Parliament ponders shift from Westminster

By David Stringer

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13 2012 8:01 p.m. MDT

In this March 5, 2012 file photo, the sun sets behind the main Olympic stadium and the "Orbit" sculpture as seen from outside the London 2012 Olympic Aquatics Centre during the British Swimming Championship selection trials and Olympic test event at the Olympic Park in London.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

LONDON — Welcome to Eastminster?

After hosting record-breaking athletes and jubilant crowds, east London's Olympic Park could find its next tenants are British lawmakers who may have to temporarily quit their storied home amid major repairs to the centuries-old complex.

House of Commons lawmaker John Thurso told colleagues Thursday that officials are considering how best to handle badly needed improvements at the Palace of Westminster to remove asbestos, improve weatherproofing and upgrade electric supplies and water.

He said about 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) of repairs had already been delayed. The medieval Palace of Westminster hosted legislative sessions from around the 13th century, but became Parliament's permanent home only in the 16th century after King Henry VIII moved out. Although the 900-year-old Westminster Hall is still in place, most other buildings in the complex were rebuilt after a major fire in 1834.

Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords — Britain's unelected upper chamber — meet at the palace, hosting Queen Elizabeth II once a year in a lavish ceremony.

Lawmakers last moved from their traditional chambers when bombs fell on Parliament during World War II, setting the Commons on fire. Legislators returned only in 1950, after the House of Commons was rebuilt.

Thurso said if lawmakers left Westminster and held sessions elsewhere, the repairs could likely be completed in two to three years. Trying to carry out improvements during Parliament's vacation periods would stretch the work to at least 10 years, he said.

"I have found that it is usually better to take two or more years and get the job done than to be inconvenienced and unable to work properly for 10 years," said Thurso, who formerly worked as a hotelier.

Meg Hillier, a lawmaker with the opposition Labour Party, urged legislators to relocate to the now-vacant media center at Olympic Park. She represents Hackney South and Shoreditch, close to the Olympic Park.

Conservative lawmaker Michael Fabricant insisted that Birmingham in central England, Britain's second largest city, should host Parliament during any break from London.

Thurso said all options for a possible relocation "can be placed on the table."

"Such a project would be a major undertaking and a final decision will not be taken for some time," he told the House of Commons.

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