MPs' vexing issue - getting rid of mice at Westminster

The Palace of Westminster, where Britain's Members of Parliament are grappling with a persistent pest problem.
The Palace of Westminster, where Britain's Members of Parliament are grappling with a persistent pest problem.PHOTO: ST FILE

LONDON • Britain's Members of Parliament are grappling with an intractable problem that has infected the fabric of British political life, and has no end in sight. For once, it's not Brexit.

Mice in the Palace of Westminster are so brazen that they scamper over desks in broad daylight, frequent the site's many cafes and bars, and make nests out of old paperwork.

The problem has persisted for years, despite the authorities spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to contain it. "Almost everyone has seen them scampering around and having discos," said Ms Thangam Debbonaire, a Labour MP. She recounted seeing a rodent in a House of Commons cafe while entertaining a guest last month.

"Whilst we were eating our cake, a mouse ran over my foot and then just sat there nibbling crumbs. It wasn't intimidated," she said. "The next day I took another guest to a different cafe and again, there was a mouse there in the middle of the day."

The authorities spent £119,000 (S$213,500) in the 2017-2018 financial year to contain mice, moths, rats and other pests on the parliamentary estate which, as well as the 19th-century Houses of Parliament, includes Portcullis House, a building that opened in 2001, and a collection of smaller, neighbouring buildings. Expenditure in the five years through 2018 topped £500,000.

There is also a safety risk because the mice can chew through electrical cables, heightening the risk of fire in Victorian buildings that are already in need of extensive refurbishment while the moths threaten to ruin upholstery on antique furniture.

An infestation last year led Mr Richard Gilbey, known as Lord Vaux of Harrowden, to lament in the House of Lords: "I worry that if I sit still for too long in this Chamber, I will stand up to discover that my clothes have been turned to lace."

 

The current plan is for elected politicians to move out of Westminster in the mid-2020s for a major restoration programme.

The House of Commons said in a statement that the proximity of Parliament to the River Thames makes it "particularly vulnerable to pests, especially to mice", a problem made worse in recent years by building works. "The House of Commons employs a full-time pest control technician, who will continue to take all necessary measures to control the pest population."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2019, with the headline 'MPs' vexing issue - getting rid of mice at Westminster'. Print Edition | Subscribe