MPs to leave Parliament as safety fears and risk of “major failure” grows
MPs have voted to leave Parliament while a multi-million refit takes place, after hearing there have been at least 60 safety incidents in the last decade that could have led to a “serious fire”.
The House of Commons voted in favour of a “full and timely decant” from the Palace of Westminster to allow essential repairs by 236 votes to 220.
The planned move will not take place until 2025 at the earliest and possibly last for around six years.
Opening the debate, the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, told MPs 24-hour fire patrols are “necessary to keep us safe” because of a lack of fire compartmentation in the building.
“Over the past 10 years, 60 incidents have had the potential to cause a serious fire,” added Ms Leadsom.
“Secondly, there is a huge amount of asbestos packed into the walls that needs to be carefully and expensively removed to enable repairs.
“Thirdly, many pipes and cables are decades past their lifespan, with some now being impossible to access.”
She added the likelihood of a “major failure” grows the longer the systems are left unaddressed.
“As leader of the House, I work closely with the clerk, the director general and others who are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of those in this building to ensure that risks are minimised,” she told MPs.
“There are more than 7,500 people working in Parliament, and we welcome 1 million visitors each year, including many schoolchildren. Nevertheless, keeping everyone safe is becoming a growing challenge with each passing year.”
During the lengthy parliamentary debate, MPs discussed the issue of working safely in the Palace of Westminster, the cost of the repairs and where MPs would go in the work is being carried out.
Risk of catastrophic collapse
The Conservative MP Sir Paul Beresford told the chamber “the longer we wait, the risk of a catastrophic collapse of services nears upon us”.
“Most members will be aware that the House has a basement, which has a long passageway that runs the length of the building,” he told MPs.
“There are 86 vertical chimneys running from that passageway and they were originally designed for ventilation. That of course means a fire could travel laterally and vertically extremely quickly.”
While SNP MP Pete Wishart commented that the “simple fact is that the decision should have been made a decade ago” and not “kicked into touch for another Parliament to deal with.”
“The whole story of resolving our difficulties in this House is littered with prevarication and indecision,” he added.
The House of Lords will vote on the motion next week.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Statutory inspections during COVID-19 – Director’s Briefing
Get your hands on this free Barbour download to learn all about statutory inspections in the age of COVID-19, and how the failure to undertake an inspection may result in big problems even when inspectors are hard to get hold of.