Amendment 1

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:36 pm on 3rd September 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Earl Howe:

Moved by Earl Howe

1: Clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—“(i) to promote public understanding of the purposes of the Restoration and Renewal Programme.”

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

My Lords, I shall speak also Amendments 2, 3, 4 and 5. These amendments, taken together, are designed to address a number of concerns—raised at Second Reading and in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and others—on the twin themes of engagement with specific categories of individuals about the restoration and renewal programme and promoting an understanding of the purposes of the programme, in ways I will explain more fully.

First, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his constructive and collaborative approach in working with the Government to formulate the wording of the amendments now before us. The Leader of the House and I were sincerely impressed by the passion and sincerity with which he made his case, and he succeeded in persuading us that appropriate amendments to the Bill were warranted. I hope the House will agree that we have arrived at a good place in this respect.

The first amendment seeks to ensure that the sponsor body promotes public understanding of the purposes of the restoration and renewal programme. The Joint Committee that undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill detailed the importance of the public understanding the restoration and renewal programme. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, tabled an amendment in Committee that was quite similar to the one we are debating today, and he was supported by a number of other noble Lords in the arguments that he put forward.

As noble Lords may recall, I outlined in Committee why that amendment was not strictly required, given what the shadow sponsor body has set out it will do in promoting understanding of the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. For example, the restoration and renewal programme’s current purposes, as set out in its vision and strategic themes, includes the aim to:

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

Nevertheless, we have listened to this House and recognise the desire of noble Lords that this amendment be included in the Bill to place this specific duty on the sponsor body.

The second amendment in the group relates to staff and public engagement. This amendment would require the sponsor body, in formulating the strategic objectives of the parliamentary building works and making strategic decisions relating to it, to seek the views of those employed by Parliament and working for Members, as well as the public at large. Again, as noble Lords will recognise, I outlined in Committee the engagement the shadow sponsor body has already started to undertake with staff and will be undertaking with the public in the future. For example, the shadow sponsor body circulated a questionnaire to Members and their staff with the aim of understanding what they would like to see from restoration and renewal of the Palace. I understand that the shadow sponsor body will publish these findings in October. Furthermore, the body will soon be considering its public engagement strategy.

Since the conclusion of Committee, we have had the chance to consider this matter further. We recognise the will of this House that provision should be made in the Bill to ensure that the sponsor body engages with staff and the public in undertaking its work. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, again for his collaborative approach in formulating this amendment. I am sure that he, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, who made a similar suggestion in Committee, and members of the pre-legislative Joint Committee will welcome this amendment. It will ultimately be for the sponsor body, once established, to determine how it fulfils this duty, but I am sure all noble Lords will join me in encouraging the sponsor body to build on the engagement the shadow sponsor body has undertaken to date.

Amendment 5 seeks to ensure that the sponsor body will carry out the works with a view to facilitating improved public engagement with Parliament and participation in the democratic process, especially by means of remote access to Parliament’s educational and outreach facilities and programmes. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, once again for agreeing to work with the Government on this amendment. The pre-legislative Joint Committee that examined the draft Bill, of which the noble Lord was a member, argued that the term “renewal” requires an outward-facing approach to the UK Parliament’s role at the centre of our democracy. In Committee, I outlined that the Government agree that the outputs as part of restoration and renewal should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate any future reforms which could facilitate opportunities for outreach and engagement. I was pleased to report that the shadow sponsor body had already outlined, as part of its strategic vision and themes, the aim to,

“reconnect people from across the UK with their Parliament through improved education and visitor facilities, physical and digital access”.

I also outlined in Committee the excellent work already done in this area through various parliamentary engagement and outreach programmes across the UK. 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. The quality of this engagement is reflected in the feedback from 94% of participants, who rated it “good” or “excellent”. Furthermore, the education service also welcomed 70,226 school visitors in the year to mid-April 2018. The Lord Speaker’s Peers in Schools programme has seen more than 2,000 Peers in Schools visits since the programme began in 2007. The education service also trained more than 2,900 teachers to help them engage their students in learning about Parliament and democracy. Nevertheless, we have listened again to the will of this House that an amendment relating specifically to remote connectivity and outreach programmes should be included in the Bill. In considering this matter, I encourage the sponsor body to work with Parliament’s education and outreach team in order to build on the excellent work it is undertaking.

The other two amendments, Amendments 3 and 4 in the name of my noble friend, are minor and technical; they merely ensure consistent references to the parliamentary building works in Clause 2(4)(b) and 2(4)(g). The Government have sought to ensure that the will of the House is facilitated when it is clear that a particular course of action is preferred. These amendments are a clear example of our determination to see that this is done. Each of the amendments in this group is designed to ensure that the necessary engagement work is undertaken and borne in mind by the sponsor body.

With renewed thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for enabling us to achieve the express will of the House on these important issues, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 3:45 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, understandably, over the summer and this afternoon the minds and hearts of parliamentarians have been somewhere other than on debating the restoration and renewal Bill. However, I congratulate the noble Earl on his new appointment and role, and I want to put it on the record that, if we were able to conduct wider business in the way that I have experienced negotiations with the noble Earl, we might get a lot further a lot faster, and some of the divisions that are bedevilling our country might be settled more easily.

I appreciate that, although restoration and renewal will cost the nation billions of pounds and the Bill might be very controversial, it does not compare with the situation that we are in in respect of our relationship with Europe and all that goes with it. However, I think that, in time, people will look back and be grateful to this House for the work that it did at Second Reading, in Committee and, now, on Report in relation to the measures that we are taking. They will appreciate the importance of getting agreement on restoration and renewal, speeding the Bill through and ensuring that time is not lost in getting on with the works.

I want to reciprocate by saying that it has been a great pleasure to do business with the noble Earl and his team. The Bill team, Cabinet Office officials and Members and officials in this House have been extraordinarily helpful, but none if it would have been possible without the wider support of Members of this House from all the political party groups. I thank and pay tribute to them for their voices not only in Committee but behind the scenes. We have made genuine progress, which is why I withdrew the amendments that I had tabled and agreed to put my name to those spoken to so eloquently this afternoon by the noble Earl. It is really important to understand that this House is not an internal process but the actual beating heart of our democracy. The outward-facing nature of what we are doing, as the noble Earl has described, will, in the years ahead, become critical to people’s understanding, first, of what is happening and why and, secondly, that this is a crucial part of our democratic process. The engagement and participation in democracy and the processes and programmes of this House and the other place will stand the test of time.

The noble Earl said that I had been passionate on this subject. It is quite hard to be passionate about the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, but he is right. Underpinning my desire to bring about these changes was the belief that, when our politics are more settled and people come to see the investment that we are making in the Palace and the subsequent and consequent investment in the world heritage site more broadly, they will understand that giving the sponsor body a clear remit was crucial. I just want to put it on the record that when the Bill was considered by the Joint Scrutiny Committee, it was made clear to us that the sponsor body, and subsequently the delivery authority that it will oversee, will take their directions and objectives from Parliament. The one way in which Parliament can now ensure that the sponsor body is clear about what is required and can work in a flexible and positive fashion is to ensure that the Bill is clear. With the help of the Government, and in particular the noble Earl, I think that we have been able to make it a lot clearer and the sponsor body therefore has a much more positive remit.

Extremely good work by both parliamentarians and officials is going on behind the scenes and I suggest that the sponsor body should connect with what is already taking place in relation to, for instance, the Select Committee engagement team. Two small research projects have recently been publicised, involving small amounts of money, on the work of Select Committees. On the back of the Senior Deputy Speaker’s work on Select Committees of this House, we have discussed the importance of getting that right for the future. I would simply ask the sponsor body to connect with what has already taken place and perhaps—as part of the substantial investment that will go into the physical infrastructure—put a relatively small amount of money into such projects, which can stand the test of time and will be valuable for the future.

I declare my interest, as mentioned in the register, in relation to the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the public understanding of and engagement with politics. I suggest that the work that it has been doing behind the scenes—it made a presentation to the scrutiny committee—should be taken up. The work of the centre, and that of others in the academic field, could be extremely helpful and with relatively small amounts of money—although much more substantial than, say, £5,000 for a research project—could yield fruit. If we get it right now, we will get it right down the line. Although today is probably not the day for me to say much more due to what is going on outside and in the other House, which will be of critical importance to the future of our nation, I think people will be grateful to the Government for their co-operation, and to parliamentarians of all persuasions, for the way in which they have set about ensuring that the Palace of Westminster will continue to be the beating heart of our democracy in the generations to come.

Photo of Lord Haselhurst Lord Haselhurst Conservative

My Lords, I fully support the amendments on the Marshalled List, particularly Amendment 5 which refers to “facilitating improved public engagement”. I wonder whether there is still a possibility that that engagement could be other than remote. A question was asked in the other place about the possibility of access to the Elizabeth Tower for visitors when those works are completed, in a way that is independent of decant works which by then may have started or be about to start.

This leads me also to inquire whether we have closed our minds or shut the door on access to Westminster Hall. I know that there are complications but, if there were a means of allowing people to come through Westminster Hall on a particular line of route and then exit in the usual way, that would be a more meaningful way for people to engage. Those of us who have taken parties round the Palace on many occasions are impressed by the magic felt by many people, the emotional contact they may experience by being here. To lose that entirely would be a shame. Such access may be impossible in view of the works that have to take place in the Palace, but I hope that we will look at the possibility.

I am minded of what is available in the visitors’ centre on Capitol Hill in Washington where tableaux tell the story of Parliament through the ages. There is also the possibility of viewing a film. Perhaps a passage through Westminster Hall could be allowed and the Grand Committee Room—or the Westminster Hall chamber as it has become known—might also be a place where a film could show the work of Parliament and what it is all about. I hope we have not told ourselves that it cannot be done. It would be encouraging to know that this possibility is at least being investigated so that, by the time we have to decant from the building, there might still be an opportunity for something more than remote access for members of the public.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Howe for the amendments and place on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for all the work he has done on securing these amendments. They are extremely important—in particular, as my noble friend Lord Haselhurst would add, Amendment 5.

This might be the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, but we and the sponsor body need to look at it as the Parliament restoration and renewal Bill. It is not simply a case of bricks and mortar; it is about the space and how it is employed for the future. Picking up on what my noble friend said, it needs to be adaptable space. That is the point that needs to be put over to the sponsor body: not only should we use the space in the way indicated by my noble friend but there are going to be changes that we cannot anticipate in the way that we might want to use it. This place was designed originally to accommodate meetings in committee rooms dealing with private Bills. That did not take into account how Parliament would evolve, particularly as a public body. We cannot anticipate all the needs in future, so adaptability is going to be a clear theme.

I reiterate the point that the space can be used to connect with people outside. That is a crucial point that has already been stressed. We need not only to educate but to be able to engage. That would play to the strengths of this House in particular, but the institution of Parliament as a whole needs to be able to connect with people outside in different ways, including in ways that, as I say, we might not able to anticipate at the moment—so we need to have that space available but not rigid.

So we need to be outward-looking and adaptable. I reiterate my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for all the work he has done on this. I was delighted with the agreement that was reached with the Government, so I very much support the amendments before us.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will add my thanks to all those who have worked during August to come up with a solution that meets not just the needs of those moving the amendments but the sentiments that were expressed during the debate. As a member of the shadow sponsor body, I think that this gives some clarity about the wishes of the House and the responsibilities of the sponsor body when it gets its substantive form.

Right from the beginning, outreach and education have been an absolute priority for the sponsor body. I assure the noble Earl that we have had a lot of discussions with the education and outreach department already, and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that flexibility is one of the key things that we are thinking about in design. Obviously not every room in the Palace can be entirely flexible—there are too many constraints, particularly of heritage, for that—but one of our overall objectives will be to end up with a much more flexible space because, as the noble Lord said, we simply cannot predict where we are going to be in future.

The shadow sponsor body has always felt, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has previously so passionately described, that the renewal of Parliament is not just about the building—that is extremely important to us. When we think about overall renewal, some of the issues are matters of operation—about how we do things—some are procedural and some are cultural. The Houses of Parliament are extremely conservative organisations that are quite resistant to change, so we have to accept that there is also cultural thinking.

A lot of these matters need attention from Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, was right to talk about the need for close working between the shadow sponsor body—the sponsor body, going forward—and the rest of Parliament, and how we do these things together. It is certainly not for the sponsor body to start telling Parliament what its procedures should look like and so on—so there is very much a need for close working on that.

My final point is that it has become clear to me, having chaired a number of sessions—particularly on the question of accessibility, but the point is wider—that there is an awful lot that we could do now. We do not have to wait for the physical restoration of this building. I urge the House to find ways of exploring some of the things that could be done right now to make the building more accessible—and I mean accessible in its full sense in terms of the language that we use and the way that people engage with this place—while we wait for more tangible physical accessibility improvements further down the road.

We need to think about how Parliament creates the space to think about those things when there is so much else going on. If Parliament is to come through what is a particularly torrid time at the moment, we really must give some attention to these matters.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Conservative 4:00 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, I too support these amendments. Seeing the reference to “remote access” in one of them, I thought it not inappropriate to draw the House’s attention to the tremendous changes there have been in recent years. I first became a Member of the House of Commons 45 years ago. Since then it has changed immensely, largely because of the electronic advances that there have been. The amount of contact with constituents that Members of Parliament now have through emails and so on is one thing. You can also watch Parliament any time you want on the parliamentary television channel. This started with your Lordships’ House, and broadcasting from the Commons followed. There have been tremendous advances and there is no doubt at all in my mind that these have not stopped but will go on in ways that we cannot envisage—any more than we could have envisaged 45 years ago that things would be as far advanced as they are now. So we are not just starting this process; we are hugely advanced along it. It will speed up, in all probability, and of course the sponsor body must take account of it as it goes about its work on this building.

Photo of Baroness Wheeler Baroness Wheeler Opposition Senior Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords)

My Lords, we welcome the Government’s amendments in this group, and their focus on public engagement and awareness. Amendment 1 creates a duty on the sponsor body to promote public understanding of restoration and renewal, while Amendment 2 introduces a need for the sponsor body to ensure the works facilitate engagement and a participatory democracy. Amendment 5 ensures that the sponsor body carries out its duties with the views of Members, staff and the public at the front of its mind. We also welcome Amendments 3 and 4, which strengthen the reference to the parliamentary building works in regard to ensuring the safety and security of staff and the public, as well as to educational facilities.

At the start of the Bill’s passage, one of the main areas on which we sought government reassurance was engagement with the public, as well as with staff and Members in both Chambers. The Joint Committee recommended that the sponsor body should,

“promote public engagement and public understanding of Parliament”, and we are pleased that the Government now fully accept this. Engagement must be at the heart of the programme of restoration and renewal, as this Palace, as well as the democratic processes and structures it represents, can often feel very distant to many people across the country. It is vital that there is a strong relationship between the sponsor body and the public, so that they have confidence in the programme throughout the process. These amendments help to alleviate our concerns and ensure that restoration and renewal becomes about far more than the necessary bricks and mortar, rewiring and replacement, and sewerage and stairways. They also allow us to change the way Parliament looks and feels, both inside and out.

Like other noble Lords, we read with great interest the results of the 2019 Members survey on R&R, confirming the themes and issues raised during the passage of this Bill in both Houses on accessibility, remote and digital integration, and safety, security and protection. The first survey showed just how vital regular communication, consultation and engagement are now and will be as the programme progresses to its successful completion. In particular, this is a working building for more than 8,000 members of staff, and the omissions in the original Bill on the importance of seeking their views about the works have now been rectified. Amendment 5 is a welcome step forward in helping improve their working conditions throughout restoration and renewal, and this must be an aim for the sponsor body.

In closing, I of course pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Blunkett for his tireless work on these issues throughout the Bill’s passage, and to the Government for their willingness to discuss and address our concerns and arrive at the good place to which the Minister referred.

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, for his very kind remarks and the constructive suggestions he has made. I express once again my appreciation to him for working with us as he has done and for the support he has demonstrated for these amendments. I am grateful, too, to other noble Lords who have endorsed the approach that we and the noble Lord have taken. It has been important throughout the Bill’s passage that we should listen to all Members and, where possible, seek to work with them towards an agreed position. I hope and believe it is clear that we have done exactly that. I thank other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate: my noble friends Lord Norton, Lord Cope and Lord Haselhurst, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott and Lady Wheeler.

My noble friend Lord Haselhurst asked two questions that go back to the issue, which I know has been considered by both Houses, of whether it would be possible to retain a foothold, so to speak, during the R&R programme in the Houses of Parliament regarding Westminster Hall and the Elizabeth Tower. I can tell him that these matters were partly covered at earlier stages of our debates, but it was agreed by both Houses in early 2018 that the Bill should allow for a full and timely decant of the Palace without retaining a foothold. Analysis by the programme in 2017 found that continued use by Members and/or the public of Westminster Hall or the area surrounding it would be highly disruptive and costly for no additional quantifiable benefit. The costs would be connected to maintaining a secure perimeter in close proximity to construction works and the additional cost to construction from managing a complex and partially occupied site. Having said that, access to the Elizabeth Tower could be a different matter. In fact, it is a matter for the sponsor body and Parliament to decide in due course. Members of the other place and noble Lords will be free to offer their view to the sponsor body on this issue as part of its consultation strategy.

As I said, these amendments build on the current work the shadow sponsor body is undertaking in these areas, in my judgment very capably. What matters now is the future. Like all noble Lords, I look forward to seeing how the sponsor body builds on this work and fulfils the specific obligations the amendments set out.

Amendment 1 agreed.