Parliamentary Palaver as Westminster Woes Finally Addressed
This Wednesday MPs voted to back £3.5 Billion in refurbishments to the Houses of Parliament, which will likely see MPs and Peers relocated until the work is completed.
This Wednesday MPs voted 236 to 220 in favour of £3.5 Billion of refurbishments to the Palace. The vote saw Labour and Conservative members come together to support a programme of works that is thought require the temporary relocation of the Commons.
Under the current plans the Commons and Lords would move off site for in 2025 for six years pending vital works to the Palace. The Commons would move to Richmond House in Whitehall, with Lords taking up temporary residence at at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. The move would be the first time either house has been moved out of Parliament since bombing caused destruction to the Commons chamber in 1941.
But what exactly is all the palaver about? And why will it cost so much?
The Palace has been in a state of disrepair for some time having not seen significant refurbishments (other than the reconstruction of the Commons 1941) since reconstruction started in the 1840’s following a fire which destroyed the Lords chamber in 1834. Currently a £50 Million a year programme of repair and maintenance keeps the building functional. Richard Ware, director for the restoration and renewal programme at the palace , told the Telegraph in 2014 that “The more things become antiquated the chances of a bigger crisis grows. It has already burned down once.”
Fire and electrical hazards, centuries old roofing and a mish-mash of modern and antiquated technologies and services pose serious safety risks to the over 8,000 member of staff and 1 Million tourists who visit the palace every year. With many MPs concerned about the potential for a crisis scenario at Westminster its little surprise MPs are willing to commit over £3 Billion in repairs and refurbishments over the next decade to modernise the palace.
But is this the only option? Some have suggested that parliament could be moved permanently, creating a museum at the Palace and re-imaging the space in which parliamentary debate and decision making is made.
The drive to restore Westminster Palace has not been without controversy, with such high costs difficult to justify to the public in times of economic uncertainty and stagnating wages. Along with the financial implications of restoration, many have cited the short-comings of the palace in facilitating the business of modern democracy. For example, despite there being 650 MPs, the Commons chamber has only 427 seats, meaning that on busy days MPs resort to standing, filling the room far past its intended capacity.
in 2015 the Guardian reported on a plan proposed by the social housing campaign group Generation Rent to turn the Palace into rented accommodation. The campaign group argued that the cost of second homes of MPs, that are reimbursed for, could be reduced with relocation, arguing that “If parliament were located in a cheaper part of the country, there would be savings of £20m in reduced employment costs, and the creation of 5,000 badly needed jobs.”
Though Generation Rent’s plans propose a tongue in cheek solution to the facilitation of democracy, other ideas like this are not without reason or rationality. In a time when our country and democracy are re-inventing themselves through the departure from the European Union, now may be a good time to question whether Westminster Palace is really fit for the business of modern government, or indeed whether London be the right location.
Keele’s own Keele Labour Society recently held a social exploring the re-imaging of parliament. Students were asked to describe, draw and imagine how they would rebuild parliament if they could start afresh, with no restrictions. Though very imaginative and often comical, these ideas really get you thinking…
Tash Hortons plan (left above) saw parliament moved to a beautiful forest setting with long wooden walk ways, a relaxing tree-house for staff to unwind and most importantly a monkey room (presumably to remind politicians that we are all essentially clever monkeys). Felix Livers proposal (right above) took a modern approach featuring an outer-ring building filled with MPs offices and guarded by security lasers and of course bears. Felix’s idea was that bringing MPs offices closer to the chambers would be more efficient whilst providing a layer of security for the inner-court and buildings.
What would your own #FantasyParliament look like, where would it be and how would it work? Let us know by tweeting the hashtag #FantasyParliament and leaving your comments below.