POLITICS

Houses Of Parliament To Stay In London For Refurbishment; But Could Move To Foreign Office, Treasury Or Department Of Health

26/01/2016 20:22 GMT | Updated 27/01/2016 06:59 GMT
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The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Parliament will not be relocated out of London during a multi-billion pound refurbishment – but could move to the Foreign Office, Department of Health or Treasury.

MPs and peers have been told that a report on long-awaited plans to renovate the Palace of Westminster is likely to include new options to shift their office space to Whitehall departments.

The final report is not due to be published until March, but Commons leader Chris Grayling, who chairs the committee in charge of the £5.7bn upgrade, is set to unveil the latest thinking to the Tory backbench 1922 Committee soon.

His Labour Shadow, Chris Bryant, told the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday not to expect that Parliament would be relocated temporarily out of London.

The option of a move north or to Scotland on a rotating basis was popular with some MPs and commentators but has now been all but ruled out by the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster.

foreign and commonwealth office

The Treasury and the Foreign Office, just yards from Portcullis House

Mr Bryant did reveal however that among the possible solutions for the 'Restoration and Renewal' project was a shift of MPs and peers offices to Whitehall, with the Foreign Office, Treasury and Department of Health all considered contenders

The Ministry of Justice was one other option but is understood to have been ruled out on grounds of being too far from Westminster.

MPs will not have to relocate from ‘the northern estate’ of Parliament - Portcullis House, One Parliament Street, and the Norman Shaw Buildings - during the refurbishment.

As a result, the option of moving Commons offices - and possibly the debating chambers of the Commons and Lords - to Whitehall is seen as among the most attractive proposals.

The Department of Health’s Richmond House HQ is just yards from the northern buildings of Parliament, while both the Foreign Office and Treasury are a short walk across Whitehall.

richmond house department of health

Richmond House, HQ for the Department of Health

Richmond House was originally built as the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) under the Conservatives in the 1990s but with the Department for Work and Pensions now having its own building, some believe the DH has long had surplus office capacity.

It also has a courtyard that could house a temporary debating chamber, as do both the Treasury and the Foreign Office. Apart from rare occasions, only a fraction of the Commons' 650 MPs turn up at one time, and in the Lords most business is done with around 60 peers at any one time. Both will be factors in any new chamber's construction.

The Houses of Parliament’s 150-year-old Grade I listed building is partly sinking, contains asbestos and has outdated cabling.

A 2012 report warned the building could suffer "major, irreversible damage" without significant restoration work.

Under one plan a 32-year renovation could be achieved by working around MPs and peers, but it would cost £5.7bn. If Parliamentarians were moved out of the Palace completely for six years, the cost would drop to £3.5bn, an independent report said last year.

Both the Foreign Office and Treasury would meet the high security needs of MPs but although the Treasury has been used to house the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in recent years, it is unclear how it could cope with giving up yet more rooms.

The FCO too would have problems with moving its own staff, but options include using other parts of Whitehall temporarily.

The QEII conference centre has been discussed as a possible location for the debating chambers, but many Parliamentarians worry about the cost and distance.

Some peers are backing their own chamber to be relocated to Church House, near Westminster Abbey, just as both the Commons and Lords were during World War II following bomb damage to part of Parliament.

Plans to relocate the Commons chamber to underground carparks either in New Palace Yard or College Green are seen as highly unlikely to win approval of the committee.

Public consultation for the committee ended last week. Whitehall sources stressed that ‘no decisions have been taken’ on any of the options yet, not least as the informal consultation stage of the process was still continuing. “There are no easy options,” one source told HuffPost UK.

The key criteria for the decision will include not just security but value for money for the taxpayer - with a complete relocation from the main Palace building seen as the cheapest option - and proximity to Portcullis House.

David Cameron’s preferred option of MPs using the Lords and then moving back to the Commons is seen as unlikely as it is very difficult to divide both the Palace of Westminster for urgently-needed repair works.

Many of the electric works, plumbing, piping and other basic infrastructure are shared across the Palace.