Peers have vowed to fight the government on its plans to move to the House of Lords to York, warning it would be a ‘constitutional emasculation and a gesture of disrespect’.
They argued it would lead to greater centralisation in the hands of the executive and not bring parliament closer to the people.
Cabinet Office minister Lord True insisted the decision was a matter for parliament and not the government, but told peers they should not be in ‘a state of shock’ at the idea that some of its proceedings might take place outside the capital.
Senior Tories confirmed earlier this year the option to move the Lords, where the government does not have a majority, was being considered by ministers in a bid to ‘reconnect’ with voters.
Parts of the Civil Service will also move to outside the capital.
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Lord Young said: ‘In the words of an exasperated Lord Speaker ‘Here we go again’.
‘It’s all very well saying it’s a matter for parliament but it’s the executive, not parliament that keeps this hare running.’
He pointed out it was government policy for Westminster to be the home of the parliament and questioned if civil service resources had been devoted to examining a relocation.
Another Conservative former cabinet minister Lord Lang of Monkton said: ‘The rumour is a persistent one. Does he agree that our bicameral parliamentary system strengthens the checks and balances over the executive in parliament. How would splitting the system and moving to York this house… improve those checks and balances?
‘Isn’t it the case that this would not be decentralisation as has been mooted in the rumours, but in reality it would deliver more centralisation into the hands of the executive in London.’
Lord True replied: ‘The government’s intention… is to find ways in which to bring the whole process of government closer to the people.
‘I do not believe parliament or this house should simply reject that concept or the idea that that matter needs to be reflected on.’
The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev David Urquhart, said: ‘Would the minister agree that whether temporarily or permanently it’s better in a bicameral system for the two houses to be placed together?’
Lord True said: ‘The government intends to take parts of the central civil service out of London. We intend to bring the process of government closer to the people and I don’t think that we in this house should shut ourselves away from consideration of how we can do that.’
Independent crossbencher Baroness Deech, who is a board member of the Law Commission and served as chairwoman of the Bar Standards Board, said: ‘The proposed move would be a constitutional emasculation and a gesture of disrespect, which would only work if the Commons moved as well.’
Lord True said: ‘I revere this house and the work this house does, but I would say also the house should not present itself as in a state of shock at the idea that some of its proceedings and some of its activities might take place outside London.’
Constitutional expert and Tory peer Lord Norton of Louth said: ‘Moving the House of Lords to York will not bring parliament closer to the people.’