In light of a new MP report, it is possible that the State Opening of Parliament could be moved to Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace for the duration of any major renovations to the Palace of Westminster.
In the recently released 119-page document it was concluded that the historic site of parliament faces ‘an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore’. It went on to say that ‘It is impossible to say when this will happen, but there is a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to parliament no longer being able to occupy the palace.’ As such, the report stresses that minor repairs won’t be enough – a major restoration plan is necessary.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston co-chaired the committee of MPs who produced the report and was quoted as saying, ‘We must not spend a penny more than is absolutely necessary, but this is now an increasingly urgent problem. We can’t put off the decision to act any longer if we are to protect one of the most important and iconic parts of our national heritage.’
It has been 60 years since the last major works were undertaken to address the issues facing the aging Unesco world heritage site, parts of which are more than 900 years old. The renovation report has put forward three options for the restoration. The first is a stage-by-stage rolling programme which could take up to 40 years at a cost of £5.67 billion but would allow MPs and peers to stay in place. The second is a ‘partial decant’ which could take up to 14 years and cost approximately £4 billion and would require the Commons and Lords to take turns moving to temporary accommodation. The third option, however, is the favourite of the committee and recommends closing the Palace of Westminster and moving everyone to new, temporary accommodations nearby allowing the renovations to be undertaken all at once. This option would allow the repairs to be completed in eight years and would cost from £3.5 to £3.9 billion.
In addition to the proposed move of the State Opening of Parliament to Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace, the report stressed that ‘dignified’ arrangements would be put in place for other ceremonial events including the lying-in-state period after the death of a member of the Royal Family.
Unsurprisingly, the report has received a lot of attention and mixed reactions from MPS and the Scottish National Party has already said that its MPs would not support the report. A source for The National cited ‘grave concerns over the use of taxpayers’ money’ and questioned ‘whether it is sensible to spend billions of pounds to have a modern parliament in a Victorian building, parts of which are much older’.
The matter will now be put to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords who will vote on the findings of the report ‘in due course’.