Amendment 12

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Lord Blunkett:

Moved by Lord Blunkett

12: Clause 2, page 3, line 9, at end insert—“( ) the need to ensure that the Parliamentary building works facilitate future developments in remote connectivity for the purposes of outreach and parliamentary engagement.”

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 13. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Stowell of Beeston and Lady Byford, for their support in this. Without delaying the House, because we have been over quite a lot of this ground, this is about future-proofing and future connectivity: the way in which we foresee in the future the important element of building in the way in which we will be able to provide for this institution to be literally in the 21st century. I do not want to overegg this, because we have gone over some of the ground about participation and democracy, but it is important that the sponsor body has as one of its key elements the way in which the House can be prepared for any substantial constitutional and parliamentary reform in the future. It does not interfere in any way with the other elements we have discussed over the last five hours, but it would ensure that there was a clear remit which, again, the delivery authority would understand as well. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat 9:15 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I support the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Future proofing is the end of some of our previous discussions, so a great deal of the ground has been covered in one way or another. We need to future proof against possible constitutional developments, developments in public expectation and changes in technology. These two amendments cover that very well.

I draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that whenever we talk about constitutional change, a whole lot of people freeze and say, “We don’t want to build in constitutional changes with this; that would be pre-empting another process”. I point out that over the timescale of this project, a lot of constitutional change will take place, independent of repair, restoration and renewal, and we need to ensure that, at the end of it, we do not have a building that does not accommodate the changes that will have been made.

If we wind the clock back 20 years, there was no Westminster Hall debating chamber in the other place. It is now a very important part of the other place, and I would not mind guessing that in 20 years’ time it will be seen as even more important. In this debate we have talked already about a more profitable use for the Royal Gallery—not necessarily financially profitable but how we might use it.

If we spend five or, perhaps, 10 years in the QEII, I have little doubt that our procedures will adapt to that building in ways which people will be reluctant to give up when they come back to this building—whether it is a simple thing, such as somewhere to plug in your iPad when you are sitting on the Benches, or something else that we have not even imagined. All these things need to be clearly in the minds of the sponsor body and the delivery authority.

It might be said that we should not be offloading this responsibility on to the sponsor body. I agree with that, but the alternative is that this House and the other place confront the questions of constitutional reform themselves. My imaginative capacity is insufficient to see how that would happen. I think that the reality will be that the sponsor body will come back to this House and the other place and will say, “We can do this, or we can do that”. Then we might find that we are at last engaged in the kind of thinking that, at the moment, everyone shies away from.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, my name is added to Amendment 12. In the Joint Committee, we said that it was easier to see what restoration was about, but the renewal part exercised quite a bit of our time. In other words: what sort of Parliament did we want and what sort of involvement with democracy did we want? We have talked about the outreach programme and the educational facilities, and I shall not anticipate my noble friend Lord Bethell in moving his amendments. I felt surprised at that stage that not enough thought had been given to renewal and its opportunities. I have no qualms about mentioning that again when the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, is in her place, because I know that she is well aware of the hopes that the shadow body has—but the Bill does not place enough emphasis on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, spoke about technology. In 10 or 20 years’ time, we will be able to communicate in a totally different way from the way we do now. We talked about the outreach programme run by the Lord Speaker, where individual Peers go out to schools and schools come here. With modern communications, that can be done virtually; there is enormous scope for us to relate to the general public in a totally different way. I will say no more on that because we had good discussions earlier—but I will say that it would be a shame to miss the opportunities in the Bill, and I support the amendments in this group.

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Conservative

My Lords, I also support the excellent amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. There are two amendments in my name in this group. They are practical, nitty-gritty measures, but I hope that they will not be brushed off for that reason, because they are important. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, put it very well in his comments: engagement on R&R will not happen until the options are fully understood and one gets the feeling that one is making informed choices.

It is imperative that those options are clear from the outset, and we do not know what the options on educational facilities and participatory democracy are at the moment. I am hopeful for the Wallace/Adonis café—I look forward to drinking my latte there—but that anecdote has become a metaphor for our vision. There is simply no information or a clear, thoughtful prognosis on what could be done with the building. There is talk of glass ceilings over the courtyards and someone tells me that we can clear out the ground floor, but I have no practical knowledge of whether these things are at all possible. My amendments would apply to the Bill after Clause 4, but they address Clause 2(2)(b), which commands the sponsor body to,

“make strategic decisions relating to the carrying out of the Parliamentary building works”.

To do that, it is absolutely imperative that the body has, at least in outline, an idea of what could be done to further the educational facilities and participatory democracy.

We are talking about intellectual leadership here. I know that the Bill is largely about the administrative structures of the bodies involved, but other considerations are also important. We talked about culture and hard-baking public consultation into the way in which this project conducts its business. I have found that, in major infrastructure projects, the intellectual leadership is often—and quite rightly—with the engineers and project managers, whose thoughts are dominated by the practical considerations of budgets, timetables, M&E, air conditioning and the physical practicalities of getting the job done. Here, we are talking about something that is softer but still important. If we leave the intellectual leadership of this project to the people who govern the practicalities, these important considerations will not be baked into the project at an early stage.

Noble Lords will be familiar with me urging for major investment in public consultation. However, to carry out that consultation, you have to understand a little about what kinds of practical options there are for enhancing the educational facilities and access to the House. That is why it is worth while investing in the budget for the right professional services to put together a clear report on the options in these two areas. I strongly recommend that they be written into the Bill.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

My Lords, I will speak briefly. I have no problem with Amendment 12—the lead amendment—or Amendment 18 in the name of my noble friend Lord Bethell, but I am afraid that I have my doubts about Amendments 13, 14 and 19. I think that they will place a burden on the sponsor body with which it will not be able to cope, because it would have to decide what it understood by “major political and constitutional reforms” before any reforms have taken place.

Coming back to my earlier comments, we need an adaptable space that can be fitted with changes that Parliament itself may wish to make to meet the demands made of it and to engage with those outside it. As Amendment 13 stands, there is a problem with referring to,

“major political and constitutional reforms”,

without stipulating what one means by that. Similarly, in that amendment and my noble friend’s, there is a reference to, “inclusive participatory democracy”. If that is going to stay in the Bill, the definitions section will have to be amended to explain what that actually means for the benefit of the sponsor body.

So I think there are problems with the stipulations in these amendments. I understand where my noble friend the Minister will be coming from in responding to them. A lot more work would need to be done; otherwise, the danger is that the amendments will confuse rather than clarify.

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

My Lords, I rise to support the amendments before us, especially the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I am speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lady Smith on Amendment 14 and will touch on Amendments 18 and 19.

The amendments in this group broadly consider different aspects of the future Parliamentary Estate. I turn first to Amendment 12, which deals with remote connectivity. This House earlier discussed the wider issue of engagement, and I believe there is a consensus—nearly full consensus—that prior, during and after the work we must consult as much as necessary. Future technology should be considered, introduced to the estate where possible and accommodated into the future arrangements if this can be to the benefit of maintaining engagement with the wider community and public.

Amendment 14, in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith, relates to the need for a modern working environment for parliamentary staff. More than 8,000 people work on the estate, and present conditions for many of the staff are insufficient. The sponsor body must have regard for this and factor in the opportunity to improve working conditions during the programme. It should consult with trade unions and other organisations about working conditions.

Finally, Amendments 13 and 19 focus on participatory democracy, while Amendment 18 relates to the educational provision on the estate. Parliament should and can be an inspiring place and offer incredible opportunities to learn about how democracy works. We heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who talked about this being a very special place and still feeling awe, even after spending three decades in the other place and this place. We feel it when we bring visitors and guests in here. There is an opportunity through this process to expand on that and to open that opportunity up to more people.

My noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, talked about future-proofing, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, touched on issues relating to Amendment 13. My understanding and reading of the amendment are that it talks about the capability and ability to absorb and deal with future changes. It really just opens up the possibility; it does not force or drive any future constitutional changes but just deals with allowing us and the body to deal with the capabilities of any future changes.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 9:30 pm, 22nd July 2019

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble friend Lord Bethell for tabling these amendments on education, outreach, modernising the Palace as a workplace and democratic renewal. As the amendments cover a wide range of issues, I shall respond to them individually.

The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, would require the sponsor body to have regard to the need to ensure that the works facilitate future outreach activities, are capable of accommodating future constitutional reforms and promote participatory democracy through the works. The Government agree with the noble Lord that the works should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate any future reforms in either House, be they political or constitutional, and facilitate opportunities for outreach and engagement.

The nature of the work will itself present excellent opportunities. For example, some have suggested this could be a legacy use of the Commons decant chamber, as Richmond House will be incorporated into the permanent Parliamentary Estate and will have flexibility built in to enable a range of legacy uses.

It is a matter for both Houses to determine any reforms to their procedures, and it will be important for the programme to facilitate rather than impede such developments. The shadow sponsor body has explicitly stated that part of its vision is that the programme will,

“Help facilitate any procedural changes that may be requested by either House”.

Any future procedural changes will not necessarily be contingent on the restoration work.

Under the Bill, the sponsor body has a duty to determine the strategic objectives of the works and to make strategic decisions relating to those works. The sponsor body is required to consult parliamentarians on the strategic objectives of those works. These are matters which should be properly considered at that stage, alongside other considerations raised by Members of both Houses, in order for the sponsor body to assess what should be the overall priorities for the programme rather than these being on the face of the Bill; then the outline business case will set out how the priorities will be realised.

As my noble friend Lord Howe has explained, work is already being undertaken by the shadow sponsor board to develop a public engagement strategy. This is being developed in consultation with both Houses in order to deliver on the Bill’s requirement for the programme to deliver facilities for education and for visitors in future. It is part of the shadow sponsor body’s vision to help Parliament to connect people with the past, present and future of parliamentary democracy through engagement with its rich heritage.

The shadow sponsor body has agreed a goal to:

“Help facilitate any procedural changes that may be requested by either House”,

as part of its functionality and design strategic theme, which commits the programme to:

“Deliver a building which supports Parliament’s core function as a working legislature, both now and in the future using high-quality design and technology”.

The shadow sponsor body has also stated in its vision to ensure the building enables public engagement with the proceedings and wider activities of the two Houses. This strategic approach was also endorsed by the Commissions of both Houses in May of this year.

I turn now to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, which would require the sponsor body to have regard to the need to create a modern working environment within the Palace of Westminster. The Government agree that the works must take into account not only the requirements of parliamentarians but, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said, of all the staff who work within the Palace, ensuring that their needs and requirements are properly taken into account. As I noted in my earlier remarks in relation to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, the shadow sponsor body has, as part of the functionality and design strategic theme, a commitment to deliver a building which supports the core function of Parliament as a working legislature, both now and in the future using high-quality design and technology. The shadow sponsor body has already identified this as a key priority for the works. As part of its vision for the programme, the shadow sponsor body is committed that the restored Palace will have a,

“flexible, effective and enjoyable working environment”— something I am sure all your Lordships are looking forward to.

In turn, this will clearly require the sponsor body to engage with staff. This work is already under way. In late 2018 and early 2019, the shadow sponsor body distributed a questionnaire to all who work in both Houses—Members and staff—complemented by supplementary engagement with teams who have infrequent access to computers. The results of the questionnaire have been considered by the shadow sponsor body and will be communicated to all parliamentarians and their staff in the autumn via the internal newsletter and the parliamentary intranet. The shadow sponsor body has hosted workshops with House staff on current ways of working and been in dialogue with the unions representing Members’ staff—MAPSA, Unite and the NUJ—as well as with the HR teams in both Houses who lead on discussions with staff trade unions. I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord, in whose names the amendment stands, will agree that the fundamental points raised in the amendment are captured in the priorities of the sponsor body in relation to the nature of the working environment and the consultation with staff that needs to underpin it.

Finally, turning to my noble friend Lord Bethell’s amendments on reporting, I must express some reservations. These amendments would require the delivery authority to lay a report before both Houses setting out what steps it will take to ensure that the restored Palace of Westminster provides educational programmes for schoolchildren and opportunities for participatory democracy. The Government agree that these works are an opportunity to build a restored Parliament which provides better educational facilities and opportunities for the public to engage more in the work that we do. Under the Bill, the sponsor body must have regard to the need to provide educational and other facilities. The Bill already provides that the sponsor body and the delivery authority must enter into a programme delivery agreement, which contains,

“provision about the review of the Delivery Authority’s activities by the Sponsor Body”.

A variety of reports will be requested and produced by the delivery authority with regards to the review of its actions by the sponsor body. While this amendment deals with one possible example of such reports, the shadow sponsor body’s preference is to define these in the programme delivery agreement rather than in the Bill.

Under the Bill, the delivery authority will need to formulate proposals relating to the design, cost and timing of the works which reflect the priorities set by the sponsor body. This will form the outline business case, which must be approved by Parliament before the substantive works can proceed. Given the duties placed on the sponsor body in the Bill, we expect that this will include proposals on how the programme intends to develop educational facilities.

As my noble friend will be aware, we strengthened this provision in the Bill in the Commons so that the provision of education facilities is a need rather than being desirable. Furthermore, as part of the shadow sponsor body’s vision for the programme, it is committed to a restored Palace that encourages,

“wider participation in the work of Parliament”.

We are mindful that a balance needs to be struck between a number of factors when restoring the Palace. Any proposals that are put forward to Parliament for approval will also need to balance the various requirements for the programme, including those specified under Clause 2(4). For the programme to be truly independent of Parliament, the sponsor body must have the freedom to make those judgments through thoughtful and creative assessments of the options. Just as in the case of Amendment 13 from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, we are concerned that the reports prescribed by these amendments could override these other requirements and risk reducing the clarity of accountability for the works undertaken.

For these reasons we must express reservations about the amendments, but we encourage the noble Lord and others to feed in their views to the sponsor body’s consultation which will be launched once it is established in statute. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, it is getting even later. I am very grateful for the contributions and for the Minister’s response. I think we will return to some of this on Report. I shall reflect on what has been said. I want to pick up two things. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, rightly drew attention to the fact that the Joint Committee was exercised about the almost dismissive nature of the renewal, as opposed to the restoration, element. That is what has driven me to table my amendments. I am sure my noble friend Lady Smith will reflect on whether she wishes to come back on some of the broader issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, and I first met 50 years ago this October when we took up our places as undergraduates in the same department of the same university. I am always as prepared to listen to him and reflect as I was in the seminars in those days, so I will reflect on his comments in relation to Amendment 13. I shall not move the remaining amendment in my name, but I ask the Minister, as I did earlier, whether over the summer we may reflect on how we can achieve the goals that I think most people set out this evening in a way that ensures that we are a participatory democracy with connectivity in exactly the way that the Senior Deputy Speaker has been endeavouring to spell out in the work of modernising our committees and connecting with the world outside. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 12 withdrawn.

Amendments 13 to 16A not moved.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 3 and 4 agreed.

Amendments 17 to 19 not moved.

Clause 5: Consultation strategy

Amendment 20 not moved.