General arrangements

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6.49The Palace of Westminster, within which both Houses meet, stands on the site of the palace founded by Edward the Confessor. Following the destruction by fire of most of the buildings on the site in 1834, the present building was constructed between 1840 and 1852. The Palace of Westminster was formerly controlled on the Sovereign's behalf by the Lord Great Chamberlain, an hereditary officer of State, but each House, while in occupation of the part assigned to it, had the custody and service of that part, this control being exercised in the Lords through the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, and in the Commons by the Serjeant at Arms. On 26 April 1965, with the consent of the Queen, control of the Palace passed to the two Houses, except that control of Westminster Hall became vested jointly in the Lord Great Chamberlain as representing Her Majesty and in the two Speakers on behalf of the two Houses. Invitations to foreign dignitaries to address both Houses in Westminster Hall will ordinarily be issued only by the agreement of all three keyholders.1 The Lord Great Chamberlain also retains his previous functions on royal occasions, and control of Her Majesty's Robing Room (and the staircase and ante-room adjoining), the Royal Gallery and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft remains in his hands.2

The Corporate Officers of both Houses have been able to acquire, hold, manage and dispose of land and other property since 1992, by virtue of the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992. The accommodation used by the Houses is a combination of freehold, leasehold and leased buildings. Most of the buildings on the estate are historic and listed and sit within several conservation zones and sites of archaeological importance. The Palace itself is located within a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Palace of Westminster contains accommodation in which the proceedings of the two Houses and their committees are conducted, accommodation specially set aside for royal and other important occasions, and accommodation reserved for serving the needs of the Members and staff of each House and of the media. The principal rooms used on royal and other important occasions are Westminster Hall and the Royal Gallery.3 The remaining accommodation in the Palace includes rooms for Ministers and other Members of both Houses and their staffs, office accommodation for the staff of both Houses and the party Whips, the Libraries of each House, meeting rooms, post offices and refreshment areas set aside for Members, staff and the public.4

There is further accommodation for the meetings of committees, for Members and their staff, and for staff of the House of Commons, in premises close to but not forming part of the Palace itself.

The House of Lords has further accommodation for Members and staff of the House in several buildings to the south of the Palace.

In 2018, both Houses agreed resolutions which accepted the ‘clear and pressing need to repair the services in the Palace of Westminster in a comprehensive and strategic manner’ and agreed that a ‘full and timely decant of the Palace’ was the best and the most cost-effective option for addressing this need.5 The draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill was subsequently published (Cm 9710), and the Joint Committee of both Houses which was appointed to consider the Bill published its report on 21 March 2019.6 The Bill received Royal Assent as the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 on 8 October 2019. The Act established a new statutory body, the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, which has overall responsibility for the Parliamentary building works, and gives the Sponsor Body power to form the Delivery Authority, a company limited by guarantee whose duties are to formulate proposals relating to the Palace restoration works and to carry out the Parliamentary building works. In March 2022, following a joint meeting, the House of Commons Commission and House of Lords Commission issued a joint statement noting concerns over ‘the emerging costs and timescales of the existing approach, and programme governance’. The Commissions agreed to seek independent advice and assurance on a new approach to the renovation works, and on replacing the Sponsor Body. The Commissions stated that a revised mandate for the works and changes to the sponsorship function would be sought from the two Houses, scheduled to be before the summer recess in 2022.7

Footnotes

  1. 1. HC Deb (6 February 2017) 621, cc 47–48.
  2. 2. HL Deb (1964–65) 264, cc 524–29; HL Deb (1964–65) 709, cc 328–33.
  3. 3. In recent years Westminster Hall has been used for the presentation of Addresses to Her Majesty the Queen by both Houses on such occasions as the seven hundredth anniversary of the Parliament of Simon de Montfort, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the anniversary of the Revolutions of 1688–89 and Bill of Rights and Claim of Right and the Golden Jubilee, for the lying-in-state of Sir Winston Churchill and of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, for an address to both Houses by the President of the French Republic, for the opening by Her Majesty the Queen of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conferences, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conferences, and the North Atlantic Assembly in 1982, and for addresses to both Houses on the occasion of the visit of the President of South Africa in 1996. In the Royal Gallery, formal speeches have been made to Members of both Houses by visiting Heads of State or government.
  4. 4. For a detailed account of the principal accommodation in the Palace of Westminster, see M H Port The Houses of Parliament (1976). For the rules on the use of committee and conference rooms for purposes other than official business, see HC Deb (1995–96) 268, cc 843–44W.
  5. 5. HC Deb (31 January 2018) 635, c 932; HL Deb (6 February 2018) 788, c 2000.
  6. 6. Report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, HC (2017–19) 1800 and HL (2017–19) 317.
  7. 7. Joint statement from the House of Commons and House of Lords Commissions, 18 March 2022: committees.parliament.uk/committee/348/house-of-commons-commission/news/164938/joint-statement-from-the-house-of-commons-and-house-of-lords-commissions/