Restoration and Renewal Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal
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That this House

(1) reaffirms its commitment to preserving the Palace of Westminster for future generations and ensuring the safety of all those who work in and visit the Palace, now and in the future;

(2) notwithstanding the Resolution of 31 January 2018, welcomes the report from the House of Commons and House of Lords Commissions proposing a new mandate for the Restoration and Renewal works and a new governance structure to support them;

(3) accordingly endorses the recommendations set out in the Commissions’ report; and

(4) in consequence, approves the establishment of a joint department of the two Houses, under the terms of the Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of the House of Lords Commission, I ask the House to endorse the Joint Commission report for a new mandate for the restoration and renewal programme, and to approve the Motion before the House today. Before I turn to it, I should like briefly to comment on the amendment to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. He rightly highlights that sitting behind this Motion and the new mandate is the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019. That Act was the product of careful consideration and scrutiny by both Houses, and the noble Lord played an active part in our discussions. Your Lordships will recall that Section 2 of the Act sets out a number of important considerations to which we wanted the sponsor body to have regard in exercising its functions. I want to make it clear that those considerations will not be amended by the proposed secondary legislation.

The noble Lord has picked out three in particular, relating to the important points of the accessibility of the Palace and any temporary location; public engagement during the works; and the need to ensure that benefits from the works are available throughout the United Kingdom. Regardless of this amendment, the Motion before us does not override those requirements of the 2019 Act. The full list of matters that the client function must have regard to remains in place. The new parameters from the commissions are supplementary to the provisions in the Act; they do not replace them. This point is set out in paragraph 22 of the report, and I reiterate it now for the benefit of your Lordships’ House. I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment at the appropriate point.

Before I move on to the substantive Motion, I put on record our thanks to the sponsor body—to Sarah Johnson and her team—for the considerable work that they have done to date, and to the sponsor board, particularly those from your Lordships’ House who have given time and effort in their active participation as members of it. I look forward to hearing contributions from several of them today.

The commissions have reiterated their shared commitment to preserve the Palace of Westminster for future generations. It is our collective duty as custodians, and our responsibility to all who work in and visit it. It is a duty that we do not take lightly, which I hope will be demonstrated in what I set out today. Noble Lords may ask why a new mandate is needed when we and the other place in 2019 passed the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act, and gave effect to decisions made by both Houses in 2018, when a set of resolutions was approved about the governance and delivery of the programme. The answer is that we are in a very different situation today than we were then.

When we made our decisions in 2018, the best guesstimate we had was a programme costing £3.5 billion, with a decant period of around six years. Those were the figures in the independent options appraisal, provided in 2014. Those figures were only ever indicative estimates and not based on extensive surveys or design work, but they were the figures before your Lordships’ House at the time.

A lot of work has been undertaken since. Detailed surveys of the condition of the Palace have begun and more will be undertaken over the coming months. Detailed work has also taken place establishing the requirements of the two Houses, both for the end-state Palace and for a potential decant period. As a result of this work, earlier this year the sponsor body published initial estimates of its essential scheme option. It estimated the cost of R&R to be between £7 billion and £13 billion; that the work would take between 19 and 28 years to deliver, with a full decant of the Palace of between 12 and 20 years; and that the work would not begin until 2027 at the earliest. This is a very different proposition from that presented back in 2018.

Of course, two years after the outbreak of the Covid pandemic we are facing an incredibly challenging fiscal environment. We are responsible to the British taxpayer for the effective use of public money but at the same time we are responsible to the British public for safeguarding this historic building for future generations. We are merely its custodians, entrusted with this building for the time being. It falls on us to make decisions that will affect future generations of both parliamentarians and the public. These duties must be weighed carefully.

In 2018, it was thought that an independent body was best placed to act on behalf of Parliament, to set the priorities and to guide this project, but once up and running this operational model has not worked as effectively as we hoped. In the light of this experience, an independent advice and assurance panel was set up to advise on a new approach to the works and governance. The panel consisted of individuals with proven track records in major projects, picked specifically for their expertise. They have provided an excellent report on the current situation and proposed the next steps that both commissions should take to best fulfil the duties which fall upon us.

The governance structure envisaged in the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 drew upon precedent from other large-scale programmes. However, as the panel points out, Parliament presents a complex and varying array of stakeholders that is without parallel in other large-scale programmes. A programme of this scale will span multiple Parliaments, bringing with it further complexity.

Although the panel found that the concept of an independent sponsor body was reasonable in theory, it recognised that valid concerns were raised about how it worked in practice. In particular, the sponsor body was seen as operating in a way that was too distant from those who use this building the most. That perception was strengthened by concerns that there had been insufficient engagement by the sponsor body with Members of your Lordships’ House, as well as Members of the other place, and that insufficient engagement was a mutual failing.

The arm’s-length nature of the sponsor function has caused issues as the programme has developed. In the light of the fact that we as parliamentarians are accountable for the decisions—whether for money spent or choices that determine the future of the Palace—the commissions have concluded that to continue in this way is not the best approach to make this project a success.

The proposal before noble Lords today is that the governance of the programme is brought back into Parliament and integrated into the existing governance framework within which we operate. Both commissions agreed that this is best the way to ensure that the programme responds to our needs and changing political circumstances and requirements. The governance structure must, in the words of the panel, be able to

“anticipate and adapt to changing demands”.

It must be one that is resilient and enduring. By bringing the governance closer to where ultimate accountability for decision-making lies, we can achieve that aim.

Today presents an opportunity to reset the direction of the programme, and it is one which we in the commissions are determined to seize. We all accept that we need to step up our engagement and leadership in this area. The proposals before your Lordships’ House today are for a revised governance structure and a new approach to the works, prioritising safety and ensuring that works can start sooner. I will briefly address each of these points.

The Motion today would result in integrating the governance of the programme into existing parliamentary structures through the two commissions; a structure that will be responsive to the requirements of Parliament, and one that is engaged with and accountable to it. The new structure will see the sponsor body abolished and its functions under the restoration and renewal Act transferred to the two corporate officers, the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons, who will become the statutory duty holders.

The proposed new in-house governance will consist of two tiers: a client board and a programme board. The client board—in effect the two commissions acting jointly—will advise the corporate officers on the overarching strategic direction and make recommendations to the two Houses, which will remain the ultimate decision-makers for this programme. The new programme board will act with delegated authority from the client board and bring together parliamentarians, officials and external members with relevant programme expertise. The programme board will be the main forum for the programme. It will meet to resolve critical strategic choices and priorities, select options and resolve trade-offs and disagreements as needed to finalise the strategic case, which will ultimately be brought forward for both Houses to decide on.

The staff of the sponsor body—around 35 people—will be brought in-house to form a new joint department, accountable to the corporate officers, delivering the strategic case and working in tandem with strategic estates and other departments. This new joint department will be known as the client team.

I emphasise that there is no intention to change the role of the delivery authority, whose purpose is to develop proposals and ultimately deliver the works on the Palace. It will remain an independent body, bringing extremely valuable technical and commercial expertise and experience to the programme. We will have a closer and more direct working relationship with it following these changes. I take this opportunity to thank the delivery authority for all its hard work.

The independent panel has sought to meet the core challenge that this programme faces: the need to make decisions today for a project that will not be completed for decades. We are being asked to judge on the basis of our current needs and requirements, and current economic and political circumstance, what should be provided to our successors, who may face a quite different world and have different expectations and ways of working. However, unless we make a decision about our destination and engage constructively with it, this project will never get off the ground.

The independent panel’s proposal, which both commissions endorse, is to accept that challenge head-on and determine a long-term vision for the programme, which will enable the development of a strategic business case, but at the same time to accept that the delivery strategy for the works is not entirely fixed and will be reviewed periodically, enabling us to take account of changes when necessary and adjust course when developments require. This is the right path for us to take: planning for uncertainty but not allowing that uncertainty to deter progress.

In line with our primary commitment to safety, your Lordships’ House is being asked to endorse a revised approach to the works which puts safety first. Four areas will be the initial priority for the works: fire and safety, building services, asbestos and building fabric conservation. I hope noble Lords will agree that these are sensible and urgent priorities to focus on. The joint commission report sets out parameters to guide the works in this development phase, calling for a wider range of options and different levels of ambition to be considered, to ensure maximum value for money. This will include consideration of approaches that might minimise the period during which the Houses have to vacate the Palace.

In line with our commitment to maintaining the safety of all who work in and visit the Palace, we support the recommendation of the independent panel to take a pragmatic approach that allows for safety-critical restoration works to be commissioned and undertaken before the strategic case has been approved. While the 2019 Act allows for restoration works to be undertaken only once the proposals have been formally approved, that does not stop our teams doing essential maintenance and repair and other safety-critical work before the main Palace restoration works begin. The commissions are keen for restoration works to start sooner and deliver greater value for money through better integration with other critical works happening across the estate.

The Motion before your Lordships’ House is to endorse the recommendations of the joint commission. Secondary legislation will be required in due course to give effect to some of these decisions. Options will be reviewed and a strategic case will be presented to both Houses by the end of 2023. Today, no decision is being asked for on either the costs or specific delivery approaches of R&R. Members of both Houses will be consulted on proposals and will have opportunities to engage with these matters in due course.

On the issue of decant, your Lordships’ House is not being asked for a decision today on how, where, when or for how long the House will be temporarily accommodated during the R&R works. That is a decision for another day. I ask noble Lords also to note that there is no proposal for or against any specific option for temporary accommodation during the works presented in the commissions’ report. Let us take that decision at the right time, when we are informed by the strategic case.

In conclusion, the commissions propose a new way forward, one which allows us to balance our requirements as a working legislature with our responsibility to take fiscally prudent decisions and our stewardship of this historic building.

It is incumbent on us, in both Houses, to show leadership and take difficult decisions. Both Houses and commissions must, going forward, stand by the decisions we make, and make them work. I look forward to working with noble Lords from across the House to do just that. I beg to move.

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in today’s debate and those who have engaged with the R&R teams over the course of recent weeks. I entirely recognise and understand the frustrations expressed by everyone in this debate. Those of us who have been involved in this—the noble Lords, Lord Newby, Lord Best, Lord Fowler and Lord Carter, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Doocey—all share them. I am not going to pretend that we are not all in the same place. There is no denying, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, have alluded to, that we have had problems between the two commissions. Again, there is nothing I can say to dispute that; it has been absolutely true up until now. We have not been a good client, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, rightly pointed out.

Let us try to take this opportunity to reset. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, the commissions have demonstrated more collaborative working, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, also outlined. Amazingly, we finally have joint meetings, which we have been trying to get for months—years, in fact. We have published a joint report, and I think we have acceptance of our joint responsibility to safeguard the Palace.

I am not promising—and it would be foolish of me to do so—that there will not be further frustrations and bumps in the road, but I believe we have reached a more constructive place. Unfortunately, that is now going to be on the record so let us hope that it proves to be true and that we can move forward from here. I am grateful that, despite noble Lords’ misgivings and clear frustrations, the overwhelming view from the debate is that we need to move forward and this is the way to do it. Whether we ever wanted to get here, we are here, and we are trying to work together.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, that the make-up of the programme board is now going to be critical. I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that we have to have people on the board now who want to take the project forward. That must be at the forefront of the minds of all those involved in taking it forward. I hope that is how we will move forward from here.

I shall respond to a few questions that came up during the debate. The noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Smith, talked about the PAC report. I am sure noble Lords know that the accounting officers for the two Houses have responded to the recommendations addressed to the PAC. That response has now been published and is available for people to look at. There is a recognition that important lessons need to be learned that the House authorities are taking on board, including around issues of transparency. Indeed, we believe that the joint commission report is one part of the evidence showing that we are taking those issues on board, and we want to engage further. Obviously, reflections on the PAC report will be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, asked about contingency planning. I assure him that we have a set of business resilience plans in the event of fire, flood or other emergencies that might disrupt the Parliamentary Estate. The aim of the plan is to ensure the continuity of essential parliamentary business with minimal delay, and I can confirm, having been involved, that the contingency plans are regularly reviewed and updated.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred to health and safety. That is an extremely important issue which has been highlighted in the joint commission report as a priority. The two clerks, the corporate officers, are the responsible officers and take their responsibilities enormously seriously. For instance, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 expressly identifies the two corporate officers as responsible persons for areas occupied by their respective Houses, and they have a duty to ensure that appropriate fire precautions are in place, risk assessments have been carried out and appropriate fire safety arrangements have been made. Again, I can say from personal experience that we have regular conversations with the authorities to make sure that our duties are being upheld.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Inglewood asked about our heritage obligations. We abide by the relevant legislation. We follow planning legislation and go through all statutory consent required for a grade 1 listed building.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked who had corporate responsibility if anything went wrong. John Benger, the Clerk of the Commons, told the PAC in the evidence session that he gave that

“if there is a catastrophic failure and if life is jeopardised, it is our legal responsibility”—

that is, the Clerk of the Commons and the Clerk of the Parliaments. He emphasised:

“It is no one else’s.”

So that is where the responsibility lies, which is why, again, we work closely with the House authorities to try to ensure that we uphold our responsibilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, is right when he says that our decision today is not about prejudging what may be in the strategic case. A number of noble Lords talked about a whole range of issues that they might like to see in the strategic case that is put to both Houses, but that is not what we are talking about today.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, my noble friend Lord McLoughlin and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones, Lady Deech and Lady Andrews, all talked about decant. That is not a decision for today but, although I cannot make promises to noble Lords, the House of Lords Commission has been clear—I am being honest here—that, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, we cannot quite see how it cannot happen. Still, let us see the strategic case that comes forward, and then it will be up to this House and the Commons to make their decision on the back of it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble friends Lord Colgrain and Lady Rawlings talked about the money already spent by the sponsor body and delivery authority. It is not right to look at this as money wasted. A significant amount of work has been done and is required to prepare for, design and develop the plans for R&R, irrespective of the approach we choose. For instance, spending has included design schemes to RIBA standards, detailed programme planning, decant scoping, public engagement and plans for heritage collections. I would just say that the money spent to date has not been wasted; it has been spent on work that we will still need to build on no matter where the programme goes from here.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about milestones and next steps. Assuming that we approve this Motion, the plan is to establish the client board, with the first meeting planned for October; to agree the terms of reference of the programme board, including composition and membership, at the client board first meeting, which is of the joint commission in September; and the recruitment of external members with required major programme expertise over the course of the autumn. Until the programme board is set up, the client board—which is the two commissions—will act in its place to ensure that there is no loss of momentum.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, asked about surveys. Intrusive surveys will commence next Friday, as soon as the House has risen for recess. Over 150 sites will be surveyed over the summer and the programme of surveys will continue into 2023. The aim is that the strategic case will be presented to both Houses by the end of 2023.

Finally, I return to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. I recognise and welcome his sustained, principled commitment to these issues and the passion with which he spoke in his contribution. It is right that we consider the importance of sharing the benefits of the restoration and renewal programme. That of course means taking into account the importance of making the building accessible and ensuring that the public are welcomed in, that engagement with Parliament and democratic processes are fostered and that opportunities presented by this tremendous programme of works are shared across the United Kingdom through programmes such as the one my noble friend Lord Lingfield mentioned.

As I said in opening, I hope I have been able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and all Members of the House—a number of whom spoke in support of his amendment—that the changes proposed today do not alter the statutory framework in that regard; nor will the regulations that we propose to bring forward to give effect to the proposals we are considering today. As set out in paragraph 22 of the joint commission’s joint report, the programme will

“continue to have a mandate to consider these areas and how best to address them”.

That commitment remains.

Anyone who has either been in or will read about this debate will recognise the deep affection that every noble Lord has expressed for this incredible, historic building. I understand the strength of feeling about the importance of ensuring that this new way forward is robust and takes us on. The task before us today is to ensure that the project has the structures and processes in place to allow us to deliver the best possible options for this House and the other place.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, rightly observed, whatever your views, I am afraid this is the only show in town so I hope noble Lords—despite misgivings and frustrations—can support the Motion. The Commons managed to pass it without amendment, which we should take as a good sign so that we can start to move forward together.