Safety concerns for Parliament as leak rains water down on Commons chamber

·4-min read
Wet patches are seen on the carpet of the chamber of the House of Commons, London, after the sitting was delayed for 60 minutes as numerous buckets near the green benches were catching drips raining in through the ceiling on Monday afternoon. Picture date: Monday July 11, 2022 (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)
Wet patches are seen on the carpet of the chamber of the House of Commons, London, after the sitting was delayed for 60 minutes as numerous buckets near the green benches were catching drips raining in through the ceiling on Monday afternoon. Picture date: Monday July 11, 2022 (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)

Parliament was labelled a “very dangerous place to be” after water poured into the House of Commons chamber through the ceiling.

MPs were turned away from the chamber and the sitting was delayed for 60 minutes as numerous buckets near the green benches caught drips raining in through the ceiling on Monday afternoon.

Staff were trying to keep the chamber dry, with protective coverings draped over the central table, while police officers were seen entering the room with packages labelled as water-absorbent blankets.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said an air-conditioning unit from a nearby office was to blame for the leak.

There have been repeated delays to plans to restore the crumbling Palace of Westminster, amid concerns over soaring costs.

Conservative MP Flick Drummond (Meon Valley), asked if the incident concerned her, told the PA news agency: “Yes, I have done the basement tour. This is a very dangerous place to be.

“I can tell you, we need to do some restoration very quickly on this and perhaps I think the only way we are going to do that is to move out now because it’s going to be too expensive.

“But yes, we have water leaks, we have things falling down from ceilings and downstairs, the electricity cables and gas and water leaks.”

The parliamentary estate needs to be fixed up so that it can remain a functioning and safe place to work for the foreseeable future

Garry Graham, Prospect union

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect union, said: “If anyone requires evidence of the urgency of action by Parliament on restoration and renewal – and the scope for a catastrophic failure of the building paralysing the Government and its ability to legislate – they need look no further than today’s news that proceedings have been delayed thanks to a water leak in the chamber.

“The parliamentary estate needs to be fixed up so that it can remain a functioning and safe place to work for the foreseeable future.

“The cheapest, safest solution with the shortest timescale attached is a full decant yet ministers have decided that this would be too much disruption.

“If one leak can cause this much disruption it doesn’t take a genius to work out that decades of operating with Parliament as a building site will cause untold problems.”

Business in the chamber was scheduled to start at 2.30pm with prayers followed by work and pensions questions, but this was pushed back by an hour.

Wet patches could be seen on the carpet near the Government despatch box and the SNP frontbench.

Labour MP Emma Hardy, who briefly walked into the Commons chamber before being turned away, said the water leak appeared to be “just in front of the despatch box”.

The MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle said: “I have just walked through and there are a lot of people working, around six or seven.

“Lots of blankets on the floor and a machine, which I’m not quite sure what is doing.

“It (the leak) is just in front of the despatch box, but the roof looks fine.”

Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans added: “Somebody has just said to me this is one leak where we don’t need an inquiry.”

Opening proceedings, Speaker Sir Lindsay said: “As the House will be aware we have started our proceedings an hour late today because of the leak of some water into the chamber from the air-conditioning unit. The air-conditioning unit is not the one for the chamber but from an office nearby.

“I’ve been assured that it’s safe for us to sit in the chamber.”

Sir Lindsay said none of the scheduled debates will be curtailed as they all have protected time.

Work and pensions minister David Rutley, to groans, joked: “Despite what’s happened today our spirits will not be dampened, I’m sure the chamber will be in full flow before we know it.”

A House of Commons spokesman said: “Due to a water leak in the House of Commons chamber, the start of business was delayed. Maintenance staff took action to resolve the situation, and the House is expected to sit from 3.30pm.”

In April 2019, water pouring into the Commons forced an abandonment of the sitting.

This occurred during a debate on tax matters and while proceedings carried on for a few minutes, the noise of water pouring into the press gallery soon became overwhelming.

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