Make public engagement and understanding of Parliament a requirement of Restoration and Renewal – Joint Committee
The Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill has today published its report on the Bill and called for it to be amended to include a requirement that the Sponsor Body must use the R&R programme to promote public engagement and understanding of Parliament.
The recommended changes to the Bill are part of the Committee's instance that R&R must not focus solely on the ‘Restoration' aspect of the programme – the vital repairs and improvements to the building to prevent catastrophic failure – and make the most of the opportunity for ‘Renewal' by delivering a significant improvement in disability access in the Palace of Westminster and using technology and improved educational facilities to increase Parliament's accessibility and engagement with all citizens.
While approving the governance mechanisms set out in the Bill, the Committee was concerned to ensure that the project could proceed as speedily as possible, and was alarmed to learn of difficulties in preparing alternative accommodation for both Houses that might lead to two years' delay in decant - possibly postponing the moves until 2028 - and adding up to £350m to the cost of the project. It urges the swift transfer of responsibilities to the shadow Sponsor Body, and notes that the Treasury should have a clear interest in ensuring that decisions made in government do not add significantly to the costs of the project, which will be borne by the taxpayer.
The Committee also demand that the economic benefits from the R&R programme are felt in all parts of the UK and recommend an audit of the Sponsor Body's success in achieving that with Parliament, as the ultimate client, holding it to account.
Other recommendations for changes to the draft Bill before it is brought back to Parliament include:
- The Bill should require a Treasury Minister be appointed as a Member of the R&R Sponsor Body to ensure Government commitment to the project and its funding.
- The Bill should require the Sponsor Body to have regard to the UNESCO World Heritage status of the Palace of Westminster and its environs. However, this should not take precedence over other legal requirements such as providing better access for people with disabilities.
- The Bill should be amended to include a duty to consult with staff in Parliament throughout the life of the R&R project. The Committee say if the Sponsor Body failed to do this it would “be failing in one of its most basic and essential tasks”.
- The Committee considered whether Parliament should take on its own planning powers as was the case for the Olympic Deliver Authority. It decided against this on the grounds that it was appropriate for Parliament to be subject to the same planning requirements as other bodies.
Commenting, Dame Caroline Spelman MP, Chair of the Joint Committee, said:
“Restoration and Renewal is the most significant programme Parliament has undertaken since the current Palace of Westminster was rebuilt after 1840. We have a monumental task but also a magnificent opportunity to deliver a Parliament that is more open and accessible and meets the needs of the 21st century and beyond.
“To make the most of that opportunity we must ensure the second ‘R' – renewal, is not lost in the need to deliver much needed restoration. That is why we are recommending the draft Bill be amended to include a requirement that the Sponsor Body use the programme to increase public understanding of Parliament and engagement with it.
“We also felt the Government has been too ‘hands-off' on the programme up to now. While we recognise this is a Parliamentary programme its successful completion will require very close working with Government and in particular The Treasury. That is why we are recommending a Treasury Minister take a role on the Sponsor Body.”