Committee (7th Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 10th January 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 6:15 pm, 10th January 2011

I apologise. I misunderstood what the noble Lord said. Obviously, further work would need to be done. I am happy to say that when I said further work was required, the noble Lord nodded-that is the point that I am making. First, what is the workload on a Member of Parliament and what is the right size for Parliament in relation to that consideration?

Secondly, what should be the basis of determining the constituencies? Of course, I think that it should be the electoral register, though there is an issue about population. There is a respectable view that says, where you have constituencies which have very significant populations which are much higher than the electoral register, those constituencies should, in some way, reflect that increase in the size of the population. For example, just as we have a geographical limit because we think it is too far for an MP to travel all around the constituency, is there a population limit above the electoral register which should have some effect on the size of constituencies?

Thirdly, the purpose of the deviation figure of 5 per cent from the electoral quota is to ensure that constituencies are broadly the same size. That would lead to a difference in the size of constituencies of about 7,000 if 76,000 is the average size of a constituency. The purpose is to get rid of what is described as the malproportion factor. Published work, in particular by Thrasher and Rallings, and by Lewis Baston, suggests that a deviation figure of 10 rather than 5 per cent would have the same effect in reducing the malproportion figure yet at the same time allow one, in determining constituencies, to keep communities together and not have the radical effect that the government proposals would have. What work have the Government done on whether 5 or 10 per cent would make a substantial difference to malproportion? Has any research been done on that? What effect on, for example, crossing county boundaries would a 10 per cent as opposed to a 5 per cent deviation have? The Government will not be able to answer all these questions; I am asking about the research that is being done on them.

Thirdly, what effect will this have on the Executive? Reducing the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 will increase the size of the Executive and reduce the number of Back-Benchers. Is it the intention of the Government to stick with that? If so, what effect will that have on Parliament as a place to hold the Executive to account?

Fourthly, what will be the effect of removing local boundary reviews that can be conducted in person? These reviews have had a 64 per cent effect on changing constituency boundaries. What work has been done to determine the effect on the reliability and acceptance of the boundaries that removal of the reviews will have?

If the Government will not answer those questions or have not done the work, the questions should be answered by somebody. This is not a great reform like the 1832 Act, as the Prime Minister said; it needs work doing on it. The effect of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Wills is that that work can be done. As my noble friend Lord Boateng said, our democracy is something that we rightly prize. The idea of rushing into this change, which has the support only of one side of the Houses of Parliament-let alone of either the country or the rest of the world-is wrong. It is not an acceptable justification to say that the Tory party agreed it with the Liberal Democrats between Friday and Tuesday after the latest general election. That looks like the worst sort of political gerrymandering. I ask the Government to reconsider and to give ground in relation to an independent look at the changes that they are making.