also require the sponsor body to have regard to these matters and to develop a strategy for consulting the public.

The first thing for me to say is this: the public will absolutely and undoubtedly want to understand how the restoration and renewal of the Palace is progressing and what it means for them. That is exactly why the shadow sponsor body is already engaging with the public on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. It is doing that because one of its main strategic priorities is to:

“Open up the Houses of Parliament, improve access and encourage a wider participation in the work of Parliament”.

Those are exactly the things that noble Lords have been advocating. That priority is not just about filling the Public Gallery. It is very much about securing public buy-in to the work of Parliament, and you cannot do that without making the public aware of the biggest thing to happen to this building for 180 years: the R&R programme.

As part of its remit, the shadow sponsor body recently appointed its external relations director and will shortly be considering a public engagement strategy. This is being developed in consultation with both Houses, so as to deliver on the Bill’s requirement for the sponsor body to have regard to the need for improved visitor access and education facilities in the future. The shadow sponsor body has also established an engagement group, chaired by a member of its board, to oversee these activities. These appointments and ways of working are not temporary bursts or window dressing: they are outward and visible signs of how the sponsor body means to proceed in the future. We can be quite sure it will continue this essential work of engaging with the public.

Given what the sponsor body is doing and the clear remit under which it is operating, I question whether it is necessary to amend the Bill. Indeed, placing a duty in primary legislation on the sponsor body to engage and consult with the public on R&R, which I appreciate the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, regards as benign, may easily bring about what most of us want to avoid: being over-prescriptive about the way the sponsor body is made to undertake its work. If we do that, we risk saying to it that there is something quite distinct called public engagement that should be ranked pari passu with its essential task, which is, first, to agree designs for the outline business case and then to deliver R&R. Public engagement is integral to those things. It is not something that we should imply or state is a separate task, so in that sense we would risk distracting the sponsor body from its principal task. The sponsor body will have the chance to engage innovatively with the wider public about R&R, and the shadow body has already set about doing that, but it is for the sponsor body and delivery authority to decide how best to do it as part of its main tasks. We must trust the sponsor body to determine how best to undertake the restoration and renewal works and how it will engage with the wider public on it.

Let us not forget—indeed, we were reminded of it earlier—that Parliament’s engagement with the public is already happening. Yes, we need to do more, and I will come on to that in a second. The UK Parliament’s education and engagement service engaged more than 2.2 million people in 2018-19, of whom approximately 1.4 million were engaged face to face. This was spread across the UK with, on average, 21 engagement activities per constituency and around two-thirds of visiting schools receiving support for their travel. The quality of this engagement is reflected in the feedback from participants, 94% of whom gave a rating of “good” or “excellent”. One of the House of Lords’ strategic aims is to,

“promote public understanding of the House of Lords and engagement with its work”.

As part of this, the House contributes 30% towards the bicameral parliamentary outreach team. This bicameral service engages with the public through inviting schools to visit Parliament and the education centre, live-streaming questions with Mr Speaker and the Lord Speaker and providing online resources for schools to teach important principles relating to our democracy. In the year to mid-April 2018, the education service welcomed some 70,226 school visitors.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 8:15 pm, 22nd July 2019

I am a bit confused because the Minister said that accepting my noble friend’s amendment would divert the sponsor body’s activity from the main activity, which is to build a new Palace, but he also said that it is doing it anyway. If it is doing it anyway, the amendment is surely all right.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

The point I was seeking to make is that if you set out in the Bill something that looks quite distinct and separate from the main task that the sponsor body has before it, you risk distracting it. What we are saying to the sponsor body is, “Yes, public engagement is vital, you are already doing it, so you should do it in the best way you can because you know best how to deliver R&R”. That is the position I come from. Therefore, there is no need to change the wording of the Bill. We should not be frightened of leaving the Bill as it is because we know that the sponsor body has its heart in the right place in a way that reflects exactly what noble Lords have been talking about this evening.

The restoration and renewal of the Palace should increase the number of visitors and see that visitors have an even better experience. I absolutely agree that R&R also provides the opportunity to re-engage the public in how democracy functions in the UK. The programme will develop better educational facilities, and it has been suggested that the additional chamber in Richmond House can be used to engage schoolchildren in our democratic process. That would be added value from the R&R process.

I just want to say something about building in a statutory duty to consult. I have talked about the need to avoid being over-prescriptive but, over and above that, the Government are concerned that placing a statutory duty on the sponsor body to consult the public, as prescribed in the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Bethell, is a particularly onerous requirement. Public engagement, as I have said, is essential for the works to succeed, but a duty to consult, I would strongly argue, would divert resource and time from the essential job at hand, which is to formulate proposals on the design, cost and timing of the works for parliamentary approval.

Let me turn briefly to Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, requiring the sponsor body to have regard to non-cashable benefits when assessing whether the programme delivers value for money. Clause 2(4) (b) to (h) contains a wide range of non-monetary benefits to which the sponsor body must have regard. They include safety and security, the environment, accessibility, educational facilities and the spread of opportunities to secure economic or other benefits across the UK. These benefits, which are, of course, important, have got to be balanced against the need to ensure that the works represent good value for money, as required under Clause 2(4)(a).

Value for money is core to the programme, and we consider that that has to remain explicit in the Bill. If we go on adding other non-monetary matters to Clause 2(4)(a), we run the distinct risk of watering down the explicit imperative of achieving value for money for the works, which is something that the Bill as drafted ensures the sponsor body must have regard to. Therefore, I think that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, would be detrimental to the Bill.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and their support. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that one reason that I have worded things as I have was spelled out by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, in respect of the original Long Title and the scope of the Bill—to ensure that my amendments are in scope.

I shall just say what I said at the beginning. I am very keen to gain consensus on this so that when we come back on Report people will have had a chance to think about whether they really are against it, using the argument that it is already being done so we do not need to do it. Apart from the fact that I have a long-standing and historic commitment to engagement, participation, democracy and citizenship, I tabled these amendments because the Joint Committee—the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will be able to confirm this—examined this issue in detail and came up with the proposition that we should enhance the Bill by encouraging public engagement and democratic participation, which is the core of what our democracy is all about. This is the heart of our democracy, and we were concerned about the pushback against the proposal.

I discovered that there was an original sponsor body mission statement—it is in the text of the interviews with the Joint Committee—that included public engagement and it was taken out, so noble Lords will understand my suspicion about what is going on here. I really do not understand who is advising and pushing the Government against these amendments, but I will withdraw on this occasion on the grounds that we will be back in September.

I recall the occasions when my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lord Rooker and my noble and learned friends Lady Scotland and Lord Falconer came to me in the eight years when I was in government saying, “We’ve got a problem in the House of Lords”. I asked, “What’s that?”. They said, “Our own side is in favour of the amendments being moved by the other side and we’re likely to lose. What shall we do? Shall we come to an agreement and do this gracefully or shall we go down fighting on something that we didn’t intend to fight about in the first place?” We are all in agreement are we not? Everyone has said tonight that this is a good thing that the sponsor body is doing, but the Government still feel that they have to oppose putting it in the Bill. I just say to the Government: please, over August have a good holiday and let us come back and agree a few things.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

Amendments 5 and 6 not moved.