MPs considered nationalising a Whitehall pub to avoid a drinking ban while they are relocated to the Department of Health’s offices for the duration of refurbishment works at the Palace of Westminster.
Richmond House, which hosts the department, is one of three government buildings owned by Middle East financiers who have bought into an Islamic bond issued by the government. One of its stipulations is that no alcohol will be sold on the premises.
To get around the restriction, some MPs proposed taking the Red Lion pub, located between parliament and Richmond house, into public ownership and banning entry to the general public. However, according to the Times, the move was opposed by Fuller’s Inns, the Red Lion’s owners, and a parliamentary subcommittee eventually ruled out the proposal.
Alternative drinking arrangements will still need to be made for MPs and peers – who at Westminster can choose from 10 licensed bars and restaurants – when they are moved out for the building’s renovation from 2020 onwards.
David Cameron, the former prime minister, unveiled the Islamic bond, known as a Sukuk, in 2013, as part of a drive to raise cash from Islamic investors, who cannot buy into interest-paying government bonds because of religious rules against usury.
Instead, the £200m bond sees investors effectively take ownership of three government buildings – Richmond House, Wellington House and a third Whitehall property – and take rent from the UK government for their use.
However, the small print of the deal means that the buildings must be run according to the principles of sharia law. Any attempt to serve alcohol in the buildings could lead to a conflict with investors.
Staff at the Department of Health have already been told to get ready to make space for MPs and their staff, says the Times, citing an allegedly leaked report from the committee set up to look at refurbishment options for Westminster.
They will move to premises in Victoria next year, the paper says, giving officials three years to transform Richmond House into a working parliament including, it is thought, a debating chamber.
This article was written by Damien Gayle, for theguardian.com on Saturday 6th August 2016 10.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010