MICHAEL Gove has suggested the House of Lords could decamp to Edinburgh while the Palace of Westminster is being refurbished.
The Minister for Levelling Up has blocked peers’ plans to move to the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, just two minutes over the road during the billion-pound renovation of parliament.
According to a letter leaked to the Sunday Times, he instead urged the Lords to look at locations outside London, noting that Stoke-on-Trent, a 170-mile drive from the capital, had played host to a Cabinet away day last week and would make an “excellent home”.
If the Lords believe Stoke to be unsuitable, Gove suggested he would also back a relocation to “Burnley, Edinburgh, Sunderland, Plymouth, Wolverhampton or York”.
“That list is not, of course, exclusive,” he added: “I know cities and towns across the United Kingdom would be pleased to extend their hospitality to peers.”
There was a mixed response to the idea of the Lords settling in Edinburgh.
Tory MSP for the Lothians, Miles Briggs suggested the peers could use the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament was initially based before the opening of the purpose-built estate at the bottom of the Royal Mile.
He told The Herald: “There has been a number of occasions when both Westminster committees and the Scottish Parliament have met in other locations around the UK and whilst the refurbishment of Westminster takes place I think it presents an opportunity for Members of Parliament to sit in other parts of the country and engage and understand the needs of all parts of the country.”
“It is sensible and welcome to see work to identify suitable locations for the House of Lords in the north, Midlands, southwest, Scotland or Wales,” Mr Briggs added.
“Edinburgh and Scotland have some available opportunities such as the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland which was the temporary home whilst the Holyrood Parliament was built, or the Assembly Rooms.”
However, Edinburgh North and Leith MP Diedre Brock was less enthusiastic: “No amount of tinkering around the edges will take away from the fact that the House of Lords is completely undemocratic.
“It is the second-largest non-elected chamber in the world, behind only China.
“The House of Lords has no place in a modern democracy and should be scrapped.”
Meanwhile, Crossbench peer Baroness Hayman called the plans “bonkerooney,” and suggested that the Tory minister was trying to punish the Lords by sending them out of London.
She told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that Mr Gove’s plan was not a “sensible or grown-up way to address” the problem.
She added: “I think it’s more that the government is very grumpy with the House of Lords at the moment because we did a job during the last session and we actually challenged and made the government think again on important legislation.
“A government that has a big majority in the House of Commons always thinks that because it’s easy there it should be easy everywhere. So I think they are really quite angry with the House of Lords at the moment and therefore, kick them out, it’s punishment.”
The restoration and renewal of Westminster has been plagued by delays and disagreements over what should happen to the 19th century building.
Last month a report by the House of Commons Commission noted that if both Houses of Parliament were not fully vacated, the restoration could take up to 76 years at a cost of £22 billion.
It said the cheapest plan involved a full clear-out of MPs and Lords, for between 12 and 20 years, which would cost £7 billion to £13 billion.