MPs will be expected to decide in early 2023 how much taxpayers’ cash they are willing to spend on restoring Parliament.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said the business case will be put before the House in this period – and it will be up to MPs to approve or reject it.
They will have to “prioritise what matters most” and know the cost and benefits of each part of the project, Mr Rees-Mogg said before adding: “Ideally, each idea would have a clear, price tag attached.”
In March, Mr Rees-Mogg claimed costs for Parliament’s restorations could hit £20 billion – compared to a previous estimate of £4 billion.
Opening a debate on the project, he said: “The coming months are an important period during which we – the parliamentarians, the custodians of Westminster’s history, but also those responsible for protecting taxpayers’ interests – make our expectations clear so that when the fully costed proposals are put before us in early 2023, we’re able to approve them full-throatedly, safe in the knowledge we are doing the right thing for our constituents and our country in preserving both the cockpit of our democracy and the means of its proper functioning too.”
Intervening, Conservative MP Dehenna Davison said: “Clearly, value for taxpayers’ money is a massive concern for residents right across Bishop Auckland so can I ask [Mr Rees-Mogg] if there’ll be a limit on the spending for this restoration project?”
Mr Rees-Mogg, in his reply, said: “The business case will be brought forward in early 2023 and this House will have to approve it and it’s at that stage we will decide whether the amount being asked for is an amount we feel our constituents can afford.”
It has been proposed that MPs temporarily relocate to nearby Richmond House and peers to cross the road to the QEII Centre as workers renovate the crumbling Palace of Westminster.
But there is disagreement over whether this should be a partial or full decant from Parliament, with Mr Rees-Mogg suggesting MPs will need to think about the extent to which virtual participation in proceedings can be utilised while the works take place.
Mr Rees-Mogg said he has no opposition to a full decant “if it were nobler in the mind to suffer it”, but said it must represent the best value for money.
He added: “The idea of members being marched out of the Palace of Westminster for an entire parliament or longer now appears more fanciful than it once did.”
Mr Rees-Mogg also insisted the project must be focused on “vital” works rather than result in “wasteful and ridiculous excess”, noting: “Our more modest requirement is merely that our democracy should be able to function properly during the period of works and thereafter.
“The building’s primary purpose should not be as a museum or a tourism hotspot or as another Disneyland, it should not be, to misquote a famous advertisement campaign of the Victoria and Albert Museum, an ace caff with quite a nice Parliament attached.
“The United Kingdom’s Parliament is a place of work and has been for centuries.”
For Labour, shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said of taxpayers: “They want us to spend the money wisely and they deserve to have this monument to democracy preserved as a place of business in a way which they can continue to be part of and scrutinise our proceedings in this place safely and accessibly.”
Conservative former minister Andrea Leadsom referred to “recent cases of falling masonry” showing the urgent need for the building’s restoration.
She said: “So far, I am pleased to say, there has been no damage to human life.
“But [Mr Rees-Mogg] will know that our right honourable friend the Attorney General (Michael Ellis) did fall victim to a stone gargoyle crashing through his car windscreen whilst in the car park.
“And masonry has fallen on to paths that [are] regularly used by members of the public and colleagues.”
The SNP’s Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) called the debate “ridiculous” and “self indulgent” before expressing concern about costs.