Downing St endorses tree scrapping
Published 24/02/2012 | 12:00
Downing Street has 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 said Downing Street is 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 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.
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.