It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who talked about the length of time it can take to make decisions and to plan properly for the inevitable in this place. I have been a Member of Parliament for almost 30 years, and as she alluded to, it is certainly a regular pattern in this place that, when a difficult decision comes along, there are in effect three parliamentary ways to deal with it: first, legislate for it, whether it is good legislation or bad legislation; secondly, throw money at it, whether or not it is good value; and, thirdly, put it off. It seems that there are still some of those who want to do the last.
I plucked this notice from the staircase close to my office a little while ago. I would be showing it to the House, but I know that would be against the rules about using props, so for those who were not able to take advantage of seeing it, it says:
“Do not enter
Masonry falling on staircase
Use lift only”.
It was not that inconvenient until a couple of days ago, when the lift did not work either, and I was not able to access my office in St Stephen’s Tower, and neither were any of my staff. To those who say this is something we can put off again, I say that it is not. If we actually care about things like the health and safety of our own staff, it needs to be dealt with. One thing I think the House needs to agree on is that we have to get on with it. Further delay should not be one of the options that we consider.
Those who say that we should not be talking about this now because there are much more important subjects for Parliament to talk about, or that we should try to do it on the cheap, are failing in their duty as Members of Parliament. In terms of those who say that there are much more difficult issues to talk about in the covid environment, I am getting fed up with that sort of virtue signalling from people in this Chamber as an excuse to put these things off because they believe it will buy them favour with bits of the media or the electorate. It is irresponsible to put it off, for the very reason that has been given by so many Members today.
The idea that we should do it on the cheap is actually to betray those for whom we hold this place in trust. It is an amazing, wonderful building, but we are not just temporary residents; we have a role in holding it in trust for our country. It is shocking that we have allowed ourselves to get to this position of patch and mend at a huge cost, let alone even considering carrying that on.
We would regard any Government proposal that took a similar approach as a shocking waste of public money that would ultimately require a bigger bill to put it right. That is the case in this House, and we have to face up to that today.
The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch made the very interesting point—with her PAC hat on, I imagine—that, were we to go ahead with what will come at a very large cost, it will provide employment for people with great skills and crafts, many of them diminishing in number, who are able to repair a grade I listed building. We have just gone through a period in the pandemic when we have paid out huge amounts of public money for people to not actually be doing anything in many cases. We have an opportunity to provide employment, skills and training for those in our country, and it is a unique opportunity in many ways that we should not overlook.
In this short contribution, I want to say something about the historic political and constitutional importance of this House—the House of Commons, not the House of Lords. The Houses of Parliament are, of course, iconic nationally and internationally, but the position of the House of Commons is a unique one. I have not taken part in these debates before, but I have listened with great interest to Members talk about the difficulties with the solution of decanting the House of Commons to the House of Lords or vice versa until we get the building work done in one place. I entirely understand that, but I believe it is something that we should consider for the following reason.
The House of Commons and the House of Lords are not of equal constitutional importance, and keeping a democratic link between the House of Commons and the Palace of Westminster is, in itself, of great national importance. I listened to the argument made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) about the basement and the problems in this place. We hear all these arguments about cost and difficulty, but—again, to refer back to the contribution of the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch —we were told prior to covid about the cost and difficulty of mRNA vaccines, and when we had to put our minds to it, we were able to provide solutions in a relatively short time.
I accept the difficulties, and I am by no means an expert in any of that, but if it is possible to maintain the link between the elected House of Commons and the Palace of Westminster, we should take it. When German bombs fell on this Chamber during world war two, the House of Commons remained inside the Palace and moved to the House of Lords. Many of Churchill’s greatest speeches during world war two were, in fact, given in the House of Lords, because that historic and iconic link was maintained between the democratic Chamber and the Palace of Westminster.
However long or short our tenure in this democratic House of Commons, we are not just temporary residents here; we have duties to those who have sent us. The historic continuity of the world’s oldest democracy inside this building is extremely important, and such rare links should only be broken when there is no alternative but to do so. The link between British democracy and the House of Commons is of tremendous value—a value that can be measured in terms of more than just the cost we face for refurbishment. As Members of Parliament, we should strongly consider our role in our heritage and the future of this Parliament before we take such decisions.