Come 2020 British MPs will have to move out of their Palace of Westminster Parliament building as it is renovated and face a drinking ban in their temporary premises nearby because it has been leased for an Islamic bond scheme, a media report said on Saturday.
The Times claims to have seen a leaked report according to which MPs will be relocated to the Department of Health offices in Whitehall while a multi-billion-pound refurbishment of the House of Commons and House of Lords begins in 2020.
Lords’ peers will be transferred across Parliament Square to the Queen Elizabeth II Centre.
As the new temporary home for MPs, Richmond House, is held under an Islamic bond scheme, it forbids the sale of alcohol.
A Department of Health source told the newspaper that staff were getting ready to move out of Richmond House next year.
That will give authorities three years to transform the property into a functioning parliament. It is thought that the debating chamber will possibly be housed there.
The lease on Richmond House, where MPs are due to move, was transferred to finance an Islamic bond scheme two years ago. This means that it cannot be used for anything that is not sanctioned by Sharia law.
One of the terms agreed with the UK Treasury is that the sale of alcohol is forbidden, whereas at their current location in Westminster, MPs have the choice of 10 licensed bars and restaurants.
The 200-million-pound bonds, known as ‘Sukuk’, were launched as part of an initiative by former Chancellor George Osborne to make Britain “the western hub of Islamic finance”.
Devout Muslims cannot buy traditional government bonds because they pay interest. Sukuk, an Islamic alternative, permit guaranteed returns if they are linked to rental payments.
Moving MPs and peers out of the Palace of Westminster will enable the building work to be completed quicker and more cheaply — in six years, costing between 3.5 billion and 3.9 billion pounds, the leaked report indicates.
A vote in Parliament on the recommendations is due after the ongoing summer recess.
The move is an attempt to prevent the 19th-century Gothic building from disintegrating beyond repair.
The restoration and renewal unit of the British Parliament has said that since the UNESCO world heritage site’s construction in the mid-1800s “many features have never undergone major renovation”.
“The roofs are leaking, asbestos is present throughout, corrosion has occurred in gutters and downpipes and internal plumbing regularly fails, causing visible and sometimes irreversible damage to the Palace’s carved stonework ceilings and Pugin-designed historic interiors,” it says.