A former cabinet minister has urged MPs to “get on” with renovating parliament as she warned the aging estate could burn down “any day” in a blaze similar to that which destroyed France’s Notre Dame cathedral in 2017.
Andrea Leadsom, the MP for South Northamptonshire and former business secretary, said her colleagues must make a decision soon on how to proceed with repairing the Houses of Parliament.
Built between 1860 and 1860, parliament requires major repairs including restoration work, asbestos removal, fire safety improvements, renewal of wiring and conservation work.
A report published earlier this year showed that restoring the Palace of Westminster without finding a new home for MPs could take up to 76 years, with the repairs bill reaching £22 billion.
The project’s sponsor body and delivery authority said the cheapest option would involve a “full decant” of the palace for between 12 and 20 years, with the work costing in the region of £7 billion to £13 billion.
But some politicians have pushed back against plans to move them off the estate – a Unesco World Heritage site. They vetoed proposals that would have seen them moved to Richmond House in central London.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster programme, Ms Leadsom, a former leader of the Commons, said MPs must get on with finalizing plans to avoid a disaster such as the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire.
“That is so ‘there but for the grace of God’,” she said. “It could burn down today, tomorrow, any day and we’ve got to make that decision and get on with it,” adding that a blaze was only avoided in 2017 because the estate has 24/7 fire patrols.
Peers in the House of Lords, meanwhile, have voiced their opposition to a plan floated by Michael Gove recently to move them out of London while the renovation takes place.
Mr Gove, the leveling up secretary, said he would “not support” a plan for peers to use the Queen Elizabeth II Center as an alternative location.
Peers said the House of Commons and House of Lords should not be separated while the work takes place.
Mr Gove wrote to the lord speaker saying the House of Lords should relocate outside of London rather than moving to the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Centre.
The Leveling Up Secretary is said to have written to Lord McFall of Alcluith suggesting locations including Stoke-on-Trent, Burnley and Sunderland.
In the letter, reported in The Sunday TimesMr Gove said he knows “cities and towns across the United Kingdom would be pleased to extend their hospitality to peers”.
He is quoted as saying that having “carefully reviewed the proposed arrangements”, he “will not support the use of the QEII Center as an alternative location”.
The Queen Elizabeth II Center space is just a few minutes’ walk from the Palace of Westminster in London.
In the letter, which The Sunday Times said was also sent to prime minister Boris Johnson and cabinet secretary Simon Case, Mr Gove suggested to move elsewhere in England, Scotland or Wales.
He is reported to have written: “As the minister responsible for leveling up, it is clear to me that the House of Lords moving elsewhere, even for a temporary period, would be widely welcomed.
“I have carefully reviewed the proposed arrangements and…I will not support the use of the QEII Center as an alternative location.
“I propose to establish dedicated liaison points for you in my department to support you in identifying a suitable location for the House of Lords in the North, Midlands, South West, Scotland or Wales. I would, of course, be happy to meet you to discuss this.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment at the time.
Peers said separating parliament’s two houses geographically seemed “highly questionable”.
In a letter to fellow peers, Lord McFall wrote the Lords’ law-making role was “indivisible” from that of the House of Commons.
“While I agree with the secretary of state that politics can be too London-centric, I don’t believe moving locations in and of itself would address these concerns,” he said.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.