Amendment 7

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Baroness Wheeler:

Moved by Baroness Wheeler

7: Clause 6, page 5, line 11, at end insert—“( ) recommendations from the Sponsor Body for the future maintenance of the Palace of Westminster over the longer term after completion of the works;”

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

My Lords, this is an important amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith. It aims for us to learn the lessons of the past and ensure that we have the necessary long-term plans and steps in place after the new building has been completed and handed back to Parliament to facilitate its ongoing and future maintenance and improvement.

Amendment 7 takes the Minister at his word in Committee, when this issue was raised by us and a number of noble Lords. Our original proposal was to incorporate future-proofing recommendations under the sponsor body’s reporting requirements in Schedule 1, but this amendment follows the Minister’s suggestion that it could better placed in Clause 6 as part of the parliamentary relationship agreement and that recommendations on the future maintenance of the Palace over the longer term be part of the hand-back arrangements.

I thank the Minister and the Bill team for their helpful discussions and reassurances since Committee, particularly in relation to the sponsor body’s reporting processes and business case development. Obviously, we recognise that the sponsor body will be abolished following the completion of the parliamentary works, so it is important that we have clarity now on exactly how future maintenance of and improvements to the Palace will be facilitated and taken forward. I understand that the latest view from the Government is that it should be included in the sponsor board business case summary and not that of the PRA. I look forward to the Minister’s confirmation of this. I would also be grateful if he would facilitate a meeting on this issue between the sponsor board and my noble friends so that we can be assured that effective future-proofing measures are a key part of the R&R programme.

Throughout this process, we have stressed that we must ensure that the estate does not fall into its current level of disrepair. We had 40 fires between 2008 and 2012; 4,000 windows need to be repaired or replaced; 40% of pipes, ducts and cables will be at critical or high risk of failure by next year; most building services will be at a high risk of failure by 2025; we rely on a sewage ejector system that is more than 130 years old; and asbestos can be found everywhere.

As we said in Committee, the can has been kicked down the road for far too long. While parliamentarians have not wanted to be seen spending money on themselves, inaction has come at a heavy price. We are now spending huge amounts of money on everyday maintenance and repair, and it has been estimated that every year of delay increases the cost of the works by £100 million. We must not get to a point again where the Palace is at risk of a catastrophic failure and the building can be described as no longer fit for purpose. Using the expertise gathered by the sponsor body, it would be of great benefit for the sponsor body to produce recommendations on long-term maintenance—ideally on five-year, 10-year and 20-year plans which can be reviewed. Making specific safeguards now will save us money, save this building and save future parliamentarians from facing a similarly dire situation in a few decades’ time. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I am sure that the sponsor body would be happy to meet the noble Baroness and her colleagues—indeed, any noble Lord on any matter relating to this programme. I may regret saying that, but it is important that the shadow sponsor body and the sponsor body are as open and receptive to Members as it is possible to be. I also give the assurance that future-proofing the work is very much part of the design brief that the shadow sponsor body will be working towards. Anyone who has ever spoken to any of the contractors trying to do the work in this place will know that one of their biggest problems is simply getting access to things—they have all been buried and hidden underneath more modern work. Given this opportunity to take it all out and start again, we would certainly expect one of the outcomes to be the facilitation of future work, be it ongoing maintenance or larger jobs that may need doing in 50 or 60 years.

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 Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for speaking to this amendment, which, as she made clear, provides that the parliamentary relationship agreement may include provision about recommendations from the sponsor body for the future maintenance of the Palace of Westminster over the longer term after completion of the works.

Let me say straightaway that I agree it is important that, after completion of the parliamentary building works, the Palace of Westminster is maintained for the future and does not fall back into its current state of disrepair. Having said that, I think that there are other mechanisms better suited to achieving what the noble Baroness is seeking to achieve than an amendment to this Bill. I would go further and say that this amendment is not at all necessary. I hope I can provide the House with sufficient reassurance on that point.

This amendment places a provision in the Bill that the parliamentary relationship agreement may require the sponsor body to provide recommendations for future maintenance of the Palace. The contents of this agreement will be for the sponsor body and corporate officers of both Houses to determine. The overarching reassurance I can give about the future maintenance of the Palace over the long term is that this is not at all an afterthought. There are already several mechanisms in place that will shape such maintenance.

First, as I am sure the noble Baroness appreciates, it would not be the sponsor body itself which would be undertaking future maintenance of the Palace. As noble Lords will be aware, it is likely that the sponsor body will be abolished following completion of the parliamentary building works, given that the purpose of the Bill and the bodies it establishes is simply to complete the parliamentary building works—that is, the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.

That said, the Bill enables the sponsor body to work with the parliamentary authorities to put forward recommendations and practices to ensure that a robust maintenance plan is established for the future. Here I direct noble Lords’ attention to Clause 2(2)(h) of the Bill, which places a duty on the sponsor body,

“to deal with matters relating to completion of the Parliamentary building works, including the making of arrangements for the handing over of the buildings to which those works relate”.

It is common practice with major construction works where long-term maintenance is envisaged for maintenance teams to work alongside the construction engineers in the final stages of the project when major infrastructure is being commissioned. This ensures that a thorough understanding of operating and maintaining the installed systems is provided for. Incidentally, I understand that this kind of training and familiarisation could well extend over the final year of the project.

Therefore, before the sponsor body is abolished and as part of the duty set out in Clause 2(2)(h), the sponsor body may wish to consider training House maintenance staff to ensure they are fully briefed on the new equipment and assist in developing appropriate plans to ensure that, as much as possible, the Palace is appropriately maintained in the future. As it is envisaged that the sponsor body would not be responsible for future systems, it is likely that it would work closely with the House administrations as part of the training on new systems and formulating future plans.

In terms of monitoring the future maintenance of the Palace after it has been handed back to Parliament, House authorities could provide updates on ongoing maintenance of the Palace through the appropriate domestic committees. In addition to Clause 2(2)(h), the parliamentary relationship agreement—the PRA—could also further outline what is expected in terms of future training. The PRA is expected to include an agreement between the sponsor body and Parliament about the process for handing the completed works back at the end of the programme, before the sponsor body is abolished. This would likely include further details regarding the training on the matters I outlined a second ago. However, as I said, Clause 2(2)(h) is crucial in dealing with this matter, given that the sponsor body is likely to be abolished following completion of the works, thus limiting the means to enforce any of the obligations in the PRA.

I said that future maintenance is not at all an afterthought. The shadow sponsor body has already demonstrated that it is thinking about the future maintenance of the Palace. Through the publication of the vision and strategic themes document, the shadow sponsor body has already committed to taking account of the need to deliver an outcome which provides an effective future maintenance solution for the Palace. This document has already been approved by both House commissions and published on the restoration and renewal website. Among other points, the document states that the sponsor body must:

“Deliver a refurbishment programme that minimises but also facilitates future maintenance and improvement”,

by delivering “operational efficiency and longevity”. Secondly, it states that there must be a focus to:

“Optimise operating and capital costs through a focus on whole-life costing; and achieve operating cost targets”.

Whole-life costing means that decisions must be taken based not solely on capital costs but on the sum of those, plus the costs of operation and maintenance over the whole of the operational life. In essence, this means minimising the sum of capital and operating costs averaged over the lifetime of the installation.

I mentioned mechanisms plural. The second point for noble Lords to bear in mind is that the future maintenance of the Palace will also form part of the outline business case brought before Parliament for approval. Importantly, the outline business case will be developed in line with the principles of Her Majesty’s Treasury’s Green Book, which require that the costing is done on a whole-life basis. This includes maintenance over any future timeframes as appropriate, which may of course differ between different aspects.

It might be helpful if I explain that, in following the HMT Green Book principles, the business case will adopt a five-case methodology to provide decision-makers with a framework for structured thinking. The cases are as follows: strategic, economic, commercial, financial and management. The consideration of whole-life costs is a fundamental focus of the financial case and is a critical input for the economic appraisal in the economic case. As I have mentioned in previous debates on the Bill, the shadow sponsor body has already given the assurance that the outline business case it prepares will follow the Green Book principles, thus taking this matter into account. Therefore, the requirement and cost of future maintenance will be a consideration during the design stage of the programme, which will require approval from noble Lords.

Thirdly, the Bill already permits the sponsor body to make recommendations for the future maintenance of the Palace. It could do so as part of the reports that it produces, relating to the progress and completion of the parliamentary building works under paragraph 27 of Schedule 1 to the Bill, which must be laid before Parliament and published. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that the combination of the mechanisms that are already in place to address the future maintenance of the Palace makes her amendment unnecessary. I am sure that, if she wants to discuss this matter further—the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, helpfully indicated this—members of the shadow sponsor body would be more than willing to engage with her.

In both Houses, we have outlined throughout the course of the Bill that, at its core, its key aim is to secure the Palace of Westminster for future generations. The process of restoration and renewal offers a great number of opportunities in which we as Members will be able to influence and prioritise what we want the outcomes to be. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw the amendment.

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

I thank the noble Earl for his reassurances on the importance of this matter and for his thorough and helpful explanation of both the reporting and future monitoring delivery arrangements. I feel very reassured. Obviously, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in particular for her willingness to meet with me and my colleagues to discuss this further. I certainly welcome the reassurance, and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Schedule 1: The Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body