Lord Polak contributions to the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019

Mon 22nd July 2019 Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill (Lords Chamber)
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
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Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Monday 22nd July 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Leader of the House
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, there is another amendment in this group in my name, but I am afraid it is nothing to do with the Holocaust memorial, so forgive me for changing the topic. It is about co-ordination of major programmes and projects.

At Second Reading I raised the need for clarity on responsibility and accountability for all the major programmes of work ongoing at the Palace. As we know, we currently have the roof works, there is the masonry project and Big Ben, and soon to start will be the Northern Estate. My concern is the scope for confusion and the potential for all manner of things to go wrong if there is not a single body responsible for all these separate programmes to make sure they are co-ordinated properly.

Clause 1(1) makes provision for the sponsor body and the delivery authority to be responsible for building works beyond the restoration and renewal project itself. Since the Second Reading debate, I was pleased to receive a letter from the noble Earl confirming that responsibility for the Northern Estate will soon transfer to the sponsor body, so one of those major projects will now be within the remit of this new body. That is very welcome. I have also learned since Second Reading that within the House authorities, Strategic Estates is responsible for the other projects which are expected to be completed before the decant.

None the less, I have tabled my amendment because of the scope for things to go wrong when these big works eventually commence. I would like some reassurance from the noble Earl, or from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, that the Strategic Estates team has a formal responsibility for proper engagement with the sponsor body on all these projects; and that if there is any question that responsibility should shift to the sponsor body in the best interests of the future of the Palace of Westminster in the round, it will be considered swiftly. I would also be grateful if the Minister could let us know to whom Strategic Estates is accountable. If there was to be any change in responsibility for those major projects which could impact on the restoration and renewal project itself, which decision-making body would make that decision?

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I would like to bring us back to my noble friend Lord Cormack’s amendment. I have great respect for my noble friend, who sits beside me and advises me on the procedures of this House; perhaps he is not doing such a great job, but I thank him for that. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, talked about some Holocaust memorials that he has been to, but for me the most iconic one is the one right in the centre of Berlin. If your Lordships have not been to that one, I urge you to go because the memorial is all above ground, while its learning centre is entirely underground.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew
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I have been to the site in Berlin. Does the noble Lord not agree that it is on a much bigger footprint than is postulated for Victoria Tower Gardens? It is a rectangular site, occupying a great space, which is very different from what is proposed here.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak
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I will come on to the actual footprint of the site in a minute, if I may.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised the issue of security. I just pose the question: what does it say about our society that a Holocaust memorial is deemed a security risk? That is the sort of society we now live in, which is very concerning to me. I also take issue a little with noble Lords using this sort of amendment to the Bill to raise objections to the establishment of the memorial on that site. I know that I am northern and I like people to be straightforward. If this amendment were about just objecting to the site of a memorial, I would have preferred its wording to be clear and unequivocal in saying so. I do not know of any Jewish communal event or building that has been stopped or withdrawn because of security concerns. Thank God that in this country, measures are always put in place by successive Governments and successive leaders of the police, whether it be the Met Police here or the police in Manchester and other areas. They have always shown support and understanding by working closely with the CST—the Community Security Trust.

This reminds me of when I was the education director of the Board of Deputies back in the 1980s. I remember questioning the then president of the board, Lord Janner—he was not Lord Janner then but was subsequently made a Peer. I asked him what would happen if somebody were to daub the stone in the Dell in Hyde Park? What would happen if somebody came and put something on it, a swastika or whatever? I remember that his words to me were: “Stuart, you’ll roll up your sleeves and we’ll clean it up”. Those are important words, because it would be a great shame and sadness if a memorial such as this did not happen because we were worried that it could cause problems. I am not an expert, but surely Westminster is a heavily policed part of town, so why would a memorial at this site be an additional risk to the place we are in?

I do not want to pre-empt the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but I hope a memorial in the learning centre will stand next to Parliament as a reminder to all throughout the nation of our responsibility to remain vigilant against intolerance and bigotry. Setting history’s worst example of the disintegration of democratic values against the greatest emblem of Britain’s aspirations for democracy will stand as a permanent reminder of the responsibility of citizens and politicians, in a democracy, to be vigilant and responsive whenever and wherever those values are threatened. The trustees have ensured, and will ensure, that all precautions are met and the relevant people consulted.

The memorial will require just 7.5% of Victoria Tower Gardens—that leaves 92.5% untouched— and, as a result, the drainage, planting and gardens will be improved. Existing paths will be replaced, the playgrounds enhanced and there will be a new café. There will be many reasons to love the park. Members of the public should be able to go about their daily lives and that includes visiting all high-profile places in Westminster.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis
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My Lords, I have played no part in previous deliberations on the location of the Holocaust memorial. I have listened to the discussions very much for the first time. I say at the outset that I understand some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has made. I also strongly identify with the points that the noble Lord, Lord Polak, has made. What is unacceptable about this amendment is that something as big as the location of the Holocaust memorial is not being decided by a planning authority, but by a back-door route as an amendment to this legislation. This is a national memorial at the heart of London.

By the way, it has taken a long time to set this up. It should have been set up a generation ago, but, as this is a national memorial, it is of such importance that Parliament should decide, and on an express vote. If this is still unresolved—and, from listening to the debate, perhaps the Leader will tell us that it is more resolved than appears—there should be a procedure for Parliament to decide on the location, on a positive vote of both Houses, taking account of all the issues, including those which have been raised on security and accessibility, and on the aesthetic elements by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. What he said about the Berlin memorial was interesting. This is a hugely important decision that the nation should take, from looking at what other nations have done with their memorials and how ours matches up.

If I have understood the situation correctly, construction is not going to start imminently. It sounds unlikely, given the other work that is going to happen on the site. Perhaps the noble Lord will correct me but, if that is the case, Parliament should decide what happens with this memorial. We should not leave it to Westminster City Council, by using an amendment to the Bill in this indirect way.

Break in Debate

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I am afraid that because this project does not relate specifically to the R&R programme, I do not have that information. But I am sure I will be able to find out and will write to the noble Lord.

My noble friend Lord Cormack raised the issue of the decant. We will come to that in a later group so, if it is okay with noble Lords, I will now turn to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Stowell.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak
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For the record, I forgot to mention that I am a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Charitable Trust. I apologise for not saying that at the beginning of my contribution.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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My noble friend’s amendment would obligate the House authorities to consult the sponsor body about major works to the Parliamentary Estate which sit outside of R&R, if they are likely to have an impact on delivering the programme. Noble Lords will be aware that the Strategic Estates team is a bicameral service, accountable to the clerks of both Houses and to the relevant domestic committees. In the case of this House, those are the Services Committee, the Finance Committee and ultimately the commission. At present, the shadow sponsor body sits within the House authorities and under the Strategic Estates team, which means that both parties have a head start in looking ahead and being aware of what ongoing projects might have an impact on R&R.

My noble friend’s amendment is to Clause 6, which concerns the parliamentary relationship agreement that the House authorities and the sponsor body will have to sign once the sponsor body is formed on a statutory basis. This agreement will set out the arrangements to hand over the Palace for decant and to hand it back once the Palace has been restored. It will also cover issues relating to staff transfers, insurance, security and the control of data, among other matters.

In the light of its purpose, we consider that this agreement is the natural place for the House authorities and the sponsor body to determine how they will keep each other informed about ongoing estate works which might affect the R&R programme and provide the clarity that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, rightly said was important. As this agreement already has to cover “consultation and co-operation” between the sponsor body and the corporate officers of the House, we do not think it is necessary to prescribe in this Bill what that consultation and co-operation should cover.

Ian Ailles and the two clerks currently co-ordinate estates projects through the Parliamentary Estate and public realm oversight group. Once the sponsor body is established, if Parliament and the sponsor body wish for this group to continue to play a co-ordinating role, it would then need to be covered by the parliamentary relationship agreement. In addition, if, over the course of the R&R programme, it became apparent that there was support for current separate House authority estates programmes such as the archives project to fall under R&R, the Bill makes provision for this under Clause 1.

Adding another project to R&R could happen but only with the agreement of the commissions of both Houses, the sponsor body and the delivery authority. As was discussed during this debate, that is precisely the process that is currently being followed to integrate the Northern Estate programme, which includes Richmond House, into the R&R programme. The reason it was not included from the beginning is that the NEP predates important decisions on R&R.

I hope that my response reassures my noble friend, and I ask that he withdraw his amendment.