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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Heritage versus democracy, the choice facing MPs

I have already blogged once about the £3 billion bill to restore the House of Commons to a usable state. This is an issue that has been faced head-on in Canada where their Parliament are effectively decanting MPs in stages so as to completely renovate a considerably younger building at a substantial cost over a number of years. Back in the UK, MPs don't seem to be able to grasp the nettle at all.

The Independent reports that Chris Grayling, the Leader of the Commons, has told his fellow MPs  that he does not want to see them evacuated to a temporary location because it will undermine Britain’s democracy.

This is all very well but as the newspaper report makes clear the £3 billion cost of this renovation could well double to £6 billion if builders have to work around MPs and their staff and it would take many more years to complete. Is this really a good use of taxpayer's money just to avoid upsetting tradition?

I was going to say 'to avoid inconveniencing MPs' but actually it will be worse for them to be there whilst the work goes on and not at all pleasant, but then that is their look-out.

I agree with Chris Grayling when he says that the Palace of Westminster is an important part of our national heritage and our democracy and it must remain as such but isn't it time to move on.

Even if the buildings are renovated at great expense they will remain not fit for purpose. MPs and Lords will be using chambers that can barely accommodate a third of their number, they will be still occupying offices at the top of winding stone staircases with no room to swing a cat, and no matter how much extra security they put on the buildings remain vulnerable to attack from the river at least.

There are of course advantages. The sheer majesty of the accommodation is unrivalled, as is its position in the centre of London. New office accommodation has been built around it at great expense and of course Parliament is within striking distance of all government offices.

On balance MPs need to stay there though they really should consider constructing alternative chambers for meetings in another building where they can be accommodated with all the modern facilities available to most other Parliaments, including having their own individual seat.

What they must not do is to allow sentiment to double the cost of renovation. The work has to be carried out and soon and MPs need to move elsewhere so that it can be completed quickly and at best cost.
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