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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 26th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative 10:45 pm, 26th January 2011

My Lords, I was tempted by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, who suggested that we were in seminar mode. In that case I might feel the need to start allocating marks, and one or two people might not come out of it too well. I was initially encouraged by my noble friend's "but", although it was not as big a "but" as I would have liked. I hope between now and Report that he will go away and reflect on it so that if there are to be proposals, he can put a bit more flesh on the bone so that we know what they are going to be. I regard this to be as important as reducing the number of MPs. There is an extraordinarily important constitutional point about the relationship between the House of Commons and the part of it that forms the Government.

My noble friend made the legitimate point that the amendment cannot take into account the number of PPSs in the Commons. I understand that it cannot really be dealt with by statute. However, I hope that we might address it separately because there is an issue about PPSs, not just in quantity but in their role. Over time their latitude to vote against the Government has been constricted, and I am concerned now by how they are dealt with in the Ministerial Code, in which they are essentially members of the Government for the purpose of voting but Back-Benchers for the purpose of sitting on Select Committees. That is an issue to be pursued. The obvious point in the context of what my noble friend was saying is that if you reduce the number of Ministers, you reduce the number of people who require PPSs, so to some extent that addresses part of the problem but there is quite a long way still to go.

This is an extraordinarily important issue, so I hope my noble friend will reflect on what he has heard. I am grateful for the support that I have received from all parts of the Chamber, not least from the noble Lord opposite. The only point that I will make is that my amendment has an advantage over that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in that it comes up with a whole number. If one reduces the number proportionately, one ends up with a reduction of something like seven and a half Ministers. An incredibly important issue is at stake here, and I hope that my noble friend will reflect very seriously on it. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 91A (to Amendment 91) withdrawn.