The Government is considering plans to move the House of Lords out of London. Possibly to York.
I ought to be thrilled. Last year, I argued that the historic capital of the North would make a fine capital for the whole country.
And yet moving the House of Lords, while leaving the House of Commons in London, doesn’t make much sense. It’s not that the Upper House is too good for the upper half of England. Rather, the problem is the ministers who are members of the House of Lords. There’s one in every government department — most of them in a junior ministerial role, but occasionally of Cabinet rank (or “attending cabinet”). There’s also the Leader of the House of Lords, who is always a member of the Cabinet.
When they’re not in Parliament, all ministers of whatever rank need to be in their departments, in direct contact with their colleagues, their civil servants and with a whole range of other stakeholders. Indeed, they may well be back-and-forth between Westminster and Whitehall several times a day. Moving the parliamentary side of their job 200 miles away, but not the other side, just isn’t practical.
Lords ministers are not mere adornments, but integral members of their team. They’re often ennobled for the specific purpose of recruiting them into government, where they help make up for the less-than-bottomless pool of talent in the Commons.
I guess that the relevant parts of each ministry could be moved along with the Lords. But the specific responsibilities of the Lords ministers aren’t fixed — they change at each reshuffle (and sometimes between reshuffles).
Also if we’re going to start shifting thousands of civil servants northwards then we might as well do it properly and call it an English national government — presiding over devolved matters as the Scottish government already does. As for democratic oversight of this new administration, forget the House of Lords and set up an English Parliament.
In York, of course.