Downing Street endorses tree scrapping at Portcullis House

 

Downing Street today endorsed Commons Speaker John Bercow's call for a £30,000-a-year contract to rent trees for an MPs' office block to be ended.

Mr Bercow said he was "horrified" to find out the cost of the 12 fig trees in Portcullis House greenery and accepted the taxpayer was being "fleeced".

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman today said Downing Street was in agreement with the Speaker, and that the Houses of Parliament must make economies, just as other parts of the public sector are doing.

The deal has been in place for 12 years and covers care and maintenance of the trees, which shade dining areas in the building's glass-topped atrium, which stands beside the historic Palace of Westminster.

But Mr Bercow said it should be scrapped immediately, if contractually possible without adding more costs, but no later than September.

In an interview with The House magazine, he said: "I was horrified by it.

"Inevitably and understandably it will cause people out there to think these people are living in another universe.

"I think the contract should absolutely be revisited. If we are going to have trees, they absolutely shouldn't be trees that cause us to fleece the taxpayer in this way, and that must change at the earliest opportunity.

"If there is a contract and it's going to cost us more to get out of it immediately than not, then it may well have to wait.

"But should the present arrangement continue beyond September? Absolutely not."

Mr Cameron's spokesman said: "I think we find ourselves agreeing with Speaker Bercow.

"All parts of the public sector need to be looking at where they can find savings, and I don't see any reason why Parliament shouldn't be part of that."

Mr Bercow also conceded that there were some grounds to argue that the daily prayer session in the Commons was discriminatory.

But though he said he would not stand in the way of a review if sufficient MPs wanted one, he said he wanted to keep what was a "reasonable and generally popular" tradition.

Focus was put on the prayers - which MPs must attend to secure a seat for some high-profile parliamentary sessions - after a court ruled prayers could not be part of local council business.

The ruling does not apply to the Commons, which sets its own rules.

But Mr Bercow said: "If enough Members wanted to look at it, I'm certainly not going to object or try to impose my view.

"Theoretically there is a ground for criticism. But I think that there should be a degree of reasoned, balanced common sense."

The Speaker also called for annual party conferences to be cut to a long weekend so that the Commons could sit without a break from September.

"Most people have an annual holiday entitlement and unless they are taking annual holiday, they will ordinarily be at work in September.

"And I think a lot of our electorate think, given that the MPs finished in the latter part of July, why are they not back at their place of work undertaking their scrutiny, standing up for our interests, debating our concerns, in September? They should be. And frankly I agree with that."

A House of Commons spokeswoman said discussions would soon get under way on what Parliamentary authorities should do about the fig trees.

The current contract is up for renewal in September and the review will look at "possible savings", the spokeswoman said.

The Department of Facilities will review options in consultation with the Administration Committee, which represents the views of MPs to officials running Parliament.

Multiple options could be laid out by the Department of Facilities and recommendations may be made on the way forward.

The spokeswoman added: "The opportunity for change is in September but they will probably start the review before that."

The spokeswoman said the review would likely be broad but could not confirm what options will be available when the issue is reviewed.

Administration Committee chairman Sir Alan Haselhurst said the group of MPs would now look at the issue of the trees - and said it would be the first such discussion since he joined the committee in 2010.

He said: "The House of Commons Commission will be the ultimate decision maker. The Speaker is the chairman of the commission.

"If he's getting backing from No 10, it's easy to see which way things are going to go.

"This issue has burst upon us - the building has been there for 12 years. It's an iconic building.

"You have to have some kind of respect for the thinking behind (the design) of Portcullis House. I would need to know what the alternatives are."

Labour MP Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) sits on the 16-member, cross party committee of MPs. He said he had lodged Parliamentary Questions this week in a bid to establish facts about how much the trees are worth and when the contract was made.

He said: "I can't believe the trees are worth that much, frankly.

"My understanding is this was a contract that was let years ago. As is too often the case, things are done by officials without any recourse to getting MPs' approval.

"The reality is our constituents are taxpayers and they expect some accountability."

Documents published on the Parliament website suggest the trees are a design feature of the Portcullis House atrium, part of the system for maintaining the environment inside the glass-roofed space.

Fig trees were selected because the species is able to stay healthy in an indoor, temperature controlled environment.

PA

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices