The cut-and-thrust of politics before the May elections shows that parliamentary democracy is as vigorous as ever in Britain, but the ‘mother of parliaments’ is crumbling, literally, and the speaker wants 3 billion pounds to refurbish the palace of Westminster.
The current structure was built in early nineteenth century, but parliament has been functioning from the site long before a fire brought down the structure in 1512. Another fire in 1834 led to its reconstruction, which stands today, but parts of it are in a precarious state.
John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, has warned that a failure to spend “not inconsequential” sums of public money on refurbishment could lead to parliament abandoning the site of the palace of Westminster.
Giving a speech to the Hansard society, Bercow said an estimate of 3 billion pounds for refurbishment was “a realistic scenario”, but that it was probably “on the cautious side”, and added: “We can’t possibly be held to a figure at this stage.”
Bercow said the Houses of Parliament could have to be "abandoned" within 20 years without extensive repair work. A World Heritage Site, the building suffers from flooding, contains a great deal of asbestos and has fire safety issues.
“It would be a huge pity if we decided that by the time we had reached the 200th anniversary of the vast fire which consumed the old Parliament and brought this one in to being we had to abandon this site and look elsewhere in order to serve the public interest properly”, Bercow said.
“Yet I will tell you in all candour that unless management of the very highest quality and a not inconsequential sum of public money are deployed on this estate over the next ten years that will be the outcome.”
The last time repairs were carried out in the present building was between 1945 and 1950, to repair damage during World War II.
Bercow said: “This is a fabulous institution located in awesome surroundings. It must not have the ethos of a museum. It will require bold and imaginative managerial leadership to ensure that we are a parliament fit for purpose and that this Victorian legacy can be rendered practical for contemporary representation.”