Susan Veronica Kramer, having been created Baroness Kramer, of Richmond Park in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Hamwee and Lord Watson of Richmond, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Patience Jane Wheatcroft, having been created Baroness Wheatcroft, of Blackheath in the London Borough of Greenwich, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Moynihan and Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Alistair Basil Cooke OBE, having been created Baron Lexden, of Lexden in the County of Essex, and of Strangford in the County of Down, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lord Black of Brentwood, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the recent deaths of the noble Lords, Lord Windlesham and Lord Strabolgi. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lords' families and friends.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I pay tribute to Lord Windlesham, who died on Tuesday 21 December, aged 78. We remember him today principally in light of his role as Leader of your Lordships' House from June 1973 until February 1974, but his was a career so much more than those turbulent and testing eight months. He was a man whose great qualities needed no titles to shine through. He achieved a great deal in public life, but he was admired more than anything else for his quiet, tactful and sympathetic understanding of the people and the issues that surrounded him. A liberal in character and a Conservative in party, he was not afraid to be independent minded, even if that at times set him against those of his party.
Lord Windlesham was educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College, Oxford, where he read law. He was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards-his father's regiment-for national service, yet on graduation he soon found a passion for politics sitting side by side with a career in television. In the general election of 1959, he stood unsuccessfully as the Conservative candidate in the Tottenham seat. The tragic and unexpected death of his father-the second Lord Windlesham-in 1962 changed the trajectory of his political career and deprived the Commons of what clearly would have been one of its youngest and brightest stars. As has often been the case, their loss was our considerable gain.
Taking his seat as the third Baron Windlesham, and ever with an eye towards the topical and yet enduring questions of government, he made his maiden speech in this House on the subject of reform by supporting Tony Benn's desire to renounce his peerage and remain in the Commons. It was not without irony, therefore, that after further reform in the 1990s and towards the end of his own career, Lord Windlesham was made a life Peer in order that he might continue to bring his considerable expertise to the service of the nation.
As Minister at the Home Office between 1970 and 1972, Lord Windlesham took responsibility for the penal system against the backdrop of a rising prison population. He handled both the Immigration Bill and the Industrial Relations Bill with calm efficiency and considerable charm, as it was then said. At the newly created Northern Ireland Office, from 1972 to 1973, his appointment as the first statutory Catholic to hold ministerial office for the Province at a time of rising tension was described as "inspired" and his way of business "even-handed".
Thereafter, as Leader of this House and Lord Privy Seal, until the Conservative Government fell in February 1974, Lord Windlesham was the youngest Leader since Lord Grenville in 1790. Lord Windlesham brought a quiet, authoritative manner to the handling of important and often difficult business. A safe and steady pair of hands, courteous and precise, brave and yet never over-reaching, he stood by his Prime Minister, his party and his country during some of their toughest times.
Lord Windlesham continued to lead the Opposition in the Lords until the second election of 1974, whereafter he resigned the post and again turned his attention to television as managing director of ATV. In 1982, he was appointed chairman of the Parole Board, which meant more often than not defending a system that was under much criticism. In 1988, he found himself in a similarly criticised position, when he was caught between the political establishment and television documentary makers. His independent inquiry into the factual accuracy of Thames TV's "This Week" investigation into the shooting of three members of the IRA in Gibraltar prompted disagreement with No. 10 but won the support of the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
David Windlesham mixed in equal measure a keen sense of public service with an independent, liberal and fair mind. He was generous in spirit and firm in purpose. His political instincts and his media skill would not have looked out of place in a modern-day
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My Lords, although precedent may not provide for this as such, it also seems right at this time to pay tribute to Lord Strabolgi, who died on 24 December, aged 96. He was the 11th Baron. He succeeded his father as long ago as 1953, and during Wilson's first Government became a PPS at the Home Office and then, in 1969, PPS to Lord Shepherd as Leader of the House. After a spell as an opposition Whip in 1974 he became government Deputy Chief Whip, tasked with getting difficult and controversial business through the House. Back again in opposition, he became arts spokesman-a role that he relished-and, in 1986, Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chairman, positions that he held until 2001, having been elected a hereditary Peer in 1999.
Lord Strabolgi seemed in so many ways part of the fixtures and fittings of this House. It may have taken him a while to get from the top of the stairs to the Chamber, but it was at least in part to greet his many friends from all round the House. Lord Strabolgi was a Labour man through and through. He took his party politics seriously but that was always without rancour. He was a dedicated attender and was in the House two days before he died. We send our condolences to his family and pay tribute to the extraordinary example of service and humanity which the late Lord Strabolgi leaves us.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the House, and to the Leader of the House, for this opportunity to say a few words about Lord Windlesham and Lord Strabolgi-two very fine servants of your Lordships' House. David Windlesham had a remarkable number of distinguished careers: in the media, in both production and management; in academia in Oxford, especially at Brasenose College; and in government, particularly at the Home Office. But of course his period in this House was equally as distinguished. I have had the honour to do just one of the jobs that he undertook, as Leader of this House, and I pay tribute to the work that he did. To be Leader of your Lordships' House is both an enormous privilege and an exacting task, and Lord Windlesham carried out his role in this Chamber in an exemplary way.
To be a Member of your Lordships' House is a great privilege. To be a Member for any length of time extends that privilege enormously. To be a Member for 56 years, as David Strabolgi was-as an active and assiduous Member-is quite extraordinary. David served this House well. His long service as a Deputy Speaker in your Lordships' House reflects that and it reflects the esteem, respect and popularity in which he was held by all sides of this House. He served these Benches well too. He held firm political convictions. He served in Labour Administrations in the 1960s and 1970s, and on the opposition Front Bench in the 1980s.
Entirely coincidentally, we held a little party in my room here for David just a few weeks before his death, to mark his 96th birthday, and in the words that he
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This House has lost two very fine Members who were very fine servants of their own parties. Both will be missed on their respective Benches but it is a tribute to them both that they will also be much missed on all sides of your Lordships' House.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we associate this side of the House with the tributes paid to Lord Windlesham and Lord Strabolgi by the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon. The deaths of both distinguished noble Lords will be a considerable loss to your Lordships' House. Their contributions to political and public life have been unique.
In the case of Lord Strabolgi, we can dispel the suggestion of a retirement age. He had occupied many senior positions during the time that the Labour Party was in opposition and also when he was in the Government. On a more positive note, the noble Lord was born in a Liberal family and had flirted with the Liberals in his political career. The noble Lord died at the age of 96. It is a sad loss and we send our condolences to his family.
Lord Windlesham also had a unique career. He was a very resolute politician. Many of us remember his confrontation with the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, at the time of the "Death on the Rock" controversy, but there was also a very gentle side to his character. I first came into contact with him when he was chairman of the Parole Board. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, the then Home Secretary, had set up a commission under Lord Carlisle of Bucklow to review the parole system. Our first witness was Lord Windlesham. He was proud of a system that provided early release of inmates under licence, and many of his suggestions were incorporated into the commission's final report.
I was always impressed with his contribution in your Lordships' House on criminal justice matters. The quiet but resolute way that he put his case to improve our prison system was a lesson for many of us. His book, Politics, Punishment and Populism, is a must for all reformers. We join others in sending our condolences to his family and friends.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, on behalf of the Cross Benches, I should like to add to the tributes that have already been paid to the noble Lords. Lord Strabolgi was 96 years old, and his almost 60 years in this House make for quite a record. We will all remember his familiar figure making its slow but determined way through the Corridors of the House. He was immensely kind, courteous and cheerful, and was always immaculately dressed. When he spoke, perhaps because he spoke so rarely, he was listened to with great respect. What shone through for me was his adherence to the principle of independence, his loyalty to the
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I have always felt somewhat connected to Lord Windlesham by a series of curious coincidences. He lived in the village next door to me; his cousin, who is a dear friend of mine, lives in the same village as I do; and his wife was the aunt of a close friend of mine. However, I never actually met him until I got to this House. We have heard that he had a distinguished career in various ministries and as principal of Brasenose College. Although he was a somewhat quiet and reserved man, he should also be remembered for having promoted modest reform of the House of Lords, for which the Cross-Benchers will certainly be quite fond of him and will miss him greatly.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, on behalf of the Lords Spiritual, I add my tribute to Lord Windlesham and my condolences to his family. I acknowledge his particular contribution as a Roman Catholic to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. As we have heard, his appointment as Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office was described as "inspired". Without people like him, the tensions between Catholics and Protestants in that province might be unhappier now than they are. We give thanks for him and for his contribution to the House and to the nation.
I also add, on behalf of the Lords Spiritual, my condolences to those who mourn the death of Lord Strabolgi. Reference has been made to his humanity and his untiring service, and these are qualities that we all should want to emulate. I acknowledge with gratitude in particular his service on the Ecclesiastical Committee. We give thanks also for him.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to ensure that the expenditure on accounts for the budget signed off by the European Court of Auditors shall be excluded from the contribution imposed on member states.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the UK cannot withhold its contributions to the annual European Union budget as it is required to make those contributions under obligations imposed by the treaties. The European Communities Act 1972, particularly Section 2, gives effect within the UK to Community law.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I ask the noble Lord in response: since the findings of the Council are subservient to the approval of the Parliament, will the Government now seek change to the Lisbon treaty to enable the European Court of Auditors to oppose expenditure
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Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing attention to a clearly unsatisfactory situation. Year after year, the European accounts cannot get a clean audit opinion. However, it is the Government's view that the way forward is not to press for treaty changes but to try to make sure that the whole system of accounting is made simpler and clarified. It should concentrate on what is important, and the capabilities of both the European Commission and other agencies-whether at the European level or, particularly, within member states-to manage the money should be enhanced so that we get out of an appalling situation that we do not want to see continue. However, treaty change is not the appropriate vehicle.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the Minister think of a better word than "grotesque" to describe the situation whereby the overall supervision of our priceless financial services has been passed to an organisation that, as he has mentioned, has been incapable of getting its own accounts signed off by its internal auditors for 16 years?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I said that the situation in which we find ourselves, with the European accounts not getting a clean audit opinion, is completely unacceptable. The connection between that and the regulation of financial services in Europe is somewhat tenuous. We should focus on ways of improving the budget situation. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has already taken steps, both on this year's budget and by talking about what we expect from the financial framework for the next seven years of the budget. Those are the ways in which we have to move forward determinedly.
Earl Cathcart: My Lords, my noble friend says that we have a treaty obligation to pay our contribution to Brussels. Quite so, but surely there is also a treaty obligation to ensure that all EU money is properly spent. Secondly, if Brussels blames the nation states for these financial irregularities, why do we not put pressure on the Commission to name and shame, and then block future payments to, those countries responsible for the fraud and mismanagement?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, there are indeed things that we can do and will consider doing. The Council considers the budget issue in the early months of each year. It is rare-certainly it has not been done in recent years by a UK Government-to vote in Council against waving through the budget without a clean audit opinion. However, as my honourable friend the Economic Secretary has made clear in another place, the Government are ready to use our vote if we see accounts that fail to meet the standards that we think they should. She said in another place:
"If we see accounts that contain points made by the European auditors that we believe the Parliament is not taking on board, we will be ready to use our vote in future to challenge the Commission in a way that the last Government never were".-[Official Report, Commons, 13/10/10; col. 456.]
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I cannot tell the House that but I am very happy to write with the information. I think that it involves different auditing standards and a different structure but I shall be very happy to confirm that.
Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, those of us who have been privileged to serve at either end of this Building for the past 15 years have listened to Answers remarkably similar to the one which my noble friend has just given. Will he assure your Lordships' House that progress is being made to the end which he desires, or are we going to listen to similar Answers for another 15 years?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I sincerely hope that we will not; anyway, I am sure that I will not be here giving those Answers for 15 years. We are making progress: the number of areas of qualification of the budget is going down and the level of fraud has been significantly reduced and is at a very low level, so there are certainly improvements in the detailed audits coming forward. However, that is occurring within a total picture which, I repeat, is not acceptable. We must work towards achieving more progress.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many important projects and finances come through our involvement with the European Union which are valuable in areas ranging from agriculture to manufacturing? He should be well aware that, if there is excessive interest in detailed financing and control, it will be very difficult for these projects to operate.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: You just have to listen to all the important manufacturers who find involvement in Europe extremely valuable. I hope the Government will ensure that this support is effective as well as valuable.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we are taking steps-for example, I think that we are one of only three or four countries which voluntarily publish audited statements on the way that co-managed funds are used in the UK. As a country we are doing everything to make the UK accounts as transparent and thoroughly audited as any, and the European Commission has noted that with approval. It is depressing that in agriculture, the largest area of spend, the error rate found by the auditors is going up.
Baroness Northover: The Government welcome the establishment of UN Women and recognise that it has received strong cross-party support. UN Women should help to deliver the development commitments to which Governments signed up at last year's MDG summit. A decision on all relevant DfID funding commitments will be made when the Government's multilateral aid review concludes early this year. In the mean time, we have offered UN Women transitional support.
Baroness Prosser: I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree with the research that was conducted by the Department for International Development, which showed that families and communities gain better value from money spent directly on women and girls? Does she therefore agree with me that it would represent a sound investment towards global peace and security if the United Kingdom Government provided financial support to UN Women to at least the level of funding allocated to UNICEF?
Baroness Northover: I pay tribute to what the noble Baroness has done in this field. The Government very much agree with her point that supporting women and girls is central to development, as 70 per cent of those in dire poverty are women but only 30 per cent are men. Therefore, one can see that efforts to redress the balance have not yet worked. A lot more needs to be done, and supporting women and girls is central to that.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Will the Minister clarify whether this body replaces the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, on which my noble friend Lady Trumpington and I served-I followed her-and whether it replaces UNIFEM or is an entirely different body? I do not think that many of us are very clear about exactly what this body is.
Baroness Northover: This body takes into itself both those organisations, and others. UNIFEM will operate within it. Because it is clear that the position of women has not been properly addressed, it was decided when reforming the United Nations that this umbrella organisation was required, and that the existing organisations overlapped; they were rather fragmented and needed to be brought together under UN Women-and they will be. That is why this new organisation was supported. There is cross-party support for its development and we very much support its future development.
Lord Chidgey: Does my noble friend agree with international agencies which say that the lessons learnt from conflicts as far away as the Congo and Haiti show that tackling violence against women has to start at the very earliest stages of the relief effort and must form part of an integrated international relief programme? What therefore is the Government's position on providing this hard-won experience as a model for other agencies to use throughout the world when tackling these emergencies? Will the Government make sure that this new UN women's agency takes this message forward as part of its programme?
Baroness Northover: UN Women has only just been established and is working out its strategy, but the United Kingdom is on the board of the executive and
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Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that today is the anniversary of the first sitting-in, I think, 1947-of the United Nations General Assembly? I should perhaps declare an interest as one of your Lordships' former parliamentary representatives at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Would it be too much to ask whether the noble Baroness has any plans for the UN General Assembly to resume its sittings here in London?
Baroness Northover: I thank the noble Lord for that. It would be an interesting development, but I cannot see that it would have universal support. However, I can always feed that suggestion through. It is clearly an extraordinary development that the United Nations exists at all. When one bears in mind the international problems that we face, we need to build on the strengths that the UN already has, make sure that in future it can do even more to resolve international conflict, and ensure that, where there is poverty, it is addressed.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: Does the noble Baroness accept that despite the enormous support that the UN has had, women still work two-thirds of the hours worked across the world, but actually receive only 10 per cent of the income, and that in those circumstances the new agency is very important? If we are to achieve the millennium development goals and see real development, we must have a strong women's organisation at the UN to drive that. Can she assure us that the Government understand that and are determined that women take their rightful place in negotiations and in the money that is allocated at the UN?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as a country, we oppose discrimination on grounds of gender or religion? It is curious, to say the least, that
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Lord McNally: My Lords, I might agree with many of the propositions that the noble Lord has put forward, but as the previous Administration recognised, we are dealing with Acts of Parliament that govern not only us but a number of countries where the Queen is Head of State. For that reason, we have been proceeding with extreme caution.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the central provision for the establishment of the Church of England is that the Sovereign, as Supreme Governor, should join in communion with that church? Does the Minister agree that, unless the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to soften its rules on its members' involvement with the Church of England, whose orders it regards as null and void, it is hard to see how the Act of Settlement can be changed without paving the way for disestablishment, which, though it might be welcome to some, would be of great concern to many and not just to Anglicans or, indeed, to other Christians?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, shortly after joining this House more than 10 years ago, I introduced a Private Member's Bill that was torpedoed very effectively by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley and which sought to prevent the heir to the Throne marrying a Roman Catholic? The then Government used exactly the same argument, saying that it required countries in which the Queen is Head of State to pass legislation and that they would take the matter forward. It is more than 10 years since that commitment was made. What progress was made and what was done?
Lord McNally: My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Lord down from his mountain in Antarctica. Messages from the mountain top are always welcome. We are talking about an Act that is 300 years old and that has served this country not too badly when one considers the 60 years of religious and communal strife that went before it. Therefore, although 10 years seems a long time, there have been consultations. I thought that, at least in this House, talking of progress in terms of centuries would be much appreciated. As is known, the previous Administration initiated discussions among Commonwealth countries. Those discussions are proceeding under the chairmanship of the New Zealand Government and we will continue to keep the matter under consideration.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I share almost totally the views of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, just told us: that there were apparently discussions with the various countries that recognise the Queen as their Monarch. Can he tell us when the last meeting of those countries was and when the next meeting is going to be, and perhaps give us a gentle glimpse of the agenda?
Lord McNally: I never cease to be amazed at the penetrating way in which the Opposition demand action this day on matters it sat on for 13 years. I have told the noble Lord that the discussions I referred to have not ended; they are ongoing. I shall consult the New Zealand Government, and if they are in a position to let me have that information I shall write to the noble Lord.
Lord St John of Fawsley: Perhaps I may ask noble Lords whether they agree that in principle one must support what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, and that one must favour equality for women. As Disraeli said, "I owe everything to women". I hope that they will remember that at the Garrick. Heaping a coal scuttle of fire on the head of the right reverend Prelate, I say that I hope that we can have an assurance from the Government that they have no intention of excluding or reducing the representation in this House of the Bishops of the Church of England, because it is the national church of the country and that would send entirely the wrong signal from this House.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, is it not the case that Section 1 of the Act of Settlement 1701 does not specifically proscribe any member of the Catholic faith from succeeding to the Crown? Rather, the wording is that the Crown shall devolve upon:
Lord Reid of Cardowan: My Lords, perhaps I should declare an interest as someone who was born and baptised a Roman Catholic. However, noble Lords will be gratified to know that I have no ambitions at present to succeed to the Throne. Does the Minister not recognise that it is not only an offensive but an anachronistic symbol of division, discrimination and inequality in an age when we are trying to inculcate the opposite in every other aspect of society? If it were sufficient grounds for retaining a law that it had been around for 300 years, we would still be hanging people
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Lord McNally: In response to the noble Lord's introductory remarks, I say that that makes two of us. I also appreciate that some of these matters perhaps cause greater problems in Scotland than elsewhere. I have said, and I think that it is accepted, that there are discussions with the Commonwealth countries. We are conscious that there are anachronisms in the Act, but we still advise the House of the wisdom of proceeding with caution.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, the Government are committed to giving parents more information rather than less. We want to raise the attainment of the most disadvantaged and lowest attaining pupils, and to report on how schools do in narrowing the attainment gap. We will also support such children through the introduction of the pupil premium, which will be targeted at those on free school meals, many of whom will also have special educational needs.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I thank the Minister for his reply and note that the Secretary of State for Education has recently decided that the judgments in league tables on the passage through GCSE for five subjects is to be tightened up, to ensure that schools choose not the softest subjects but rather the crucial subjects for their children to take. I commend him on that. However, given that schools will be judged on their work with not just the highest flyers but children with the greatest need, I wonder whether it would be wise in the league tables to exclude children with special educational needs from the attempt to measure schools comparatively, and to include a list or proportion of the number of specially educationally disadvantaged children at a school to ensure that head teachers and others do not attempt to escape from their responsibilities.
Lord Hill of Oareford: First, I think everyone in this House agrees on the need to try to narrow the attainment gap. The previous Government did quite a lot of work in that regard, which I am happy to recognise. I recognise the challenge that schools have with special educational needs but, by the same token, many who
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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Is the Minister aware, as I am sure he is, that when the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, produced her report, she referred to children who needed statements with special educational needs as being approximately 2 to 2.5 per cent of the 20 per cent of children who are not statemented, and should not be, but who have special needs? Is he also aware that many of those are concentrated in schools that have a welcoming atmosphere, and that take on board children with special needs at the risk of those special needs interfering with their attainment? Surely-this applies to all Governments-the ideal is to measure the value added by individual schools rather than merely looking at the attainment.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I accept fully the force of that point, and one of the changes that we are keen to make with our new floor standards is to measure both attainment and progression. The previous floor standards had only an attainment measure and we are planning to introduce a progression measure. I accept the force of that entirely. To go back to the previous point, it is clear that children come in all shapes and sizes, and one needs to try to have measures that reflect what a school does to bring out the best in those children, regardless of where they start from.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: Is my noble friend aware that many years ago I worked for the Inner London Education Authority in Hackney, dealing only with children receiving free meals? There was by no means any link between the fact that they received free school meals and their educational ability, and it would be a great mistake to use that as a divining rod of what the results should be.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with that point. On the back of the Question I looked at precisely that area, to try to correlate schools with the number of free-school-meal pupils and the results. A quick look bore out the point made by my noble friend. Mossbourne Academy has 54 per cent of its pupils on free school meals and 72 per cent of those pupils get five A to Cs including English, maths and science.
(1) There shall be a Committee of Inquiry, chaired by a High Court judge, comprising members of both Houses of Parliament, including representatives of the principal political parties in the House of Commons, as well as individuals with no party attachment, and others.
(a) review the current rules for conducting Parliamentary boundary reviews (contained in Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986) considering in particular-
(i) how to address the inequality of constituency sizes;
(ii) how to stabilise the size of the House of Commons;
(iii) the relative importance of electoral equality against the specific character of individual constituencies, including the rules relating to geographical considerations, local ties and 'inconveniences', and the rules on crossing borough and county boundaries; and
(iv) make recommendations;
(b) examine in this context the question of the optimum size of a constituency taking into account the need to maintain the Union, the proper role of MPs in their constituencies and in Parliament, and the implications for these roles of the responsibilities of other representative bodies including local authorities and the House of Lords, and make recommendations;
(c) consider the implications of an optimum size for the House of Commons for an optimum size for the House of Lords, and make recommendations;
(d) review the time taken to conduct boundary reviews, particularly in England, and make recommendations;
(e) review the alignment between the timing of local and parliamentary boundary reviews to ensure that stable local government electoral boundaries can form the basis for each parliamentary review, and make recommendations;
(f) examine the question of a role for keeping the operation of the rules under review and ensuring consistency of approach by the four Parliamentary Boundary Commissions, including monitoring their standards of performance, and make recommendations; and
(g) examine the arguments surrounding the statistical basis on which electoral areas are currently constructed, in particular whether the eligible population rather than electoral statistics should be used, and make recommendations.
(3) The Committee of Inquiry established under subsection (1) shall report to Parliament annually on its progress, and deliver a final report with recommendations to the Secretary of State within three years of the passing of this Act.
(4) Within 6 months of the Committee of Inquiry's report the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament, for Parliament's consideration, a scheme including draft Bills to implement the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry."
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, perhaps noble Lords would leave as quietly and as quickly as possible, so that we can all hear the noble Lord introduce his amendment.
Rather curiously for this House, I support the Bill's objectives. I support a referendum on the alternative vote system and I support any attempt to make the process of boundary revisions fairer and more efficient. Who could possibly be against any reasonable attempt to cut the cost of politics? However, as I and many other noble Lords have already argued, there are profound flaws in how the Bill proposes to achieve those objectives. The amendment is designed to remedy some of the worst of those flaws in Part 2. It is lengthier than I would have wished, because it sets out to provide a comprehensive solution to those problems, but I would be happy to withdraw it if the Government could give an assurance today that they will find a better way to secure such a solution.
At the heart of Part 2 lie assumptions about the optimum size of the House of Commons, the optimum size of a parliamentary constituency and the process of altering constituency boundaries. Those issues are central to the machinery of our democracy, yet the Government have conceded that the assumptions that they have made are arbitrary. They are not subject to any governing principle and they have not been subject to adequate consultation and scrutiny by the people whom they are meant to serve. Those issues are all the subject of vigorous debate.
Our electoral arrangements should never become the subject of partisan dispute, as that corrodes public trust and undermines the foundations of our democracy. Therefore, for many years, all political parties have sought consensus on such issues and, for the most part, they have succeeded in finding it. The Bill is a deplorable exception to that good practice, to which the amendment attempts to return. The amendment would not substitute my judgment for that of the Government in addressing these issues. Instead, it sets up a process for an independent, fair and principled set of judgments to be made. In doing so, it is intended to restore faith in the impartiality of the process for changing our electoral arrangements by requiring the Government to set up a committee of inquiry, such as a royal commission, to investigate and make recommendations on all those key and contentious issues.
The royal commission is a tried and tested mechanism for addressing such important, complex and contentious issues. It has worked well in the past and is generally accepted as a fair mechanism for dealing with such contested issues. Its composition would be for the Government to decide, but it should include Members of both Houses of Parliament, including representatives of the principal parties in the House of Commons, as those with most direct experience of such issues, as well as individuals with no party attachment, and others.
It would be for the Government to decide the process of such a committee of inquiry, but I draw Ministers' attention to the Liberal Democrat conference resolution of 2008, which pledged to set up a constitutional assembly or citizens' summit as a deliberative mechanism for the people of this country to pronounce on precisely such important issues as this. I am profoundly sorry that the Government have not followed the recommendation of that Liberal Democrat conference of 2008. It may be that they will now seize on this amendment as an opportunity to do so. They could even vote with us on this.
The remit for the commission would include consideration of how best to equalise constituencies, particularly taking into account all those issues of local identity and character about which such widespread concerns were expressed at Second Reading, which I think all Members of this House have had expressed to them in correspondence since Second Reading. The amendment proposes that the commission examine the optimum size for a constituency. This is a crucial consideration in creating a principled approach to the equalisation of constituencies. I am not against equalising constituencies, but I want to see it being done according to a fair, impartial and principled process.
What is the appropriate relationship between a Member of Parliament and their constituency and what size of constituency best sustains that relationship? The United States, with a population approximately six times that of the United Kingdom, has 435 Members of the House of Representatives and 100 Members of the Senate. A proportionate adjustment for the United Kingdom would result in a House of Commons of around 90 MPs.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Would my noble friend not accept that the United States has a federal system so that every state has its own Senate, House of Representatives and governor and within each state there are county legislatures? Therefore, the system is very different from that in the United Kingdom.
Lord Wills: Of course I accept that. I was about to make very similar points in my remarks. What my noble friend has so accurately pointed out is that this is a subject for debate. He has made a very good point. This is precisely the sort of issue that should have been debated before the Government brought forward this legislation. What is the best size for a constituency in this country? I will come to the other constitutional changes that might affect this in a moment, but of course my noble friend is right.
If 90 is not an appropriate size for the membership of the House of Commons, why not? The Government have given us no clue. Surely, as I was saying, before embarking on such radical reform we need to seek agreement as far as possible between all political parties in this country on what principles should determine the size of the constituency and hence the size of the House of Commons.
In arriving at such principles, any review must take account of the other impending changes in our constitutional arrangements such as the increasing decentralisation of power to local authorities. All parties agree on the need for this. There are measures already coming forward from the Government. We need to look at the impact of those measures on the optimum size of a constituency, but the Government have not done so. We also need to look at the implications for the size of the constituency and the relationship between the Member of Parliament and their constituents of the impending reforms to this Chamber. Many Members will oppose such reforms, but the Government want to bring them forward and they owe it to the British people to have a proper discussion about the implications of such changes on the optimum size of a constituency. What will be the implications for the nature and role of the Member of Parliament? We have had no such discussion, and this amendment offers the opportunity to have it. I think that it would be very valuable for the health of our democracy for that to happen.
The commission would also need to take account of the principle that has been followed by all parties that believe in the value of the union of differential protections for the minority nations of the United Kingdom. This is a crucial point for all those who believe in the value of maintaining the union. The nature of the union has changed dramatically since the Labour Government brought forward measures of devolution, and that relationship is continuing to evolve. There is no evidence whatsoever in the Bill that the Government have appreciated this or recognised its significance. This amendment gives them a chance to look at the implications of the changing nature of the devolved constitutional arrangements of this country on the proposals in this Bill.
The statistical basis on which the size of constituencies is equalised is also crucial. It is bad enough that the Government are seeking to conduct a wholesale boundary review on the basis of an electoral register that is neither comprehensive nor accurate. It is deplorable that they appear to be doing this in the pursuit of partisan advantage. It is perhaps even worse that this fundamental redrawing of the electoral map should be done in such an arbitrary way, leaving key questions not even raised, let alone answered. How far, for example, should the electoral register be the basis for such equalisation? How far should population be the basis? These are clearly issues that any committee would need to consider, so they are included in the amendment.
Lord Campbell-Savours: This matter has taxed many of us over a long period. I understand that when my noble friend was the Minister responsible he did some work in the department on the use of population-
Lord Wills: I am very grateful to my noble friend. As he said, the previous Government-I was the Minister responsible for this-did a lot of work on how we could more fairly ensure that everyone entitled to be on the electoral register was on it. We brought forward legislation putting a duty on the Electoral Commission to bring forward such measures. That is another reason why I am in such despair that the Government are rushing ahead on the basis of such a flawed electoral register. If only they had had a little patience and had waited just a few months longer. There was every chance that the Electoral Commission's work would produce a significantly improved register, which might even have been comprehensive and accurate, as it should be.
These issues now need to be debated. They are issues not just for this House or for the other place; they are issues for the British people, who have had no say in this fundamental building block of their democracy. This amendment offers the opportunity to the Government to give the British people that say in these arrangements. I very much hope that they will take it. I have also included provision-I think that everyone will agree with this-for boundary reviews to be timely. I do not think that there should be any dispute about that.
Finally-I know that this will be of concern to the Government-there is the question of a timetable. I had some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he said at Second Reading that the time had almost come for constitutional reformers just to get on with it. I hope that I am not quoting him inaccurately. Of course, anyone who wants to see constitutional reform must beware delay, which is always the enemy of truly radical reform. I recognise that cynical members of the Government-I am sure that noble Lords on the Front Bench are not so cynical-may regard this proposal for a committee as nothing more than a device to push all these issues into the long grass. That is not my intention. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I support the objectives of this Bill.
My amendment does not leave this process open-ended, but specifies a timescale. In my judgment-I did considerable work on these issues when I was the Minister responsible in the previous Government-three years is an appropriate timescale in which to explore all these issues with appropriate rigour, to hear evidence from all concerned parties, including members of the public, and to produce recommendations that can command popular support.
More generally, this is a typical timeframe for a royal commission. The average time to report for the past 10 royal commissions has been slightly less than three years. This is a reasonable amount of time to give the committee to report. But I have added further comfort in this amendment to those who might be concerned about undue delay. The amendment includes provision for the commission to report annually to
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This amendment is detailed and complex because the issues covered are detailed and complex. They are also vital to the health of our democracy. I hope that the Government may feel able to accept the amendment, if not in this exact formulation then at least in one perhaps better drafted to achieve the same objectives. Whatever view is taken of the merits of the objectives of Part 1 of the Bill, no independent observer could consider Part 2 to be anything other than at best botched legislation and at worst a partisan attack on fundamental constitutional proprieties. Such profoundly flawed legislation is unlikely to endure and I just say to Ministers opposite that history is not likely to look fondly on its perpetrators.
The amendment offers the Government a chance to find a way out of the swamp into which they have waded with little care or consideration. It gets them to the place that they say that they want to be with a delay of only a few months to allow for independent examination and the engagement of the public in issues of great importance to our democracy, which, after all, is meant to serve the public, not the interests of the Government of the day. It would enable this legislation to proceed on the basis of constitutional principle not on that of arbitrary and partisan calculation. I beg to move.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I had not planned to speak this early, but I may as well intervene to support my noble friend in his amendment. I begin by commenting on my reflections over the Christmas Recess on how I see the progress on this Bill. My comments stem from conversations with Members of the other place, some of whom spoke on the Bill during its transit through that House. The conclusion that we have all come to is that the way in which this legislation is being handled is a clear breach of any reasonable process. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, looks as if I am saying something that causes him some anguish, but the reality is that this is a constitutional Bill in its two principal components. AV, which is a huge change to the electoral system with massive constitutional implications, and the change to constituency boundaries are big constitutional issues that in both cases require, in my view, a proper inquiry before this legislation goes through Parliament.
The reality is that, because of our arrangements in the House of Lords, at least we are able to give the Bill some level of scrutiny, but I do not believe that the level of scrutiny that we can give it satisfies in any way the gravity, importance and significance of the legislation that the Government are seeking to introduce. I am saying all this as a strong supporter of a change to the electoral system. Indeed, I would probably go down the route of the Liberal Democrats on this matter if only they would be honest in the position that they took as against supporting this miserable little compromise.
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I believe that my noble friend's amendment is critical for securing proper consideration. As he said, it was the subject of a resolution carried at the Liberal Democrat conference. Both the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Tyler, are in their places today and I hope and expect them to have the courage to argue on the back of this amendment the case that was argued forcefully at their annual conference basically in support of the principles that my noble friend is seeking to establish.
The Government should be reminded of the relevant sections in the very well written report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. I understand that the report's recommendations were carried unanimously by the membership of that committee. All parties subscribed to the principles set out in paragraph 11, which states:
My noble friend's proposed inquiry would do precisely that. It is fair to ask the question: why 600? Why not 590? Why not 500, as my noble friend Lord Rooker has suggested? Why not 550? Why not 700 or 800? All the coalition Government have done is pick figures out of the air and say, "Yes, the Liberal Democrats want 500; the Conservatives want 600. Let's settle on that figure". That is not the basis on which the size of what is perhaps the most important Parliament in the world should be decided.
We then have to consider the whole issue of Lords reform. Until we know what the arrangements for an elected House will be, how can we even begin to comprehend the nature of the relationship that will develop between individual constituents-because there may well be individual constituents-and Members of an elected House of Lords, and the extent to which that will impact on how many MPs there should be in the House of Commons? That matter has not even entered into the discussions that have taken place prior to the introduction of this legislation.
There is also the whole question of population, on which I intervened during my noble friend's speech. I have pondered over the Christmas Recess on why population should not be taken into account when, particularly in the inner cities, many of the people who come to MPs' surgeries would be excluded from the electoral register. I cannot see why those groups who are excluded should not be taken into account when one is deciding the workload of a Member of Parliament and the size of any constituency.
Lord Martin of Springburn: The noble Lord makes a valid point about people who are not on the electoral roll. I think of my previous constituency of Glasgow North East, to which the Home Office decided that a large number of asylum seekers would come. Not one of them, with the problems that they had, was turned away. Moreover, almost every asylum seeker had a lawyer who would also make representation to me as the local MP. It got to the stage where 90 per cent of the cases coming to surgeries were those of asylum seekers. Only those who were Commonwealth citizens as well as being asylum seekers were entitled to go on to the voters' roll.
Lord Campbell-Savours: That intervention by my noble friend is extremely significant. That matter has not been taken into account by the Government. I know that there were problems in Glasgow, because I have been reading about them. There was a huge campaign that was referred to a few weeks ago by my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock to deal with the whole issue of registration, which threw up the particular problem to which my noble friend referred. Indeed, the Democratic Audit paper on further findings on equalisation,which no doubt most Members of the House will either have read or will want to read prior to our debates in the future, deals precisely with this issue of population. Mr Lewis Baston says:
"Approximately half of the countries that delimit districts use 'total population' as the population base for determining equality across electoral districts. Another third of the countries employ registered voters as the population base".
Several European countries use citizen population as the relevant base for determining population equality. Lesotho uses the voting age population as the base and Belarus uses the number of voters in the previous election, although that would not be particularly helpful here, would it?
The facts are that countries can use census material and population statistics as against registered electors, particularly when we know that the registered electorate, as far as the purposes of this Bill are concerned, are based on a register that is effectively out of date and which excludes, as my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton was saying only a few weeks ago, some 3.5 million people. Some 3.5 million people are excluded from the register. Why cannot the great proportion of those be included on a register by changing the basis on which the register is drawn by moving it over to a more population-based system?
Lord Knight of Weymouth: Has my noble friend seen the Electoral Commission's excellent report published in March this year entitled The Completeness and
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Lord Campbell-Savours: I have not read that report although it is on my reading list. There are a number of reports I have to read next weekend in preparation for the debates that will take place next week.
The point is that this is not the peg on which to argue the basis on which people register. My noble friend's amendment simply says, "Let us have an inquiry that does precisely that". He is saying, "Let someone, somewhere, do some homework on this whole area before Parliament is required to carry any particular piece of legislation". That is my case.
Lord Wills: My noble friend has made an important point about the importance of considering population. But does he agree that this emphasises yet again the folly of rushing this? In a short space of time we will have the results of the 2011 census-probably around 2013 or 2014. It is absolutely crucial in deciding the validity of going forward on a population basis, but also in ascertaining just how under-registered the British people are. What is the degree of under-registration in different constituencies and different population groups throughout the country? Does this not prove the folly of rushing ahead like this?
Lord Campbell-Savours: I could not agree more with my noble friend. If we are going to have a five-year Parliament, why cannot those data be used? It would still leave the opportunity for legislation to be introduced to deal with this whole issue. Why, in other words, on the back of a whipped vote on the coalition Benches, is this measure being driven through this House when we all know it is an abuse of process and wrong in every possible way?
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I, too, endorse the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Wills and follow some lines of argument developed by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. Lord Randolph Churchill described Gladstone-presumably still something of an inspiration to at least some noble Lords opposite-as an,
This Bill and other pieces of legislation we are seeing are redolent of a Government of young men in a hurry. That hurry is palpable and inexcusable. I would not accuse the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, of being young men-in a hurry or in any other sense-but the hurry is certainly still there.
A reference has been made to the interesting report of the Select Committee on the Constitution-a most distinguished body, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours remarked. There are some additional matters on top of those to which he referred, but first, following the valid point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Martin,
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That is also a significant point. The committee was not persuaded that the reduction-essentially to be made among Back-Bench Members in another place- would necessarily be adverse to the balance but the matter does not seem to have been considered at all and it was,
What estimate has been made of the additional resources required if and when this Bill goes through, in particular for that first review? The committee shared the concern of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee that it was,
On public participation, I mentioned in a previous debate that I had been engaged-on one occasion professionally and on another in a political capacity-in giving evidence at local public inquiries about both ward and parliamentary boundaries. The Bill in effect proposes to end the system of public inquiries of that kind and to rely on written evidence. The crucial difference between written evidence and a public inquiry is that the evidence cannot be tested by those with a contrary view-whether they be a different political party, an individual citizen or any other interest group.
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We already have experience of some rather difficult hybrid constituencies. For many years, I have represented a ward that was at one time in the constituency of Newcastle Central and then became part of a constituency called Tyne Bridge, which included part of Newcastle and part of Gateshead and was divided only by the River Tyne. I have occasionally likened Newcastle and Gateshead-of which my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton has intimate knowledge, as chairman of a concern that tries to unite the two areas in promoting their economic interest-to the city of Budapest, which also comprises two quite separate places brought together, although I hesitate to indicate which might be Buda and which might be Pest. Nevertheless, even in an area as compact as Newcastle and Gateshead, there is a distinct feeling of difference, so the Tyne Bridge constituency was never a happy compromise. Most of us, on both sides of the river, are glad that our respective constituencies are now confined to areas on either side. Such significant local issues would be even more salient, as many of your Lordships will know from the many e-mails and letters received, in areas such as Cornwall and the Isle of Wight. However, all of that appears to have been dismissed.
but it does not look like the Government have much intention of giving them that further consideration. Indeed, it is sad that a committee of the distinction and weight of the Select Committee on the Constitution should have to conclude:
"We are concerned that the constitutional relationship between the provisions of this Bill and the Government's other proposals for constitutional reform have not been adequately thought through. ... The Government should set out how they consider that this Bill and its place within their programme of constitutional reform makes the political system 'more transparent and accountable'".
To that I would add that the Government should also set out how the Bill will make the political system more comprehensible to the public, whom the Government are here to serve, who must be encouraged to participate more fully in the democratic process.
My final point is on the continuing problem with electoral registration. Levels of registrations are very variable up and down the country, as noble Lords have mentioned. Given the requirement for individual voter registration that will eventually come into force, it seems likely that the existing problem will become worse rather than better. I ask the Minister what resources will be devoted to ensure that the maximum effort is made to have as full a register as possible. What methods might be used to promote registration? For example, will data sharing and the like be promoted, and would that be compatible with the individual registration that will be required in due course?
There is certainly scope for improvement in our electoral system, but that is not likely to be achieved if legislation is rushed. Like many noble Lords-on, I
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Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am slightly hesitant in rising to speak to the amendment because I had hoped that we might hear a contribution from the other side of the House. No one could argue-perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, could respond to this point-that the issues that we are discussing today are not of profound constitutional significance. The provisions in the Bill will alter the relationship between MPs and their constituents, the overall number of MPs and the ways in which the public can be involved in determining the electoral areas from which they will send their representatives to Westminster. If those issues are not of profound constitutional consequence, I do not know what issues are.
I must also say-if I may get my retaliation in first-that I really find it offensive to hear continual references to filibusters taking place when discussions of this significance are before the House. In fact, I would say that there is negligence on the part of groups, parties andindividuals who do not make a full contribution to this debate. No one could possibly argue that there was a full debate in the House of Commons. I remind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace-it is convenient that he is in his place-that it was his leader who described these changes as the most profound since the Great Reform Bill of 1832. I have not had access to those debates, but if they really consisted of only one party having anything whatever to say about those proposals, and if those proposals were shovelled through both Houses in next to no time-this is a timetable that I have never seen before-then I would be very surprised indeed. It is our duty to examine these issues. They are of profound significance.
As for my noble friend's amendment, although I would guess that he and I disagree on a huge range of issues connected with constitutional reform, I regard this as a masterly amendment. I defy anyone in this House to explain in detail why this is the wrong way to go about major constitutional reform. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, when he sums up, will not read out what I would guess his briefing notes suggest-that this legislation must be passed by 15 February in order for there to be enough time to hold the referendum on 5 May. That is not a reason for rushing through major constitutional reforms, so I hope that he does not say that.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord also does not say that there has already been excessive consideration of the Bill. This Bill-a huge Bill, a constitutional Bill-has so far had six days in Committee on the Floor of the House. I would ask him to look through the record of the previous Government, or of any other Government, to see the amount of time that was taken on Bills of far less significance. That is not to say that those Bills were not important-they were-but they had far less long-term, irreparable and unchangeable significance than this one. If you are changing the constitution, it is very difficult to change it back. The noble and learned Lord will find several Bills that took
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I must confess to being politically naïve. When I heard that the Conservative Party was suggesting that there should be a reduction in the number of MPs, I did not like it, but I was relatively relaxed about it because I knew that there would be plenty of time for discussion. I knew that you could not hurry Boundary Commissions. I knew that the last Boundary Commission for England took six years, so I thought, "Well, at least I will have plenty of time to discuss whether this is a good or a bad proposal". It honestly did not occur to me for a moment that they would be scrapping the whole system of democratically accountable local inquiries-it just did not cross my mind that they would do that. Nor did it cross my mind that they would want to spend £12 million or so having a rushed Boundary Commission report-which is what the last Boundary Commission for England cost-when they keep telling us that every penny has to be saved.
As for the Liberal Democrats, it did not occur to me in my wildest dreams that they would say, "The thing we must do first in this new Parliament is to ensure that by 5 May we are asking the people whether they want the alternative vote system of proportional representation". We know what the Liberal Democrats think about that system-I will not embarrass them by quoting their leader yet again; I think we all know the answer to that one-but for them it is a temporary, short-term arrangement so that they can move on in due course to full proportional representation.
I say to the Government that if they are wondering why the Bill is taking a long time, as they seem to suggest, they should look at the issues raised in my noble friend's amendment. They should give us some sensible answers to the questions about why there cannot be a commission, and about the relationship between the two Houses. Here we have a Government who are reducing the number of Members of Parliament by 50 but, let us get this on the record, since the general election the number of new Members appointed to this House-many of whom I am delighted to see here; I am not complaining about them-is 117 so far. I remind the House that this is what the Deputy Prime Minister has described as a hugely important series of constitutional Bills that are all interrelated, and that great brains have been operating on them in order to show the nuance of the balance between the various pieces of legislation that are being brought forward. If there is any rational overview that allows simultaneously 50 fewer MPs and 117 additional appointed Members of the House of Lords, please could the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, explain to me what it is?
I have a final plea but it is one not made in hope, or indeed in expectation. Maybe just once, in response to one of the amendments from this side of the House, the Government could do what most Governments do
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It will be a test for the Government to see how they respond to a totally justified and well argued amendment, supported by people on very different sides regarding electoral reform and the future of the House of Lords; my noble friend Lord Wills and I are certainly on different sides. Let us hope for something better from the government Front Bench than we have had on any amendment so far.
Lord Snape: My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lord Grocott's earlier remarks about the debates that we have had so far on this enormous piece of legislation. For the same reasons as my noble friend, I feel strongly about much of its content. Like him-perhaps I could put this slightly stronger than he did-I deplore the lack of speeches from the Benches opposite. Indeed, having attended every day of the Committee so far, I have to say that this is the largest attendance that I have seen from the Conservative Party. The flesh might be present, though, but the spirit is pretty weak; we are still not seeing any contributions of either support or opposition from the Conservative Benches.
The Conservatives are slightly shamed by their coalition partners who are here in strength, although we are not hearing a great deal from them either, other than expressions of cynicism and impatience from one or two of them so far. It is regrettable that they cannot bring themselves to put some coherent arguments together in support of this enormous and extremely important piece of legislation.
My noble friend Lord Grocott mentioned the fact that there are accusations-this has not so far been said publicly, but there have been attempts to give this impression-that there is somehow some sort of filibuster taking place on the Labour Benches. I was contacted during the Christmas Recess by someone purporting to be from the Sunday Times, not a newspaper that I am overly fond of these days. I understand that investigations were taking place into the contents of some of the speeches on this legislation from this side of your Lordships' House. Nothing has appeared in the Sunday Times yet because, I fear, when the reporter concerned put this story together, as reporters do, they managed to give the impression that what had been happening so far was that the Labour Benches had been doing the job for which they were appointed to this House and the Benches opposite had not. That would not for a moment satisfy the editorial tendencies of the Sunday Times, so it is no wonder that we have seen no more. However, the constitutional outrages in the Bill ought to be properly reported. If we had a press in this country that reported proceedings in this House and in the other place, rather than paying braying public schoolboys to pour buckets of verbal ordure on those they consider to be their social
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Like my noble friend Lord Grocott, I find myself in many of these arguments on the opposite side to my noble friend Lord Wills, who moved the amendment. However, it is an important and comprehensive amendment to which I hope the Front Bench opposite will give due and proper consideration. My noble friend's amendment should certainly be considered in so far as it mentions local ties in relation to future constituency boundaries.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the Local Government Act 1972 will be aware of the dismay which was caused throughout the country by some of the boundaries of the then new local authorities. Indeed, in West Bromwich East, the constituency which I had the honour to represent in the other place for 27 years, many people were never reconciled to the new borough of Sandwell, which was created by the 1972 Act. After nearly 30 years many people looked blank when that name was mentioned. Yet here we have a Bill that proposes that constituency boundaries should be drawn up while paying no attention to local sentiment or action. Imagine, again from the point of view of my former constituency, a constituency that embraced West Bromwich East and West and Walsall. There is no great love between those two areas; they have their own football teams, structures and local authorities. They do not love each other. However, under these proposals, someone will have to try to represent such a constituency.
I look at the party opposite and one or two of the Conservative Benches. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who is as diligent as ever in these matters, is in his place. Imagine what would happen in Sutton Coldfield-his former constituency, which he represented with such distinction-if it were put next to somewhere like West Bromwich, for example. The uproar would be enormous. Reconciling the respective populations to it would be extraordinarily difficult, but these are the proposals that we are asked to approve in your Lordships' House. This is the direction in which the Bill intends to take democratic matters in the years to come.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, who is not in his place today, wrote a piece in the Times some weeks ago, to which I have referred previously, in great support of the Bill. He said-I paraphrase-that the important thing in the Bill was to ensure that constituencies were of about the same numerical strength, taking one with another. He felt that the present imbalance in constituencies-the fact that some inner city constituencies, largely represented in the other place by the Labour Party, were smaller-was unfair. In his eyes the only way forward was to equalise constituencies numerically, although he conceded that there would be some electoral advantage for the Conservative Party in this. However, reference has already been made-I think by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours-to the United States system of government. In the House of Representatives, that is exactly what happens. I do not think that the
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Baroness McDonagh: With regard to the newspaper article by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, does my noble friend agree with me that there are no significant size differences between Conservative and Labour seats in the other place?
Lord Snape: There are no great differences between them, as my noble friend says. However, to be honest, I would not be much concerned if there were. That is a red-or, rather, a blue-herring as far as this argument is concerned. It is surely a recognisable fact on both sides of your Lordships' House that voters are apt to be found in clusters, with Labour voters in inner-city areas and Conservative voters in more rural areas. Liberal voters are, however, diffused throughout the country.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: We must not continue with that misunderstanding and misapprehension. For many years I represented 800 square miles of rural Scotland, and in 1997 I had a Labour majority of 21,000. Constituencies throughout Scotland such as Eastwood, Edinburgh South and Dumfries, which were thought to be Tory constituencies in perpetuity, are now Labour seats. We can win these seats and we will win many more of them.
Lord Snape: I will do my-no doubt inadequate-best to do so. There are, of course, seats in England-we are not talking about Scotland now-where a Conservative voter is a lone voice indeed and where Conservative councillors are non-existent. Perhaps we should leave it there before I provoke any more reminiscences from my noble friend about what happens north of the border.
Before my noble friend Lady McDonagh intervened, I was talking about constituencies being based on numbers and nothing else. I looked up the origin of "gerrymandering" but with my customary forgetfulness-it must be old age-I have forgotten what my conclusions were. However, I understand that the word originated in the United States, so if gerrymandering takes place big time in the United States I do not see how a numerically even system of government is necessarily a fair one. I hope that I do not raise any further ire, or knock the scabs off any old sores, when I point out that for many years gerrymandering was said to be a way of life in Northern Ireland, although seats there were not based on numerical balance. I cannot for the life of me see how the coalition can claim that equalising constituencies numerically in the way proposed under the legislation will prevent at least the accusation of gerrymandering in the future.
My concluding remark on the widely read and circulated article of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is that this matter is all about political advantage, and
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Is there any doubt about that? Should we be raising it at all? My noble friend is quite right to address this issue. There is a profound difference between the way in which Members of Parliament in urban and poor constituencies react and the way in which MPs in country districts react. They are quite different. Perhaps this issue is being addressed by my noble friend.
The amendment is rather convoluted and we should address the issue directly: is there a difference between the way in which urban and country Members react? I represented an inner London constituency for a long time, and I held six surgeries a month-which is quite a lot. There is no doubt that my constituents put numerous questions to me and I found that I could not satisfactorily react to them by holding only four surgeries a month. That was inadequate. That is why I held six a month. I found that that also was inadequate, but I could not do more.
It is essential that this issue is addressed. Perhaps my noble friend is doing that-I do not know. The issue ought to be addressed directly, which is where the amendment falls down. On the whole, I was impressed by what my noble friend had to say, but he has not directly addressed this point.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: In supporting the amendment, I will make two brief points on subsection (2)(b) of the proposed new clause on what the basis of how we set up representation in this country should be. I should be very hesitant to criticise one word of this excellent amendment, but reference to the European Parliament would also have been useful. MPs have to consider how they relate not only to local government-or, if they are in London, to the Greater London Authority-but to the European Parliament and what will become the elected House of Lords. If this amendment or something like it is supported, I fear that an enormous opportunity to look at how those different levels of elected politicians can relate to each other will be missed. That is important not simply for politicians, although it is important for any of us in
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I am sure that any Members of your Lordships' House who have been Members of Parliament-I have not-will know that people will go from one to the other. They will start with a local councillor, and if they cannot get an answer there they will go to their MP. Occasionally they come here, but they certainly go to where I used to work in the European Parliament. It is not good for the consumer or the citizen if they cannot know easily which elected Member can help them with their problem. This amendment should have been an opportunity to look at how those various elected members work together. That would have been invaluable if this amendment were to be passed.
I raise a second issue: what is the proper way for a constituency to be put together? In case not everyone reads the Guardian, I quote Michael White discussing-this will be no surprise-the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency. He describes the constituency and asks:
I am not certain, much as I respect Michael White, that he is accurate in thinking that it is wrong to have a constituency with such a varied make-up. I have often thought that it would help Conservative Members if they had some very deprived areas and understood the problems that some of us go on about. Perhaps, looking at it the other way around, Conservative Members might think it advantageous for Labour Members to have more rural areas and an understanding of different issues such as hunting.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: That is quite a different argument. I am saying that I do not know whether it is better for a Member of Parliament to represent a much broader area of the country and our communities and therefore to unite and understand those, or whether it is better for them to be very specialised and to represent an area that feels very close together with a lot of shared interests. I see the merit of the amendment as enabling a committee of inquiry to think about how our communities can best be represented, whether at local government level, or, as it particularly addresses itself, within the House of Commons. Building on that, because I assume that it involves the same building blocks, would be an elected House of Lords, and indeed an elected European Parliament.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I want to make a point not about individual constituencies, because I have never
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That is an important part of the amendment. By putting it in the way he has-and I hope that the Minister will take this very seriously-my noble friend is adding something to the constitutional reform process on which the Government are embarked. This will prove a very important brick to give greater legitimacy to the kind of reform the Government want than they have got so far. Therefore, when it comes to House of Lords reform and determining the size of the House, if this amendment is accepted it will be much easier for the Government to propose the new size of the House of Lords because they will be able to say that a committee of inquiry has been permanently established that can consider and report on the matter. This is why I commend my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I make no apology for speaking briefly from these Benches. I do not believe that it is proper to criticise the detailed approach to this question of many Members of this House. If we did not give the matter our deepest thought and most conscientious consideration, we would have no right to call ourselves a reviewing Chamber.
I follow very much the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, in regarding the amendment as a breath of fresh air, sanity and common sense. I suppose that every Member of this Chamber would accept the proposition that the mother of Parliaments, when considering a totally new regime relating to so many aspects of its life, deserves the best and most assiduous efforts that we can imagine. In other words, we should not approach any one of these problems in a piecemeal way. Nor should we think of a final solution to any of these matters. These are immense problems and we should not think in terms of any ultimate solution save after carrying out the most detailed and assiduous scrutiny of all possibilities that are open.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I am tempted to comment but, mustering all the neutrality that I can command as a Cross-Bencher, it would probably be better for me to remain silent. I invite noble Lords to consider the issue of determining that the number of Members of the House of Commons should be reduced from 650 to 600. I mention in passing that the effect on Wales would be utterly disproportionate. It would lose about a quarter of its Members of Parliament; the number would be cut from 40 to 30. The case that I put to the House with humility and sincerity is this. I can imagine that if one had a body of the wisest and most appropriate people to examine this question, one might find considerable support for the proposition that the number of Members of Parliament should be reduced from 650 to a lower figure. The argument in favour of that might have something to do with devolution, although we were told many months ago by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the reduction from 650 to 600 had nothing to do with devolution and that any reduction would be simply on account of the determination in general that the number should be reduced.
I can also imagine that that body would come to a totally different conclusion and state that, if one looks at all the duties that have been added to the working life of an ordinary Member of Parliament over the past 50 years, there is a strong case for having a number of MPs greater than 650. I can also imagine that a body, having looked at the matter conscientiously and competently, would come to the conclusion that while on the whole there was a case for an increase, there were good psychological and social reasons for leaving the number at 650. In other words, each of those conclusions can easily be imagined in the case of a body charged with that particular duty; yet the Government are deciding this matter in a wholly arbitrary and rushed way, without any evidence to support them.
In relation to the question of the size of constituencies, many of us in the House commented at Second Reading that the idea of equality based on a mathematical commonality is utterly chimerical, artificial and misleading. On the one hand it might seem attractive to say, "Let every constituency be more or less the same size-76,000 give or take a small percentage". That does not give equality at all. If you live in an urban constituency which you can cycle across in 15 minutes, you can have access to your Member of Parliament's office in a matter of minutes. Just imagine doing that in a vast rural constituency, such as Brecon and Radnorshire in Wales, or Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross in Scotland. The idea of equality turns on many different factors. Mathematical uniformity is only one and probably the most misleading and artificial, yet the coalition Government have worshipped at that altar on this matter.
My only criticism of the proposed new clause is that it should have preceded Clause 1. Everything I have said applies to Part 1 of the Bill. I ask the House to bear in mind conscientiously and sincerely that as a Parliament we may well be rushing into decisions that we will greatly regret in years to come.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, as he made a powerful speech from a point of view that I
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One of the areas that I found most difficult on Second Reading was the figure of 600. I am not absolutely wedded to the idea that there must be 650 Members of the other place; changes come about and we should be prepared to look in detail at the construction of areas. In my former constituency, one village, Chapelhall, went from being a sleepy village to an agglomeration of a number of very attractive housing estates. The very place from which I take my title, Coatdyke, has been linked with one town or another on about half a dozen different occasions. I do not feel too strongly about that, but I should like to know where the mandate is behind the figure of 600. One coalition party in its manifesto wanted 500; another coalition party wanted 575. I did not go to a very posh school-my noble friend Lord Reid of Cardowan and I went to the same school-but normally, when we worked out a compromise, it came in the middle. How do you go from 500 to 575 and come away with 600?
I see that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is in his place. Perhaps he and his noble and learned friend Lord Wallace could collude and come up with an answer as to why that figure is 600. I heard another rumour that some work has been done proving that the figure of 600 disadvantages the Labour Party more than any other party. I am with my noble friend Lord Foulkes in that I do not care what gerrymandering goes on with the constituency boundaries. It is the arguments that will sway people and we have seen that in other parts of the country.
Lord Wills: I, too, am perplexed by how the figure was arrived at. My noble friend may wish to know that I made a freedom of information request some time ago for any deliberations made on the electoral consequences of different figures for the size of the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, promised on Second Reading to let me have such deliberations, if in fact they had taken place. I am still waiting to know from him whether such calculations were made and, if they were, to see them. I am still waiting for the freedom of information request to be responded to. I think that it is already out of time; I hope that I will not have to wait too much longer. I will of course share the results with the House.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: I am very grateful to my noble friend for that interesting piece of information. This is a subject to which I shall return-as, I am sure, will my noble friend-again and again. I will not be bullied into shutting up about it.
My noble friend Lady Hayter also made a valid point when she referred to subsection (2)(b) in my noble friend's amendment and the European Parliament. The issue of where someone with a problem goes becomes even greater in areas such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If I, as a constituent, wish to get some advice, I can go to my local councillor, or should I be going to my Member of the Scottish Parliament, my Member of Parliament, or my Member of the European Parliament-or should I even be bothering a Member of your Lordships' House? One complexity that has not been addressed in the legislation-one that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, knows well-is that constituency boundaries for the Scottish Parliament are shaped and based on the former Westminster model, because a decision was taken to retain the membership at 129. Therefore, there is a disjunction between the boundaries of the Scottish Parliament and what is proposed.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: On that point, I advise Members of the House to listen very carefully to what my noble friend is saying, not because of any reputation that she may have but because-I hope that I am not giving away a secret; I know that she will tell me off if I am-contrary to what my noble friend Lord Desai said, when she was Secretary of State for Scotland and had a decision to make which could have advantaged the Labour Party in relation to boundaries for Westminster seats in Scotland, she took the very principled decision to accept the view of the independent Boundary Commission, and the redistribution went ahead. That is why she should be listened to with great care, because of the great integrity with which she took that decision.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: I am very grateful to my noble friend. Since he has given up the chairmanship of Hearts Football Club, he has become secretary of my fan club. I do not know whether that is more auspicious or inauspicious than being chairman of Hearts Football Club.
The issue of the shape and construction is very important. I say to the Liberal Democrat members of the coalition, who have, over the years, made a very convincing argument for localism in politics-that all politics is local-that what is proposed is an aberration. It completely denies the local input into the shape and size of constituencies.
I made reference on Second Reading to the fact that the very last speech that the late John Smith made in Scotland, the day before he died, was to the Boundary Commission, because there was a proposal to split the constituency that I went on to represent right down the main street. People assume that if you come from a mining community or a working-class community-if you do not come from a 12th-century mansion house and can trace your ancestors back to 1066-you do not care about the history of the place that you come
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Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, this legislation has been constructed in haste and is being pushed through Parliament in haste. It was constructed in haste during the hasty negotiation of the coalition agreement; it is being introduced in the first Session of a new Parliament-so there was no Green Paper, no consultative process, nor, indeed, as has been noted, was there any pre-legislative scrutiny within Parliament; and it was very hastily proceeded with in the other place before it reached us. For all these reasons, it is right and proper that it should be carefully scrutinised not only by us here in this House now, but also on the basis that my noble friend Lord Wills has put forward.
Under my noble friend's proposal for a committee of inquiry, the great advantage would be that people of enormous experience and wisdom would be brought into the process, and it would be conducted in a context that would ensure impartiality. I am sure that noble Lords want to produce the right outcome in the broader interests of our constitution and our country, but it is in the nature of the adversarial processes that characterise our Parliament that it is very difficult to achieve a consensus in parliamentary proceedings. However, under the process that my noble friend has advocated there would be a real prospect of being able to reach a large measure of agreement, proposals could be recommended not only to us but to the people of this country, and there would be a wider public debate on the interim recommendations of my noble friend's committee and then, of course, on its final conclusions. That would be a better way to approach these enormously important issues and responsibilities than the way that the coalition Government have adopted.
Frankly, the way that the Government have introduced this Bill, and the way they are proceeding with it, is not a good way to govern. These are major issues that need to be treated with proper deliberation, bipartisanship and responsibility-issues such as the appropriate size of constituencies, the number of Members of Parliament who should serve in the House of Commons, the make-up of a House of Commons that very possibly will be elected under the alternative votes system instead of first past the post, the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents, and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive. One recites the issues that fall to be resolved in this process and it is self-evident that they are of major importance to the
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Among the particular issues that he has itemised and drawn attention to in his complex amendment is the relative importance of electoral equality. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, spoke very well on that issue. Coming-as he also does-from Wales, I am particularly conscious of the devastating impact on the structure of political life in Wales that a dogmatic insistence on numerical equality in the size of constituencies would bring about. We have a responsibility not to proceed as recklessly as that. Of course it is desirable, other things being equal, that constituencies should be more or less of equal size, but I think that the very narrow margin of fluctuation of 5 per cent either side of the norm of 76,000 electors that the Government propose is simply inadequate.
So the committee of inquiry ought to examine the options for a 5 per cent toleration, a 10 per cent variation and, indeed, other margins of flexibility, so that the desirability of constituencies being of equal size should be weighed against what is also, surely we must all agree, highly desirable-that the integrity and character of particular communities should be recognised and respected and, of course, that the relationship between parliamentary constituencies and the boundaries of local authorities should also be so designed as to make sense.
The Deputy Prime Minister compares this legislation in its significance to the Great Reform Act of 1832. But the difference between his approach in this measure and the approach which was enacted in the 1832 legislation is that it was the 1832 legislation that, for the first time, established in our parliamentary culture and our practical parliamentary arrangements the representation of communities. It was because people in the newly urbanising and industrialising communities, particularly in the north, objected to being represented in Parliament by county MPs, and because people in the counties themselves found that unacceptable, that the pressure grew to look again at how parliamentary representation was constructed. It was in consequence of the 1832 measure that the great industrial cities and the new industrial communities-Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bury, Rochdale, Bradford; these very significant and very important places-got proper parliamentary representation and that, for the first time, the people who lived in those places had the chance to elect their own Members of Parliament and to hold their own Members of Parliament to account. Of course the accountability was imperfect on the limited franchise, but we saw a development from that point which led to a state of affairs in which-even though the pressure for reform rightly persisted for more than 100 years after that, and there is still pressure for reform-there was a pride in the British constitution and an ownership of the British constitution.
We all are concerned that that pride in our constitution has diminished. However, hastily spatchcocked reforming measures which are perceived, fairly or unfairly, to be tainted by a bias in terms of party interest-for example, whether the number of 600 constituencies, a figure apparently arbitrarily chosen, has been calculated to
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If we could take the suspicion of partisan politics out of the process through the establishment of the committee of inquiry proposed in this amendment then we would help to build the public's confidence in this important reforming process. We shall of course have opportunities to debate specific amendments about numerical equality and what exceptions should be allowed for that, but let us recognise now that there are protests coming from Cornwall, from the Isle of Wight and Ynys Mon which have to be taken seriously. There is a danger that places which regard themselves as authentic communities will be split and that others will be yoked together with places with which the residents of both feel that they have nothing in common. That will not be at all good for confidence let alone for pride in our parliamentary democracy.
My noble friend Lord Wills also rightly makes the point in subsection 2(b) of his amendment that the House of Commons is part of a much larger system. You cannot simply take a chunk of the constitution and push it, pull it around, mould it and remake it as if it was a piece of plasticine while ignoring the impact that a change in one part of the constitution has on other parts. If you alter the size of the House of Commons, if you alter the relationship between Members of Parliament and the Executive, and if you alter the capacity of Members of the House of Commons to scrutinise legislation, from all of these things there necessarily follow major implications for the work of this House.
It has been noted by a number of speakers that we ought also to consider the relationship between the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the devolved representative institutions of government. I think that that point is not included in my noble friend's amendment, but perhaps we can reconsider his amendment on Report, and perhaps amendments can be made to his amendment so as to perfect the excellent scheme that he has put forward for our consideration. Additionally, the relationship between Members of the House of Commons and elected members in local government has always to be considered when you are considering making changes to the House of Commons. You cannot change the House of Commons in isolation without there being very important implications. It is not of course just the interests of MPs and elected councillors that count, although their capacity to do their job is in itself important, but we have to consider above all the interests and views of members of the public.
My noble friend and indeed all of us agree that the present system of boundary reviews is imperfect and needs to be reformed because clearly it takes too long to achieve changes in boundaries. But how long the Boundary Commission ought to take in its processes is not something that we are going to be able to resolve in the course of debates in this House or back in another place. As a number of noble Lords have
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My noble friend did suggest the committee of inquiry should be a Royal Commission, but hearts are slightly liable to sink at that suggestion because Royal Commissions have a reputation for taking minutes and going on for years, or whatever the saying is. But he has written in to his amendment that an interim report should be made each year and that there should be a final report within three years of the passing of this Bill. Although I think it would be a tight squeeze, it would then be possible for all the key decisions to be taken within the life of this Parliament. Perhaps not all the consequential legislation could be enacted, but the decisions would be taken so that this would indeed have proved to be a great reforming Parliament. The coalition could claim with better justification that it was a great reforming Government, but the reform should have been designed on the basis of impartial, expert and thorough deliberation instead of hasty legislation subject to the force majeure of the Whips. That is not a good basis for ensuring lasting and well-judged reform.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, I speak as an independent who usually supports the coalition Government, but I must say that I am very much influenced by the speeches in favour of a committee of inquiry and of delay on this matter. Again, I speak as a completely independent Member, and there is one thing that should be considered. If there is a committee of inquiry, there is the fact that the other place made one major change during the course of the 20th century which was not legislated for and was not really discussed either in this House or in the other place. It is the very large increase in the number of governmental supporters who receive some kind of emolument or support from the Government of the day. In the case of the last Government the figure went up to about 100 Members as a matter of course. There has been no parliamentary approval of that, it has just happened. Perhaps we should not allow such a monumental change to happen again without discussion.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, with this amendment, we move from Part 1 to Part 2. I shall make one important observation relevant to the case that my noble friend Lord Wills has made. In the case of Part 1, there was an inquiry-I know, because I sat on it. It was the Jenkins inquiry. It is perfectly true that the referendum will be not on the recommendation of Jenkins but on half of it; namely, the alternative vote. That inquiry did not completely crack the problem, but it moved
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The second advantage to flow from having a prior report is that, between the setting up of Jenkins and the introduction of this Bill, many people, whether mostly or wholly, changed their minds. There are many people, particularly in my own party, who are adamant first-past-the-posters and can still see the arguments for it today, but they are prepared to contemplate the argument set out in Jenkins for moving a little way in the other direction by having the alternative vote, which is an improvement on first past the post in the view of many of them.
Lord Tyler: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for giving way. He was a very distinguished member of the commission that was set up and chaired by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. Why does he think that, 10 years afterwards, we have had no action on its report? Does he not share our cynicism that the proposal of his noble friend is simply a way of privatising, pushing out and delegating responsibility for these important decisions so that nothing should happen? The experience that he and I have had of the complete failure of the Government whom he supported to do anything on the basis of that commission's recommendation, makes us very cynical about asking somebody other than Parliament to take decisions on this matter.
Lord Lipsey: The noble Lord was very grateful that I gave way, but I am even more grateful to see him popping up to speak. The silence is broken-omertà is finished with. I am sure that we will have many contributions from him in the future.
There is no intention among anyone, I think, to stop this legislation, as considered properly, going through. Let us be clear that what will destroy the legislation is not the danger of delay but the danger of haste. The danger is that this ramshackle legislation, half considered, will be forced into law and that a subsequent Government, seeing that it is half baked, will force it out of law and we will have achieved nothing. That is the plan that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is urging on the Committee. I beg this House, which is a great example of the benefit of the rational consideration, to reject that way forward.
I was saying before I gave way to the noble Lord that many first-past-the-posters have been converted to the alternative vote, but I take more pleasure in another form of conversion that has taken place. There were many people, and the Electoral Reform Society was in their hands, who believed in wholesale, immediate electoral reform and full-scale proportional representation. I have never been persuaded of the case made for proportional representation; I do not believe in it and I do not agree with it-nor did
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Through the post-Jenkins process has emerged a greater level of consensus on where we are going. It is not a wholesale consensus-that would require the verdict of the people in a referendum-but there is a greater level of consensus and a greater clarity on the arguments. That makes a hugely strong and powerful case for proceeding by reflection.
Lord Desai: Is my noble friend suggesting that the first part of this Bill is all right and the second part is causing problems, and that therefore we should hive the two things off and think more about Part 2?
Lord Lipsey: I made my criticisms of Part 1 during its passage. We have another chance to consider it on Report. I think it can be improved but I am broadly in favour of everything about it except the referendum date. That is my broad position. It is also my position that Part 2 needs much more improvement than Part 1. I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me the chance to make that point.
Without absorbing too much of the Committee's time with interventions, perhaps I may be forgiven if I take one example of the kind of issue drawn from the long and comprehensive list in my noble friend's amendment on which really considered inquiry and judgment is needed. That is the number of MPs. The figure was snatched out of the air. Half the time Ministers admit that. It should not have been snatched out of the air. There are lots of facts that are relevant. It is true that since 1950 the number of MPs has grown by 3 per cent. It is also true that the electorate have grown in the same period by 25 per cent. That is to say that every MP has 22 per cent more constituents to service. On the servicing of constituents, I have never been in another place but I did work for a Member of another place, Anthony Crosland, in 1972, and if we received 30 constituency letters per week we were astonished. They were dealt with by his constituency secretary and his local party without difficulty. Now I am told that 300 letters is the average and there is much more communication in other ways.
The research think tank, Democratic Audit, has produced some other facts that should be weighed. For example, it turns out not to be true, as the Government have argued, that we have vastly more representatives than other countries. We have barely more than France and practically the same as Italy. But other countries benefit from having far more local elected representatives to deal with a great many other things that our Members of Parliament have to deal with themselves. Whether we should go down that road is another matter but that is what was concluded. Then there is the question that has been raised briefly in this debate about the danger of cutting the number of MPs but keeping the number of Ministers precisely as it is. The Executive
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I do not say that these arguments are conclusive and that the number of MPs should stay as it is, be reduced or increased. I understand the populist wave of emotion that causes people to think that the number of MPs should be decreased. It may be that an objective inquiry concludes that that is right. I do not express any opinion on those matters at this stage. All I say to the Committee is that it is surely reasonable that arguments and facts such as these should be independently weighed and considered before a final verdict is reached and before legislation making it the law of the land is forced through Parliament.
Lord Touhig: The Committee should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Wills for his amendment because it gives it and the coalition partners the chance to take stock and reflect on this seventh day in Committee on the Bill. If they were to adopt the proposals in the amendment that my noble friend has moved perhaps we would start to move towards some consensus on major constitutional change. That would be the common-sense approach, although I well remember as a teenager, my mother used to say to me, "Son, in life you'll find that sense isn't that common".
This is a matter I referred to at Second Reading because I believe that the Bill as constructed is a threat to this precious thing we have: the union of the nations in these islands. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, briefly referred to the Bill's impact on Wales, where it would reduce the number of Members of Parliament by 25 per cent. If the Parliament of the United Kingdom treats Wales in this way, it will have an adverse effect on the view, Wales takes of the Union.
Welsh is the first language of the majority of people in five parliamentary seats in Wales-Ynys Môn, Arfon, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Ceredigion, and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Wales is the only part of the Union where a substantial number of people-some 20 per cent of the population-speak two languages. If my noble friend's amendment were accepted, it would at least give an opportunity to look at the impact that this legislation has on the representation of people whose first language is Welsh in this Parliament of the United Kingdom. Only Wales has a big linguistic issue so far as the rest of the union is concerned.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: Does the noble Lord recollect that this matter has been carefully considered before, in 1992 when the Boundary Commissions Act was passing through both Houses? In the House of Commons, the invitation was held out to Kenneth Clarke, the then Home Secretary, to considerably reduce the number of constituencies in Wales. He said that he would do no such thing because it had long been accepted that the national, cultural and many other considerations in relation to Wales were of such nature to demand that the same number be maintained.
Lord Touhig: I endorse the point made by the noble Lord. As part of the structure of our unwritten constitution-thank God we do not have a written constitution-it is important that we recognise that elements of the Union have to be taken into account. I made the point at Second Reading that in California, tens of millions of people send two senators to the United States' Senate as does a state like Wyoming which has fewer than half a million people. That needs to be taken into account. If my noble friend's proposals were accepted, the Government would then have a chance to reflect more sensibly on how we should proceed with these major reforms.
Welsh representation in Parliament goes back to the 16th century, although there is evidence that in 1322 and 1327-700 years ago-Wales was invited to send 24 Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. The Bill as proposed would give Wales just 30 MPs. The regular reviews of parliamentary constituencies have their origins in the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1944. The Act instructed the Boundary Commission for Wales to look initially at abnormally large constituencies but also to conduct a review of all seats with a view to keeping them under constant review. The rules for redistribution for the initial review stated that Wales should have not fewer than 35 seats and that rule remained in place for the first periodical review published in 1954. The second periodical review in 1958 stated that Wales should have not fewer than 35 seats. The fourth and fifth periodical reviews did much the same.
We shall perhaps get into this wider debate as we progress this Bill through Committee. I believe strongly that to treat Wales in this way is a threat to the Union. We will have a referendum in the spring on more powers for the Welsh Assembly. Whatever people's views-they are entitled to them and I am sure they will express them-it is putting the cart before the horse to say that Wales will have fewer seats whether or not the people of Wales decide to transfer more powers to the Assembly in Cardiff. It is also offensive to people in Wales whose first language is Welsh to say that it does not matter if the Welsh language is well represented in the House of Commons. The point was made in evidence given to the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place that this would adversely impact upon Welsh-speaking areas.
I urge the Government to take great consideration of my noble friend's amendment. It would give us a chance to reflect and gain some consensus. I say to the Government that I think that the people of Wales will take offence at being treated in a way in which no other part of the union is being treated. If the Bill is enacted in its present form, one in four Members of Parliament from Wales would cease to go to the other place. That is disgraceful and, I believe, would be injurious to the Union.
Both the Conservative and Unionist Party, which once prided itself on being the party of the union, and the Liberal Democrats, which is the party of Lloyd George-Lloyd George would be turning in his grave at what is being proposed-need time to reflect on the issue. If they would take on board those points in the way that my noble friend's amendment would allow,
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Lord Knight of Weymouth: I support Amendment 54ZA, in the name of my noble friend Lord Wills, because it would give us an opportunity to put together the bigger picture of constitutional reform, in the absence of such a picture from the Government. The amendment would help the Government greatly if it offered us an insight into their thinking across the range of constitutional reform proposals and how all the measures that we are debating might fit together. Indeed, the amendment would allow that picture to be put together in such a way that no one would even voice a suspicion that the measures were being put together in any kind of partisan political interest.
For such significant constitutional reforms, I believe that it would be in the interests of the country for us to start by setting out the roles and responsibilities-as mentioned in subsection (2)(b) of the new clause that Amendment 54ZA would insert-of all our representative bodies, starting with Parliament. Starting with the relationship between the legislative and executive functions in both Chambers and taking into account the representative function of the other place, we could then go on to examine, in the language of subsection (2)(b) of the proposed new clause,
Having established that point and having had some consultation and agreement on those very basic issues around how Parliament and our democracy should work, we could then work through the issue of Parliament's relationship with other Parliaments and Assemblies, including the European Parliament, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hayter, and the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Touhig and others. The role of local authorities could also be considered, as my noble friend Lord Beecham set out.
Once we had established those sorts of relationships, we could then discuss what a sensible fixed term for Parliament might be. Instead, we are to consider in due course the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill in isolation. Such a piecemeal approach to legislation does not enable us to see the bigger picture.
Once we had established all those matters, we might then be able to think about what the appropriate size of each Chamber in Parliament should be. Having established the appropriate size of each Chamber, as referred to in subsection (2)(c) of the new clause proposed by Amendment 54ZA-indeed, we will discuss later tonight if we are lucky, or on Wednesday otherwise, my Amendment 63YA that also deals with the relationship between the size of the membership of this place and that of the other place-we could then discuss, in the context of the committee of inquiry that my noble friend Lord Wills proposes, the size and composition of each House and how each House would get there. Unfortunately, Part 1 of the Bill, which we have already debated, anticipates the need to ask the question about the alternative vote through a referendum, but that is a piecemeal approach. We should be doing this as part of a much wider picture that we could all understand, so that we can all make judgments accordingly.
Of course, in thinking about the composition of both Chambers, we could then get into some of the more interesting and thorny issues, such as that which came up in Questions today on whether a reformed Second Chamber should include a place for the Lords spiritual and what value is provided by having the voice of independent expertise of the Cross-Benchers, whom we all know and respect. In a radio programme that was broadcast last night, I was fortunate enough to be able to discuss these matters with the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and all three of us agreed that there is an absence of that bigger picture at the moment. We are having to discuss and debate-at great length, I am afraid-these issues in isolation. If we had a more coherent vision of where things are going on constitutional reform, perhaps that would save time. The phrase "more haste, less speed" comes to mind in the context of the Government's approach to these matters.
in subsection (2)(b) of the proposed new clause, because there has been some debate from some on this side-they would be on this side, as there has not been much debate from anywhere else, except for an important pair of contributions from the Cross Benches-about the characteristics of different constituencies for Members of Parliament. For two Parliaments, I was fortunate enough to represent the constituency of South Dorset, which has both very urban areas, some of which were quite deprived, and very rural areas. It was notable to me that the characteristics of the caseload that I had in the different parts of my constituency were profoundly different.
When I was holding surgeries in the borough of Weymouth and Portland, I predominantly had housing cases. I also had a fair amount of immigration cases and a fair amount relating to problems with the tax credit system and the child support system. I had far fewer of those sorts of cases over in the Purbeck end of my constituency, where things such as planning would come up much more regularly along with fundamental issues about the rurality and isolation of that part of the country, including the islands that I represented. Brownsea and one or two others were a real struggle for me to get to because I had to go through several constituencies to catch the ferry to visit my constituents.
I could seek to detain the Committee by talking through some of the excellent arguments in the Electoral Commission document that I referred to earlier when I intervened on my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, but I will save that. Suffice it to say that in my own experience, having represented that seat of South Dorset for two Parliaments, drawing boundaries in such a way that they do not take account of such basic things as the ability of people to get around creates problems.
For me to visit Brownsea, which I was able to do on only a few occasions during the time I represented that constituency given that it had only about six electors on it, I had to travel about an hour and a half from my home at one end of the constituency to get a ferry. The ferry would go every now and then and ultimately I would get there. It took all day to meet one or two constituents who might have issues that they wanted me to address. Thank goodness for the telephone, and in this case for e-mail, although some of the comments that we have had about the amount of correspondence that Members of Parliament have show how much is generated by e-mail now. It is quite astonishing.
Equally, the main industrial estate where the vast majority of my constituents in Weymouth worked was not in my constituency but in the neighbouring constituency of West Dorset, because it sat just the wrong side of the local authority boundary. I certainly welcome some of the freedom that the Bill might offer the Boundary Commission to cut across local authority boundaries. Brownsea Island is in Dorset and Poole is in Poole. That is why Brownsea Island was lumped into South Dorset. Making some sense of all of that would certainly be welcome, but to have some kind of very crude system that is based only on numbers and not on constituencies of interest would be very retrograde.
That is why the Government are being offered a fantastic opportunity to accept this amendment from my noble friend Lord Wills, which has clearly been thought through in some detail, as demonstrated by its length. It gives them the opportunity to allow us, as a country, to think about these constitutional reforms in their entirety and not to see individual measures rushed through which I am sure we would all live to regret.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Wills has done the Committee an enormous service by presenting this amendment today, because it has enabled those of us who have engaged with the debate at least to consider the conspiracy not to talk about certain matters that really needed to be resolved in advance of taking final decisions on this legislation. I know there has been a lot of comment about an apparent conspiracy among Labour Members of the Committee to spin the discussion out. I have to say to your Lordships that I am not part of that conspiracy. I have not previously intervened in Committee on the Bill to speak on any of the amendments.
Lord Harris of Haringey: I am merely saying that some people-the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is clearly one of them-believe that there is such a conspiracy. I can assert that I am not part of any such conspiracy, if one even exists. I wanted to speak today specifically because of the importance of considering the nature and character of representation. This is the issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred, and on which I intervened previously, not in Committee
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While we may have had the silence of the lambs on the Benches opposite, with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the noble Lord who has just intervened on me, what has been most notable about the discussion is the dogs that did not bark-the specific issues. The amendment provides an opportunity for those points to be considered in depth. The dogs that have not barked are serious debates about the nature of representation and of Parliament, and about what we want the House of Commons and Members of Parliament to do and how we want them to operate.
The issue of optimum size is critical, but we have not debated or discussed it in any real detail; the number appears to have been offered down from on high without any consideration. I have not had the privilege of being an elected Member of the House of Commons, but I was an elected public representative in London for 26 years. For part of that time I was the directly elected representative of 5,000 people in the Hornsey central ward of the London Borough of Haringey. For part of that time I was the directly elected representative of the people of Brent and Harrow, a constituency with an electorate of something like 400,000. I have therefore had experience of two extremes of the nature of representation, and the 400,000 figure is probably more consistent with the size of the constituencies of the United States Congress.
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