The Government has promised to legally guarantee MPs and peers will return to Parliament should they move out during a multibillion-pound restoration programme.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said she had listened “very closely to very real concerns” that parliamentarians may be “forced out, never to return” by moves to secure the long-term future of the Palace of Westminster.
But Mrs Leadsom said two motions before MPs about how to approach the repairs were intended to be “explicit” that this was not the case, adding the commitment to return would also be put in law.
Proposed renovations (PA Graphics)
Parts of the Houses of Parliament are crumbling and there have been warnings that a catastrophic fire could occur unless ageing electrical systems are replaced.
But concerns over cost and public opinion have dogged the restoration and renewal project, expected to cost about £4 billion, and one of the options put forward for MPs to consider was for a further review.
Mrs Leadsom has tabled two motions for debate on January 31, with the first allowing MPs to authorise essential repairs but agree to review before the end of the Parliament in 2022 the “need for comprehensive works”.
The second would establish a body to carry out a “sufficiently thorough and detailed analysis” of various aspects linked to the restoration work, including whether MPs and peers move out or partially stay in the palace during the repairs, and would seek to push forward the process sooner.
Labour’s Chris Bryant, who sat on the joint committee, is backing a bid to reject the options put forward by Mrs Leadsom in favour of more rapid progress.
An amendment tabled by Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier would back the 2016 recommendation for a “full and timely decant”, with MPs and peers leaving the building for work to be carried out.
Gas pipes and a mass of cables in the underbelly of the Palace of Westminster (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Moving the motions, Mrs Leadsom said there could be “no blank cheque for this work” and warned of “critical risks” in the Palace of Westminster – noting there have been 60 incidents over the last 10 years which had the potential to cause a serious fire.
Speaking on motion two, Mrs Leadsom said: “(It) invites the House to make a clear statement about the need to act with urgency but also ensures that a rigorous and professional business case will be drawn up that will provide confidence to members and to the public.”
She said if this motion was carried, the final fully-costed recommendation from the body would be returned within 12 to 18 months for a vote.
Mrs Leadsom added: “The Palace of Westminster in all cases will remain the home of our Parliament. That has always been the plan.
“To make absolutely clear to all (MPs), full or partial decant will not take place until 2025 at the earliest.”
Mrs Leadsom also sought to reassure MPs who feared they would not return following a full decant, telling them: “To put the matter beyond doubt and recognising the depth of concerns from some colleagues, I am happy to confirm today that were the House to agree that we must take action now, this commitment to return to the Palace will be enshrined in the legislation the Government will subsequently introduce to set up the sponsor body and delivery authority.
“It will be on the face of the Bill, putting the matter beyond doubt.”
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom addresses MPs during the debate (PA)
Mr Bryant said neither of the motions in Mrs Leadsom’s name made a decision, telling the debate: “In the end this place is here to make decisions on behalf of the nation. It’s time we got a grip and made a decision.
“I don’t mind what the decision is in the end, but make a decision we must surely to God.”