Don’t just take the Lords to the north, take the Commons too
PUBLISHED: 08:43 30 July 2020 | UPDATED: 20:51 31 July 2020
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ANDREW ADONIS reveals why he thinks the Lords and Commons should set up a new home in the north.
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I have finally found something I agree with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings about: moving the House of Lords up north.
Indeed I proposed it way back in 2007 when a minister under Tony Blair. I was in a minority of one on this in the Lords itself, and there aren’t many more supporters now.
My reason for supporting it then was a concern that the world of Westminster was too distant – psychologically as much as physically – from most of England, particularly the less advantaged Midlands and north of England.
This was palpably getting worse in view of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which by then had taken effect.
Since 2007, we have had the banking crash, Brexit, austerity, the collapse of Labour’s ‘red wall’, and Covid-19.
The fear of Westminster isolation and elitism has become a reality, and a chasm has opened up between London and the south east and the rest of England.
There has been another key development since 2007. The Houses of Parliament have started falling down – literally. Big Ben has been encased in scaffolding for the past three years, symbolically the three years since Brexit became a deep crisis.
The rest of the parliamentary estate also needs to be revamped in a multi-billion pound renovation due to start in the mid-2020s.
Instead of spending billions on renovating the mid-Victorian Houses of Parliament, it would be more cost effective, politically as well as financially, to move both Lords and Commons to a purpose-built venue further north, and turn the existing Palace of Westminster into a fitting second site for the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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Once the vast nearby modern buildings, which accommodate the offices of MPs and peers, are sold off, there would probably be a net profit on the whole transaction.
This would also be an impetus to reform of the House of Lords, which is a few centuries beyond its sell-by date as a hereditary and nominated assembly.
The second chamber should be a senate representing the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, like the US senate or the German Bundesrat, making the case stronger still for locating it in the middle of Great Britain rather than deep in the south east.
Beyond the disruption of relocation, which is going to happen anyway with the renovation programme, there is to my mind no good reason against moving one or both Houses to the Midlands or the north. When HS2 opens from the late 2020s, the three key stations directly on the HS2 north-south route – Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds – will be far more accessible to most of the UK by rail and road than London, while the first two also have international airports.
What about ministers and civil servants? Some or all of them would need to move too, and this would be a good thing too.
At long last, the delusions of the Foreign Office and the Treasury will be divorced from imperial buildings. 10 Downing Street could become 1 Salford Quays, 2 Chamberlain Square, 3 The Royal Armouries or 4 York Minster.
Is there a problem with the UK’s largest and richest city no longer being its political capital? The US, Australia and Canada don’t seem to mind. The creation of modern democratic Germany took place from the small Rhineland town of Bonn, which only narrowly failed to become the united Germany’s new capital in 1990.
Ironically, compared to London, a decisive factor in the choice of Berlin was its location in the heart of deprived East Germany.
That leaves just one – very big – question. Where precisely should be the new home of parliament?
York is the historic capital of the north, location of many meetings of parliament in the Middle Ages. But even with HS2, York is not as convenient for the rest of the UK as Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds, and is not itself a metropolis.
So I have a suggestion. Let’s have a national competition about the new location, and then parliament can vote between the options. We could even have a referendum. On second thoughts, maybe ditch that last idea.
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Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.Become a supporter