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The noble Lord, Lord McNally, gave some of the game away when he said that he wanted fairer votes. We can argue about what fair votes are, and indeed we did so when considering the first part of the Bill. But I do not think that we will ever hear the Leader of the House say that the rationale is that he wants fairer votes so that people are able to feel that their votes are valued because of the changes that are taking place.
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I come to this place with a strange history. For 23 years, I was a Member of the other place for the constituency of North West Durham. It so happens that, before me, my father was also the Member for North West Durham for 23 years. Uniquely, I took the seat that my father had held, but it was not a matter of inheritance. It is important to say that in this House. But it means that I have 46 years of personal experience of representation of a single constituency. I think that this experience helps explain why there are differences and trouble on the Front Bench.
Before my father came here, he had been the head of a primary school, and he actually came to Westminster on a lower salary than he had been getting as a primary head teacher. There were no expenses and he lived in extremely grotty circumstances in a B&B in Victoria. My mum and I were never allowed to go there because he was too ashamed of it. Indeed, in those days he was one of a minority of Members of Parliament who returned home to their constituencies every weekend. Before that, it had been the norm for Members of Parliament not to return to their constituencies every weekend. I remember great stories about Barbara Castle going to her constituency once a month-doing meetings on the Friday, doing the party meeting on Friday night and then going to the market in Blackburn on Saturday morning before she got on the train to depart. She would do that once a month and it was seen as perfectly normal and absolutely what Members of Parliament did.
One of the reasons why my father gave up being an MP was that he knew his methods of doing things were outdated and had to go and that they needed a new broom. I was lucky enough to be selected and then elected in that constituency. One of the reasons why I decided it was time for me to go is that it was becoming clear that you had to start using things like Facebook and Twitter. I know that some of my noble friends are happy doing that but I was not. That was not what I was comfortable with and I was not going to be able to provide that service for my constituents. But it was the way that things were going, and it is the sort of thing that constituents now expect. They expect the full attention of their Member of Parliament.
I wonder if that is actually part of what is in the mind of the Prime Minister. I have listened with increasing dismay to the Prime Minister talking about the need for Members of Parliament to be cheaper. He
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My dad rarely held surgeries but he went to local football matches every week. They knew him very well there, and they always knew that they could see him if Stanley, Crook or Tow Law were playing. He would be there, and of course he would also preach in chapel twice every Sunday. He would go round all the chapels in the constituency. They always knew that he would be somewhere at the weekend where they could find him. They say to me now what a wonderful and accessible Member of Parliament he was. But the job as it was then is very different from the job as it is seen and experienced now. He used to handwrite all his letters, as someone has mentioned, and the stamps on the letters he posted were paid for out of his own salary. I still go to houses where they show me the envelope and letter than Dad had written to them. I went to see one lady and she actually had to get me to translate a letter. He had obviously been in a great hurry and this letter was not written in his usual careful hand.
The role of an MP has changed, but are we content that it is the right role now? There has been much written during and since the expenses scandal, with several leaders in newspapers saying that the MP's role should be looked at again and there should be greater consideration of it. I think that it is time to do that. I think that it is time to do that and then to legislate. My concern and my real fear is that there is a hidden agenda because Ministers cannot be honest with us about why they want to reduce numbers. I believe the motivation of the Liberal Democrats is different. I intervened on a colleague earlier but I do not think that the Minister was here, so I will repeat what I was hinting at. If you support proportional representation you need to break the link of representation of a place and a community. While that link persists a form of voting for one person to be the representative has got to be there. Many Liberal Democrats want to move away from that, and I understand why they do. I do not want to move from the reality of having to represent a place because I think that it is a discipline which brings an accountability that simply does not exist in other countries.
I believe that the role of the MP should be to represent Parliament back to the constituency as well as to represent the constituency to Parliament. Going back week in, week out even when you are a Minister is absolutely invaluable. When I would go home to Crook they had seen the telly, they had seen what people said, they had seen Prime Minister's Questions
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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Does my noble friend realise that everything she is saying is borne out in the Liberal Democrat manifesto? The Liberal Democrat manifesto recommended lowering the number of MPs in another place to 500, but it did so on the basis of the introduction of the single transferrable vote electoral system. I believe that the case that my noble friend has made out is an unanswerable one and I very much look forward to how the Minister is going to address it.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: I thank my noble friend for that. I believe that as politicians-I was concerned about how the Leader of the House addressed this earlier-we have a responsibility to be as clear as possible, not just about the absolute nature of the legislation but on our thinking, which has brought us to this point, and, more than that, on where it is going to lead to. What is going to be the effect of this? We have a responsibility to the public because that is what democracy means.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: I was a member of the Government and there is collective responsibility in government, even though there are members of this Government who wish to refute that. I believe in collective responsibility.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: I am answering the question. I believe in collective responsibility. I supported that because I supported devolution. I supported the people who came through the convention in Scotland and asked for that. I personally did not agree with some of the outcomes, and I do not think that people understood some of the outcomes. Some of us raised that in Cabinet committees. However, because I believe in devolution and giving those who have responsibility for devolution the right to put forward the proposals
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Lord Campbell-Savours: What the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is not admitting is that he is opposed to AV. He is in favour of proportional representation. He is one of those who are compromising on this matter.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: I see this as an issue for democracy, which is under enormous threat in this country as well as others. We take our democracy for granted but we have to nurture it. That means that those of us who are responsible in places such as this have a responsibility to be honest, as I say, about why we have come to the positions that we have reached, and what we think they will lead to. I agree that I have painted some extreme end positions, but we cannot nurture democracy and give people in this country confidence in what we are doing unless we properly follow the intellectual arguments. I do not believe that this House has been allowed to do that because of the way that Ministers have responded-or not responded-to us about motivations. Therefore, we do not know where they want to get to in the long term.
I am speaking to this amendment because I do not believe that it is the role of the Government to set the number of seats. It is the role of the Government to say that they would like constituencies to be of about a particular size. It is the job of the Electoral Commission to get constituencies as near to that size as possible, taking into account distance, travel and so on. I will resist the temptation that other colleagues have taken to go around their constituencies. I used every weekend to travel about 200 to 250 miles in my constituency. I had one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country, which was largely a secret because most people never find out about the wonders of the Durham Dales. Some people who live in the Dales are very grateful for that because they want to keep the secret to themselves. I lived in one of the most beautiful constituencies but in the past weeks, while the snow has been there, I have felt very sorry for my successor. It has been impossible to get around. Every weekend, I would travel 200 or 250 miles, just in the normal course of constituency business.
You have to be honest with people about what you are doing and where you are trying to get to. I do not believe that we have had the level of clarity that we should have had from Ministers. I know that they have different positions, but they have a responsibility to be straight with this House and the electorate so that they are able to judge whether this will be in their interests or simply in the interests of the Government.
As my last point I would say that this is an issue that should be negotiated. There is no doubt about that. There is a difference between how this Government are approaching it and how the previous Government approached it. The only reason we are here at this hour is that the Government know that they do not need to negotiate. They can get their legislation because they have the numbers, so they do not need to negotiate. A very fair offer has been made by my Front Bench, which the usual channels would normally have taken up. It has not been taken up because, as I say, the Government know that they do not need to negotiate. That is a very bad position for them to be in when they are charged with nurturing our democracy.
Baroness Ford: I support my noble friend Lord Kennedy in his amendment, which is the crucial amendment. I am compelled to speak today because I have heard so many interesting contributions from former Members of the other place. However, I will not give the perspective of a former Member of Parliament. My life before I came to this House was not in politics but in business and the voluntary sector. I would like to speak from the perspective of a constituent. I have lived, and still live, in the constituency in which I was born. In those days it was called North Ayrshire, Arran and Bute. It adjoined the constituency of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, of which we heard much earlier. I now wonder if we ought to check the Register of Members' Interests to see if he has some connection to Visit Scotland, such was his passion.
I must reveal to your Lordships' House an important omission by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. He did not tell noble Lords that in his constituency was the last surviving cannibal in the United Kingdom-the family of Sawney Bean. Only in south Ayrshire could you celebrate the fact that the last cannibal in the United Kingdom lived there with a non-vegetarian restaurant. Such is the surreal humour of people in Ayrshire.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me of that. The presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, also reminds me that I forgot to mention Maidens, to where he came some years ago when he was Lord Chancellor, to open Malin Court. I am now able to mention Maidens, Culzean and the whole area where Sawney Bean was reputed to ply his trade.
Baroness Ford: I thank the noble Lord for that. On a more serious point, I was born in that constituency. At that time the MP was the late, great Sir Fitzroy Maclean, a marvellous constituency MP. From listening to noble colleagues, he must have been the exception in the 1950s and early 1960s. This was a man absolutely
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Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My noble friend rightly pays tribute to Sir Fitzroy Maclean. He was a Conservative Member of Parliament and I got to know him in his latter years. He and I went to Russia-or the Soviet Union, as it was then-together for a Burns supper in the Kremlin. Not only was he much respected in Scotland, but I discovered that he was enormously respected in the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. He was a man of enormous courage.
Baroness Ford: The point about Sir Fitzroy Maclean was that wherever he went in the constituency, he was instantly recognised. I well remember him coming to our primary school on a number of occasions. I do not know how many surgeries he held in those days, if that was the fashion, but he was a man who was deeply embedded in his constituency. He was a champion for everyone who lived in that constituency. After a minor boundary change, he was followed by John Corrie, again a Conservative Member of Parliament-a very vigorous Back Bencher, most notably remembered, I think, for his attempts to row back the abortion legislation. He was an indefatigable champion for that constituency, and my God did he have a difficult job, because during the time he was representing that constituency in the late 1970s, industry was decimated with the closure of the ICI factory in Stevenston which had hitherto employed 10,000 people across three or four towns. It was the absolute bedrock, but it was swept away. The shipyards were closed. All of the industrial heartland of that part of the west of Scotland, which has still not recovered, was swept away, and he did his best to represent that constituency. Of course, it was no surprise when he lost his seat and was replaced by Brian Wilson in 1987.
What Sir Fitzroy Maclean, John Corrie and Brian Wilson, first in opposition and then as government Ministers, all had in common-and we have been so fortunate in that constituency over the years-was that they were dedicated champions of the people of that constituency. People felt that they could go to them irrespective of their politics and that they would get a hearing. More than that, something would be done about their plight. The current MP, Katy Clark, is following in that fine tradition.
If you ask people in Scotland to pick an adjective to describe the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, they will overwhelmingly say that he is a very decent man. So I would appeal to the Government's sense of decency here. We simply cannot sweep away
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Why was it that Fitzroy Maclean, John Corrie, Brian Wilson and now Katy Clark could conduct themselves so effectively as great MPs for the area? I think it was because the area of the constituency is entirely manageable. They can get around to all the important people in the constituency-and by "important people" I do not mean VIPs, I mean ordinary people. They can get around all the clubs, the community groups and all of the things that are really important where people want to see their MP. They want to connect with their MP and put their case. They want to be there in surgeries. How on earth are they going to enable the really important constitutional and traditional link which we have in this country and which we take for granted at our peril? How are we possibly going to maintain that link if we have constituencies where MPs simply cannot do the job that historically and traditionally people have expected them to do? There is no point shaking your head about that. It is really important.
Sometimes when those of us who are involved in the middle of politics think about this, we think about it from our own perspective, but I want to talk about this from a constituent's perspective. I want the very best service possible for constituents, and I urge the Government to think really hard. I plead with the noble and learned Lord to give us in his answer some sense of how we are to explain this to people. I find it impossible to explain to people why this arbitrary figure comes out. In his answer, will the noble and learned Lord please give us an objective, sensible rationale for sweeping away what I think is the most important link-the ability of constituents to access their representative and the ability of elected representatives to do the very best job possible for their constituents?
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, caused me a most unhappy flashback when he referred to the campaign for Welsh devolution of 1979. I had the misfortune of being the president of the yes campaign, which ended in very great disaster. I do not know exactly what the noble Lord's point was-no doubt it was done for utterly unmischievous reasons, to try to analyse what might be called the previous convictions of many other Members in relation to that matter. All I would say is this: whatever the situation was then, or even 18 years later, a line can now be drawn under all that. When the time comes, on 3 March of this year, we will all be standing in the same rank.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I appreciate that the noble Lord was asleep when the noble Lords, Lord Kinnock and Lord Anderson, were making their speeches. Could the noble Lord confirm that the language issue played an important part in the 1979 referendum?
Lord Elystan-Morgan: Many issues that had nothing at all to do with devolution did play a part. I can well remember people saying very innocently to me, "Do you know, Mr Morgan, I go to see my niece in Shrewsbury
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is altering his tune now. His allegation was not that the language issue played a part in the devolution campaign, but that my noble friend Lord Kinnock and I actually used that as a weapon. I said that was not true and I hope that he will withdraw it.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I refuse to withdraw it because I was part of that campaign, and I know perfectly well that that was an issue which those who were opposed to devolution used and used viciously against the people of north Wales, from where I come. Similarly, in north Wales, we had those who were opposed to devolution saying that we would be attacked by those dreadful people in south Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, knows that very well.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: That issue was lost because Wales, in 1979, had no confidence in itself as a nation community. That situation no longer obtains. In 1979, that vote was lost in every one of the Welsh constituencies, with one notable exception, and that was Cardiganshire, where the vote was carried by a very slim majority. So it had very little to do with the issue of the Welsh language. In the end, it had everything to do with an absence of confidence and with an exploitation in a most ruthless and unprincipled way by those who were against devolution. Let us draw a line totally under that situation and revel in the fact that when Wales comes to that momentous decision on 3 March, we shall all-the noble Lords, Lord Thomas, Lord Kinnock and Lord Anderson, myself and the vast majority of the people of Wales-be standing shoulder to shoulder in favour of that proposition.
My other point is this: if ever there was a time when the confidence of the public in ordinary Members of Parliament was low, this is it. I hope that I will never live to see a period when confidence is at a lower ebb than it is at the moment. I suspect that that is a thought, a principle and an attitude that will be shared by every Member of this House.
The question in my mind is not essentially whether or not there is a case for reducing the numbers of Members of Parliament because people will have different views about that. The case that I have argued in the last few hours and over the past few weeks is that one should not make a stab in the dark. One should come to a decision in regard to this grave and weighty matter based upon evidence. That evidence should be collected by someone of high calibre who is utterly committed to giving a dispassionate picture of the situation so that Members of both Houses of Parliament and the public can come to a reasoned, logical, informed judgment in the matter. That has been my case and it remains exactly the same.
However, that is not the point that I wish to make at this stage. All of us would wish to see confidence in Members of Parliament raised from the abysmally low level at which it is at present. Do you think you can do that by giving the public the impression that in some way or another you will at random nominate 50 of them as hostages and say, "Off you go"? It is all but the same as you marching into the bar of any public house in the United Kingdom and asking, "What do you think of these rotten fellows?". Many people might say, "Off with them. Get rid of them-50 of them in the next year"; and many people in the chorus behind would say, "Why not say 100?". In other words, you would be sending a psychological message that reducing the number of Members of Parliament from 650 to 600 appeals to the ordinary British citizen. That is a very unfortunate message. As far as they are concerned, you are saying, "These people are pretty rotten fellows. Let us get rid of 50 of them". I believe that would be devastating. Whatever advantages there might be from bringing about that adjustment-maybe there will be a saving of £12 million; maybe the saving will be much less than that; maybe there will be no saving at all for the reasons we have already heard; and there may or may not be a case for reduction-the psychological effect will be utterly disastrous along the lines that I have suggested.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I speak for a second time on the question of opposing an arbitrary reduction in the size of the House of Commons, this time in support of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. When I spoke previously on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, I strongly made the case that an arbitrary reduction would work against the better representation of remote and isolated communities and against respect for historic traditions in the way that constituency boundaries are drawn up. In his response, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, essentially, "Too bad. This is all about making sure that we have equal electoral districts".
The problem with the position of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is that the Government have in the Bill recognised the need to take account of remote and isolated communities, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, well knows from his former constituency in Orkney and from the Shetland and Western Isles. In seeking to find the logic of this arbitrary reduction, why is it okay to recognise the very special position of the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland but to eliminate the possibility of the Boundary Commission taking local community factors into account by imposing this arbitrary reduction and then saying that it will have very little flexibility to deal with community considerations? I raise that again because the noble Lord, Lord McNally, gave me no satisfactory reply on the point. We need a House of Commons of sufficient size for the Boundary Commission to accommodate areas like Cumbria that have special problems of representation because of their geography and remoteness.
The only rationale that the Government have given for their arbitrary cut is the claim that it is a good idea that cuts the cost of politics. We are told that the cost that will be cut is £12.2 million. I thought about what
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The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, put it well. We all know why this reduction was put in place. It was a populist response to the anger about MPs' expenses, but it reduces the standing of Members of Parliament in the country because it gives the impression that we can go around saying that we need fewer of these wastrels whom we have to subsidise. It is quite disgraceful that the Liberal Democrats should endorse the populist nonsense that the Conservative Party promotes and propagates.
If we had a serious debate about the size of the House of Commons, one would want to take into account all kinds of other factors, such as the international evidence. I am not an expert on the world, but I know a bit about Europe. When I look at the situation in the European Union, I do not see that we have too many politicians by comparison with our European partners. Germany has a very large Bundestag; it is a bigger country. It also has parliaments, governments and Ministers in each of the länder. In Italy, the Senate is a large chamber and there is also a Chamber of Deputies. We all crack jokes about Belgium, where there is a federal Parliament, three geographic parliaments and three language parliaments. The crack about Belgium is that there are more ministerial cars per head of population than in any other country in the European Union.
I would like to see a proper paper on this. In a proper process, there would have been an opportunity for experts to conduct a proper international comparison of whether we in Britain have too many elected politicians. If that had been done, it would not have made the case for what the Government arbitrarily have decided to do.
There are other arguments for reducing the size of the House of Commons. One is that you were going to go in for genuine regionalism and localism. However, is that what this Government are doing? The only bits of regional government that we have-the regional development agencies, which were originally envisaged as coming under regional government-are being abolished. As for extending the powers of local authorities, we do have the Localism Bill-but are the Government really proposing a major review of local authority finance in order to make sure that local authorities have much more independence of action than they have had? No, of course not. And are the Government actually releasing local authorities from central controls? No, of course not. Eric Pickles goes round saying, "You have got to collect your bins every week", and "You cannot pay your chief executive more than this". What kind of local freedom does Mr Pickles believe in? There is no argument for reducing the size of the Commons on the basis that we are going in for regional devolution and much more independent local government with greater freedom of action.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: So that we know where the noble Lord is coming from-and we do welcome him to this House from his days on the Liberal federal policy committee-does he support devolution and regionalism, and does he still support proportional representation?
Lord Liddle: I have made my views clear on all of those things since I have been on the Labour Benches. Indeed, I was just going on to say that there is a major argument about reform of the Lords, and whether that would, as part of a package, lead to a case for a reduction in the size of the Commons. This is, as we all know, an extremely complex subject. However, I am actually quite attracted to the idea of Britain adopting the kind of "balance of power" system that exists in the Federal Republic of Germany. However, I do not believe that there is much support in any of the political parties or that there are many people who actually agree with me.
Lord Liddle: That is a great comfort to me at this stage of the day. I am very attracted to an arrangement that would reduce the power of the Executive in Britain, which is overlarge. However, this measure-the arbitrary reduction of the size of the House of Commons-increases the power of the Executive, because it increases the proportion of the payroll vote in the House of Commons. What is the answer to that point? What are the Government proposing to do? What are the Liberal Democrat Members of the Government proposing to do to make sure that the power of the Executive in the House of Commons does not increase as a result of this legislation? I look forward to an answer. These are important points of principle-but where have the Government given any intellectual, proper, thought-through justification for what they are doing? I do not think they have at all, which is why I think many of us have been justified in staying up all night and arguing about this issue. These are major issues, not trivial issues, and we have had no satisfactory answers.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I take a somewhat flexible view on the future size of the House of Commons, although I support this amendment pending an independent inquiry on what the optimum size of the House should be. I am going to produce some information which the Government should take quite seriously. While Members have been on their feet, I have been going through the Sessional Returns for the House of Commons Session 2009-10. The relevance of the House of Commons's Sessional Returns is that we are dealing with effort and the ability of Members of Parliament to carry out their functions properly. I think that the vast majority of the wider public would be very interested in this document, if only it were to be made available, but, of course, they would not read it. So I will extract the information which I think should be made more widely available.
I shall start by referring to the contribution of my noble friend Lord Foulkes, although I was not here when he spoke because I was upstairs resting. My noble friend was a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The relevance of that committee is that, while it is not a committee of Parliament but of parliamentarians, it is an indicator of what happens in circumstances where a Member of Parliament is genuinely interested and is prepared to make the time available to ensure that they carry out their functions properly.
I was a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee between 1997 and 2001. What characterised the committee was the high level of attendance at the committee's proceedings. In most of our proceedings everyone turned up. While I have not seen statistics recording the incidence of attendance, I would imagine that it must be 90 per cent to 95 per cent.
I should like to ask this House to consider the Sessional Returns of the House of Commons which deal with matters of attendance at its committees. One has to remember the distinction between the House of Commons and this House. In the House of Commons, Members are paid £65,000 in salary. They have substantial expenses, although IPSA is reducing them, particularly those for administrative allowances, because of the contribution that now has to be made to the pensions of employees. However, in this House, we volunteer our services. We are not remunerated or paid and we have expenses. I draw that distinction because in the House of Commons you would imagine that, because they are paid, they would therefore have the time to give to ensuring that they carry out their duties.
I shall divide the committees in the House of Commons into broadly two groups. The regional committees were established by the Labour Government following demands for greater regional discussion in the House. I want to go through the returns for each of the regional committees. First, Conservative Members refused to attend them. If you want to find out why they refused to attend the committees, all you have to do is go back to the debates that took place in the House of Commons when it was establishing the regional committees. Their case was, "We simply don't have the time".
In other words, a committee structure was established in the House of Commons where Members were arguing that they were unable to attend. The result was that membership of these regional committees was only Labour membership. MPs of other parties felt unable to attend them because of problems of time. The result was that in the East Midlands Committee the attendance rate, which was from only Labour Members because no other members attended, was 64 per cent. In the London Committee, the rate was 73.8 per cent. Let us remember that only Labour members were attending.
In the Yorkshire and Humber Committee, the rate was 86.7 per cent. In the North East Committee and the North West Committee, it was 80 per cent. In the South-East Committee, the rate was 65 per cent and in the South-West Committee it was 75 per cent. In the West Midlands Committee, it was 80 per cent. What that indicates-remember, only Labour Members were
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Lord Campbell-Savours: That was it. My noble friend Lord Barnett was the first chairman, and he was followed by my noble friend Lord Sheldon. During the period of my noble friend Lord Barnett's chairmanship, the attendance was almost 100 per cent. It was a very well attended committee to which Members of the House were prepared to give much of their time. Yet when I looked at the Sessional Return for 2009-10, the attendance rate had dropped to 42.5 per cent-in other words, a substantial reduction in attendance over the 20 years following the period when I was first elected. Even in 1990 when I came off that committee, attendances were very high.
Take other committees. The Science and Technology Committee has 41.4 per cent attendance. What is happening? Why has there been a substantial reduction in the number of people available to attend House of Commons committees? Take the Justice Sub-Committee: attendance is just 23.8 per cent. Many members of the Justice Sub-Committee in the House of Commons failed completely to attend any sessions of the committee, I presume because they simply did not have the time available to them.
The Regulatory Reform Committee had attendance of only 33.3 per cent. I was under the impression that that committee in the House of Commons, chaired very competently by Andrew Miller, would attract the interest of Members, but only one-third of the meetings were attended.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: I understand the point that the noble Lord is making about the demands on Members of the House of Commons, but I chaired the Treasury Committee in 2001-10, and if he looks at the Sessional Returns, which I looked at every year because, like him, I found them of interest, he will find that the committee meetings were twice a week. In addition to those two meetings a week, there was a sub-committee, chaired by the ranking so-called minority Member, and the attendance throughout was well over 90 per cent; indeed, right up to the end of the 2010 election, attendance was still well over 90 per cent. So
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Lord Campbell-Savours: My noble friend is correct. He is emphasising the fact that certain committees-I referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Treasury Committee-attract Members, but when it comes to what some Members obviously regard as Cinderella committees, they simply cannot find the time because they do not have the time available to attend them.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: From my experience, it is certainly true that the popular committees-the Treasury Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, probably the Home Affairs Committee-actually get a very good turnout. On the other side, there are therefore what my noble friend calls the Cinderella committees. Do his figures suggest on how many occasions these committees were not quorate?
Lord Campbell-Savours: I was going to come on to that. I have found references in the Sessional Returns to committees not being quorate; indeed, I have attended committees in the House of Commons that were not quorate. One of them, on one occasion, was the Commons Privileges Committee, which has always been regarded as an important committee. As I say, though, there are other committees that over the years have not been quorate. I can remember times when Clerks have actually had to appeal to members of a Select Committee not to leave for fear that the business might be lost because we had witnesses standing outside the door waiting to come in and give evidence. If that is the kind of pressure that is being exerted on Select Committees in the House of Commons, does it not suggest that we should be very wary about reducing the numbers of MPs without a full inquiry based on what I believe to be the principal amendment that we have discussed over the past couple of weeks-that is, the Wills amendment, which I hope the Government will seriously consider as we proceed with this legislation?
I come to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which I was also a member for a period. I see that attendance at that committee has now dropped to 49.2 per cent-indeed, there were members of that committee who did not attend any committee meetings at all, which I find quite astonishing. When I was a member of that committee it was regularly attended. I keep asking myself, "Why is it that the attendance of these committees has dropped?". That is an important part of this debate. If we cannot man committees in the House of Commons, we have to be very wary about what action we take on membership.
I see that the Communities and Local Government Committee is now down to 43.6 per cent attendance. The Children, Schools and Families Committee is down to 46.1 per cent. The Environmental Audit Committee-a substantial committee in the House of Commons, with an important remit to carry out audits on environmental matters-is down to 37.5 per cent turnout. The Science and Technology Committee is down to 42.3 per cent.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My noble friend may not be aware that we have had similar problems in the past in this House. About four years ago, the Conservative Party was unable to meet its requirements to take up all its places and fill them regularly on the European Union sub-committees. When I first came into this Chamber we had 12 members for the EU Standing Committee and its sub-committees, but that had to be reduced to 10 for a period because there were insufficient Peers from the Conservative side to take up their allocation. I presume, now that we have more people coming into the Chamber, that they will be able to fill the 12 places if we go back to that number. The point is that we did not have sufficient Peers to take up all the places available and do all the work that needed to be done. I presume that that applies to what my noble friend is drawing our attention to in the Commons.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Yes, but there is a distinction, which I drew attention to before, between the House of Commons and the House of Lords: we are not remunerated. We stand here unpaid. They are paid but they cannot manage to man all the committees that have been established in the other place.
I have done three Joint Committees dealing with draft legislation. What is interesting about those committees is that they are invariably attended by the Members of this House, but we have found a low level of attendance by Members of the other place. When you ask them why that is, it is often because they simply do not have the time to attend Joint Committees of the House, particularly when it comes to dealing with draft legislation. I make no criticism of that, because I know the pressure that MPs are under.
Let me take another committee, an interesting one to which people want to return: the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, where turnout is 79.2 per cent. That only emphasises the fact that if Members are particularly interested in an area they will find the time for it, at the cost of other work that they do. Meanwhile, other committees, which they obviously regard as Cinderella committees, simply do not secure a sufficient level of attendance. I could go through all of these, but I have already been on my feet for 15 minutes and have made my case.
I often visit MPs in their offices in the other place. They loathe doing Statutory Instrument Committees. The Government of the day-I understand that it happens on both sides-often desperately ring round asking Members of Parliament to attend Statutory Instrument Committees because they cannot find people to sit on them. When MPs get there, they are invariably told by their government Whips, "Please don't speak. Don't say anything". If they speak they will delay the Minister who has to get back to his department to get on with his job, and other Members want to return to their offices to get on with the sensible work that they do as Members of the House of Commons.
I now move to a conversation that I had last night over dinner. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is laughing, as he is well aware of the dinners that we have in the House; they are always very constructive. The one last
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Perhaps I should explain to noble Lords who have not been Members of the other House that in this House all amendments tabled can be debated; however, that is not the case in the House of Commons. One of the great joys of being a Member of this House is that we know that all amendments, when the House is working properly-which it is not at the moment because the Government are insisting on ramming through this legislation-can technically be debated.
Lord McNally: I know how dearly the noble Lord appreciates that right. Does he realise that that right was lost in another place at the end of the 19th century by gross abuse of the freedoms of that House by the Fenians? Are there any lessons to be learnt from that?
Lord Campbell-Savours: I thought that the noble Lord was referring to the introduction or the greater use of the guillotine, which, if I had been a Member of the House of Commons at the time, I would have voted against. I strongly believe that you cannot proceed with legislation if you insist on guillotining it. The problem with this Bill is that it is highly political.
I return to what happens in the House of Commons where amendments are not automatically debated. They are selected in what is called Speaker's selection, whereby probably the majority simply are not accepted as debatable on the Floor of the House. That is the first hurdle that you have to get through in the House of Commons when you table an amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is probably thinking, "I wonder whether we can do that here". If we were to do that in the House of Lords, it would completely transform this place. If you want to clear people out, that is probably the way to do it. The moment you start to interfere with the rights of this House of Members to debate issues freely in the way that historically we have been able to do over the years, you create the incentive for people to leave the House.
Lord Greaves: Nothing changes. I leave the Chamber and I have some sleep and it is like a bad recurring dream, except that it is the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, speaking. He speaks with his usual originality and eloquence. However, he is now arguing about the benefits of self-regulation, which seems to be straying from this amendment. Is he aware that the Companion suggests that, in most circumstances, speeches should not exceed 15 minutes and that he is now on 21 minutes? Is it not the case that the self-regulation that he extols-on which I agree with him entirely-requires a degree of self-discipline from all of us in adhering to the rules laid down in the Companion?
Lord Campbell-Savours: It is very easy interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, say that, because I can think of innumerable occasions when we have been in Committee in the Moses Room, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has been on his feet amendment after amendment, with his own people complaining that they cannot shut him up. Yes, that happens. He might not be aware of that, but we are very well aware of it.
Lord Greaves: The rule that I am referring to is that you do not speak for more than 15 minutes. That is a rule to which I attempt to adhere, and I do not believe that I have ever spoken for over 20 minutes on an issue in Committee. We have heard during the Committee stage of this Bill speech after speech going on for more than 20 minutes, and in some cases more than 30 minutes. This seems to me to be a breach of the rules in the Companion. As I say, in a self-regulating House it is surely up to all Members, even in Committee stage, which is fairly flexible, to adhere to the rules. Surely, however much Members opposite want to filibuster on this Bill, it does not require speaking for more than the Companion suggests.
Lord Campbell-Savours: He seems to have moved from the Companion to the rule book. I have always seen a distinction between the two. I always understood that we proceed by way of agreement; the usual channels talk, Members deal courteously with each other, the legislation is dealt with in a way that is constructive. Of course, the whole relationship only works in conditions where the Government of the day are being reasonable. I would argue that, on this particular Bill, the Government of the day are being most unreasonable.
At this stage, however, as I have a number of later contributions to make-I understand we might be going on-I will take my seat and hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, might be tempted to join in our debates. He, like me, managed to grab a few hours in bed upstairs, I presume. He will have come to the House refreshed. We all await what he has to say.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I have not had any hours of sleep during the night, I am sorry to say, but happily the Cross Benches are springing to life. I cannot match the floods of eloquence to which we have been treated through the watches of the night,
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and so on. Much greater co-operation across party lines? Whatever happened to that? It is perfectly clear to me that if the Government would only engage in the usual kind of discussion which takes place through the usual channels, they could get their Bill and we could all go home for a rest.
Lord McNally: Is the noble Lord, Lord Low, aware, that before this Bill entered the House, my noble friend Lord Shutt, the Deputy Chief Whip, tried to engage the Opposition Chief Whip in giving what is usually given to a Government when a Bill enters this House: a working timetable for dealing with the Bill. We have not succeeded at any time in getting into those kinds of negotiations. The usual channels have not worked because the Labour Party have been determined from the beginning that they would not work. If they want to have meetings in the lee of this Session, we are willing still to talk about how to timetable this Bill properly through the House using the normal procedures which allow all amendments to be grouped properly and debated thoroughly. That offer has always been there, so it is not fair to say that it has not, but it takes two to tango.
Lord Peston: I assume that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, does not want to mislead your Lordships' House intentionally, but I am under the impression that the Opposition have said that the Government can have both parts of this Bill as long as they come as two Bills. In trying to show how macho they are, the Government have behaved totally irrationally; they are behaving like spoilt brats, namely, "We will have both or we'll have none". Their mother ought to tell them that they are going to have none.
Lord Low of Dalston: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for clarifying the situation. When I have finished, I hope he will take the opportunity to clarify it still further. In what he has said so far, it sounded as if what he was offering the Opposition in the talks to which he referred was something like a guillotine. In any case, as I was saying, I am speaking only for myself, but I feel confident that I am reflecting the views of a lot of my Cross-Bench colleagues when I beg the parties to get into discussion with a view to putting an end to this stalemate, and sorting things out through the usual channels in the way that leadership is normally provided to the House. But in the last analysis, the responsibility for leadership lies with the Government.
Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, perhaps I may make a very short intervention. I was astonished to hear the noble Lord, Lord McNally, remind us how the House of Commons lost its right of debating at length by the introduction-
Lord McNally: Perhaps I may intervene. The noble and learned Lord is a grand old parliamentarian who can spot an opportunity when he sees one. I made no threat to this House. All I did was draw the parallel that if a party in this House makes it unworkable, there are dangers for the traditions of this House. That is only point I was making, so I hope he will not spin from it a 15 or 20-minute speech.
Lord Morris of Aberavon: I have no intention of spinning and I have not said a word so far. I know that the noble Lord is concerned about the interpretation that will be made of his words. He will want to look at them extremely carefully. He quoted the Fenians and he said he was drawing lessons from history-although he got the centuries wrong first time, but we forgive him for that-but the only interpretation I can make is that he was warning us about what has happened in the Commons. I cannot for the life of me, being as generous as I can, think of any other interpretation. Perhaps the noble Lord will look at those words carefully so that at the end of the debate we can have a firm affirmation from the Government that, whatever the gaffe may have been, it was not intended as a threat.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Well, my Lords, this has been an interesting debate, particularly so at the end. I shall deal first with the substance of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark. The Bill as currently drafted states that the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom shall be 600. The amendment seeks to delete 600 and put in 650. Much of the debate over my noble friend's amendment has revolved around three issues. What is the reason for the Government to have chosen the figure of 600 as the size of the Commons? Secondly, if the number of seats is reduced from 650 to 600, does that improve the governance of this country? Thirdly, is there legitimacy in what is being proposed?
I turn first to what is the basis for the change being proposed. A number of reasons have been given by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the noble and learned
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"Very much so, and for many people it isn't enough. The House of Commons has gone through a terrible period over the last couple of years. It is time to make amends and restore trust in politics. Part of that is to say that there should be fewer politicians around at the moment, particularly in the House of Commons, so a reduction of 50".
"There are people who argue in favour of a considerable reduction, but I think reducing it by 50 is in accordance with what most people would want their MPs to do. It doesn't require them to do that much extra work, but it is still a substantial reduction. It saves money and it creates a fairer system across the United Kingdom".
So it appears that the reason given was rather as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said, not a reason that had been given in this House hitherto-namely, that people want fewer politicians around at the moment, particularly in the House of Commons, and a reduction of 50 is what people want. It is very hard to believe that that is the only reason, but it seems extraordinarily unlikely that simply reducing the House of Commons by 50 is going to restore trust in the House of Commons. It seems, with the greatest of respect, an unlikely scenario and, until yesterday afternoon or evening in the Sky studio, it was not suggested to this House.
I move on to the second question: does it improve governance? Again, that depends upon what we expect our Members of Parliament to do in relation to their constituency work and their work at the centre of government here at Westminster. Again, I do not think there is any dispute: no work has been done in relation to that to work out what work should be done.
The third question is: does it increase legitimacy in relation to the state of politics in this country and/or the House of Commons? It may be what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was trying to convey in the short answer he gave to the debate before going to the TV studio to give another answer. It seems to me that, first, some basis of choice has to be advanced, and none has been advanced and that, secondly, it has to appear to be disinterested. The flip reason given in the television studio, coupled with no intellectual argument and no independent justification, makes it very hard to convince people that it is a disinterested change from 650 to 600. That is made worse by the fact that the figures given by the two parties that now make up the collation were 585 and 500 respectively. It is difficult
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Finally, is there party advantage involved in relation to this? Independent studies have been done which suggest that more opposition seats will be lost than any other. That increases the suspicion in relation to it, which is made all the worse by the fact that the explanation given in television studios is different from the explanation given in this Chamber.
I shall deal with points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Low. His strictures are absolutely correct. We as politicians in this House should try to reach agreement. We stated at the beginning of this Sitting, which started 15 and a half hours ago at quarter past three, that we were prepared to consult and negotiate on process and substance, and we heard nothing until the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, "Oh! We're willing to negotiate". Let us negotiate about it now, not across this Chamber. We have been willing to agree the dates that you want. Let us be grown up now and let us negotiate a way through this because the noble Lord, Lord Low, is right: this requires leadership on both our parts. We are willing to negotiate, and I am happy to negotiate with the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip because that is what we need to do.
I support the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, 100 per cent. Speaking entirely for myself, I cannot think of any other reason that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, would have mentioned it, except for us to say to us, "Watch out or it might happen to you".
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I was referring to what the noble Lord said. I cannot think of any other reason why the noble Lord, Lord McNally, would blurt out in the course of our debate that we should mark carefully that the other place lost the right to debate every amendment. What was the reason for that intervention?
Lord McNally: It is precisely the words that he used: "if self-regulating is to survive". He knows, as would anybody who has managed this House's business, that if Bills are treated as this Bill has been treated, government is impossible. If self-regulation is to survive, this cannot be the normal procedure for the Opposition of the day. That is not a threat; it is an observation.
Lord McNally: I am not digging; I desperately want to save the principles of self-regulation of this House from being destroyed by that side. That is not digging. I know what I am saying and I do not retract one word
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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Low. Finger-waving and dismissing a whole group of people on the basis of an argument with one or two people does not assist the impression given by this House anywhere. I can only interpret the words of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, as being a threat to the House. Over a long period, there have been Bills that have incensed Members of this House into making long speeches. I recall the behaviour of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, during the passage of the legislation for the reform of your Lordships' House.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: On that basis, I will take my cue and respond to a debate which started two hours and 50 minutes ago. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would maintain the number of constituencies in the other place precisely at 650. It is not entirely a defence of the status quo, because, unlike with the amendment that was moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, some 15 or 16 hours ago, the figure of 650 would be fixed and the Boundary Commission's rules would be subject to it, as we would wish the number of 600 to be.
I do not think that there are any arguments which will persuade noble Lords opposite that have not already been advanced. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, quoted at some length the interview given to Sky by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, which echoes what has been said here. I have made it clear on more than one occasion that both parties in this coalition Government advocated a reduction in the number of Members of the House of Commons in their respective manifestos. I also indicated, picking up a point made in a much earlier debate by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and answering a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, that there was a context for the figure 500-there is nothing new about that; I acknowledged that some 13 hours ago. We wanted as a party to go down to a figure of 500; nevertheless, we indicated that we still thought that the House of Commons should be reduced in size. We have advanced on occasions that there would be a saving of some £12.2 million annually. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said that that was a trivial amount. Perhaps it should not surprise us on this side that the party opposite ran up such a deficit when it has people such as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, in its ranks. It is perhaps indicative of a mindset that was at work in his Government.
Lord Kinnock: When the noble Lord checks Hansardwhen today's proceedings are available, he will see himself describing the saving as a modest saving to public expenditure, which is a fair declaration; it runs pretty contrary to the declarations made at the time that the Leader of the Conservative Party announced with a flourish that he was going to cut the number of MPs by 10 per cent in order to make savings.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: There is a world of difference between saying it is a modest amount, which it is, and just dismissing it as not worth doing because it only saves a trivial amount. That was the point I was seeking to make.
The point has been made yet again in this debate, as in earlier debates, that somehow or other there ought to be some sort of method of working out what the right size is for the other place based on some analysis of workload-be it through an examination of the sessional returns or not. There may be reasons other than Members not being able to find time as to why some of these committees were not attended, because my recollection is that there was some controversy over the setting up of the regional committees and that may well be reflected in the attendance.
The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, in the usual powerful way in which he expresses opinions, talked about the difficulty of defining the purpose of a Member of Parliament. He called it the perpetual motion of change. It would make it very difficult to find out that there is some way we can empirically arrive at a figure which would be the right number, derived in some way through committees of inquiry or weighing up evidence from 650 different Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament face different challenges, and constituencies vary. Calculating the ideal size of the Commons through a consideration of the role of an MP would be difficult, if not impossible. The Government believe that such an approach is both unrealistic and unnecessary. Our proposals make a modest reduction in the overall size of the House. The result of this will be constituencies that are within 5 per cent of the quota of 76,000. Nobody has seriously suggested that those Members of Parliament who represent seats within 5 per cent either way of 76,000 are somehow or other unable to fulfil their function. One noble Lord-I think perhaps it was the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong-said that it was unreasonable for the Government to fix the size of the electorate. What we are doing is seeing what the size of the electorate is, and dividing the total electorate and coming up with a figure of 600. We have indicated that the difference between what we are doing, having reached that figure and fixing it at that, and what the position is at the moment, is that at the moment it can incrementally go up as it has done in every boundary review bar one since 1950.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ford, along with other noble Lords, expressed concern as to how Members of Parliament could still be champions of their local communities-that somehow or other it will no longer be possible. I thought it was interesting that, in his as-ever spirited contribution to the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, mentioned that, in
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It is important to point out that the Boundary Commission can still take into account, to such extent as it thinks fit, special geographical considerations, including the size, the shape and the accessibility of a constituency. It may take account, to such extent as it thinks fit, of any local ties that would be broken by changes in the constituencies. The noble Baroness, Lady Ford, seemed to suggest that the constituency would become unmanageable-one that she has been familiar with over all the years, which I think is now North Cunninghame. The rules proposed by this Bill also put a physical limit in terms of size, having regard to the current size of the seat represented by my right honourable friend, Mr Charles Kennedy. It is a pretty challenging task that Charles has, but people in his constituency to whom I have spoken recognise that he has been an effective and industrious constituency Member of Parliament. That is the upper limit in terms of size, and there is a sliding scale as one gets to that upper limit. What we are proposing should not break the ties and the link that those of us who have had the privilege to serve in the other place feel to the constituencies that we were proud to represent. With these comments, I wholeheartedly reject the suggestion that on this side there has been any question of gerrymandering. I note the comment made by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, who talked about an attachment to the status quo by a number of noble Lords on the other side of the House. Sometimes an adherence to the status quo can be the means by which gerrymandering can come in by the back door. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Can the Minister tell us when a Government last fixed the total number of seats to come out of the boundary review? His noble friend did not appear to have the facts at his fingertips, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, is making it quite plain that in his view what is happening in this Bill is entirely normal. If it is so normal, when did it first happen?
Lord Anderson of Swansea: One further matter has not been addressed in any way by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. The noble Lord, Lord Low, asked a very important question that has not been addressed. From the vantage of the Cross Benches, he said that the usual channels were clogged, which was unfortunate for Parliament, and that ways and means should be found properly to enter into a dialogue. At that, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that the
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Given the concessions which my noble friend has already made on behalf of the Opposition and to avoid yet further lengthy discussions on this Bill, I hope the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will confirm that, when those negotiations are entered into, the Government will be ready to look objectively at the points that have been made and will not enter into a diktat or threaten guillotines but will seek to find a reasonable way through. In my judgment, that means that we have still not received a response to the very important question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, objectively and rationally, in an attempt to return to the values and practices that this House values.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for his response, and all other noble Lords who have made contributions. I am pleased that the Minister has responded to me. In general, he has handled quite well the situation in which the Government find themselves. He certainly has a more reasonable style about him than the noble Lords, Lord McNally or Lord Strathclyde, except when he was talking to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, when he got a bit upset. However, he has generally handled himself well in his responses to points that noble Lords have made.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and am pleased that he thinks my amendment the best of the bunch. He explained the importance of surgeries in a large rural constituency. My noble friend Lord Kinnock's comments are right, and I hope that the Government will heed his wise words, although I have been disappointed in that respect. He outlined the increase in numbers of the electorate and the massive increase in demands on Members of Parliament since he first entered the other place in 1970. I agree with my noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea that the lack of negotiation is regrettable and surprising, and I can only hope that sooner rather than later the government Front Bench will open the channels properly on this Bill. His explanation of how Parliament has changed since he first entered the other place in 1966 was very illuminating. He also mentioned the importance of the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the problems of getting Members to participate, with all the pressures on them.
My noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top made some very interesting points. She is right about the two sides of coalition having got to where they are from very different perspectives. That might be why they are in such difficulties today.
My noble friend Lady Ford gave a perspective as a constituent since, like me, she has not served in the other place. She reminded me of Harry Lambourne, who served as a Member in the Peckham constituency with distinction before Harriet Harman succeeded him after his death in 1982. If I remember correctly, he served as PPS to the noble Lord, Lord Healey, when he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made some interesting points. He made the point that we should not take a stab in the dark; we need an independent person to look at this in a reasoned, confident and sensible manner. He also made a very eloquent point about the damage that is being done to Members in the other place in this discussion.
My noble friend Lord Liddle raised the issue of certain seats being selected for protection and others not. Cumbria is not an area that I know well, but he made a powerful point about it. He also made the point about the damage done to Parliament and informed the House of the situation in various European countries.
My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours informed the House of the sessional returns of the other place and illustrated again from that the lack of Members' participation in certain committees because of the pressure of time.
I agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Low. The Government need to open up proper communications with the Labour Front Bench and to seek to resolve this matter so that they can get their Bill through this House.
To the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, all I can say is that we all need to look very carefully at Hansard tomorrow and make up our own minds about the intention of the noble Lord, Lord McNally.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we have now been going from 3.15 pm, when we started the debate on going into Committee. It is now three minutes to nine the next morning. We have been going, by my calculations, for 17 hours approximately, which is not congenial to good scrutiny of the Bill. It is also worth drawing attention to the Code of Conduct, which says:
"Membership of the House is not an office, and does not constitute employment; most Members' primary employment is or has been outside Parliament. In discharging their parliamentary duties Members of the House of Lords draw substantially on experience and expertise gained outside Parliament".
Very many Members of this House, including me, make their arrangements on the basis that we do not sit in the mornings. There are exceptions, but there is absolutely no reason why, with no discussion through the usual channels, we should now lose this day. Just as important as that and the point that it is not congenial to scrutiny is the point that we need to show a bit of leadership in this House and reach an agreement. Two conflicting views are being expressed. One is that the Government insist on having their Bill in full whenever they want it, in effect. We are saying that yes, they can
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Lord Low of Dalston: I support the Motion moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. From my standpoint, quite apart from the question of scrutiny of legislation and how effectively it can be conducted in the state we are in early the following morning, 17 hours after the debate began what strikes me is that we are all getting rather ragged and the debate is getting rather scratchy. There is even a tendency for passions to become inflamed. It would be a very good idea if we could take a pause and allow a period for things to cool down, obviating a potentially nasty situation developing in the House. Most particularly, it would give those on the two Front Benches, through the usual channels, some space in which to conduct the dialogue that both of them have said they want to conduct. I therefore urge the House to support this Motion so that we can create the space which those on the two Front Benches are, in effect, begging us to create for them.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, there appears to be daylight outside. I think that we have missed the dawn chorus but in here Monday rolls on. I am pleased to move the debate on a little by my amendment, which asks that we should not decide the numbers in the other place until the membership and powers of your Lordships' House have been agreed by both Houses of Parliament.
In putting down this amendment I seek to extract from the government Front Bench something of the bigger picture on how the Bill, particularly this part of it, fits into their wider plans for constitutional reform. We heard my noble friend Lady Armstrong speak earlier today in a similar vein but it would be sensible for us to understand more clearly the Government's thinking on the powers in both Houses. We would then be in a better position to debate and understand where we should go as regards composition, what sort of electoral systems should be used in both Houses and the numbers of Members of both Houses of Parliament.
There is, of course, an obvious link between the two Chambers when we look through the current looking-glass of politics whereby we are debating losing 50 elected Members of the other place while the Government oversee the introduction of more than 100 additional unelected Members into your Lordships' House. By any measure that is somewhat bizarre in a country which prides itself on its democracy and on having the mother of all Parliaments. However, I want to flesh out a more substantial link during this debate. I agree with the amendment grouped with this one, Amendment 63YB in the name of my noble friend Lord Grocott, who argues that we should not agree to the House of Commons having fewer Members than this House. When speaking to noble Lords I have found agreement on all sides of your Lordships' House that we are at present a somewhat bloated House. I am one of those who have added to that corpulent figure. I am not referring to the Leader who has just stood up. I thought that he was going to intervene. I am referring to your Lordships' House being somewhat corpulent. As I say, I am one of the more recently introduced Members. There seems to be agreement on all sides that it has become a little too large. Certainly, when we are thinking about the size of the other place, we should also be thinking about the size of your Lordships' Chamber.
We have debated at some length the fact that the Government want to reduce the number of MPs through this Bill for the two principal reasons of overrepresentation and cost. I will not rehearse again in any great detail
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I think it is a shame that we have not heard the bigger picture from the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Nick Clegg, particularly given that his party used to be committed to a political restructuring at all levels. We could start to make sense of the notion of over-representation if we looked at all levels of government in this country-or not, because the analysis would suggest that we are not over-represented at all when compared to others of a similar size and a similar era around the world. I also agree with those who have looked at the trend of a rising number of electors, with the proportion of electors per MP having risen alongside a rising workload. I am concerned that there is very little justification for reducing the number of MPs.
I also see no evidence of significant savings. I do not belittle the £12 million that has been discussed over the past hours, when the 50 fewer MPs' salaries and their expenses are set against the cost of boundary reviews. I have seen no analysis of what the continual process of boundary review that the Bill is committing us to will be, but there are marginal savings given that we will still have the same buildings and facilities for Members of the other place-and, of course, we will still have the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which appears to be costing something like an average of £16,000 per Member of Parliament per year. That is an area where some quite sensible savings might be made, but I am sure that is the subject of keener interest at the other end of the building. I would argue that we currently have an incoherent picture and need that bigger picture to be sketched out in more detail, perhaps when the Leader of the House winds up, so that we can properly understand the Government's thinking.
The other place performs three functions, as I have tended to describe it when I, as a Member of it, went around schools trying to explain how it worked. It has an important representative function-in the parallels that I drew, much like a school council-but it also has very important legislative and executive functions, with people being either members of the Executive or scrutinising them. Your Lordships' House, however, is a much prized and valued revising Chamber. It is the secondary Chamber to the primary one and has fewer functions, so we come back to the question: why should it have more Members when it has less to do? I appreciate that, as we have heard when my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer read out the Code of Conduct and referred to this fact, it is not employment to be a Member of your Lordships' House. Many Members, including me, do other work. Nevertheless, it seems strange that we have many more Members than the other place.
The workload has also increased in the other place. We have heard quite a lot of that set of arguments and discussions over the past 15 hours but, from my own
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There is a relationship with reform of your Lordships' House. I have been a strong advocate of Lords reform throughout my parliamentary career-and here I may fall out of favour with some of my noble friends, particularly my noble friend who is to follow me and move his own amendment-and I was very active when working with the much-missed Robin Cook, when he was Leader of the other place, in his efforts to move forward on Lords reform. Sadly, we ran aground due to the legendary indecision of my colleagues in the other place.
My preference now would be for this House to be elected in thirds at each general election to ensure that it does not have a rival mandate, on a regional list basis. Members of an elected second Chamber should not be eligible for re-election. In that way we would not have to resource them for looking after constituents they are pandering to in order to get elected, and they could maintain a relative independence from our friends in the Whips Office, which we know is important here.
My views have moderated since I became a Member of your Lordships' House in that I am no longer an advocate of a 100 per cent elected Chamber because I have seen the wisdom and expertise of the independent Cross Benches. I particularly enjoyed the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Low, recently. There is therefore a strong case for a 20 per cent element of independent Cross-Benchers appointed by a statutory appointments commission. That is my vision. I am sure that fairly soon, when the Deputy Prime Minister chooses to publish his proposals, we may have a chance to debate them.
The link with this Bill is that within my own, perhaps weird, preference for how this Chamber should be reformed I also support the notion of a secondary mandate, as put forward by my friend Billy Bragg, who lives down the Dorset coast from me in Burton Bradstock-sometimes known as Burton Billy Braggstock. He advocates that at a general election the votes cast for Members of Parliament should be recycled and used to elect, on the basis of their party allegiance, Members of the second Chamber, thereby enshrining the notion that it is secondary to the primary Chamber and that no one who is a political representative in this
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Lord Dubs: I am trying to follow my noble friend's argument because until his last comment I was, by and large, in favour of what he said. However, he has now put forward two entirely different models for reforming this place. Which one does he opt for?
Lord Knight of Weymouth: I have been so enthusiastic to move this amendment-I have been waiting for the past 15 hours-but I did not get any sleep and so I am perhaps not being as coherent as I could be. When I said they would be elected in thirds on the basis of a regional list, that regional list would be there by virtue of the secondary mandate and the recycled votes cast for Members of Parliament.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: It may be because of a lack of sleep on my part as well, but I struggle to understand how a 15-year term that is not subject to re-election for this place is in any way democratic.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My view is that that would achieve good progression from where we are now in terms of appointment. However, it means that people who are here as politicians-as 80 per cent would be under my model-would have some form of mandate through votes cast by the British people. I do not think it defensible over the long term for people like me to come here through the patronage of the Prime Minister or the leader of my party.
Baroness Wall of New Barnet: We have talked a lot over the last 15 hours about the supremacy of the other House. How will that be maintained when we have people in this House who are elected, and who will say, very vociferously, that they have the same rights as the people down the corridor?
Lord Knight of Weymouth: Clearly, the crucial issue for the Members of the other place in supporting any reform here is they do not want to set up a rival Chamber. That is why electing in thirds is part of the answer, because this Chamber would never have a fresh mandate, or a mandate to rival the other place. I am seeking to conclude my remarks, as I have no desire to go on and on. I mention the secondary mandate-my own particular, perhaps weird, preference-because it means that it is highly pertinent how many constituencies there are in a region for how that mandate would work. People do not just vote on national lines, they vote on local ones. Where they put their first preference-if we go to AV-will be highly significant in then deciding how people get into this place. My own favoured position is to some extent being anticipated and skewed by this Bill, and I ask the Leader of the House to reflect on that. I beg to move this amendment.
Lord Tyler: I think it is time for somebody on this side of the House to address this issue. I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Knight of
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The noble Lord may be a staunch, consistent and articulate supporter of reform, but I am afraid that he has been led into evil ways by this amendment. He-by implication-and others specifically on the other side of the House have said they are in favour of the sort of reforms in both parts of the Bill, but not yet. This is classic St Augustine: make me virtuous, but not yet, and certainly not before the next general election. I have to warn the noble Lord that he is going to fall into evil company with the refuseniks who are actually opposed to any reform. That is perhaps his purpose, but I do not think it is: I cannot believe he is naive, not given his past record. Let me ask your Lordships to look at his amendment-nothing effectively should happen until the decision is made on the membership and powers of a reformed House of Lords. We know that the draft Bill will come before a joint committee for pre-legislative scrutiny within a matter of weeks now. I do not know precisely when it will be, but relatively soon. We can also anticipate-and rightly so, as the public and both Houses will be interested-that the process of pre-legislative scrutiny will probably take us right through to the Queen's Speech in May 2012. I am willing to suggest to the noble Lord, and I think others will agree, that it is very unlikely that the conditions in his Bill will be reached before the end of 2013. So, nothing can start in terms of the second part of this Bill, which rules it out for the next general election-which I suspect is what some Members on his side of the House want.
That is absurd. He has not had the advantages I had of listening to the noble Lords on all sides of your Lordships' House over the past five years saying: of course we cannot start on reform of your Lordships' House until the reform of the House of Commons is completed. This is the most absurd vicious circle-we cannot do anything about the Commons until the Lords are done; we cannot do anything about the Lords until the Commons are done; and round we go again. This is a simple and deliberate vicious circle of procrastination. It is also extraordinary that for hours we have listened to arguments on his side of the House that there is too much in this Bill, that it is putting together two important issues. Yet now the noble Lord wants to amalgamate the issues of the reform of this House and the reform of that House. If that is not putting together an impossible duopoly of major constitutional reform, I do not know what is.
If the noble Lord really wants to make progress and to avoid the company of the undemocratic dinosaurs that seem to inhabit both his Benches and some others, I have to say, surely his amendment is ludicrous. I hope that he is going to withdraw it double quick.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, mine is the second amendment in this group, and under normal circumstances I would have spoken second. However,
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I should say that there has been absolutely no collusion between me and my noble friend. To me it is obvious that the relationship between the two Houses when discussing the size of the Commons, and we all know about the size of this House, is a very important subject for debate. We are talking essentially about the relationship between the two Houses, and that lies at the heart of our constitution. I am pleased that at least I can claim that we are having this debate in daylight hours. That is by accident rather than by design, but it is a matter worthy of proper consideration by this House, and I am sorry that so few seem to be interested in discussing it.
It is probably noteworthy to remark that through most of the night in our discussions about the relationship between the two Houses, we have been talking about a cull of 50 Members of Parliament. The world knows already, because it has been reported in a number of newspapers, that while we were discussing a matter of crucial importance to the House of Commons, beds were being arranged in this House so that Members of the House of Lords, while their House was debating a cull of Members of the House of Commons, could rest peacefully asleep. I think that that is an insult to the other House and that if the reverse were to apply so that beds were provided in the House of Commons while they were debating our future, and most of the Commons was asleep, we would quite properly have something to say about it, and indeed it would have been our duty to do so. I mention that not just in passing because it says something about how flippantly this House is considering a crucial matter affecting the future of the House of Commons.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will doubtless say that my amendment is inadequate and badly drafted. I freely admit that, but I tried hard to find a proper form of words that would be in order and which said what I want to say, which is simply that it really is a bizarre set of circumstances that the elected House of Commons-the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is very keen on an elected House of Lords-is to be reduced from 650 to 600 while simultaneously there is a huge increase in the number of unelected Members of the House of Lords. To give the House the figures so that at least they are on the record, the Commons is to be reduced by 50 to give it a membership of 600, but since the general election this House has had new Members announced to the tune of 117, with the current size of this place at 792. So, on this Government's watch we are planning to take 50 Members out of the House of Commons and already-each day the number increases-there are 792 Members of this House. Any objective observer would say that that is an absolutely bizarre state of affairs.
I should like the Leader of the House to make this point to Nick Clegg, who I understand is the mastermind behind a lot of these constitutional reforms. More pertinently, however, he has stated repeatedly in what is his-I am sure to be regretted-phrase that this is the greatest reform since 1832, that the three Bills
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It is not just me; this House is beginning to recognise that it is too big. The Hunt report, if I can call it that, which was set up by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is entitled Members Leaving the House. It is quite clear that it is too big and that we have to find mechanisms for reducing the size. I shall read paragraph 67 of this report by an all-party Committee, which is relevant to this amendment:
"Whilst we cannot recommend that there should be a moratorium on new appointments to the House - since, while the purpose of the House is to provide expertise, we must ensure that that expertise is refreshed and kept up to date - we do urge that restraint should be exercised by all concerned"-
I have already said that we have had 117 new Members since the general election, but it is going to get worse, or better, whichever your view of this is, because of this document, which will be enshrined in constitutional history The Coalition: our programme for government-I love it. As every day goes past, the inadequacy of this document becomes clearer, but we regard it as some sort of a statement of objectives and intent as things stand at the moment. In the section dealing with constitutional reform, the coalition document states that it is going to reform the House of Lords and that:
"In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election".
I would like the Leader of the House, to tell us when he winds up how many more Peers he thinks will be required in order to do what the coalition document says and what the split between the various political parties will be. Can I suggest that it would make his life simpler if instead of basing it on the results of the previous general election, he bases it on the figures that we are being given by current opinion polls, which suggest that there are far too many Liberal Peers in this House? That might be a consideration that he might look at.
The reason why I think this is an important point in relation to my amendment is that one of the consequences of the imbalance between the sizes of the two Houses is that it is having a dramatic effect on the political balance in this House now, as is the mere fact of the coalition, which alters the whole way in which this House is likely to operate. I think we have seen that
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At present, the Government have 40 per cent of the votes in this House, including the Cross Benchers. That was the figure that I was able to get from the Library figures for a week last Monday. As your Lordships will know, they are published on a regular basis. We have had 14 new Peers since we started debating Part 2 of the Bill last Monday, and I think we are expecting some more later today, provided that this day's work completes before they are due to be introduced. The political balance is changing all the time to the Government's advantage. As I have already said, we are looking at reform in the round, or should be, if we follow Nick Clegg's dictum. That is a factor that needs to be considered if this House is to continue as a revising Chamber.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: As the noble Lord is passing from the topic he has been dealing with, I wonder whether his memory is as long as mine. He will remember that when in opposition the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats agreed upon a way of dealing with the problem he is referring to when we were an appointed House. It was that the Liberal Democrats would help Labour to exclude hereditary Peers provided that we were given life Peers in rough proportion to the way we had done in the previous general election. Is he aware that having agreed to that, when we asked the then leader of his party what had happened to the promise that had been made, we were told "You can't get back your Peers because you aren't voting with us. You aren't voting the right way."? As a result of that, the leaders of my party and his were not on speaking terms for six months because of the betrayal by his party.
Secondly, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, recalls that I was independent adviser on constitutional affairs to the right honourable Jack Straw and Mr Michael Wills, as he then was, trying to get constitutional reform through. Does he recall that the pathetic Bill that was eventually produced, causing me to resign because it was worthless, was a ragbag Bill full of many more issues than this Bill, which deals with only two? Therefore, does he not think that it is a little arrogant for him to condescend in the way that he does towards the coalition?
Lord Strathclyde: Before the noble Lord replies to that, can my noble friend tell me whether his memory serves him sufficiently well to know whether the Chief Whip in the House of Lords at that time was none other than the noble Lord, Lord Grocott?
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My noble friend is perfectly right, and I would like to pay one compliment to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott: I would never remotely regard him as interested in constitutional reform.
Lord Grocott: I think that last remark was a little unkind, as I have been here throughout these debates and we have just had the odd guest appearance from the noble Lord, Lord Lester. So far as his criticism of the Labour Government is concerned, in terms of numbers of Liberal Peers, if he checks the figures, I think he will find that the Liberals have done very nicely thank you. It used to irritate me intensely, as it did many members of the Labour Party, that every new appointee to the House of Lords under the previous Government, whether they were former Conservative Cabinet Ministers, members of the Liberal Democrat Party or, indeed, members of the Labour Party or Cross Benchers, were all referred to indiscriminately as "Tony's cronies". If they were his cronies, all I can say is that I could have done with a few more of them on our Benches when I was trying to marshal the Government's business through with just 30 per cent of the votes. I make no complaint about that; I think it is right that this House should not have a government majority. As for the recollection of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if anyone communicated to me that we must tell the Liberals to vote with us, if such an agreement existed, I can only say "Tell the Liberals to vote with us, and then they will get more Peerages" is not a message that was communicated to me as Government Chief Whip, and I think it should have been if it were in existence.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: That is not what I said. What I said was that there was a deal in opposition between the two opposition parties about the proportion of Liberal Democrats. Under the Cook-Maclennan agreement of 1996-my noble friend Lord Maclennan is next to me and I was a member of the negotiating committee-it was a term of the agreement, among others, that having co-operated to remove the hereditary Peers, because the Liberal Democrats were 40 per cent hereditary, whereas Labour was less than 10, it was necessary to get the rough balance right with the Liberal Democrats. Robin Cook agreed that that should be so.
Having then collaborated, the hereditary Peers were excluded with a cruelty that I did not support. Having done that, we expected to get back to around 40 per cent because that represented our rough balance in the previous general election, and so we waited. I am not talking about now: I am talking about at that period after Tony Blair won.
Tony Blair was to be commended for the way in which he handled his own appointments. But I am saying that we were not able to get back our percentage and when the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, was asked why, she said-not publicly-to our leader, "You see, you haven't behaved properly. You haven't voted with us". It is that which we found unacceptable and which led to a falling out between the two parties. All I am saying to the noble Lord is that he gives a benign view of history. The history was not at all benign.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, my confusion is now explained in that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is referring to 1996. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde,
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Lord McAvoy: I am sorry to intervene on my noble friend. I was thinking about the last few seconds of what he was saying. Does he not think that he should at the very least expect an apology from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for the spraying of, quite frankly, innuendo and mistruths, and for getting it wrong? In his anxiety to smear anyone who opposes what he is saying, he just sprays innuendo and things that are not true. He should offer an apology.
Lord Grocott: I am not really in a fit state to respond: I am still recovering from the blow that was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I shall conclude my remarks on that basis. I think that what I propose, although not word perfect, is eminent common sense. This being a commonsensical House, I am sure that it will be approved with acclaim.
Lord Dubs: I have waited all night to make a small contribution to this debate, so I am glad to have the chance to do it. However, I am somewhat confused. I agreed with the amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Knight, but I did not agree with his arguments. As far as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is concerned, I did not agree with his amendment, but I agreed with his arguments. So I am finding that somewhat confusing. But let me see if I can disentangle it.
It is important to debate this matter, because any reform of the House of Commons calls into question the relationship between the two Houses. Clearly, making as dramatic a change as the Government are proposing in this Bill to the House of Commons will call into question the way in which the two Houses can coexist sensibly once the reform has been introduced and proposed. So it is not unreasonable for my noble friend Lord Knight to put forward his amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is concerned that this will kick the whole thing into the long grass. I am bound to say that House of Lords reform has been in the long grass for a long time anyway. I always argued for elections consistently before I was in this House and I still do. But I do not interpret the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Knight as one which necessarily kicks it into the long grass. We can talk about the details, but I do not think that he needs to do that. Having said that the relationship between the two Houses is crucial and that, therefore, any reformed House will have to be looked at in terms of how it relates to the Commons, it is right that we should debate it as regards this Bill. I look forward to the Government's proposals on Lords reform. They will be in the form of a draft. I hope that we can have them soon in order that we can discuss them and consider them.
In the mean time, I want to deal with some of the issues that my noble friend Lord Knight brought into play. I thought that everything was fine when he talked about elections, but I worried a bit about one-third, one-third, one-third, giving a 15-year mandate-non-renewable-because the benefit of an election is accountability. If one is not accountable there is not much point in being elected, as I see it. The worst argument about the Billy Bragg proposals or the mandate is that it gives the political parties a complete stranglehold of the membership of this House. If after every election the membership is adjusted or changed to reflect the popular votes for the Commons, the parties can get rid of all the people who are dissidents or not sycophantic, so not many of us will be left.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: I am grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to clarify that regional lists would be published in advance of the election so that when electors are voting constituency by constituency for their Members of Parliament, they can see the impact of their vote in terms of who is nominated by each party. I accept that it is a progression from where we are now in terms of appointment, but in many ways there is plenty about this House that we would want to preserve. I am seeking some kind of electoral mandate for the political representatives in this House without a massive change in the character of the House.
Lord Dubs: I understand what my noble friend is saying but I am still pretty concerned about it. When we talk about all these regional lists being prepared, it is fairly easy at parliamentary constituency level for a local party to choose a candidate who reflects the views of the constituency, and so on. Regional lists tend to be an opportunity for the party machine to dominate, which is true of all the parties. I am not happy about it. Even if you publish the regional list in advance, I am afraid that the electorate will not be terribly impressed by seeing a list of people and will say, "Gosh, that will affect how I vote for the MP". I do not think it will be like that. They will choose the MP and then the regional list will be a by-product. Because it is a by-product, I am not happy about it.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: I should like to develop that point about the 15-year electoral term and my intervention on my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth about my grave concerns. I entirely share the issue about it being election rather than accountability. Does my noble friend accept that something like this is really just a sop to those who want elections? It is not accountability or a democratic mandate. It is just a case of you have your election, so it is okay, and it will make no difference at all. This House would be less accountable and less representative than it is now.
Lord Dubs: I am not sure that I entirely follow my noble friend's argument. My case against a 15-year term is that once one is elected by whatever method, even a better one than my noble friend has put forward, one is there and can do what one likes without being
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My key point is that we need to know a little more about the Government's plans for the future of this House before we can be happy about what they intend to do to the Commons. My noble friend Lord Grocott and I have some differences in policy. We have no differences in personal terms but we differ occasionally on policy. Unless there is some way round my noble friend's amendment, we will have a much larger House of Commons, possibly by nearly 150 Members, than we have now, unless we can significantly reduce the membership of this House in the mean time. That is a pretty complicated set of additional thoughts to add to his amendment. He did not go through that in great detail so I do not see his amendment being effective, much as I like his arguments to justify it.
I do not want to talk any more about this. I have said that I am not happy about a secondary mandate, but I believe that the relationship between the two Houses is crucial and we look to the Government's proposals for the future of this House to see how they stack up against what is going on in this Bill. Better still, we should delay consideration of this part of the Bill until we can see what the Government have in mind for the future of this House.
Lord Prescott: My Lords, I must add my name to the list of those confused after the introduction of the amendments. I approached it in a simple way: that this was an opportunity to delay while we had further discussion to find an agreement between the two sides of this House on the size of the Commons, the powers, and the Boundary Commission. All of those are legitimate arguments. If we introduce the idea of the reform of the House of Lords, it will get even more complicated.
I was a Member of the House of Commons for 40 years and I have heard the debates about the Lords. I am against reform of the Lords. I do not mind changing its powers; I was very happy to get rid of the hereditaries; but I do not want more powers simply given to the Lords. An elected process would certainly do that. I have had the argument with my noble friend Lord Knight for a long time. He wants a second Chamber with extra powers, which will be in conflict with the elected body. That is a simple enough principle to me, so I cannot support him. My noble friend Lord Grocott talked about the sizes of both Chambers, but both amendments will complicate the main issue of whether there can be a decision about what the Government intend to do about the size of the Lords. Having heard all the debates about whether the size of the House of Lords should be 600, 500, or remain as it is, I will be clear: I believe that it should stay as it is.
Some powerful figures were given by my noble friend Lord Kinnock about the changing role of Members of the House of Commons-the other place, I should say. That is undoubtedly true since 1970, when my noble friend Lord Kinnock and I came into the Commons. He talked about the Member of Parliament before him who used to have one meeting a month. I took the place of a man called Commander Percy who had exactly the same role. He made a rather royal visit to
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In those circumstances, no one has justified why we should reduce the number from 650; I do not think we should. We can change, reform, or even begin an analysis of, what the job of a Member of Parliament should be. As we heard, that is not easy and it changes from constituency to constituency. It is about the character of the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents. I do not mind if we analyse that, but the Government have decided that they will reduce the number by 50 but give us no rational explanation.
We would have exactly the same arguments with the amendments to the House of Lords. Although there has been lots of debate about the House of Lords and what the reform should be, there has been very little debate about the reduction in the number of Members of Parliament. Of course, the papers have said that we should get rid of them, we should reduce them, and that seems to be the rationale for the Government's argument. It is popular to say that we should reduce the number of Members of Parliament, but no justification has been made for that.
We have asked time and time again: how did you arrive at the figure of 75,000 per constituency, what size constituencies should be and how the number of MPs should be increased or decreased in that process? An independent body has been doing that. The conclusion in this House is that if the Government decide that there should be this amount and then tell the commission to get on with it, they are making a political decision for political advantage. That is inevitably the definition of it. Most independent analysis has shown that that is the case. The justification argued was that there was a democratic mandate. It is already clear that the number was not in the Tory manifesto nor the Liberal manifesto. We are talking about a coalition agreement which was not endorsed by the electorate. So any democratic mandate does not come from simply putting it to the electorate. The principle was there but not the actual justification of these figures. The argument put by our Front Bench is right. It gives them an opportunity to say, "Yes, you can have the referendum on the day you want, but why do you not split the Bill into two parts?". There has been lots of talk here about the usual channels working out what those agreements are. That is how we have normally settled business, whether it is in this place or the other place. I think people should be open to the opportunity. But the Government do not look as if they are interested in pursuing that. We wait to see any further movement on their behalf or if we are on this kind of roll of fighting it out-who is going to stick out, who is going to go longest, who is going to blink. We have had an awful lot of that in the House of Commons. I can recall times when we have gone for 24 hours voting on trade union legislation. Perhaps it seems odd for me to
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Let me make this point to the government Front Benches. I think it is important to accept that in all these arguments it is a matter of trust. There can be disagreements but we try to find a way through them. As someone said during this debate, this is the House of negotiation-we find a way forward. I think it is probably one of the main contributions we can make. Trust is absolutely important. I have experience in these matters in the Council of Europe. The council was referred to earlier by the noble Lord. He said that countries which want to come into the Council of Europe have to reach certain democratic criteria. In recent years, members from the central European countries, which were previously communist, have wanted to become, if you like, more socially democratic or European and to join the Council of Europe. The council lays down what it thinks are the standards for democracy and the countries are expected to observe them and agree to them. It appoints monitors to go and see that they are carrying out their democratic obligations to be a member of the Council of Europe.
I was appointed to be the monitor to Armenia. It was a communist state which was now claiming to be social democrat. However, it had the old communist structure where the courts were very accountable to the Government, the Government controlled the police, there were no democratic freedoms for the press and the Opposition had no role and were given no responsibilities or powers. When the presidential election occurred three years ago there were accusations from the Opposition, who saw no possibility of getting an agreement with Government. They had no trust in the Government and would often resort to the argument, "There is corruption and you cannot trust the Government". When the President was elected by 51 per cent there was a mass rally in which 100 people were thrown into jail; 10 people were killed and the people who were demonstrating were accused of undermining and threatening the state. It became a security matter. I was then sent to see if I could find an agreement. After long talks we managed to get the 100 people out of the jail, change the press laws and reduce the criminal laws-they reformed the law so you could have a protest and the courts were made more accountable.
I will not go into all the details but effectively the Opposition had no trust. At the heart of that argument there was a Government simply believing that they had the majority. The coalition of two parties with the majority in the assembly took the view that it was democratically correct to impose their solution without having to consult the Opposition. That is a lack of trust. It leads to a violent reaction. It leads to the corruption of the democratic process. I am not saying the UK is the same as Armenia but there are some similarities that cause some concern, bearing in mind our long tradition of democracy. I am proud of my
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I notice that the Government have not answered the question put. What if we become the Government and there are demands on our side-I would not be surprised if I was leading them myself-saying, "Right, it is our turn now. We've got the power. The door has been opened for us. Let us change it around"? The poor old 15-year mandate might get us into a bit of a problem, because we will have changed it down there, but we stay up here on the old political system. That will cause tensions, especially as the Lords, despite the conventions, seems to be nibbling at the idea that it can deal with financial matters. We are dealing with a real problem here. At the heart of it is trust.
I say to the Government: if you go along this road, do not be surprised if there are voices saying, "If they can do it, we will do it", although I know that it is in the nature of the Labour Party to say, "We cannot do that. We are democratic". We would not be stupid enough not to do it.
Leaving that aside, trust is threatened here. If you open the door with a precedent that any Government who have the majority can do as they wish on constitutional matters without agreement or a sense of consensus, other Governments may be tempted to do the same. I do not think that that will do our democratic process any good. I ask the Government yet again to consider the position put from our Front Bench: can the usual channels have a bit more consultation? We have had bigger differences than this before and have found agreement, but this one is especially difficult. We are talking about constitutional issues. Do not establish the precedent that the Government, simply because they have a majority through a coalition, can enforce things. That is the difficulty that we face, and I hope that the Leader of the House will give further thought to it.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth that it is not sensible to set about reforming the House of Commons without considering the implications for your Lordships' House and for the relationship between the two Houses in our bicameral Parliament. For example, if membership of the House of Commons is to be reduced by 50 MPs, and its already all-too-feeble capacity to scrutinise legislation and to hold the Government to account is yet further enfeebled by the reduction in its forces, there must be implications for the workload of your Lordships' House.
It will be even more incumbent on us to ensure that there is a check on the Executive, that legislation is genuinely scrutinised and seriously challenged when it ought to be. That will be very awkward within the pattern of our Parliament, in which the other place is elected but this place is not. We are always diffident about challenging the propositions of the elected Government, particularly propositions that have been approved by the elected Chamber. None the less, if the
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The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is wrong to suggest that we are thereby in some sort of vicious circle so that you cannot do anything: you cannot reform one House until you have reformed the other. The logic of this conundrum is that we have to think about reform of the two Houses together. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth for introducing that dimension to our debate. Whether you consider the constitution of our country as an organism or a mechanism-whichever metaphor you prefer-the fact is that its parts are interdependent. It is not just the two Houses of Parliament which are interdependent; there are relationships with other parts of our constitution which equally stand to be destabilised if you attempt to reform one part on its own without considering the wider implications.
I do not think that you can set about a programme of reform of the Westminster Parliament without also thinking about the responsibilities of those who are elected by our fellow citizens to represent them in the European Parliament and what the working relationships between those two Parliaments should be. I am even more sure that you cannot think about reform of either House of this Parliament without also thinking about the relationship between the Houses of this Parliament and the devolved institutions of government in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and, if the Liberal Democrats were to have their way, possibly a devolved assembly in England too. We should always be mindful of the implications of what we do here for local government and the role of local authorities, which has been so much attenuated and enfeebled over the years. As we think about constitutional reform in a constructive and responsible way, we need to think not only about what we expect the devolved institutions-the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly-to do but about what we expect elected local government to do. All these pieces of the constitution need to be understood in relationship to each other.
The best is the enemy of the good. If you try to design some grand masterplan for constitutional reform, you will fail-it will not work. No one is possessed of such wisdom that they can devise the ideal scheme and, even if they were able to do so, there would be politicians who did not share that idealism and would not be agreeable to the reforms that were intended. You have to proceed with constitutional reform pragmatically, incrementally, respectfully, sensitively and gradually. That is the way that you get progress towards constitutional reform in this country. That does not mean that you should think about only one piece of the constitution at a time; you have to think about the pattern of relationships.
If we were to have an elected House of Lords-I would not call it a House of Lords; it would be an elected second Chamber, and the existing House of Lords would have been abolished-along the lines
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I do not say that the relationship between two elected Houses in the United Kingdom would become exactly similar to the relationship of stress, frequent antagonism and impasse that we see between the House of Representatives in the American Congress and the US Senate, but it would be much more similar because, of course, an elected second Chamber would be seen to have legitimacy, it would be proud of it and anyone elected to it who was worth their salt would certainly want to exercise the authority that electoral legitimacy gave to an elected House. We need to realise that there is much more instability, and there are much larger implications, that would potentially arise even from the carrying of the reform of the House of Commons alone that the coalition Government have embarked upon.
I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Grocott for focusing our attention particularly on the size of this House, appointed as it is and as I personally hope it will remain, because the relative sizes of the two Houses are going to be important. If we continue with an appointed House of Lords and its role is advisory, it is perhaps less significant if it is larger in numbers than if you have an elected second Chamber. Possibly, arguably, an appointed House of Lords with a role to advise benefits from having a large membership, because there are more people within an appointed House who have the ability to offer advice that will be useful to the parliamentary system and to the country as a whole.
None the less, I take the point that my noble friend Lord Grocott has put forward: there has to be some limitation to this accretion of patronage, this growth willy-nilly of an appointed House, based upon no principle at all. Well, there is a spurious principle, as I believe it to be, that has been adumbrated by the coalition; in the coalition agreement it put forward as a constitutional principle that it would be right for the membership of an appointed House increasingly to be reflective of the political strengths of the parties following the previous election in the other place. That is a very dangerous doctrine and it ought to be questioned. While it apparently has a kind of democratic legitimacy about it, in practice it would mean that the power of the government Whips, which in the opinion of many of us is already excessive in the elected House, would increasingly be extended into the appointed House. We have already seen that process through the creation
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If the second Chamber were to be elected, there would be a frontal challenge to the other place on the part of the newly elected and democratically legitimised second Chamber. That would be the case even under my noble friend Lord Knight's scheme whereby the elected second Chamber was elected by thirds-the challenge would mount cumulatively. It would also be the case even if we were to have an only partially elected second Chamber.
As all noble Lords who have thought about this very knotty question of Lords reform know well, we are playing with fire and we need to think carefully about what we are doing. For the time being, though, and in the context of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, I take the wise counsel of my noble friends Lord Knight and Lord Grocott that you cannot sensibly or profitably attempt to think about reform of the House of Commons in isolation from the reform of this House and without also considering the implications for the relationship between the two Houses.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I rise with some relief. After 19 hours of debate, I wondered if we would ever get to this amendment, which I particularly wanted to comment on. It is worth noting that the last time I spent a whole night in Committee in Parliament was in the other place on the National Minimum Wage Bill in, I think, 1998. In that debate, Conservative MPs, who did not want to see a minimum wage in this country, spoke at length through the night over several nights in Committee to try to stop the minimum wage from being introduced, or at least to delay it. I remember-I would say "fondly", but it is not fondly at all-a debate around the location of the word "and" in the legislation. That kind of debate makes a mockery of Sittings in either place. However, the debate that we have had now for, I must admit, a very long time has in no way replicated that debate then. The quality of the debate tonight and the seriousness with which these issues have been taken does this House great credit. It is doing what it is best at: scrutinising legislation.
I was pleased to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. While I do not agree with much of what he said, the fact that he said it is very important. I am surprised, for a piece of legislation we have been told is so important that it cannot be split into two Bills of a more sensible size for scrutiny, that so few Government Members have attended the debate over the past 19 hours. That contrasts unfavourably with this side of the Chamber where we have heard a considerable amount of intelligent debate. It has been doing what this House is meant to do.
Broadly, I welcome the two amendments. My noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth has done his best to talk me out of it, but if I concentrate on his amendment rather than what he has been saying in the Committee, it will be easier to look to that. I have great interest in what my noble friend Lord Grocott has been saying in support of his amendment, but I might put a point to him which, if he is able to answer it when he winds up, would be helpful. What has attracted me to both amendments is that they propose a rationale for the number of Members of the other place.
At Second Reading I spoke about this issue, and I have to say that I was quite shocked at the comment of the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to the effect that the reason for 600 Members of Parliament was that it was a "nice round number". The comment was quite funny and it worked well in the Chamber, but when you are scrutinising legislation that will make a major constitutional difference, that just does not do it for me. I expect a little more thought and explanation. I think that the Government still have time to come forward and give reasons, and indeed there may be a logic and an understanding that have passed me and other Members on this side of the Committee by, but I think that your Lordships have been quite dismayed at the lack of clarity of reasoning for and justification of the figure of 600. In a brief point I made earlier, I said that the Government are exasperated at the fact that this debate is continuing. They could end that exasperation by giving a simple reason.
Both the amendments before us seek validity in the kinds of figures they propose. That makes them both attractive to me and certainly worth discussing. My noble friend Lord Howarth made a very important point in the comments he made just now. Our constitutional democracy is based on the relationship between the various parts of the legislature. It is not just about the relationship between the other place and your Lordships' House, but also about the relationship between Parliament as a whole and the Executive. Those points have not been teased out or addressed fully in the proposals that have been put forward by the Government. My concern, which runs contrary to how the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, interprets this, is that tinkering at the edges and making changes that will have a fundamental impact while not assessing at the same time that impact on other parts of Parliament, does both this Chamber and the other place a disservice. It does not reflect an understanding of the impact that it can have.
We have all seen the changes that have been made where it has been understood that there will be one impact, but that it has been far greater on this and the other place. I am concerned that we have not been given the explanations that are due to us. These two amendments offer some kind of grounding and validity for a number.
We have debates around the issue of the implications of reducing the size of the other place that have centred on MPs' workloads and financial issues. Indeed, I strongly recall the Prime Minister, David Cameron, making the case that it would save money to reduce the Members of the other place. He said that you can get more for less. In the end, you do not get more for
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A point has been made about constituency issues. An MP's relationship with their constituency is a precious one. We have heard in some of the debates tonight former Members of the other place speaking most affectionately about their constituencies and the links they still have to them. Those links continued for many years after they left the other place. Like me, many have taken their title from the constituencies that they represented. This is not a transitory, passing relationship; this is something embedded into a Member of Parliament. It is also embedded into those constituents. One part of my former constituency, over three sets of boundary changes, had been represented by three different MPs in three different constituencies. They had been moved from constituency to constituency in each set of boundary changes, and there was a lack of identity for that area. That is grossly unfair. If we propose, as in the Bill, to have boundary changes for almost every election, that sense of identity, belonging and engagement with the political process will be lost.
We talk about the big society. The most important part of the big society is that constituents and the public feel engaged with the political process and able to contribute. If they do not recognise their constituency or their MP, they can hardly engage with the political process. The idea that we can draw lines on maps so that there are equal numbers and equal representation does not understand at all the relationship between the MP and the constituency, or the constituent and the MP.
A point I made on Second Reading was that the size of the other place has an impact on the size and power of the Executive. If we are to reduce the overall number of Members of Parliament but not the size of the Executive, it would increase the power of the Executive. I do not think that is what the Prime Minister meant when he said that we would get more for less and costs would be reduced. It misleads people and really is unfair. It will not have that effect but it will increase the power of the Executive, which will be larger as a proportion of the Houses of Parliament as a whole. The noble Lords, Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Grocott, are, I think, moving away from plucking a number from thin air. If I understood where the figure of 600 came from, I might be more tolerant and give it greater validity. Not understanding it, and in the absence of any rationale, it is difficult to understand what the point of it is.
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