Article - Renovations

Last week, the House of Commons voted to remove itself and the House of Lords entirely from the Palace of Westminster in 2025 so that the whole, antiquated and dangerous system of wires and pipes of every kind that have gradually accumulated since Barry and Pugin constructed this great edifice can be replaced and modernised. 

I wish I felt more confident than I do that this necessary and much delayed work will be done without adding any unnecessary bells and whistles. Alas, my experience over the last 21 years has been that repair of the fabric of parliament has become institutionalised to an alarming extent.

No doubt, partly due to the fact that the stone is crumbling and the infrastructure creaking, brigades of people have arrived during each recess to expand on the work that goes on even while the two Houses are sitting. 

There is a particular corridor which lies behind the Speaker's Chair and which contains a row of framed photographs. I have seen these photographs mysteriously removed from that corridor almost every summer for so many years that I can no longer remember when the process began. But, at least to a layman whatever has been done each summer either to the walls of the corridor itself or to the framed photographs is impossible to discern. I suppose that something must be happening, or at least I hope that something may be happening, in the interval between the time the pictures come down and the time the pictures go back up again. But I have a dreadful, sinking feeling that some part of the explanation may lie in the existence of some annual budget which is spent lest it be removed in the following year when it might actually be needed. 

These things really do happen. 

After the 2015 General election, when I returned to my post as the Minister in charge of the Cabinet Office I discovered that the plan had been made while I had been fighting the election to move me from the offices I had previously inhabited into a much larger but less convenient suite of offices. On investigation, it turned out that this plan involved spending several million of pounds doing up the old offices, which really didn't need anything more than a lick of paint. I put a stop to this right away. But that episode taught me that budgets for renovation of extremely historic buildings, however well intentioned in their origins can easily generate absurdities over time. 

The replacement of the ancient and dangerous pipes and wires in the Palace of Westminster definitely does not fit into this category. It is genuinely necessary, as I have seen for myself by going down into the bowels of the building with the engineers who have to deal with the current nightmare on a daily basis in an effort to keep the lights on, keep the communications and data flowing, and prevent the whole place from burning down. 

We just have to hope that the necessary renovation will not be taken as an opportunity to do things that no sane person would do in their own house.