Amendment 8

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

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Lord Wallace of Tankerness:

Moved by Lord Wallace of Tankerness

8: Schedule 1, page 19, line 17, at end insert—“( ) A report under this paragraph 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, when I moved an amendment in Committee seeking a timeline to be outlined by the sponsor body, it was not my original intention to move an amendment on Report. However, having listened to the debate and the comments made, I said at the end of the debate that there was at least merit in considering whether to come back to the issue. I have done that, albeit, crucially, in a different way—that is, with a similar amendment but with a crucial difference.

As was said on a number of occasions when this was debated in Committee, large infrastructure projects have a reputation for going over time and sometimes over budget. Having had the experience of being one of the original Members of the Scottish Parliament, I am certainly well aware of that and of the publish backlash it can sometimes cause. That is why it is important to try to find a way to ensure there is transparency, information and explanation. It is intended not to initiate a blame game but to find a way in which, by sharing information, any possible blame can be mitigated through proper explanation.

Nor is it intended to be a requirement that everything is pinned down to the last day. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said in Committee when she supported my amendment:

“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”.—[Official Report, 22/7/19; col. 641.]

That is the spirit in which I move this amendment—not that one wishes to be precise to the very day, but rather that there can be an indication as to when some things are likely to happen. That is particularly the case with regard to the decant. As I indicated in Committee, and as was indicated in the Joint Committee report on the draft Bill, issues that could lead to delays have arisen in relation to Richmond House. As we progress, it would be useful to know just how that is progressing and, if there are particular problems, that these can be identified sooner rather than later.

In Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, expressed concern about the sponsor body having to provide an,

“assessment of timings at the consultation stage”.—[Official Report, 22/7/19; col. 642.]

He indicated that “at best” there would be rough estimates, although he did say he had some “sympathy” for the clarity I was seeking. That is why there is a crucial difference between this amendment and the one I moved in Committee. In Committee the amendment was related to Clause 5, which deals with the publication of a consultation strategy. This amendment seeks to add to the report the sponsor body has to make to Parliament at least once a year a paragraph that would relate to a timeline. That would be helpful for Members, and indeed for the wider public.

If it is not possible for the Government to accept the words of this amendment, I very much hope the Minister will be able to indicate that the spirit of the amendment is agreed to. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Wheeler Baroness Wheeler Opposition Senior Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords) 4:30 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, we welcome and fully support the principle behind Amendment 8, which underlines that the work should be carried out without delays and must be cost effective. The sponsor body has said it expects the current timeline for the project to be around 10 years, from the mid-2020s to the mid-2030s. Of course, there remains some vagueness around this length of time, and we hope the sponsor body is able to provide a more detailed timeline as soon as possible, with some clarity on milestones and gateways for both the decant and the completion of the full works. Obviously, this will most likely come after the business case has been presented and discussed by Parliament. Nevertheless, providing clear information on timelines and milestones will most certainly be important for public engagement and the engagement of staff and Members. We very much support this amendment.

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 of Tankerness, for his amendment, which would require the sponsor body’s reports on the progress made on the parliamentary building works to incorporate a timeline for the works that would include likely dates for decant and completion. As the noble and learned Lord said, he tabled a similar amendment in Committee, to the effect that as part of its consultation strategy the sponsor body must publish a timeline for completion of the Palace restoration works, including details on the dates of decant and return to the Palace.

In my response in Committee, I agreed that all noble Lords would—quite obviously—wish to seek further clarity on dates around decant, and I am in absolute agreement with the noble and learned Lord’s point that the sponsor body should publish details regarding decant and completion of the works not just once but throughout the course of the project. Here it is important to convey that the shadow sponsor body has always explicitly recognised that, as part of the sponsor body’s reports as set out in paragraph 27 of Schedule 1, it would rightly be required to include timescales on decant and the progress of the works. I can confirm that the shadow sponsor body is in agreement with this approach and therefore the expectation is that the reports produced by the sponsor body will include information on the timetable for the works, including details on timings for decant and return to the Palace.

I spoke at some length in Committee on various points addressing the issue raised by the noble and learned Lord. However, I thought it important to clarify what the Bill requires the sponsor body to do as regards reporting. Under the Bill, the delivery authority is required to formulate proposals for the parliamentary building works, including the timing of those works. These proposals are provided for in Clause 2(2)(e). Parliament will need to approve the proposals before any substantive works commence. If for any reason those timings change significantly, the sponsor body will need to come back to Parliament for further approval. The parliamentary approval of these proposals, as well as the shadow sponsor body outlining its agreement that the sponsor body should include information relating to the timeline for the works in reports it produces, will, I hope, provide noble Lords with the reassurance that this information will be forthcoming.

This is a matter that will surely interest all noble Lords throughout the currency of the works, whether that is before commencement, during or near their completion, so let me again thank the noble and learned Lord for tabling this amendment. I hope that I have provided him with significant reassurance on this important matter.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for their comments on this amendment, and in particular for the noble Earl’s reassuring words and the wider clarification of the roles of the sponsor body and the delivery authority in these matters. As he rightly said, the timeline for progress, decant and the likely completion is of interest not just to Members but to the wider public. What he has put on the record today is very satisfactory indeed and we look forward with interest to watching progress. With these words, I seek leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Sitting suspended.