Peer hits out at ‘bonkerooney’ plan for Lords to sit in Stoke

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House of Lords - Chris Jackson/WPA Pool/Getty Images
House of Lords - Chris Jackson/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Michael Gove has told peers to sit in Stoke-on-Trent instead of London while Parliament is being refurbished, with one peer calling the plan "bonkerooney".

Repairs to the House of Lords do not yet have a fixed start date but are likely to involve a full decamp and could force members to sit elsewhere for up to two decades.

The Queen Elizabeth II Centre, a Government-owned conference facility a short walk from Parliament, has been considered as a possible replacement venue since it was recommended by a committee in 2016.

But Mr Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, warned against the use of a location "a mere 200 yards from the Palace of Westminster".

In a letter to Lord McFall of Alcluith, the Lord Speaker, he wrote: "As the minister responsible for levelling up, it is clear to me that the House of Lords moving elsewhere, even for a temporary period, would be widely welcomed.

"I have carefully reviewed the proposed arrangements and… I will not support the use of the QEII Centre as an alternative location. I propose to establish dedicated liaison points for you in my department to support you in identifying a suitable location for the House of Lords in the North, Midlands, South West, Scotland or Wales."

Mr Gove suggested Stoke-on-Trent, which is a 165-mile drive from London and played host to an "away day" for the Cabinet on Wednesday, as an "excellent home".

In his letter, first seen by The Sunday Times, he listed Burnley, Edinburgh, Sunderland, Plymouth, Wolverhampton and York as other options in case Stoke was deemed unsuitable.

Plans for the Lords to relocate to York during renovation work were first touted by James Cleverly in January 2020 and mooted by Mr Gove in an interview in February. But the affluent is understood to have been ruled out after concerns that the public would not view a move there as "levelling up".

Baroness Hayman, a former Lord Speaker, dismissed the idea of moving peers to another part of the country while the Commons continued to sit in the capital.

"I think it's – what did Michael Gove say – bonkerooney," she told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, referencing Mr Gove's use of that term when talking about Tory rebels' plans to oust Boris Johnson. "I think [ministers] are really quite angry with the House of Lords at the moment and therefore [want to] kick them out. It's punishment."

Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, accused Mr Gove of "another recycled announcement from a government that first talked about this two and a half years ago".

"For all the gimmicks, slogans and press releases, on every measure of levelling up, we are going backwards," she said.

A House of Lords spokesman said the Lord Speaker would respond to Mr Gove's letter "in due course", adding: "Any decision about whether and where to relocate the House of Lords, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, is ultimately a matter for the House itself."

The annual cost of maintaining both Houses of Parliament, which has doubled in the space of the last four years, now stands at £127 million.

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