Knight’s Days – the Reporting Back from Westminster column with Sir Greg Knight
Some journalists and others seem to be getting rather excited about the possibility that the House of Lords may be moved to York, either on a permanent or temporary basis.
Speculation has been fuelled by the Government making clear they intend to give the North priority in their forthcoming agenda, coupled with the fact that the Palace of Westminster is undergoing massive refurbishment and will need to be vacated, causing both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to look for alternative, temporary accommodation.
Seeing part of our Parliament operating from York makes some sense. York is equidistant between London and Edinburgh and is already a capital city – it is the capital of Yorkshire, England’s biggest (and in my view, best) county.
However, the matter is not as simple as just moving a debating chamber of politicians. Overnight accommodation would be required for some, and office space needed for all, including Parliamentary staff.
And then what about the Civil Service? Debates covering issues which require a Ministerial answer, which in reality is virtually every debate, would mean that a phalanx of civil servants would need to move North too.
Then there is the cost. Whilst I would welcome seeing Parliament sitting in York, this is only on the basis that the costs are not going to be prohibitive and that no other priority expenditure would need to be cut, such as spending on our schools or the NHS.
There is also one other substantial obstacle to this occurring. A decision whether to move either or both Houses of Parliament to York is not just a Government decision but is a matter for each House of Parliament itself to decide.
At present, neither House has shown any sign of wanting to embrace York – or anywhere else outside London – as their new home.
It might happen – but don’t hold your breath.
At the end of the day, what really matters is the decisions that are made and not primarily where they are made. Across the board, removing inequalities in the provision of services matters more than where Parliament sits.
That is why I welcome the news this month that mobile phone signals are being boosted in rural areas ahead of schedule and £50m under budget
Millions of people living in the countryside, including East Yorkshire, will benefit as 4G coverage will be able to travel over longer distances and through more difficult terrain thanks to the clearing of the airwaves through which wireless signals are sent.
The change will also bolster 5G services, which are currently being rolled out across the country, and form part of the government’s ambitious plan to “level up” the country.
This upgrade will play a big part in boosting communities in the North and is surely more use to us all than a decision that their Lordships should sit locally.
In any case, if in the future we are to make parliamentary changes, there is an argument for saying we should be looking at wider reform – perhaps by introducing elections to the House of Lords – rather than just tinkering with where they sit.