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I should apologise to the House because my lack of surefootedness, if I might put it that way, has resulted in Amendment 6 coming back to the House this afternoon. As Members will recall, we discussed it in Committee and I inadvertently did not press it to the vote, so I had better make it clear from the beginning that I am doing so this afternoon. It is a very simple amendment that fulfils undertakings given over recent weeks and months. I pay tribute to Neil Gray, the Member of Parliament who has been working on this in the House of Commons and with the shadow sponsor body, of which he is a member.
The amendment is about the opportunities to secure economic and other benefits right across the UK. Placing it in the Bill will reassure people across the UK that they will not simply be contributors as taxpayers, but will see benefits in employment, supply and the kind of facilities we want for the future. I will not speak at length because we covered this in Committee, but we have seen it with the Elizabeth Tower. We know from other major infrastructure projects, at least one of which I support, that this can not only yield benefits but get people’s commitment and, if I might use the term, understanding of what is taking place at the same time. I hope this will be a consensual amendment and that we can agree it.
I make one final point. I hope that when the sponsor body comes forward with the options in relation to the extent of investment, it takes an ambitious view, and is up front about what we are going to expend in cash. I hope that we will not get into a position such as we did with HS2 or, for that matter, the Scottish Parliament. It is important to get this right from the beginning. The original estimates, which I will not even mention, were so wide of the mark that it is important that we put them to one side and are clear with the public over a very long period. I noticed that the announcements on education spending made over the weekend were rolled up over the years to double the actual amount that will be spent in the final year of that spending commitment, if it comes to fruition. My good friend Gordon Brown used the same trick when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it does not help, because the public eventually catch up with you.
My little plea to the shadow sponsor body is to be brave, come out with the real figures, make sure that people know that they are over the next two decades and not next week, and then let us go forward together on making this project work. I beg to move.
My Lords, we welcome Amendment 6 from my noble friend Lord Blunkett, and strongly support his aim to specify in the Bill that the economic and other benefits of the parliamentary building works are supported across the whole of the UK.
Businesses across the UK must benefit from the economic opportunities that large-scale, government-funded projects such as this bring. This must remain at the forefront of the sponsor body’s mind throughout the works. Contracts must be awarded to businesses across the UK, to foster and build greater connectivity between all corners of the country and the Palace of Westminster.
Despite being in London, this building represents and connects with every region, and we know that the key challenge with this project is to make all nations and regions of the UK feel engaged with it, so we support Amendment 6.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for retabling this amendment and reassure him that we continue to support it. As he said, we spoke to it in Committee, and I emphasised the Government’s support. It was very kind of him to take the blame on his shoulders, but it is only fair to say that we were all at fault for this failing to be approved in Committee.
As noble Lords are aware, the amendment places in the Bill a requirement on the sponsor body, in exercising its functions, to ensure that opportunities to secure economic or other benefits of the parliamentary building works are available in all areas of the United Kingdom. The Government have always sought to encourage the shadow sponsor body to give thought to how the delivery authority will engage with SMEs and businesses across the UK in their work to restore the Palace of Westminster. The noble Lord alluded to this already happening on other projects being carried out on the Parliamentary Estate, such as work on the restoration of the Elizabeth Tower.
In the Commons, an amendment to spread the economic benefits across the UK gained the support of the House. However, we had some concerns with its drafting regarding procurement law, which I set out in Committee. The Government therefore committed to support the drafting and tabling of this alternative amendment, which addresses those concerns. We consider that this amendment retains the spirit of that passed in the other place, while also adhering to public procurement law, so we are delighted to support it.
Amendment 6 agreed.
Clause 6: Relationship between the Sponsor Body and Parliament