Monday, 13 May 2019

Why Parliament needs to be co-located with Whitehall power

Letter sent to the Guardian:
Neither your experienced columnist Simon Jenkins ( a former editor of both the London Evening Standard and The Times) (“This grand design shows MPs have lost it,” 10 May; nor your correspondent Matt Dobson from Tyne and wear (letters, 11 May;  understand why, for practical and cost reasons, Parliament and Government buildings have to be located very close together.
Both advocate moving the House of Commons debating chamber, in the former case, to Birmingham or Manchester, in the latter, to have a “roaming” chamber.

But Parliament is not just the debating chamber. There is crucially the library, the best political resource in the country, with many thousands of books and documents.  Most are unavailable digitally. Then there are the offices for the staff of some 650 MPs plus the over thirty  meeting rooms needed for parliamentary committees, some of which meet right up to the moment the House of Commons starts each day, some of which meet in parallel with  debates in the chamber.

The House of Commons also has a secondary mini chamber in Westminster Hall, which MPs hold precious to ensure matters pressed by constituents have a forum to be fully debated alongside the main chamber.

Unless the entire government suite of departmental headquarters were moved along with the Commons, then ministers would remain  based in Westminster with their officials, and be unable to  be called at short notice to justify government policy  decisions in the many urgent questions rightly granted by the Speaker since he  promoted this form of immediate scrutiny.

Finally, moving parliament out of Westminster is unnecessary to bring MPS closer to their constituents. Less than 100 MPS represent constituencies in or near London. The others regularly return to their constituencies each weekend and every holiday breal from Parliament, to hold surgeries, open fetes and speak at local public meetings.

There are many opportunities to “get out and see where the decisions made in the great building  on the Thames are having an effect”, as Mr Dobson puts it.

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