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HAYES IN THE HOUSE: Restoration and Renewal

The Palace of Westminster is perhaps the most iconic embodiment of our nation’s glorious history. Celebrated as a ‘world heritage site’, the character of our democracy’s home amazes and inspires numerous visitors from around the world, as more than one million people each year visit the ‘mother of all Parliaments’ to witness Government in action. Over two decades, I have welcomed thousands of my Lincolnshire constituents, with a particular joy being the school trips to the Education Centre.

It quickly becomes apparent to visitors that both Houses of Parliament are places of work, not just for MPs, but for many others, including those who clerk, clean, cater and secure the Palace, as well as the craftsmen who maintain the building.

In any structure of Parliament’s age and scale, restoration and renewal is, by necessity, unabated. With this in mind though, it is evident that the building is in need of significant repair. I am determined to prevent bizarre plans for an indulgent decantation from Parliament, which is predicted to cost, in the unlikely event that everything is on time and on budget, an eye watering £4 billion. Such extravagance just won’t do.

Deeply concerned that taxpayers are to be asked to foot the bill for this grand plan, I am anxious too that workers who, in many cases, have given a lifetime’s service to Parliament, including, ironically, those normally involved in the continual process of repair, risk being jettisoned.

There are some who neither revere the character of the Palace, nor much like its traditions. Indeed, there are a few who argue that we should strip out all of Augustus Pugin’s wonders, start again and create a Parliament in the round, or something similar. Others have suggested that the House of Commons should leave London altogether!

Based on what constituents tell me, I doubt that such strange sentiments chime with most people’s expectations. Whether witnessed in person, seen on the television or heard on the wireless, the business of Parliament, rooted in particularity, is followed by millions across the globe.

Speaking in the House of Commons recently, I reminded my colleagues that there have been past times when we have been forced to re-accommodate the House of Commons, most notably during the War, during which MPs moved to the House of Lords. Indeed, the imprint of Churchill’s ring can still be seen on the despatch box in the Lord’s Chamber, from where he delivered many of his rousing speeches. In times of challenge, Parliament has always found a way to make things work, without the fuss, nuisance, or cost of decanting. By considering precedent, we can examine how to repair and restore the Palace of Westminster whilst maintaining its life and character.

As is the case with many prior intentions, we must now re-examine proposals which were designed before COVID, but look less viable in the light of inevitable economic challenges to come. If we proceed with the original plan, spending billions of pounds building another Parliament a stone’s throw from the existing one, the rightful doubt of taxpayers will quickly switch to disdain and in turn to derision.

As, in these extraordinary times, the rest of the country is compromising to make things work, so should MPs. If that means inconvenience, then we should put up with it, stay put and get on with the work to save Parliament for generations to come.

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