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Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill — Committee (14th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 26th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour 10:00 pm, 26th January 2011

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention and for his kind remarks, because he makes my point. The problem is that the Government have chosen to introduce in this Bill not only the referendum, which they need as a matter of urgency because of their political deal, and with which I have no difficulty, as I have said before, but also the reduction in the number of MPs.

A part of this change is in this Bill. My concern is that this Bill does not deal with the whole of it. I do not find it acceptable for the Government, with respect to the noble Lord who will answer this point, to say, "Well, don't worry, something will be looked at later". I am going to ask the Minister three questions now and he can think about them. What are the Government going to do about this? I have already drawn attention to the fact that on the Constitution Committee, when we asked Mr Clegg and Mr Mark Harper, the Minister, about the risk of increasing the power of the Executive, Mr Clegg said:

"There is a strong argument that says that you must look at this and adapt the number of people who are on the government payroll so that you do not get a lopsided imbalance between those on the payroll and those holding them to account".

If there is a strong argument-and I agree with him that there is-what is going to be done to deal with it?

Secondly, when is it going to be done? Vague statements about the boundary changes not coming into effect for some time and having been able to look at this by then are all very well-but when is this going to happen? Thirdly, will the Minister tonight in his reply commit to some method by which the reduction in the number of Members, if this House or Parliament adopts the proposals in the end, does not come into effect until there has been a satisfactory reduction in the number of Ministers, either as suggested in the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, or by that of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth? I would prefer to see that being dealt with in this Bill. I do not think it should be put off, which is why I support the amendment. At the very least, the Government should ask themselves what they are going to do, if the new politics are to have any credibility, in their proposals for increasing the power of the legislature, reducing the power of the Executive and giving more power to the people. So long as they do not give a clear, unconditional commitment on this question, that statement will appear just a mirage and a charade. Having got into power, they are happy, as many Governments have been in the past, simply to retain the reins of power and the patronage and ability to get their legislation through by having as many of their people as possible on the government Benches. For those reasons, I support the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.