Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Ros in the Lords: Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, Report Stage

Ros is a member of the Shadow Sponsor Body tasked with overseeing the essential work of dragging the core of the Parliamentary Estate into the modern age, or perhaps as accurate, salvaging the building before it explodes, catches fire or is flooded with sewage. In that capacity, she had some thoughts to outline in response to what turned out to be a rather short, and harmonious, Report Stage...

My Lords, I will add my thanks to all those who have worked during August to come up with a solution that meets not just the needs of those moving the amendments but the sentiments that were expressed during the debate. As a member of the shadow sponsor body, I think that this gives some clarity about the wishes of the House and the responsibilities of the sponsor body when it gets its substantive form. 

Right from the beginning, outreach and education have been an absolute priority for the sponsor body. I assure the noble Earl that we have had a lot of discussions with the education and outreach department already, and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that flexibility is one of the key things that we are thinking about in design. Obviously not every room in the Palace can be entirely flexible - there are too many constraints, particularly of heritage, for that - but one of our overall objectives will be to end up with a much more flexible space because, as the noble Lord said, we simply cannot predict where we are going to be in future.

The shadow sponsor body has always felt, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has previously so passionately described, that the renewal of Parliament is not just about the building—that is extremely important to us. When we think about overall renewal, some of the issues are matters of operation - about how we do things - some are procedural and some are cultural. The Houses of Parliament are extremely conservative organisations that are quite resistant to change, so we have to accept that there is also cultural thinking. 

A lot of these matters need attention from Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, was right to talk about the need for close working between the shadow sponsor body - the sponsor body, going forward - and the rest of Parliament, and how we do these things together. It is certainly not for the sponsor body to start telling Parliament what its procedures should look like and so on—so there is very much a need for close working on that.

My final point is that it has become clear to me, having chaired a number of sessions - particularly on the question of accessibility, but the point is wider - that there is an awful lot that we could do now. We do not have to wait for the physical restoration of this building. I urge the House to find ways of exploring some of the things that could be done right now to make the building more accessible - and I mean accessible in its full sense in terms of the language that we use and the way that people engage with this place - while we wait for more tangible physical accessibility improvements further down the road. 

We need to think about how Parliament creates the space to think about those things when there is so much else going on. If Parliament is to come through what is a particularly torrid time at the moment, we really must give some attention to these matters.

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