House of Lords: Future Location - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 20th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 3:07 pm, 20th January 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration is being given to relocating the House of Lords out of London.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the Conservative Party manifesto committed to looking at the role of the House of Lords and to reviewing the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts in a constitution, democracy and rights commission. The Government have not yet decided what will be in the scope of the commission and whether it will include the role of the House of Lords but we will make an announcement in due course.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, that does not answer the Question. Can the Minister confirm the reports that No. 10 has said that this is a serious proposal? No. 10 also says that it is one of a range of options being considered. What are the options? Will the Minister outline them? Do they include moving both Houses, which I would prefer, and how does he reconcile all this with the billions now being spent on the restoration and renewal programme of this building?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I know the noble Lord to be a powerful advocate for the idea referred to in his Question. On the one hand, it is the case that some years ago, the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster looked at the option of Parliament moving outside of London and decided against it, principally on grounds of cost and the absence of proximity between Parliament and government. On the other hand, there is no reason why these matters should not receive renewed scrutiny and, as I have said, the options are being looked at.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, is it an indication of the depth of research undertaken by the Government on this that the briefing to the Sunday Times said that one advantage of York is that it is now only three hours by train from London? When I came back directly from York to London last weekend, it took me just under two hours. Does this suggest that the Government have not thought this through?

The Government are now mulling over two suggestions. One is whether to devolve power to the north of England, which they have not yet fully addressed, particularly in refusing the One Yorkshire proposals. The other is reform of the House of Lords, regarding which regional representation for a substantial part of the House is already on the table—something that, again, the Government have not addressed.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I agree that those are two important issues. The Government have an aspiration that all parts of the United Kingdom should feel connected to politics and indeed to politicians, including unelected politicians. On his first point about whether the idea of relocating of the House of Lords should be taken forward, I am sure that all logistical aspects would be examined.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, the matter of what the House of Lords is going to do should be decided first. I believe that one candidate for the party opposite is in favour of abolishing it altogether. It seems to me that the idea of movement before the future shape, structure and role of the House of Lords are decided makes this a completely irrelevant Question.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My noble friend puts it very well. That is exactly why my party’s manifesto committed to looking first at the role of the House of Lords and taking matters further in the light of conclusions.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that this announcement comes from the same policy brain at No. 10 that, desperate for a Brexit headline, came up with

“bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”?

We know what happened to that. But there is a serious issue: this House is part of the scrutiny of Parliament as a whole. Clearly government must better engage with the regions and the nations, but does the Minister agree that moving just one part of Parliament, albeit to the fantastic city of York, sounds more like the PM is as worried about Lords scrutiny as he is about Andrew Neil?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, far greater minds than my own are applying themselves to this important question, but I shall ensure that the noble Baroness’s observations are transmitted to the appropriate quarter.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, I found myself taking a renewed interest in this Question. I put on record that I will later this year have a large garden available in York where a suitable marquee could be erected for these purposes. Some of the most important business that we do in these Houses happens not in the Chambers but in the corridors, so it seems to me to be a serious threat to our democratic processes if we are not in the same place. Could we reconsider this one, please?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am not sure how far the idea has progressed but I have no doubt that the right reverend Prelate’s observations are extremely useful.

Photo of Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Conservative

My Lords, yesterday morning the people of Yorkshire woke up to the knowledge and excitement of the possibility of Parliament coming back to the north of England. However, I think the excitement was somewhat sullied by the later indication that it was only the House of Lords that would be coming to York. While York would welcome that, I suggest that my noble friend also looks carefully at a new location for the House of Commons. In the interests of national unity, perhaps he should consider the Commons going to either Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I felt sure that all sorts of useful ideas would emerge from this debate. Getting back to my noble friend’s first point, we all know the people of York to be most hospitable, as I am sure they would be with 794 of our number arriving on their doorstep.

Photo of Lord Winston Lord Winston Labour

My Lords, with deference to the right reverend Prelate, am I right in remembering that the centre of the great city of York was the Shambles slaughterhouse? Is this not really an attempt by the Prime Minister to cull the House of Lords, and might that not end up being another shambles?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, as I said earlier, I am sure that all logistical aspects of the idea will be examined. However, I take the noble Lord’s point.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

My Lords, does my noble friend think that when people in so many constituencies in the north lent their votes to the Conservative Party they were longing for more politicians to be sent to them? Or does he think that they wanted a Government who would concentrate on the things that actually matter, such as health, social care and infrastructure? Should the special advisers in No. 10 not turn their attention to those matters?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There may be other and possibly more substantial ways to bring jobs and investment to the north of England than relocating the House of Lords.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, as a great maritime nation, if we are going to do anything as Bodmin as splitting us from the Commons, I hope No. 10 might consider using one of the great Cunarders as somewhere for the Lords to be based. It could then be used to go and visit all parts of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the noble Lord puts forward an extremely imaginative idea, which again will be listened to.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, the interaction between Government and Parliament was mentioned earlier. How would the Minister feel if he had been called in to answer the Question posed today but the trains affected his ability to get to York on time?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Well, my Lords, we all know what happens to Ministers when they arrive late for your Lordships’ Oral Questions. It is certainly a risk.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, does my noble friend recollect that we are now at the 20th anniversary of the time when this Chamber was debating whether the House of Lords might have to move? A particular concern at that time was what would happen to the offices of state if we went to Scotland.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My noble friend is absolutely right. To get back to the serious core of the Question, this issue has been debated many times in your Lordships’ House and, indeed, the other place. I have no doubt that the conclusion reached by both Houses—which was unanimous, incidentally—will be factored into the discussions currently under way.

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour

The Minister is held in very high esteem by this House and therefore we have enjoyed his responses to these questions, particular given the flimsiness of the contents of the folder in front of him. I notice that he suggested that minds greater even than his might be considering these matters, and that is a point of some substance. Could he tell us whether his noble friend the Lord Privy Seal was briefed in advance of the statements being made about the intention for your Lordships’ Chamber?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I am not aware that she was, but I shall ask her.