MPs call for faster action to fix Parliament amid fire warnings

Fires are reported virtually every month in Parliament, MPs have heard criticism over the ‘cack-handed’ plan to repair the Palace of Westminster.

MPs approved a motion to abolish the sponsoring body of the Restoration and Renewal Project and bring governance “in-house”.

Commons Leader Mark Spencer said an overhaul was needed to ensure value for money for taxpayers and he insisted no option is being ruled out under the new project management arrangements , including moving Members and Peers elsewhere during proceedings.

But several MPs lamented further delays to the project and worried about the risks to the Victorian palace.

The debate came a day after a broken air conditioning unit led to a water leak in the House of Commons.

Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) said the debate could ‘not be more timely’ given the leak, adding: ‘There are small fires being reported virtually every month in this location.

“And it’s only because of the diligence and hard work of the staff at this location, patrolling virtually 24 hours a day for fires, that nothing more serious has happened.”

He added: ‘I fear we leave the building with a much greater risk of failure than a leak in the roof, which would inevitably force us out of Parliament and leave us all rather dumb that we didn’t. do. take major action faster.

A view of a courtyard in the Palace of Westminster (PA)

For the SNP, Kirsty Blackman described the Houses of Parliament as a “relic” which is “not a suitable and appropriate working environment”.

She criticized the way the project was handled, saying, “You couldn’t really do it clumsier than the way it’s currently done.”

MPs and their peers agreed in 2018 on a plan that would see both the Commons and Lords move to temporary facilities near the existing site, a ‘full settling’, to allow repairs and improvements to be carried out essential.

But a review of the plans has been carried out amid concerns over the cost, which was estimated at £4billion in 2014 but has since soared.

Former Conservative House of Commons leader Chris Grayling said MPs were ‘deeply, deeply frustrated’ that it took seven years to get to the current point of the draft and came out in favor of a proposal he described as “bloody hell keep it up” amendment.

Chris Bryant highlights some of the wiring in the House of Commons in 2017

Chris Bryant highlights some of the wiring in the House of Commons in 2017 (PA)

Former Labor minister Chris Bryant also warned: ‘All the alternative places we would have to go to in an emergency are not safe. Church House is not immune to any bomb attack.

“There’s no other place we could have gone. I think the only other place we could have gone to in government has just sold out. There’s nowhere. So it’s not just a risk for us and the building, it is also a risk for our democracy.

For Labour, shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire slammed former Tory Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and said he had ‘kept changing the aims’ on the draft.

Opening the debate, Mr Spencer said: “In 2018 decisions on the structure of the program were made when estimates were in the region of £ 3.5 billion, with the program to be decanted for around six year.

“It was against this background that the two chambers agreed on the current approach, but at the start of 2022 the sponsoring body published its essential diet options, it estimated the cost to be between £7 and £13 billion. sterling, and that this work would take between 19 and 28 years and would require a complete settling of the Palace of Westminster for 12 to 20 years.

He added: ‘This is a very different proposal, so a gap has arisen between what is realistic, practical and justifiable for taxpayers and what is proposed by the sponsoring body. These estimates make it very difficult to continue on this path only two years after the pandemic and in the face of a difficult budgetary context. »

Closing the debate, Mr Spencer said he could not guarantee MPs would vote on the option of an eight-year settling, but noted: ‘I will ensure that the eight-year settling is the one of the proposals they’re looking at, and they’re thinking about it very seriously.