David Cameron wants to drop plans for MPs to vacate the Palace of Westminster during a six-year refurbishment because the public would reject the £3.5bn bill whilst the government is making widespread cuts to public services. Independent sources claim that this figure could reach an estimated £7.1bn.
Former clerk of the Commons Lord Lisvane recently described “a cathedral of horrors”, suffering from leaking pipes and damaged stonework, and warned of “a catastrophic failure of services is never far away”. A 2013 report showed irreversible damage may be done to the palace without urgent work. This was followed by a report by consultants Deloitte last summer which warned that a fire could spread rapidly through the building’s corridors. The 150-year-old Grade I listed building is also partly sinking, contains asbestos and has outdated cabling.
In that report three options were presented; 1) Relocation of all the occupants of the Palace of Westminster to other buildings while the repairs take place, 2) Relocating occupants in stages, or 3) an attempt at refurbishment without the moving of personel.
The least expensive option overall is thought to be option 1 (at an estimated cost of £5.7bn and take 32 years). But the annual cost of MPs continuing to inhabit the palace while work goes on around them would be able to presented as a lower yearly cost, put less strain on the public purse and look better when presented to the public. However this option is expected to take longer to achieve.
A cross party commitee plans to recommend Option 1 (that MPs relocate to another building in the vacinity whilst badly needed repairs take place).
Senior MPs across parties are urging the Government to resist the proposed move to other buildings, but this opinion is at odds with the committee’s recommendations, which favour moving out. “There is a very strong feeling on the committee that Parliament should move out entirely because that is the cheapest and most efficient way of doing it,” said an ally of David Cameron. “It is not up to the government to decide, it is up to the committee and both Houses of Parliament.”
“I wouldn’t like to be the minister on Question Time explaining the cost of that (option)” said a minister close to Mr Cameron. “The cost would be hard to justify…We are still living in times of austerity. There is a very strong feeling on the committee that Parliament should move out entirely because that is the cheapest and most efficient way of doing it”.
Shadow leader of the House Chris Bryant, who also sits on the committee, said the government should “butt out and wait for our report. All the evidence we’ve seen so far has shown that it would be irresponsible (to occupy the Palace of Westminster whilst refurbshipment takes place around them). It would cause considerably more risk to the Palace and considerably more cost to the taxpayer.”
The most likely destination for MPs to decamp to while work is underway is the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, on the other side of Parliament Square.
However, that hasn’t stopped wild speculation in suggesting other places MPs could carry out their parliamentary work.
Campaign group Generation Rent has launched an attempt to get MPs to move out of the Palace of Westminster so that it could be turned into flats, and relocate Parliament to Hull. This, they argued, would save tax payers £120m over five years, as MPs are allowed to claim expenses on accommodation in London. Rent being far cheaper in Hull than in London.
Shadow leader of the Lords Baroness Smith, another committee member, said that asking the Lords to move out to another part of the country was “not being considered by the committee at all… I don’t think moving one part of parliament outside of London is at all effective,” she said. “You can’t just take one part of parliament and stick it in another part of the country if the rest is in a different area and you’ve got all the government offices and government buildings here [in London] as well.”
The committee’s decision is likely to be announced before parliament’s summer recess, and MPs and Lords will then be asked to vote shortly afterwards.