LET’s SPEND BILLIONS OF POUNDS REDECORATING A PARLIAMENTARIAN’s PALACE

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    • Of all the things this House can do to endear itself to our constituents, spending billions of pounds on renovating our place of work is not one of them. In these days of austerity and tightening of belts, and with the impending economic disaster of Brexit coming our way, I would bet this would be near the bottom or at the very bottom of the public’s concerns. The sums involved are simply eye-watering—£3.6 billion rising to £5.7 billion, and that is before all the unforeseen difficulties and the additions that hon. Members will certainly want to factor in. So it is no surprise whatsoever that people are making an estimation that this could come in at a cool £10 billion to £12 billion.

      As with so many things that fundamentally impact on my constituents, I thought I would ask a few of them what they thought about these proposals. It was no surprise that they were not seen all that favourably. Mrs McLeod from Pitlochry just said curtly:

      “You must be joking”

      Mr Morrison from Errol said:

      “In these days of food banks and austerity I am sickened that they are even thinking about this”.

      Mr Mac Donald from Kinloch Rannoch just casually inquired:

      “why are you even still in that place, it’s time to come home to your own Parliament here”,

      a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur.

    • I will make a bit of progress and give way in a moment.

      Surprisingly, no one in my less-than-scientific survey of a few people in Perth and North Perthshire thought there were any admirable qualities in spending billions on a parliamentarian’s palace. I am pretty certain that, even if I went looking for anyone who thought there were, I would not find any in my constituency.

      Let me compare and contrast what is happening in this Chamber with what has just been happening in the Scottish Parliament, where we are setting out our budgets. We are allocating billions of pounds to socially useful programmes that will enable our citizenry. What are we doing here? We are talking about spending billions of pounds on a royal palace to accommodate Members of Parliament. Nothing could distinguish better the priorities of these two Parliaments.

      I do, however, accept that we have an issue. [Hon. Members: “ Oh really!”] Yes. Because of the decades of prevarication and indecision, this building is practically falling down. The failure of successive Government to face up to their responsibility in looking after this place means we now have a building that could, as people have said, face a catastrophic failure at any time.

      The mechanical and electrical engineering systems are already well past their use-by date and the risk of that catastrophic failure rises exponentially every five years. Some of the high-voltage cables in the building are decaying, and fire is an ever-present risk, only compounded by just how easily any fire would spread. Most worryingly, as we have heard from the Deputy Leader of the House and the Leader of the House, there is a substantial amount of asbestos in the building. Mice and other vermin are a common feature, and I have heard that some staff even have names for the mice that they frequently acquaint with on a daily basis. It is not a robin we need in this House, but a flipping big eagle to pick up some of the huge mice that kick about this place.

      The Palace of Westminster is simply falling down.

      The most important aspect that we have to consider is our responsibility for the staff who work in this place. This is a workplace for thousands of people, and we are putting them at significant risk by staying here.

    • I sympathise with some of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but it is simply untrue to say that this building is falling down. It is not. There is work that needs to be done, not least to protect staff and give them a proper place to work in, and to provide decent disabled access, but if we simply let motion 1 or motion 2 go through, we will be committing more money than if we vote for the amendment in the name of the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. That is what I fear.

    • I have an elegant solution to the difficulties and travails of this House, which is to consider making this beautiful building a tourist attraction for people from all around the world. There are immense development opportunities in this UNESCO world heritage building. Let us design and create a Parliament for the 21st century—one that will be useful for 21st-century parliamentarians—rather than try to shoehorn all this activity into a mock-gothic Victorian tourist attraction. That is what the hon. Gentleman should support this evening, not billions of pounds being spent on some parliamentarians’ palace.

    • Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

    • No, I want to make some progress.

      We have a duty of care to the staff and for their wellbeing and safety. It is therefore disappointing that the motion seeks, once again, to kick any future works into touch and to delay the decision. The simple fact is that the decision should have been made a decade ago, not kicked into touch for another Parliament to deal with. The whole story of resolving our difficulties in this House is littered with prevarication and indecision. We will not support any measure that leaves our staff here for a minute longer than is absolutely necessary. We are not prepared to have them continue to be put at risk.

      It will not come as any surprise to you, Mr Speaker, or any other Member to hear that I, as a Scottish National party Member, do not share the dewy-eyed affection and nostalgia that some Conservative Members feel towards the Palace. I love this building—it is fantastic. It is one of the truly iconic buildings in the world, and it is a real pleasure and privilege to see this place as I walk into it, but I have to concede that I could probably discharge my responsibilities as a Member of Parliament from somewhere else. I think I would just about manage. On the distant date when all these works may be completed, I and my Scottish colleagues will be well gone from this place. We will be sitting in our own independent Parliament in Scotland, considering the issues that all normal states have to deal with. Probably, when all this is concluded, the first colony on Mars will be thinking about independence.

      When I look at this building, its stunning architecture and the condition it is in, I see it as a sad metaphor for Brexitised Britain: dilapidated, falling to bits around our ears, generally unloved and in need of a lot of attention and support. Does not that just sum up where this nation is?

    • Is it not the case that it would take a crowbar and a pint of Irn Bru to wrestle my honourable cousin from Scotland from this place—that he actually loves it here? [Laughter.]

    • The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) may be seeking to recover his composure—I certainly did not exhort him to resume his seat. We want him on his feet so that we can hear him continue.

    • I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I will enjoy a refreshing cup of Irn Bru with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) any time, but on his substantive point, I assure him that I cannot wait to get away from this place and for my nation to take control of all its own affairs.

    • Is it true that there are only 22 voters in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency who separate him from fulfilling his wish?

    • Yet again, there is a cunning plan in place, because a precedent has been set. If I, for whatever reason that I cannot foresee, was less than successful in the next election, defeated Members for Perth and North Perthshire are simply given a peerage in the House of Lords.

      We have proposed a sensible approach to the current issues facing this House. There is nothing wrong with considering a new-build Parliament off site. It is deeply disappointing and depressing that when that was sensibly presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) to the Joint Committee, it was rejected out of hand and did not even get the time of day as a proposal. Is that not absolutely shocking? It was a failure of true diligence of this House to consider all available options—just rejected immediately. It would have been a solution. Just imagine developers lining up to get a share of this place, a UNESCO site; just imagine what they could do. We are trying to shoehorn a Parliament into this mock Gothic building. We need a 21st century Parliament designed with all the features that we require as 21st century parliamentarians to do our job, and that cannot be achieved on this site without decades of work and billions and billions of pounds.

      That brings me to amendment (b) to motion 2. This is really, really important. For goodness’ sake let us at least end the useless tradition that actively eats into our productivity as Members of Parliament and restore electronic voting in whatever approach we pursue. [Interruption.] Another proposal that has gone down particularly well with my Conservative friends! We waste days of parliamentary time just stuck in the packed voting Lobby, waiting to make that simple binary choice of yes or no.

    • I am conscious that I am probably one of the few Members who have taken part in the debate so far who was actually only elected in 2017, but one thing that struck me when I got here was going to the education centre and the bemused look on the children’s faces when I explained to them that to vote in this place, I have to walk through doors, yet in the education centre, the kids get to vote by electronic keypads.

    • As my hon. Friend will remember, only two weeks ago, we wasted up to two hours on voting in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. We could have been debating, legislating or taking up issues on behalf of our constituents. WebRoots Democracy came up with a report today that said that one month—one month—was lost on voting in the Parliament between 2010 and 2015, at the cost of £3.5 million in Members’ time. This nonsense has to end.

    • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is presupposing that a month was lost in voting in the House of Commons. Do you have any information as to how much of that month was taken up by voting on SNP amendments?

    • That is not a matter on which I have taxed my mind, and I do not think that I am required to do so, but I have known the right hon. Gentleman since we first jousted together in 1983 at a half-yearly Federation of Conservative Students conference, and I knew his puckish grin then and I know it now. He has made his own point in his own way and we will leave it there.

    • It is a puckish grin with which I am also familiar. All I want to do is assist hon. Members in this House: help us in our campaign to reclaim our time so that we can properly spend the time debating and looking after our constituents—[Interruption.] Yes, take back control, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) says.

  • On that very issue, how can I resist the hon. Gentleman?

  • I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He says that time in the Division Lobby is wasted. On the Conservative Benches, we find it quite useful talking to our friends and colleagues. Is that not true in the SNP?

  • I do not know how much of a blessing it is to Front Benchers when hon. Members get backstage and buttonhole them. And this is what we get—the shrieks of, “Oh, we need to meet up with our ministerial colleagues in the Lobby.” But that prerogative is exclusively the right of Conservative Members. I do not detect many Government Ministers, as we spend most of our time voting with Labour, and I am pretty damned certain that no Labour Members have encountered a Government Minister in their Lobby over the course of these years. The Conservative Members may have that right, but it is a right that is not open to the rest of us.

    I will help Conservatives Members with this one: we could have electronic voting that we would have to do in the vicinity of the Chamber. We would all have to come here and we would get some sort of device, because the technological solution would be to press a button that is handed out to us. We would all be here, so if hon. Members wanted to speak to Ministers or talk to the Leader of the House about a particular issue, they could just go up to them and say, “Hello, Leader of the House. Can I have a word with you please?” None of that would be stopped.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman just clarify that he is saying that we should have individual desks?

  • A number of solutions have been designed in Parliaments around the world. In some Parliaments, that solution may include desks. What I am suggesting is a technological solution, whereby we would come to the Chamber and press a button to vote. We could vote on anybody’s proposal and time would not be wasted.

  • I have served in the Scottish Parliament, which uses electronic voting. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an issue—I saw this a number of times—with SNP MSPs who incorrectly press the wrong button?

  • Let me use the hon. Gentleman as an example. Sometimes he is not even there to vote on these issues because he is away refereeing football games, earning thousands of pounds, so it is really good to see him in his place today, prepared to vote.

  • According to the Public Whip website, in the last full five-year Parliament, the hon. Gentleman voted in only 49.9% of votes. Does he want an electronic system so that he can boost his own record without doing any real work?

  • I do not know quite what the hon. Gentleman misses when it comes to these sorts of issues. I vote for issues that are reserved here in this Parliament and this House. Conservative Members are trying to stop me from voting, through English votes for English laws, so we are in a situation where these particular difficulties exist in the House.

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