Report (3rd Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 9th February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 7:15 pm, 9th February 2011

My Lords, this is about the size of the Executive. The effect of this amendment would be to reduce the size of the Executive in proportion to the reduction in the number of MPs. There is no issue that it should not happen. Not surprisingly, Mr Nicholas Clegg declared before the election:

"I want to be clear: I am talking about a major reorganisation of Whitehall ... As a result of our restructure the number of Ministers and government whips would be reduced from 119 to 73".

Mr David Cameron, now the Prime Minister, in a lecture entitled "Rebuilding Trust in Politics", sounded a similar note, promising:

"We'd want to reduce the power of the executive and increase the power of Parliament ... We've got to give Parliament its teeth back so that people can have pride in it again-so they can look at it and say 'yes: those MPs we elect-they're holding the government to account on my behalf'".

The effect of reducing the number of MPs by 50 without decreasing the number of officeholders entitled to sit and vote in the House of Commons by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 is to increase the size of the government Front Bench proportionate to the number of Back-Benchers.

In Committee the noble Lord the Leader of the House said that,

"there is a very serious underlying point and that is the fear that the proportion of the Executive will increase as the number of Members of Parliament falls. I understand that there is an impatience in this Committee to know how the Government will address that fact. I am trying to be as helpful as I can but there is a limit to the helpfulness."

You can say that again. He went on:

"We have said that we will address this issue and we will, but there is plenty of time to legislate before 2015 if we need to. The Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform told the Constitution Committee, of which my noble friend and the noble and learned Lord are members, that we will bring forward proposals during this Parliament. That is in good time as the reduction in the size of the other place will not yet have taken effect. I hope that is a sufficient reassurance".-[Hansard, 26/1/11; col. 1058.]

No; that is, on the scale of reassurance, nil. Do we trust this Government to introduce measures to reduce the number of Ministers in the other place? No we do not. The only way to deal with that is if Parliament is prepared to do it by saying, "Let's reduce the number of Ministers", as Mr Nicholas Clegg, Mr David Cameron and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde-the triumvirate on which the Government are based-said they would. I do not trust them to do it in 20 years. In those circumstances, I invite the House to do it. I beg to move.