The Palace of Westminster is renowned across the world. The buildings are a place of great historical significance and repute and the envy of many. The buildings quite rightly occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of this nation and are a representation of our democracy and should be treasured. They are one of the great tourist venues and help to portray this country all over the world.
Yet, despite all of this MPs were right to vote to relocate away from Westminster so refurbishments could take place.
MPs this week voted by 236 to 220 to support an amendment that saw members across the House come together to back a full programme of works that is likely to result in the House of Commons moving to a venue in Whitehall from the middle of the next decade. This would be the first time Parliament has moved out of the palace of Westminster since the Commons chamber was destroyed by a bomb in 1941.
The amendment successfully defeated Government proposals which would have further delayed a final decision. The Government appear to have been worried the cost of the repairs, part of a proposed £5.6 billion modernisation would be hard to justify in a time of economic hardship. MPs in the end appear to have been convinced to support the amendment due to the potential risk of a large scale fire.
Of course, the cost of repairs is far from ideal, however the alternatives are far worse. Firstly, the longer a decision is delayed the greater the costs of the repair are likely to be. Secondly, the risk of a catastrophic event is now quite significant. Thirdly, the building in many parts is no longer fit for purpose. This means carrying on as before is no longer an option. A report from the Joint Committee of the Palace of Westminster further underlines this point.
This decision should not be seen as MPs simply spending money on themselves. Nor, should it be viewed as a selfish or irresponsible decision. The repairs for Westminster are a necessity and the sooner they begin than the sooner MPs can return back to the Palace.
The Houses of Parliament are places where our elected representatives make decisions on our behalf, important decisions which shape our future. These decisions should be made in a building fit for purpose and not in danger of calamity. This is not the end for the Palace of Westminster, but merely the start of a new beginning.
Westminster is a place I largely admire. It is a place of great history, great tradition and great prestige. This week though, has not been a good week for Westminster. Allegations of inappropriate behaviour by MPs across the political spectrum have haunted Westminster. The scandal began when reports emerged of female researchers and aides using a WhatsApp group to share information about alleged sexual abuse and harassment in Westminster.
Whilst this story is ongoing, it is first important to remember two things. Firstly, all have to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Secondly, there is a major difference between two consenting adults engaging in a relationship and claims of sexual misconduct or harassment.
At time of writing, the biggest casualty is former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who was forced to resign after admitting his conduct had “fallen short.” This has not stopped further stories about Fallon, including reports of sexual assault, which he strongly denies. Additionally, first Secretary of State Damien Green is facing an investigation. The senior Cabinet Minister is accused of making inappropriate advances to a female activist and Conservative journalist. Furthermore, backbench Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke has seen the whip removed following “serious allegations.” The Times reports that according to a former senior Conservative Minister, seven members of the Cabinet are considering their position.
Labour too has faced a difficult week. At the beginning of the week a Labour activist claimed she was raped at a Labour Party event in 2011 and advised not to report the story. Later in the week, veteran MP Kelvin Hopkins was suspended over a sexual misconduct claim. Reports claim Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had previously been warned about Hopkins. Lastly, on Friday the Labour Party announced they were investigating Clive Lewis over allegations he groped a woman at Labour Party Conference. This followed swiftly accusations against former Minister Ivan Lewis who accepted his behaviour towards female women had been “unwelcome.”
Undoubtedly, these revelations provide further evidence Westminster needs a culture change. Powerful men for too long have been exploiting their position. They have abused young aides (mainly women) both verbally and physically who have felt powerless to act knowing these MPs had great power over their future career. This is a situation no-one should have to face. It has likely caused some to leave Westminster and others to shy away from jobs in Parliament. This is a wake-up call for Westminster and one they should heed. It is time for action.