Restoration and Renewal: Location of House of Lords Chamber - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 16th May 2022.

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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean:

Asked by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to the location of the House of Lords Chamber during the restoration and renewal programme.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, restoration and renewal is a parliamentary programme and decisions on how to proceed are for Parliament. Both Houses are reviewing the programme’s shape and the commissions will jointly consider options and seek a revised mandate from both Houses. Further decisions, including on decant and location, would need to be considered by both Houses and debates are currently planned for before the Summer Recess. I repeat: the Government are clear that these decisions are a matter for Parliament.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

I am most grateful to my noble friend, so can we take it that Mr Gove was off doing his own thing at the weekend when he wrote to the Speaker on Friday evening to indicate that the Queen Elizabeth II Centre would not be available for us? Would the Government be kind enough to ask him to put in the Library the analysis of how he thought this would enable Parliament to function, if one House was sent to Stoke or somewhere else? Will my noble friend indicate what consultation Mr Gove carried out before he made this statement and just remind the Secretary of State, as he did in his Answer, that the location of this House is a matter for this House and not for the Executive?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, I will not be tempted to follow speculation about what might have been the motives of a colleague in the Government in relation to a particular letter. The Secretary of State is always inventive, but I will repeat what I have said: that these are matters for Parliament.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the simple fact is that the noble Lord answered a similar Question just over two years ago and that this is another recycled announcement from a Government who talked about this two-and-a-half years ago. For all the gimmicks, slogans and press releases, on every measure of levelling up we are going backwards. Instead of making such announcements, this Government should get on with helping families facing the worst cost of living crisis in a generation and use a windfall tax on energy grants to fund up to £600 of help for families. That is what this Government should be doing.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, the noble Lord is inventive in slipping the Labour windfall tax into a Question about the location of the House of Lords. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not favour that proposition. This is not an announcement; the position remains, as I have previously stated, that the decisions on how to proceed are a matter for Parliament.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister take back to his friends in government that, if they are going to come out with rather bizarre statements like this with no notice or consultation, they should at least try to be a little more original? We have heard this all before. Dozens of us are waiting to give suggestions of our home cities, where it would be lovely to be. Might I make a recommendation for Norwich? Any city that boasts proudly that it used to have a pub for every day of the year would probably be a good environment for suggestions such as this.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, I am very fond of Norwich personally, but I would not encourage further speculation in this area. I will only say from my personal experience that I was in York last week on a ministerial visit and I did not look at any alternative site for your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

My Lords, I declare the interest of having been brought up in Burnley. Would the noble Lord care to remind Mr Gove that we are one Parliament and not two, and therefore dividing the two Houses would be a very adverse and unconstitutional act? Therefore, if he wants Parliament to be in Burnley, it should be both Houses and not one.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, again, I am not going to speak for my right honourable friend, but the noble Lord makes a cogent point which would need to be considered by all of us within Parliament in respect of its future operation. Those of us who have had experience of a Parliament by Zoom know the importance of personal contact within and across the Houses to the good operation of government and Parliament.

Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop

My Lords, can the Minister reassure both this House and the public that a full cost-benefit analysis is being undertaken to ensure the good and proper use of public funds?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, as far as the R&R scheme is concerned, that is a matter for both Houses. As far as government property is concerned, obviously that is a matter for the Secretary of State. The right reverend Prelate makes a cogent point.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend is playing an admirable straight bat, on which I congratulate him. But on whose authority did Mr Gove contact the Lord Speaker, the Speaker or anyone else? Was he speaking for the Government? If so, does he not realise that this is not a matter for the Government, as my noble friend has told us? Was this just another freelance exercise by an intellectual flibbertigibbet?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, I could not possibly comment on that. The Secretary of State obviously has a standing in DLUHC in the sense that the QEII Centre is an executive agency for which DLUHC is responsible. No doubt he was addressing the matter from that perspective.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Chair, International Agreements Committee

My Lords, the Minister really does have to speak on behalf of the whole Government. It was a government letter so I do not think he can wriggle out of it like that. These are really important constitutional issues. The Queen opens Parliament, and she is not allowed into the Commons; she does it from here but with the Commoners present to hear her statement. I am quite sure those issues have to be high up in the Government’s mind as well as this House’s mind. We also need Ministers by us. I do not know whether they were all planning to stay in London so that they could not answer our questions. From their way of dealing with this, maybe that is exactly the plan.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

No—I take it as the highest duty that I have to come before your Lordships and answer questions and explain things. I repeat: decisions on how to proceed in this are a matter for Parliament, and the Government do not wish to prejudge Parliament’s decisions on it. However, following what was said by the noble Baroness, whom I greatly respect, I say that it makes sense for government and Parliament to work together to support the decisions of Parliament on this matter and, yes, secure outcomes that deliver for the public and taxpayers.

Photo of Lord Vaux of Harrowden Lord Vaux of Harrowden Chair, Finance Committee (Lords), Chair, Finance Committee (Lords)

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the restoration of Parliament and making this iconic building safe will succeed only with real collaboration between the Lords, the Commons and the Government? Could he please answer the question that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asked earlier—namely, which Members of this House were contacted or consulted in advance of the letter sent on Friday?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, I cannot answer that specific point. No doubt the Secretary of State could explain. The noble Lord takes the very point that I made in my previous answer—that it makes sense for government and both Houses of Parliament to work together, as he said, to create and support decisions on this matter.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, although I agree with much of what has been said, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, does the Minister not agree that even the prospect, or the suggestion, that the House of Lords might move out of London might make those Members who live in London, particularly those on the Front Bench, realise the practical difficulties and problems of those of us who do not live in London?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, in a sense, that is a House of Lords point, but I understand what the noble Lord said. I have lived some of my life outside London and some of it in it. Of course those are matters to consider.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, as I have said, the QEII conference centre is a commercially run trading fund, and it is an executive agency of DLUHC. The noble and learned Baroness asks a hypothetical question, and I will clearly not pre-empt, even in this, how Parliament might decide to proceed. Each House of Parliament has the right to regulate its own proceedings and internal affairs, and we shall see what might happen.

Photo of Lord Udny-Lister Lord Udny-Lister Conservative

My Lords, the QEII Centre is probably one of the worst buildings in London, so I am totally in tune with the Secretary of State when he says that the Government do not want us there. But the reality is that this building’s problem is services, not access or modernisation; it is about dealing with the fire risk that exists in the basement of this building. If that is dealt with and it is stripped back to that, the costs and timescales are dramatically reduced and the options of the northern estate become viable. There are alternatives where we can stay on this site, but it needs a little more imagination and the costs have to be dramatically cut back.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

As a Member of your Lordships’ House, my noble friend obviously makes an important point. As I have said more than once at this Dispatch Box, the questions of the future of the R&R programme and any decant location are decisions for Parliament. I have indicated that I understand that the commissions are currently seeking to have debates in both Houses, so your Lordships will be able to express further opinions before the Summer Recess.

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour

My Lords, the Minister has been admirably clear—as mud—about the constitutional position so far as this is concerned. I think that he accepted the point of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that both Houses should be together. What representations has the Leader of the House made on this question, both to Mr Gove and to her government colleagues? Will she reinforce the importance of the constitutional position that both Houses should be together, wherever in the country that might be, and that it is a matter for Parliament to decide this?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House is alongside me here as a courtesy, listening to your Lordships’ points of view, and I am sure that she will have heard what the noble Lord said. There are many questions about what disagreements there might be, but I would be surprised if there were any disagreements between me and my noble friend on things I have said to your Lordships today.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

My Lords, the UK is the most centralised country in the world. Congestion in London is a nightmare and property prices are ridiculous. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has struggled to attract new investment and jobs to replace the industries that it has lost. There is a case for looking at whether Parliament’s deliberations can take place elsewhere in the country and for moving large parts of government to the regions, so I certainly do not think that these ideas should be dismissed out of hand.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, the Government are seeking to move parts of government out of London for precisely the kind of reasons that the noble Lord has given. However, this is a parliamentary matter. There will be debates and discussions in your Lordships’ House, and I am certain that he will put his view—and we will see whether he is able to carry your Lordships with him.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

Will the Minister make a clear recognition of what my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister said about the services? When I was Chairman of Ways and Means, an inspection was held on the key issue of the fire risk. Will the Minister look at the case history of terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport, which was renovated between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am over a period of well over a year?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, again, I am being invited to stray into questions of parliamentary management, which is not appropriate for a government Minister. However, as always, my noble friend makes a very sensible point on these matters. There are always ways of arranging necessary work.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister would be kind enough to suggest to the Secretary of State, if he is interested in the public response to your Lordships’ House and its work, that he might be better directed at looking at a programme that reduced the size of this House and at a statutory Appointments Commission, putting a rein on the use by the current Prime Minister of patronage in appointments.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, again, the noble Baroness strays slightly from the Question. On the last point, I only say that in a Session following the Session in which there was a record number of defeats for Her Majesty’s Government, it would be surprising if the Government did not reflect on the significance of that.