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Amendment 29

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Baroness Quin:

Moved by Baroness Quin

29: Schedule 1, page 19, line 11, at end insert—“( ) The Sponsor Body must prepare and publish a report giving an assessment of relocating the Houses of Parliament for the duration of the Parliamentary building works to a location outside of London.( ) The Sponsor Body must make arrangements for the report to be laid before and debated by both Houses of Parliament.”

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour

My Lords, Amendment 29 is in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Adonis and the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. I did not speak at Second Reading as, owing to previous commitments, I knew that I could not be present for the opening and closing of the debate, but I attended for a good part of it and followed it closely. As we know, one of the frustrations of our work is that we often do not know business long enough in advance to prevent such diary clashes. I was struck by some of the speeches at Second Reading: in particular those of my noble friend Lady Andrews and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, who both showed me that the building I had worked in for so many years as a Member of either this House or the other House was in such a dramatic state of dereliction and decay and just how huge the task facing us is.

A colleague and friend, looking at this amendment, said, “Is this the Geordie amendment, then?”. As much as I would like Parliament to be based in Newcastle or Gateshead, the amendment is much less ambitious. It asks simply that the sponsor body prepare and publish a report giving an assessment of relocating the Houses of Parliament for the duration of the parliamentary building works to a location outside London; and that the sponsor body must make arrangements for the report to be laid before and debated by both Houses of Parliament. That seems a very reasonable amendment, particularly as the study would be prepared concurrently with all the other things being done and therefore not involve delaying the timetable further. Although the idea of relocating Parliament outside London in the way proposed has been mentioned before and some have talked about the cost of doing so, as far as I am aware, no official work on such an option or the cost of doing so has yet been be produced.

At Second Reading, my noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Foulkes spoke of the desirability of locating Parliament outside London; by doing so, they spoke effectively against overcentralisation and overconcentration in our capital city. Both my noble friends and I know that the idea of relocating Parliament, either temporarily or permanently, has been around for a long time. Indeed, in her Second Reading speech, my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon reminded us of ideas from the 1960s, such as for a new, permanent capital called “Elizabetha” to be built on land between Harrogate and York. Even as a schoolgirl, I remember that idea giving rise to a lot of excited comments in local newspapers in and around Tyneside as a result.

For the avoidance of doubt, I should make it clear that I am emphatically not in favour of building on that attractive landscape and I am not proposing the Elizabetha solution. Even the name “Elizabetha” for such a new capital reminded me of that hugely entertaining book by Bill Bryson, Down Under; noble Lords may know of it. Bryson describes the debates that went on in Australia over the construction of the new capital, Canberra, as the seat of Parliament and the occasionally ludicrous names that were suggested, such as “Sydmeladperbrisho”—I think that noble Lords get the point—or, even more weirdly, “Thirstyville”; I can just imagine the comments in the press about MPs and Peers moving there.

I also looked at some of the Hansard entries from the time when the Elizabetha idea was put forward. Some Members in the other place spoke in favour of Parliament being established north of the Trent—it seemed like a good idea to me—midway between Thameside and Clydeside. However, some of those debates make for depressing reading. For example, that oft-controversial MP, Willie Hamilton, bemoaned that our building here was not built and not equipped for a 20th-century role. Here we are, saying rather similar things, except that we are now in the 21st century. Through my amendment, I hope simply to look at out-of-London options; for example, looking at either using existing buildings outside London or at what new facilities that might be suitable could be found outside the capital.

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

I am interested in what the noble Baroness says. Does she accept that, if you take the United Kingdom from the top of Shetland to Land’s End, the midpoint falls round about Dundee? Would she favour that option? It would make my journey shorter.

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour

I would, yes, partly because there is a direct train from my local station—Alnmouth—to Dundee.

There is much that I could say but the hour is late so I will truncate my comments. I noticed that, in response to my noble friend Lord Adonis at Second Reading, my noble friend Lady Smith talked of concerns about the costs of relocation. She also mentioned the European Parliament’s different centres of activity. As a former MEP, I am conscious of the European Parliament’s travelling circus—although, in its defence, the Parliament is sadly unable to take or address that decision because, by treaty, the member states must agree unanimously on a seat for the Parliament; they have so far failed to do so, which is both costly and wearing for all those involved. However, I am not suggesting anything like the European Parliament arrangements in my amendment.

In response to my noble friend at Second Reading, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that,

“in October 2012, the House of Commons Commission, and at that time the House Committee in the Lords … ruled out the option of constructing a brand new building away from Westminster and no further analysis will be undertaken of this option”.—[Official Report, 8/7/19; col. 1682.]

Those remarks are not relevant to this amendment, however, because nothing in this amendment calls for either a brand-new building or permanent relocation. I note that the noble Earl also said, in response to a question from my noble friend Lord Foulkes, that he would make some information available to my noble friend and other noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading, about past debates and decisions on this subject. Obviously, since I did not speak at Second Reading, I have not received that information, but I would be grateful to see it before Report.

Finally, I know that my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon is very supportive of the idea that all regions and nations should benefit from the restoration and renewal project. Indeed, there has been a general welcome across the House for that approach. However, as noble Lords will appreciate, that is somewhat separate and does not in any way negate the issue raised in my amendment.

In conclusion, this is a modest amendment asking merely that the sponsor body prepare a report about the costings of a temporary relocation outside London and report back to Parliament. Given that that body has to come back to Parliament in any case with a number of other estimates, it would be perfectly feasible for us to ask the sponsor body to undertake this study. What I and my co-signatories are asking for is reasonable and feasible, and I hope—even at this late hour—that the amendment finds some favour this evening.

Photo of Lord Haselhurst Lord Haselhurst Conservative 10:45 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I am afraid I do not agree that this is a modest amendment. It is a totally irrelevant amendment that is in no way helpful to making progress on the basic question of the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.

We go back a long way in examining what we should do about the state of this building. At various stages, reports have been received from consultants saying how much needed to be done; the commission has retreated from that in view of its cost; two more years on, another consultant’s report has been sought; and on and on as things have clearly got worse. Finally, by the narrowest of margins we came to the point where we decided that, no, we were not going to relocate; we were going to decant and get this iconic building restored to meet the needs of Parliament in the 21st century. Now we are starting once again trying to look backwards. What is the point of getting another estimate for relocating somewhere else, unless it is to compare the cost of that with the cost of what is now proposed for the restoration of this building?

Secondly, I believe that the British public has been persuaded—I pay tribute to those involved in putting the case—that this is necessary expenditure. They have been willing to contemplate the likely sum of money involved in achieving the end of restoring this building. In their view it is an iconic building—and now we have the idea of going somewhere else. What would we do with this building except make sure it had to be restored? We would not allow it to crumble, so this is extra expense on top.

There is also the fact that we are a Government in Parliament—so how can we continue in the way we have traditionally done if there is to be a huge geographical separation between the Government and the legislature?

In my view, the whole thing is madness. Having spent far too long worrying and arguing about what we should do, and having so far achieved the assent of the public to this enterprise, I regard it as an absolute farce that we should now start wasting even trivial sums of money looking again at the costings of alternatives. We have delayed far too long. We are now resolved to move forward. It is quite right that we should think of all the considerations involved in that, but to start looking back at this stage is futile, absurd and irrelevant, and should be abandoned immediately.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend in opposing the amendment. This is not an imposition we should place on the sponsor body.

I start with a technical point, because the amendment is deficient in that it says:

“The Sponsor Body must make arrangements for the report to be laid before and debated by both Houses of Parliament”.

We can impose a duty on the sponsor body to lay a report before Parliament; we cannot give power to the sponsor body to make arrangements for debates in either House of Parliament.

I would link the substance of the amendment to our earlier discussions and relate it to a point that has not been raised and which leads me to be somewhat surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is supporting this amendment. If we have a temporary Parliament elsewhere, it is not only the cost of relocating Parliament, the cost of relocating parliamentary staff, the cost of relocating government so that it is near Parliament and the cost imposed on all those bodies that are in London because they want to make representations to government and Parliament and who would have to move, but, in relation to what we were discussing earlier, Parliament needs to be accessible to the people. They need to be able to come here. We need their visits and they have to be able to come and watch what is going on. They can do that because London is at the centre of the transport infrastructure—it is easier to get to London.

Where else in the country will you be able to create a transport infrastructure in the time available for this temporary relocation so that schoolchildren and any member of the public who wants to come and observe Parliament can do so? It will be extraordinarily difficult—indeed, impossible. London has the convenience that enables us to fulfil that particular function. The proposal is not feasible and it is not a burden that we should impose on the sponsor body, because it has far too much to do already.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, I am surprised that, as a resident of Hull, the noble Lord thinks that London should be the centre of everyone’s attention in transport infrastructure.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

I did not say it should be; I said it is. That is the reality.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

That does not need to be the case. Depending where you choose to locate your temporary Parliament, it could have good transport connections. I understand that we are talking about 2028 or 2029 for the move. That will be after the first phase of HS2 is opened in 2025, which will make a dramatic change to the economic geography of this country. I am trying to persuade my good friend the Mayor of West Midlands, Andy Street, to rename Birmingham International as “UK Central” because that is where it will be in terms of accessibility. It will be more readily accessible to most parts of England in terms of proximity than will London when HS2 is opened. The noble Lord has set out an old way of thinking which does not take account of the other changes that are taking place.

To bring Parliament closer to a large part of the country in the interim period is desirable, as we are going to have to move out anyway. The noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, asked what is going to happen afterwards. The plan is that we would move back here. However, there will have to be an interim which will incur huge expense. The doing up of the QEII Centre and Richmond House and all the associated facilities will involve massive expense.

The suggestion in the amendment is well worth looking at. It would not involve any delay. I know the noble Lord is anxious that the sins of the past—ceaseless delay—are put right, but there will be no delay. It would involve the presentation of an assessment of the option alongside the presentation of the plans. Clause 7(2) provides that no work can take place until specific parliamentary approval is given. It states:

“No Palace restoration works, other than preparatory works, may be carried out before the Sponsor Body has obtained Parliamentary approval for … Delivery Authority proposals in respect of those works, and … funding, up to an amount specified in the approval resolution, in respect of phase two works”— and it sets out elaborate provisions thereafter.

So there would be no further delay. Other work would be carried out alongside it; it keeps an option open; and it takes account of changing circumstances, including the dramatic improvement of the transport infrastructure which will make other locations accessible. It also meets the wider concerns which most of us share—the reason this issue is so live—that Parliament is too remote from the people, and not having all of the centres of government and parliamentary authority located in London would be one way of distributing power more evenly across the United Kingdom.

My own view is that this is a good idea whose time may not quite have come—it certainly has not come at 10.55 pm, a few days before Parliament adjourns for the Summer Recess, with 10 Members present in the House. But its time may be coming and, in the context of wider debates that will take place on constitutional reform in the light of Brexit—including what might well be a decisive move towards a federal United Kingdom in the not too distant future—may come soon. Therefore, making preparations to assess it now is sensible.

I am reasonably laid back about it because of the timeframe for the work. We will not, in any event, have the presentation of the full costed plan to which Parliament can give approval for two years, as we were told at the beginning of Second Reading by the Leader—but I suspect it could be longer than that before we even get the plan. We may not move to decanting into the temporary facilities for the best part of a decade, and it could be the best part of two decades before the work is finished. I suspect, therefore, that what is needed at the moment—as I am anxious to do and as my noble friend did in her very able speech—is to plant the idea in the public mind. In particular, we should encourage political leaders outside London—who are already starting to be interested in this idea—to begin to develop it further. The context of this may change dramatically in the years ahead.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

As noble Lords have said, the reason for the delay is the complexity of having to adapt the estate here, which just emphasises the difficulty of creating or finding space elsewhere where we can do what we are seeking to do here.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

In many ways, it is actually much easier to do it if you are building on a greenfield site next to a major transport interchange such as Birmingham International, where the National Exhibition Centre is. That would be much simpler than the hugely complex, difficult and historic estate here. I wrestled with exactly the same argument on the question of whether we should upgrade a 200-year-old railway line to provide additional rail capacity between our major cities or build a completely new line. Often, building completely new is a good thing.

This is a debate that will run for the next few years, and we have done a good job of planting the idea. I strongly encourage my friends and colleagues who are mayors of the major cities and city regions in the Midlands and the north to advance this idea further. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, but I suspect that he has not heard the last of this, by any means. Whatever decision is taken in this Bill, we will return to this, because it is a fundamental issue about the governance of the United Kingdom, alongside what will be a £5 billion, £10 billion or £15 billion investment—who knows what the final figure will be?—in the future of Parliament. I do not think that we will be able to keep these big strategic issues off the agenda.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on this amendment because it has started a debate which I have supported for a long time. Maybe she should have gone one step further. We are talking about a report on the temporary relocation of Parliament outside London, but if you are going to build a new temporary Parliament, be it in Richmond House or outside London, there is a cost attached, and I suspect that the cost would be not very different either way. The work in Richmond House will not be prefab but extremely glossy, expensive and difficult, as it so often is with building in a capital city. And we can forget for the moment what will be done in the QEII—although I suspect it will be lovely. There is actually an argument for building something somewhere outside London, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said, and staying there.

This place has to be refurbished because, as many noble Lords have said, it is in a bad state, but it could be used for educational purposes and conferences. That is what they do in Hungary: they built a parliament in Budapest—almost mirrored on this place—and the architect got a second prize for doing it. Hungary now has a parliament with a single chamber and the other half, which I have been to, is used as a conference and education centre. It is a lovely building and it works really well. If we really wanted to maintain a link with this place, we could still use it for the State Opening of Parliament and then go and do our work somewhere else. There are a lot of options.

All the amendment does is ask for this project to be costed properly so that we can have a debate about it. My noble friend said it is not going to delay things. I hope that we can do this and then debate over the next few years whether we go somewhere permanently or temporarily, what the cost will be and what the benefits will be to the region. My noble friend and I do not always agree on HS2, but we certainly agree on transport and the need to have somewhere with good transport in the middle which would work fine. I support the amendment.

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) 11:00 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I always have a sense of déjà vu when discussing this issue. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Adonis and Lady Quin for contacting me prior to the debate. My noble friend Lady Quin’s amendment is somewhat different from those we have seen before. It is not about relocating Parliament but about a temporary relocation while the works are being undertaken. I have listened carefully to what has been raised today, and I wonder whether we are almost having two separate discussions. There is a challenge with this project so that all nations and regions of the UK feel engaged with it. I might have made a slightly different argument in pushing for this.

We face three things as a country: economic inequality, democratic disengagement and a loss of confidence in the political system. They have been raised at different times when talking about this issue. However, I am not convinced that moving Parliament necessarily addresses them. Having said that, the proposal before us today is about the restoration and renewal of this building to provide a home for a 21st-century Parliament. My noble friend Lady Quin referred to the comments I made at Second Reading about the administrative capital and the plans to build it on the Yorkshire moors. Other countries have done that. That is a completely separate issue from what is facing us today, which is the restoration and renewal of this building. There is nothing that says that in future, if as a nation we want to take that decision, we could not do so, but we would have to accept that the cost would make the cost of restoration and renewal pale into insignificance because Parliament does not exist in a vacuum. It exists as part of a system involving government, civil society, business and the Civil Service. I have always taken the view that we need to keep those elements of governance of the country together and have those communications.

A huge challenge to this programme is to address the issue of benefiting the regions. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, in particular, has some interesting ideas and I hope the Government will pursue them and will be a little more positive than they have been to date on engaging young people and others throughout the country. However, issues of confidence in the political system cannot be addressed by this programme. The costs would be greater than if we have to do the work here. However, there is nothing to stop Parliament at any time looking at creating a new administrative capital if that is what it wishes to do, but I do not think this Bill is the right place to address that. If there had been new arguments that could have persuaded me otherwise, I would have been happy to take them on board, but I am still not persuaded that this programme is the right time to be looking at a different site, even temporarily.

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 Baroness, Lady Quin, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for their amendment, which brings us back to the vexed issue of decant. The amendment would require the sponsor body to prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a report giving an assessment of relocating the Houses of Parliament, for the duration of the parliamentary building works, to a location outside London.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster suggested that the Commons should decant to the Northern Estate, including Richmond House, and the Lords should decant to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. I can only underline the words of my noble friend Lord Haselhurst: those recommendations were based on substantial analysis of where Parliament could be relocated during R&R. This included a pre-feasibility study commissioned by Parliament in 2012. Just to clarify what I said at Second Reading, that study looked into the preliminary business case for R&R and considered whether Parliament should decant and, if so, whether it should be to a location outside Westminster, whether temporarily or permanently. It concluded that because the,

“geographical proximity of Parliament to Government is of significance … substantial additional costs would be incurred”.

On the back of the pre-feasibility study, the House authorities commissioned the independent options appraisal. This was scrutinised by the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, which considered the various options for R&R. In its report the committee noted that it had considered the proposal to temporarily relocate Parliament during R&R. It concluded, as was well summarised by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, that,

“the option of temporarily locating Parliament outside London during the works, while attractive in many ways, carries an unacceptable burden of cost and inconvenience, which would otherwise be avoided”.

It reached that decision as Parliament currently owns a number of buildings around the Palace of Westminster, such as the Northern Estate and Millbank House. These buildings provide both office space for Members and many committee and meeting rooms. If Parliament were to relocate during R&R, it would mean abandoning these buildings, thereby increasing the costs associated with decant.

I listened with care to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition. In its report, the Joint Committee brought our attention to the evidence of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who served as Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service for a decade. He described how he had,

“no doubt in saying that Parliament needs ready access to Ministers and vice versa. Departments also need ready access to Ministers and vice versa. It is an old-fashioned syllogism. The three need to be closely co-ordinated if Government is to work properly”.

I hope to convey that there has already been substantial work to assess whether the permanent or temporary location of Parliament should be outside London. On the back of that work, the matter was decided by Parliament in the Motions passed in 2018. Furthermore, contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I have concerns that the noble Baroness’s amendment, however well intentioned, might seriously delay progress on R&R. Significant work has already been undertaken to identify the decant locations and to formulate designs for the Northern Estate. If we were to decide to decant to somewhere else at this stage, we would need to start the process all over again.

I just do not think that we should go back and unpick the clear decision taken last year or the substantial work that has already been undertaken. To do so risks delaying this important, and urgent, project. Many of us would say that the work is already overdue. We absolutely must secure the Palace of Westminster—a grade I listed building, part of a UNESCO world heritage site and the home of UK democracy—for future generations. I am sure that I do not need to remind noble Lords of the problems that this building faces. Falling masonry, sewage leaks and the alarming number of fires caught just in time all demonstrate the pressing need to pass this Bill and get on with the job. We simply do not have time to delay.

So, for the reasons I have set out, I am afraid that the Government must express significant reservations about this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour

My Lords, I thank all Members who have taken part in this short debate. To describe it kindly, I would say there have been mixed reactions, with some thinking the amendment far from modest and quite over the top, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley feeling it did not go far enough. The issues raised will not go away. We need to think imaginatively about how we rebalance our country to tackle overcentralisation and overconcentration. I will reflect on what has been said but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 29 withdrawn.