British politicians will move out of the crumbling historic Palace of Westminster for the first time since World War II after MPs decided the risk of injury and death was so great that a £3.5 billion refurbishment was urgently needed.
With one MP admitting that she had been forced to call the emergency services after ash from a suspected fire came through her office ceiling and another saying the extensive metalwork holding up the building reminded him of the coal mine he used to work in, MPs have voted to support a substantial programme of works to restore the Houses of Parliament.
MPs could move out for six years with the relocation expected to take place in 2025, three years after the next general election which is scheduled for 2022.
The revamp is highly controversial, with many criticising the eye-watering costs of the work and relocation efforts.
Much of the external stonework is crumbling, heavy rain causes substantial leaks, a number of the 4,000 windows need restoring and years of ad hoc cabling will need to be redeveloped. In 2016, £130,000 was spent on tackling parliament’s mice and moth infestation.
In what is being seen in the British press as another embarrassment for the embattled prime minister, the MPs rejected Theresa May’s preferred option to delay the decision.
Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom opened the three-hour debate and said there had been 60 incidents in the past 10 years that could have caused a serious fire.
“The likelihood of a major failure grows the longer the systems are left unaddressed.”
Chris Bryant MP said the palace was heated by a high-pressure steam heating system that “could burst at any time”, and urged MPs to support a “full and timely decant” of the Commons and Lords.
The free vote saw MPs voted by 236 to 220 to support a full programme of works that is likely to result in the Commons relocating to Richmond House, a nearby building in Whitehall currently used by the Department of Health. The Times reports that it has been unoccupied since November 2017 when hundreds of civil servants moved out to make way for the parliamentarians.
The Lords would relocate to the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, a five-minute walk from the current Parliament building. The peers are expected to follow the Commons’ lead and approve the proposals in their upcoming vote.
Calls for a board to be established to maintain an oversight of the plan to renovate the palace were also approved.
Around 8,000 people work in the Palace of Westminster, with a million people visiting each year.
It would be the first time either house had moved out of the Victorian-era palace since the Commons chamber was destroyed by a bomb in 1941.
A potted history of Parliament
1016 King canute began building a royal household where the Palace of Westminster stands today.
1605 Guy Fawkes famously tries to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder. He was caught at the last minute and was executed for his attempt.
1649 King Charles I was sentenced to death in Westminster Hall
1834 A fire destroyed most of the Palace after a stove caught aflame
1941 Bombs struck Parliament on May 10, 1941, hitting the House of Commons chamber and the Westminster Hall. The Hall was saved at the expense of the camber, which was destroyed
1950 Rebuilding work is completed. MPs debated in the Lords while work was carried out and peers moved into another area of the Palace
2000 Portcullis House, where MP offices are located was completed