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By Lord Frost
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The Lords must not be exiled during Parliament repairs

3 min read

In an unprecedented letter from Michael Gove, on behalf of the government, he tells the Lord Speaker: “I will not support the use of the QE2 Centre” for the House of Lords when repairs are done to Parliament “and I propose… to support you in identifying a suitable location… in the North, Midlands, South West, Scotland or Wales”.

For a government to tell half of Parliament to “be off” and quit London – thus away from the very ministers it is meant to hold to account – would be deeply shocking if we saw it at any other time or in any other country. Crowns and heads have rolled for less!

The UK has one national Parliament, with two Chambers. All legislation passes through both Houses, and the two work closely together on joint scrutiny, combined committees (in particular the all-important joint Intelligence and Security Committee) and especially questioning ministers on government actions and policy.

Mr Gove wants to remove the Lords from much of its constitutional role

Since the Monarch may not enter the Commons, both the State Opening and Proroguing of Parliament (when the latter is done legally) happen in the Lords, with the Commons in attendance. Presumably Mr Gove wants to remove the Lords from much of its constitutional role so that only the Commons, with its in-built government majority, is to his liking.

Indeed, the secret was out when minister Lord True, on behalf of the government, answered Lord Forsyth’s Private Notice Question on Monday, saying given the “record number of defeats for Her Majesty’s government, it would be surprising if the government did not reflect on the significance of that”. Or “defeat us again and we send you to Coventry”.

That’s what this is about. Not really our physical location, given the impact on Scottish independence if the Lords moved to Wales, or indeed to Edinburgh, is surely something even this government would not encourage. 

One of my colleagues has a regular “Hang on, Henry” warning – the sort that might have saved an Archbishop and all that then followed. We now need a “Hang on, Michael” equivalent. The constitutional and political implications of bifurcating Parliament, sending one half into exile away from the executive it is meant to scrutinise, away from its partner in legislation, are surely greater than a quiet life for a minister or two?

Our place of work is covered in scaffolding – no, not the beheading type – as the fabric crumbles and fire risks continue. The government should enable Parliament to fix the roof while the sun shines, and get all of us out for a proper refit. Using this as an excuse to diminish Parliament is a poor excuse for government. If it wants to reduce the size of the Upper Chamber, it has the majority in the Commons to do so (in fact, it refuses to implement the Lords’ settled view that we should be smaller).

I look forward to Mr Gove’s appearance in front of one of our committees to explain his letter. Now that should be good spectator sport!

Baroness Hayter is a Labour peer. 

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