Report (3rd Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 9th February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench 4:15 pm, 9th February 2011

My Lords, once upon a time there was a man called Procrustes. He made a very beautiful bed, and he liked people to come and lie on it. Being a man of very high and strict principle, he insisted that the bed and the people should fit. Unfortunately, he made the bed unalterable, so he had to make the people fit the bed. He either stretched them out a little if they were too small or chopped a little bit off if they were too tall, with painful, serious and sometimes fatal consequences for the people concerned. Quite apart from the consequences for the people concerned, Procrustes found his reputation deeply damaged; great hostility was shown towards him and there were demonstrations in the street.

Then four good, independent people came along and suggested a simple mechanism whereby some of the strain could be relieved. It was closely restricted; it could be used only in exceptional circumstances and for reasons of an extraordinarily compelling nature. It was a simple mechanism whereby, in these very exceptional cases, the bed could be stretched or shortened by a very small amount. The number of cases would be few but there would be cases in which the variety of human nature was recognised and allowed for and the painful consequences to which I have referred were avoided.

There were many arguments about the principle; it was thought to be very proper, good and strictly maintained. I am sorry to say that Procrustes grumbled greatly about the idea that there should be any stretching or changing of the bed. But in the end he accepted that there had been one or two cases which he agreed should be allowed past and the exceptions and exceptionally compelling reasons were such that the further breaches of the principle which would ensue would not be very serious or great. Therefore, grumbling, he accepted-to the relief of those few people whose lives and bodies were spared and, in the end, to the contentment of Procrustes himself, who accepted that this small degree of flexibility had enabled the bed to survive and the principle to be broadly maintained.