Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:03 pm on 6th September 2010.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne 8:03 pm, 6th September 2010

When introducing this Bill, the Deputy Prime Minister dressed it up as the beginning of new politics. Well, this is not new politics; it is old politics exercised at its very best or its very worst, according to one's disposition. It is about the Executive-the Government of the day-seizing more power for themselves. Let us not be coy about this. That is what Governments do. Let us not be afraid of admitting that.

The arguments for reducing the size of the House of Commons by 50 are nothing more than very flimsy. We are told that cutting 50 Members of Parliament will save £12 million. Well, colleagues, that is what 350 years of settled parliamentary democracy adds up to-we are going to save £12 million. Why stop there? Let us get rid of 300 Members of Parliament and save £72 million. There may be many good reasons for reducing the size of the House of Commons, but saving £12 million is not one of them. We trot out this ridiculous figure to appease the headline writers in the Daily Mail and the tabloid press, and those journalists who work for The Daily Telegraph, which is just a tabloid in a bow tie.

What really concerns me about this Bill is the fact that the Government talk about reducing the number of MPs to 600, but there is no mention of reducing the number of Ministers. What the Bill does, then, is to increase the patronage of the Executive. There will be yet more incentive for my colleagues to be good little boys and good little girls. That is what drives the public mad-seeing MPs say one thing in their constituency and doing another thing here in the hope of securing ministerial preferment.

I would personally like to see 450 MPs in the House of Commons, but only as part of the separation of powers where we remove the Executive from Parliament. The reason we have 650 Members of Parliament, colleagues, is so that at any given time-in the last Parliament, for example-300 of our number have either Front-Bench or shadow Front-Bench duties. As three hundred of our colleagues were taking their orders either from the Prime Minister or from the leader of their party, it left a mere 300 to 350 of us to hold the Government to account. I am all for reducing the number of MPs, but only as part of a far wider package of proper political reform.

To colleagues on all sides of the House, but particularly to my colleagues on the Government Benches, I say that there is a danger of politicising the issue of boundaries, as this reduction in the number of MPs so nakedly favours my party. I know that the system up to now, by an accident of design, has favoured the Labour party, but if this reform is to carry weight and legitimacy, it must be seen to be fair to all parties, not to the naked advantage of one party.

I have already mentioned what the public hate. They hate patronage; they hate politicians doing deals in smoke-filled rooms. Now, I support the coalition because it was the least worst of the options before us after the May general election, but let us be in no doubt that the coalition was agreed in a smoke-filled room by a few very powerful politicians at the head of two parties. I did not have a great deal of say in the formation of that coalition. I had no say in what policies were included or what policies were discarded. What happened actually transferred power further into the hands of a political elite.