"Huge fire hazard" lurking under Britain's iconic parliament

LONDON -- The iconic British Parliament is a stop on every tourist’s day trip to London, but it is also where the laws of the land are laid down.

The Palace of Westminster sits right on the bank of London’s famous river. The neo-gothic structure has been called the “Gingerbread House on the Thames” because of the stunning detail in its architecture.

Within its walls are actually two historic houses; the House of Lords and the Houses of Commons, which together comprise the “Seat of Government” in Britain, and the men and women inside have debated and shaped the country’s laws for centuries.

They have led Britain into wars, and will soon determine its path out of the European Union.

The Palace was almost lost to a great fire in 1834, and it narrowly survived The Blitz during World War II.

But there is now fear, reports CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti, that “neglect” may finally do what Hitler’s bombs could not.

“If this was somebody’s house, it would have been pulled down by now,” says Chris Bryant, a Member of Parliament who is pushing hard for a $4.5 billion restoration project. If it is to preserve 1,000 years of history, Bryant thinks Westminster also needs to be brought into the modern world.

“I want to keep it standing,” Bryant tells Vigliotti, “but I also want it to work for the 21st century, the 22nd century, the 23rd century, and that does mean some changes.”

Just like the views from the top of parliament, the task of repairing the palace is breath-taking. After centuries, the roof is leaking and rusty, but that’s only a small part of the problem, compared to what’s under the hood.

Stepping down in to the basement with Palace engineer Andy Piper, Vigliotti encounters a dizzying maze of pipes and wires -- layer upon layer of them.

Westminster has never been fully refurbished since the fire of 1834, although it has been modernized along the way. Every time new technology came in, however, the old stuff just stayed in place. There was never time to empty the “Corridors of Power” and get the job done properly.

Piper thinks they’ve been layering on the Band-Aids for too long now.

“All the cabling and pipework above all this needs to be replaced and come out,” says Piper, pointing at a bed of wires and tubes several feet deep, clinging to the ceiling. “It’s like reverse archaeology, because at the  

Almost 200 hundred years after the big blaze, fire is still the biggest fear. The heat from the cluster of wires and pipes can be felt in some places.

“Everything you see around you here, all this electrical equipment, yes, it is a huge fire hazard, and that is why we have got 24-7 fire teams to deal with that risk,” Piper says. “The problem is, if a fire really took hold here, we are not sure we would be able to save the building.”

Bryant and the other Members of Parliament hope to get the massive renovation project approved by the wider legislature in the coming weeks.