Rees-Mogg warns against ‘gold-plated’ Parliament restoration

Richard Wheeler, PA Parliamentary Editor
·3-min read

Parliament’s multibillion-pound restoration must not be “gold-plated” although urgent work is required to protect one of its most historic features, according to Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The Commons Leader said fire safety improvements to Westminster Hall’s hammer-beam roof, commissioned in 1393 by King Richard II, must be an “absolute priority” after concerns were raised with him.

But he cautioned MPs that there must be “no blank cheque” when it comes to the wider repair works to “save” the Palace of Westminster.

An empty Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus
The Houses of Parliament (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The body responsible for the project is preparing options about the future Parliament for MPs to consider.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “The sponsor body is due to publish its strategic review on the restoration and renewal programme soon, which will enable parties involved to consider options in light of the economic effects of coronavirus.

“As Leader of the House, I want to ensure the Palace of Westminster remains the home of our democracy for future generations.

“In the first instance that means getting on with the works that are immediately possible.

“Restoration and renewal should not be used as a cause for delaying works that everyone knows needs to take place – and I’m thinking of things like the restoration of the Victoria Tower, which the Commons at any rate is keen to proceed with, and particularly works relating to fire safety.

“A great deal has been done but it’s been recently raised with me concerns about the hammer-beam roof in Westminster Hall, and I’d make that an absolute priority in terms of fire safety.

“It has lasted since the reign of Richard II, I hope it can last another 700-odd years – and I hope I’ll still be here, Mr Speaker, and you too.

“I’m not that ambitious.”

Mr Rees-Mogg added the sponsor body and delivery authority is “on schedule” to prepare options for Parliament to consider in a “timely fashion”.

Westminster Hall (George Ryan/PA)
Westminster Hall (George Ryan/PA)

He went on: “But when we come to considering those options I think we need to be anxious to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent on vital works, not on a gold-plated scheme.

“We have to explain to our constituents when we spend money on ourselves, and therefore I think the vital works test is going to be a key one.

“As we save the palace, there must be no blank cheque.”

MPs and peers agreed in 2018 to a plan that would see both the House of Commons and House of Lords move to temporary facilities near the existing site, a “full decant”, to allow essential repairs and upgrades to be made to the Victorian palace.

But amid concerns about the cost, estimated at almost £4 billion in 2014, a review of the plans is being carried out by the sponsor body.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year suggested moving Parliament to York while major repairs are carried out although this was later rubbished by several MPs and peers.