The Palace of Westminster is a UNESCO world heritage site, the seat of our democracy, and home to some of our most important moments in history. It is one of the most famous buildings in the world, and it is a beacon for democracy. It has, however, needed significant repair since around 1945, yet successive Parliaments have failed to agree on what is to be done. It is now in desperate need of renewal and, on Wednesday, MPs will vote on how to tackle this.
This issue attracts strong views both inside and outside of Westminster, and there are rightly concerns about cost. Locally, there are many priorities which would benefit from public money. Residents will know my own determination in South Northamptonshire to secure funding for improvements to outpatient healthcare services, build the Farthinghoe Bypass and Towcester Relief Road, speed up the rollout of superfast broadband and the next generation of mobile internet, and, of course, protect our vital rural bus services and community libraries.
That said, constituents have been in touch to express their concerns about the future status of this important historic building, with many recognising the work that needs to be done. Others are troubled by the costs to the public purse and how we will ensure value for every pound that is spent.
As a champion of our system of parliamentary democracy, exported around the world, I care about ensuring that the Palace of Westminster remains its home. The debate itself is an important moment. It is taking place in Government time on a Wednesday, as requested by MPs, to ensure maximum participation, and the PM is right to make this a free vote. This is a decision for Parliament, not Government.
The first motion asks MPs to address the cost of the restoration programme, and recognises the financial position we are in. If they choose to accept these costs and progress to the second motion, they will be voting to put cost effectiveness and good governance at the heart of the restoration and renewal programme.
As I said in Business Questions on Thursday, I urge all colleagues to take a tour of the basement if they have not done so already, and to speak to the engineers ahead of the debate, to understand the scale of the problem. With the Joint Committee report, a number of select committee reports, the basement tours, and extensive engagement across both Houses, MPs and Peers have the information to make an informed judgement on what they believe the next step should be.
This is not a straightforward decision. If the Palace of Westminster suffers a catastrophic failure, future generations will look as critically upon us as we do on those whose neglect led to the 1834 fire which destroyed the medieval Palace.
The cost of this programme is of course a prime consideration, and I am the last person to indulge excessive spending. But when I think about the work that needs doing, my mind also turns to the thousands of workers in this place, including caterers, clerks and cleaners. I think of the millions of visitors, including tourists and schoolchildren, who deserve to visit a place that can guarantee their safety. And I think of a Palace I would be proud to hand over to those who will inherit it from us.
I feel this responsibility on my shoulders, and that is why I will vote to take action now.
Come 31st January, the decision on how to resolve these questions will be in the hands of MPs. I wanted to take this opportunity to set out to you, the residents of South Northamptonshire and my constituents, where I myself stand on this important issue. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact me.