Prorogation, the State Opening, and refurbishing the Palace of Westminster

The following article was originally published in the North Wales Weekly News newspaper on 18 May 2016.
Last week, in an arcane ceremony in the House of Lords, conducted partly in Norman French, Parliament was prorogued.  It will be reopened, amid much pomp and circumstance, on Wednesday, in another age-old ceremony involving a door being slammed in the face of a gentleman wearing tights and the Lord Chancellor contriving to walk backwards down a flight of steps.
Such, on occasions, is life at Westminster.
The antique nature of some of Parliament’s proceedings should not, however, be taken to imply that it is an institution that has not adapted to the exigencies of the twenty-first century.  It would, indeed, be extremely worrying if that were the case.  Parliamentary proceedings are constantly being updated.  The Speaker, John Bercow, has been a driving force for modernisation of the Commons.  Parliament has a highly developed IT system that can compete with the best to be found anywhere.
All this happens, however, in a building that is in urgent need of refurbishment.  Barry’s Palace of Westminster may be the finest neo-Gothic building in the world, but it is also a structure that is showing significant signs of wear and tear.  The honey-coloured stonework is suffering, in parts, from significant erosion.  The plumbing system is creaking – sometimes literally.  There are hundreds of miles of wiring that need to be torn out and replaced.  Oh yes, and there is asbestos – lots of it.
Parliament has now decided, not surprisingly, that the old Palace needs a major overhaul.  This will not be an inexpensive undertaking, given the international significance of what is a World Heritage Site.
It will not be done, either, without significant disruption.  It now appears to be generally agreed that MPs and peers will have to vacate the Palace for several years while the restoration work takes place.  Alternative venues for debates and locations for offices will have to be found. Parliamentarians may have to get used to a nomadic life.
It is likely that a final decision on the process will be made in the new session, perhaps as early as June.  Work may start as soon as 2020.

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