I was absolutely delighted earlier today to open the debate on the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill in the Commons, and that it passed its second reading.
This has been a very long time coming, and today we moved decisively to end inaction and protect our Parliament – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – for future generations. The tragic fire at Notre-Dame has served as a stark reminder of the risks to this historic building; there is no doubt that the best way to avoid a similar incident here is to get on with the job of protecting the thousands of people working here and the millions who come to visit, whilst seeking to make sure of the best value of taxpayers money.
Many of us are aware of the problems with the buildings of the Palace of Westminster. There have recently been three significant incidents of falling masonry, and it is only through luck that none of them have led to any serious injuries or even fatalities. Operating on luck is no way to proceed; we would not be forgiven if one of those incidents had caused harm to a visitor or a member of staff. There’s an ongoing need for round-the-clock fire patrols, given that there have been 66 fire incidents in the Palace since 2008. There are pipes, cables and ducting that riddle the entire building, many of which we no longer know where they go or what they do. And there is the very real problem of mice infesting the Estate; I have a regular furry and whiskered “friend” who scurries around the bin in my office late at night.
So we must take action. The Restoration and Renewal Bill, or R&R for short, seeks to model our approach on that of the successful London 2012 Olympic Games. The Bill will establish a sponsor body to set the strategic direction of a separate delivery authority, itself staffed with the industry expertise necessary to keep costs down. Managing a project of this complexity will require scrutiny by parliamentarians and ministers, so the legislation gives the Treasury a strong voice over the expenditure. Further parliamentary approval of detailed, line-by-line costings will be required before an envisaged start date of the necessary works in the mid-2020s.
Our challenge is to turn the restoration into an opportunity for renewal, too. We will never stop making the case for our parliamentary democracy, or take it for granted. With record numbers accessing Parliament’s live broadcasts and Hansard online, there has never been a more important time for this. It should be our constant mission to demonstrate that Parliament is listening to citizens, and that the Government is listening carefully to voters and parliament in turn.
The Bill also offers huge opportunities to crafts new and old across the UK. The sponsor body aims to promote new apprenticeships and enable small and medium businesses to take part in what will be a vast project, over many years.
I passionately believe in making Parliament a more family-friendly place to work. R&R will provide an opportunity to help make our workplace the best it can be in supporting Members to balance the long hours they work in this House with their family commitments, and better reflect the public we are here to represent.