Amendment 21

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Lord Wallace of Tankerness:

Moved by Lord Wallace of Tankerness

21: Clause 5, page 4, line 33, at end insert—“( ) Any strategy or revised strategy published under this section must include the Sponsor Body’s best estimate of the timeline for the Palace restoration works, including likely dates for the decant of each House and the estimated date of completion.”

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

My Lords, I promise to be as brief as I can. This is a probing amendment that I do not seek to push further. Clause 5 is about consultation strategy. It indicates that the sponsor body must prepare a strategy for consulting Members of each House of Parliament and must keep that strategy under review and revise it where appropriate. The purpose of my amendment is to require that the strategy or any revised strategy which is published under this section includes the sponsor body’s best estimate of the timeline for the Palace restoration works, including likely dates for the decants of each House and, when they have taken place, the estimated date of completion.

In one of the earlier debates, the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, talked about large infrastructure projects and the many that have run over budget or over time. Clearly if we are trying to engage the public and keep them on side, that can often be the thing that makes them less receptive to a major project. Therefore, it is important that we ensure that there is some focus on the timeline so that the public are well aware of the likely dates. If there is any reason—there might be a very good reason—why things fall behind schedule, it is important that people know why and that a proper explanation is offered.

I specifically want to refer to issues that were raised at Second Reading in the other place and in the report of the Joint Committee, which looked at the draft Bill in relation to works on the Northern Estate. We heard today and at Second Reading that the intention is that the works relating to the Northern Estate project will be brought within the ambit of the sponsor body. The chair of the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, Dame Caroline Spelman, said at Second Reading:

“The main reason for the delay is the chosen plan for the decanting of Parliament to a replacement building on the site of the present Richmond House. Because Richmond House is a listed building, it will be more difficult to demolish and rebuild it under planning law. The Committee took the view … that under the Bill as it stands, Parliament is not taking separate planning powers to itself for this purpose”,

which I think many in your Lordships’ Chamber will agree with,

“but will be subject to the same planning regime ... We were told, however, that the demolition and rebuilding of Richmond House would cause some delays, as there would inevitably be strong objections from those who value its heritage”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/5/19; col. 654.]

It would be very useful for this House to be updated on where the Government think we are on the planning application with regard to Richmond House. What progress has been made, and what assessment has been made of any likely objections and of whether there could be such matters as judicial review? Clearly, that could lead to a serious delay. Indeed, paragraph 160 of the report of the Joint Committee looking at the draft Bill says:

“Although it would be possible to work around the loss of this land”— the Ministry of Defence car park land, which I will come back to—

“because of the need to move access arrangements and dismantle and rebuild accommodation as the works developed, there would be significant extra costs—we were told in the region of £350 million —and delay (possibly resulting in decant being postponed for several years, until 2028)”.

That is quite a serious delay and cost. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that, if these delays and associated costs creep up on us, we know what is happening, why it is happening and what is being done to address it. Indeed, it would be interesting to hear whether the issue of the Ministry of Defence car park has been sorted out.

I conclude by referring to the final sentence of paragraph 161 of the Joint Committee report:

“we note that our inquiry appears to have had a role in bringing the ‘Ministry of Defence car park’ problem to the notice of Members of both Houses and others, which underlines the role of select committees in facilitating, as well as hindering, projects”.

My hope is that if the sponsor body has a responsibility or duty to report on any delays and why they are taking place, it will help to focus minds and do some good. It will be able to show that this project has the priorities and makes the progress that I think we wish to see. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 9:45 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I fully support the amendment, although I would go one step further. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, has rightly identified the planning problems that could occur with Richmond House. I suspect that there will be equal problems with the design of the temporary Chamber for our friends down the other end—the colour of the carpet, the comfort of the Benches and so on. However, the same problems will occur when we start thinking about what this place will look like when we come back. We have been speaking about it all evening but I am referring to the kind of facilities that we want, how much it will cost and what changes there will be. No doubt that will cause delays as well, if only because the Treasury will say that the costs are too high or something like that.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord’s amendment. There should be very regular reports—maybe every six months—on the timescale of the decant and, subsequently, on the refurbishment of this place. But, if he considers bringing it back on Report, he should add something about cost. We are not very good at maintaining costs for things; he knows my views on Crossrail and HS2. Whoever is to blame, we are very good at hiding the real costs or results of programmes for several years then suddenly shocking Parliament and the public. Crossrail was on time and on budget until this time last year; now it is several years late and we do not yet know what the budget is going to be as we have not been told. People must have known about these things, as relating to HS2, several years before the problem occurred.

I hope that we will not have the same problem here. We need to be honest and transparent and set an example with respect to the changes that we have made. I hope the Minister can give us some kind of commitment that such honesty and transparency, and regular updates, will be features of rebuilding this place. It will be very difficult; there will be many changes and probably cost-overruns, which is not surprising when you are working in a building like this, but let us at least know what is going on, in good time.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, I will be brief: the situation is worse than that described by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, if I can deepen his gloom. With HS2 and Crossrail, with which I was deeply familiar, by the time we came to publishing legislation we knew what the project was going to be. The project was defined; indeed, at the second stage of the HS2 Bill, which had just been agreed by the House of Commons, we knew within a few metres what the line and specification of works would be and so on. We have a defined project—it has just proved much more expensive and problematic to deliver than was conceived. The problem we face with the parliamentary rebuilding work is that we are setting up the sponsor body before we have a defined project.

There is a very good reason for that: we are literally starting from scratch and trying to decide the best way forward, and this probably is the best way forward. I have views on whether we should consider other options —we will come to that in a while—but we are currently at such an early stage of the work that we do not have the faintest clue what the costs will be. We do not have a project description; all we have is a few back-of-the-envelope, broad objectives, a very old costing on the basis of them and a few timelines plucked out of a hat. We also have the potential for massive controversy, which we can already see, about the nature of the decant, where we will go, what we will come back to and so on.

What the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, is proposing—that there should be best estimates for the timeline at the point at which the strategy is published—is perfectly sensible. There is also another reason why it should be done: it is my view that we are at such an early stage of planning, and the issues involved in the restoration and renewal of the Houses of Parliament are so great—because of the wider context referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, of big questions about the future of our parliamentary democracy—that I do not believe it is sensible to be closing down significant options at this stage; we are at such a preliminary stage in devising what the project will be. I am sorry to keep making this point but, since we will be returning to it in September, I am very anxious to keep it open: we should include the question of where the decant should be—there is very good reason to propose that it should not be somewhere immediately adjacent to the Houses of Parliament but could be in another part of the United Kingdom—and where the ultimate Parliament will be.

I agree with what the noble and learned Lord said. On the basis of my knowledge of big infrastructure projects and the stage we are at currently, it is very plausible that there could be three or four years’ delay before the decant starts. If the decant does not start until 2028, we will not move back here until between 2038 and 2040. To put some context on this, phase 2 of HS2 is currently scheduled to open in 2032. So, relatively speaking, it is going to take much longer to complete the restoration and renewal of Parliament than to build a 330-mile high-speed line, which is the biggest single infrastructure project in the world outside the Republic of China. Keeping a few options open at this stage is sensible in terms of planning. We should take advantage of the situation at the moment to think a bit more broadly about where we intend our parliamentary democracy to go over the 100 to 150 years ahead, and in doing so demonstrate the same vision that our Victorian forebears showed when they designed these Houses of Parliament to be the centre of an imperial legislature in the 1840s.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I feel that we have already segued into later debates. With due respect to my noble friend, I have to challenge his “back of an envelope” assessment. If he comes to my office, I will show him a huge amount of paperwork—documents that some of us have worked on over the last couple of years. If it was all on the back of an envelope, the envelope would be enormous.

We have gone a little wider than the amendment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, but I do think he is on to something. I understand that the question of the Ministry of Defence and the car park has now been resolved—but, I suspect, given the extra cost that would have been involved had it not been resolved, that public attention might well have encouraged them to move a little more quickly than they did. Again, we come back to what we are really talking about here: engagement, information and openness. The more that we can say what is intended to be done, the greater will be our ability to monitor the project.

In most large projects that I know, there is some slippage. Noble Lords are right that this project is at a relatively early stage, but quite a lot of planning has gone into it already. We do not need to say, “This will happen on 3 January 2022”, but it should be possible to have an idea of a timeframe for when certain things are likely to happen. That would help with public engagement and the engagement of colleagues around the House.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, for his amendment on the important issue of decant and its timeline. His amendment would require the sponsor body to provide its best estimate for the timeline of the Palace restoration works when consulting parliamentarians.

As noble Lords are aware, the full decant, restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster is scheduled to take place from the mid-2020s until the mid-2030s. I absolutely recognise that noble Lords are seeking further clarity on those dates. It is very much my hope, and that of the Government, that the work will be completed expeditiously and that we will move back to the Palace as swiftly as possible afterwards. Under the Bill, the delivery authority is required to formulate proposals for the works, including the timing of those works. This will form the outline business case, the OBC, which Parliament will need to approve before the substantive works commence. If for any reason the timings change significantly, the sponsor body will need to come back to Parliament for further approval. It is at that stage—the presentation of the OBC—that the timing of the works will become clear.

The Government have of course thought about requiring the sponsor body to provide its assessment of timings at the consultation stage, even if it is just a best estimate. The trouble with that is that the sponsor body at that stage will still be in the process of formulating the OBC, and any forecast timings will be at best a very rough estimation. I argue that this would risk setting expectations prematurely. Those expectations would then inevitably need to be revised when the sponsor body placed its proposals before Parliament prior to approval.

I shall give a simple illustration of that. We have had a wide-ranging and interesting debate on what noble Lords would like to see from a restored Palace. Those aspects of the plan are not the sort of thing that can be nailed down a priori. They are therefore bound to affect the length of time that the works will take.

Furthermore, one essential first step for R&R is the works to Richmond House, which the noble and learned Lord mentioned, to enable the decant from the other place. The timing of those works will inevitably affect the start time for R&R—so clearly we would not want to decant before those works had happened. The noble and learned Lord asked where we were in the planning process for Richmond House. All I can say is that the Northern Estate programme is currently consulting the public on its plans for Richmond House. We expect it to make a formal planning application to Westminster City Council by this autumn.

Regarding the MoD car park, as I made clear at Second Reading, my understanding is that good progress has been made between the Ministry of Defence and Parliament on the use of the car park. I believe that no serious material issues are still outstanding on that front.

To sum up, while I have considerable sympathy with the noble and learned Lord’s desire for clarity on the R&R timescale at the point when parliamentarians are being asked for their views on it, I believe that this is an unrealistic aim, for the reasons I have given. I am sure that the sponsor body will be as helpful as it can to parliamentarians at the consultation stage, but, with the best will in the world, the precise timescale of the works at that juncture will be subject to too many “what ifs”.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat 10:00 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I am very grateful to those who have taken part in this debate and indicated some support for the general approach I was taking. I am very grateful to the Minister for his response and thank him specifically for his update on the planning in relation to Richmond House—although I think it was very clear, or at least implicit in what he said, that there are still possibilities of that taking time. There is the possibility of a challenge if Westminster City Council were to give positive approval. So it is quite clear that there could be some factors that could delay decant.

As the debate unfolded, it seemed that there was some support for having some kind of reporting back to Parliament. I note and understand the point the noble Earl made that if we do it at the consultation stage it could raise expectations, and that the appropriate point would be after the outline business case had been made. He said that if there was a material change, the sponsor body might have to come back. I will reflect and consult with others on whether we want to put something in the Bill on that, rather than just leaving it open-ended about what would be a material change. We may want to do something that would require the sponsor body to continue to update us after the initial approval of the outline business case.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. To some extent, this debate is unreal, because there are already dates out there. We have been debating the dates of 2025 for the decant and 2035 for moving in. At every stage of the preparation of the plans, the questions that will be asked are, “Are you sticking to the 2025 date or not? If not, when is it moving to and how long will it be before you get back?”. The idea that the sponsor body—with its chair and chief exec—will be able to avoid publishing and giving its view on this issue is entirely unreal.

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

The noble Lord makes an important point. When I was on the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, our expectation was that we might decant in 2023, but it is now clear that that is no longer the case. Dates have been put out there. We need to maintain public confidence in the project, in terms of not only time but cost. Having been one of the first Members of the Scottish Parliament, I recall well what that can mean in relation to building a parliamentary building. To maintain public confidence, it is important that explanations are given. Often things are no fault of anyone—they are just circumstance —but often it helps to explain what the circumstances are. Therefore, it might merit considering whether we can come back to this at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 21 withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed.

Clause 6: Relationship between the Sponsor Body and Parliament

Amendment 21A not moved.