The next Archbishop of York has warned that relocating the House of Lords to his city while MPs and the Government stayed in London would pose “a very serious threat to our democratic processes”.
Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, who takes over from the Most Rev Dr John Sentamu in June, raised his concerns as peers debated the idea being considered by ministers.
It follows the suggestion that the upper house of Parliament, which scrutinises the work of the executive, could be moved from Westminster to York.
Senior Tories have said they are looking at a range of options to ensure “every part of the UK feels properly connected from politics”.
Speaking in the Lords, Mr Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, joked: “Perhaps I could put on record that I will later this year have a large garden available in York where a suitable marquee could be erected for these purposes.
“But some of the most important business that we do in these houses is actually not in the chambers but in the corridors.
“It seems to me to be a very serious threat to our democratic processes if we are not in the same place, so I would ask the minister to perhaps say, ‘Could we reconsider this one please?'”
Sparking laughter, Tory frontbencher Earl Howe said: “I am not sure how far the idea has progressed. I have no doubt his observations are extremely useful.”
Labour leader in the Lords Baroness Smith of Basildon said: “This house is part of the scrutiny of Parliament as a whole. Clearly government must better engage with the regions and the nations.
“But does the minister feel that moving just one part of Parliament, albeit to the fantastic York, sounds more like the PM’s as worried about Lords scrutiny as he is about Andrew Neil.”
This was a reference to Boris Johnson refusing to go face-to-face with the TV interviewer in the run-up to the last election.
Lord Howe said: “Far greater minds than my own are applying themselves to this.”
Earlier, Lord Howe pointed out the Tory manifesto had committed to looking at the role of the House of Lords and to “reviewing the relationship between the government, Parliament and the courts”.
Raising the issue in an urgent question, Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock questioned whether the options under consideration involved moving both houses, which he said he would prefer.
He added: “How does the minister reconcile all of this with the billions being spent now on the restoration and renewal programme of this building?”
Lord Howe pointed out the option of moving Parliament outside London had been looked at before and had been rejected “principally on grounds of cost and the absence of proximity between Parliament and government”.
He added: “On the other hand there is no reason why these matters should not receive renewed scrutiny. The options are being looked at.”
Pressing the minister, Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said: “Does he think that when the people in so many constituencies in the North lent their votes to the Conservative Party they were longing for more politicians to be sent to them?
“Does he think they wanted a government that concentrated on the things that actually matter, like health and social care and infrastructure, and shouldn’t the special advisers in Number 10 turn their attention to those matters?”
Lord Howe said: “I agree with him there may be other possibly more substantial ways to bring jobs and investment to the north of England.”