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It is a great honour and a privilege to follow Paul Flynn; I spent 13 years living in his constituency trying to get rid of him with absolutely no success whatsoever. While we hardly agree on anything, he is undoubtedly a leading parliamentarian, and I am pleased, in the best possible sense, that he is now back on the Back Benches and not constrained by being on the Labour Front Bench.
I congratulate Pat Glass on choosing this most important subject to be debated on one of the 13 private Member’s Bill days we have in this House, and congratulate all the Members who have made the effort to attend today. I hope that we will get a Division on this Bill and the House will decide one way or the other.
I also congratulate the hon. Lady on the tone in which she introduced the Bill. I thought it was the right tone. There are party political issues, as the hon. Member for Newport West said, and I will touch on them, but the hon. Lady got to the heart of the matter: this is about Parliament and scrutiny. I did spend a brief moment in her constituency during the EU referendum campaign, and it was a really pleasant constituency. I met people from many different parties, and it is a great shame from her constituency point of view that she has decided not to stand again.
I am also following another parliamentarian of great skill, my right hon. Friend Mr Harper, who I thought when he first came to this House was definitely destined to become a great parliamentarian, which he is. He has, unfortunately, been contaminated by becoming a Government Minister, but now he is back, although he has not quite lost that contamination. In a couple of years, he will be back supporting Parliament and not worrying about the Executive.
I thought I would look back to how this all started. This was part of a backroom deal done when the coalition came to power. The Liberal Democrats wanted a vote on changing the parliamentary system, and the Conservative party wanted to equalise the seats, not because it really believed that was fair—although it is fair and the right thing to do—but because it was thought it would give the Conservatives more seats. That is the truth of the matter. To put the other side of the coin, I should say that there are many sitting on the Opposition Benches who are interested in this for reasons of self-interest, too. But I bet most of the Members in the House today are here for the fundamental issue of Parliament versus Government.
Sadly, I cannot see a single Liberal Democrat in the House today, including the former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, who—I am sorry to have to correct my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean—was the Minister who introduced the Second Reading of the Bill that started all this. I thought it would be interesting to see how the hon. Member for North West Durham voted on Second Reading of that Bill, which took place on
This issue goes back, therefore, to something the hon. Member for Newport West touched upon: the balance between the Executive and Parliament. Since what we might loosely call the expenses scandal, Parliament has been getting more powers back. We have had a Speaker who has put Parliament first and championed it, we have had Select Committees, and we have had other movements in that direction, including the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee. All the moves have been to take power away from the Executive and give it to Parliament. This move, however, completely reverses that trend.
I am all in favour of broadly equal-sized seats. That is fair, within a threshold, and I would be happy for the Committee scrutinising this Bill to look at that issue. The hon. Member for Newport West made the point that there were exceptions for certain geographical areas. The previous proposals referred to the Isle of Wight and to what I call the Western Isles, which had two constituencies. I think that that makes sense, and we should consider whether that could be expanded for certain constituencies—but I want to get back to the Executive.
The Electoral Reform Society has said that if there were a general election under the proposed new arrangements and the same proportion of MPs were to be elected as there are now, 43% of Conservative MPs would be on the payroll. That cannot possibly be right. We should not all be here to be in government. There are two equal roles for an MP, one of which is to scrutinise Bills that go through this House. Ever since the Blair years, the Bills that have come to this House have been programmed. Sometimes we do not even debate certain clauses of a Bill, and it is actually the other place that does the proper scrutiny. The elected Members here should have the time to carry out that scrutiny.