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The House of Lords will be blocked from moving to a nearby building during the refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament, Michael Gove has said.
Gove, who serves as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has instead suggested that the upper chamber of Parliament could move to Stoke-on-Trent among other towns and cities.
Such a move would be seen to contribute towards Gove’s levelling up brief.
In a letter to Lords’ speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith, Gove said he would not allow the house to decamp 200 yards away to the Queen Elizabeth II Centre during the refurbishment, The Sunday Times reports.
The levelling up secretary’s stance may trigger an argument with the House of Lords, which has been exploring the QEII as an alternative venue for over five years.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove wrote that Stoke-on-Trent would make an ‘excellent home’ for the House of Lords chamber
Prime Minister Boris Johnson talk to local business owners during a cabinet away day at Middleport Pottery in Stoke on Trent on Thursday, May 12
Instead, Gove has encouraged peers to cast their gaze outside London. He observed that Stoke-on-Trent would make an ‘excellent home’ for the chamber and added that it hosted a cabinet away day last week.
Other possibilities include Burnley, Edinburgh, Sunderland, Plymouth, Wolverhampton or York.
Gove wrote: ‘That list is not, of course, exclusive. I know cities and towns across the United Kingdom that would be pleased to extend their hospitality to peers.’
Besides Lord McFall, the letter was also sent to the Prime Minister and cabinet secretary Simon Case, alongside two senior officials leading the restoration programme.
The refurbishment is due to start in 2027 and could lead to MPs and peers being ‘decanted’ from the Palace of Westminster into ‘temporary premises for 20 years’, according to an estimate by the official body drawing up the renovation plans.
Former Lords speaker Baroness Hayman dismissed Gove’s suggestion and said it did not make sense to move the upper chamber out of London while the Commons remain in the capital.
‘I think it’s – what did Michael Gove say – bonkeroony?’ she told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.
Lady Hayman said she believed ministers wanted to punish the Lords for challenging the Government over important legislation in the last parliamentary session.
The House of Lords chamber will close with the rest of Westminster Palace once a lengthy refurbishment gets underway, but an alternative venue has not yet been chosen
Officials are said to be concerned at falling masonry from the aged Houses of Parliament building, which is in need of an extensive refurbishment
‘I think they are really quite angry with the House of Lords at the moment and, therefore, kick them out. It’s punishment.’
Authorities at the Houses of Parliament have now assessed the whole of the Grade I listed structure and drawn up a colour-coded heat map to show which areas of the building are most at risk.
Officials are concerned that somebody could be seriously injured by stonework that crumbles off the historic building.
In some places the structure has been wrapped up to prevent further falls, and in others a safety platform has been built to stop items falling onto people below.
In April 2018, a football sized chunk of masonry broke away from a stone angel on parliament’s Victoria Tower and plummeted 230ft (70m) to the ground.
Meanwhile in October 2017 an MP’s car windscreen was smashed when a piece of masonry fell from a building.
Last August, it was revealed that Parliamentary authorities wrote off more than £70million of taxpayers money spent on a temporary House of Commons amid ‘increased uncertainty’ over whether it would ever be used.
‘It is clear to me that the House of Lords moving elsewhere, even for a temporary period, would be widely welcomed,’ wrote Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove
The money had been spent on creating a stand-in chamber in Whitehall’s Richmond House ahead of major rebuilding work on the crumbling Palace of Westminster.
Consultations for the Lords to move into the QEII building also began last August, as well as proposals for changes to its roof and facade.
But in his letter to Lord McFall, Gove cast doubt on the plan – writing: ‘I understand that you have begun conducting surveys and developing a range of options for the building, but you are not able to guarantee occupation until parliament has voted on the issue.
‘The prime minister noted in his letter of July 15, 2020 that it would be important for parliament to consider locations outside of London.
‘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, southwest, Scotland or Wales. I would, of course, be happy to meet you to discuss this.’