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 Boateng Lord Boateng Labour 7:15 pm, 9th February 2011

My Lords, patronage has oiled the wheels of the Palace of Westminster since time immemorial, and we should not inveigle too much against it, particularly those of us who have been its beneficiaries-and quite a few on all sides of the House have been. Nevertheless, these amendments are important, because they are not against patronage per se-it has its place-but they seek proportion; that is all. They seek balance in order to prevent the abuse of patronage, which we have to be vigilant in guarding against.

Those of us who take our friends and former constituents around these august halls always stop at perhaps the most important picture in the Palace of Westminster-that of Charles I being gainsaid by the then Speaker when he came to arrest the five Members. It is a wonderful picture, not least because it embodies the principle to which traditionally we have adhered ever since those times: at the end of the day, what matters above all in this place is the capacity of the Back-Bencher to make a difference and to hold the Executive to account.

We live in different times from those of Mr Speaker Lenthall, the five Members and Charles I. None of us will lose our heads as a result of how we vote. None of us will be put in the same peril as Members were in those days. Nevertheless, the exercise of the power of patronage and the threat of the withdrawal of patronage-and I am cognisant of where I stand in relation to those who sit behind me-is a real power in the hands of the Executive. We seek with these amendments to make sure that that power is exercised proportionately. As my noble friends have said, that is an important constitutional point, and this House has given considerable attention in recent weeks to the importance of upholding our constitution and its traditions. The Palace of Westminster has sent more constitutions to more countries than any other Parliament in the world. That is something of which the House should be proud, because in the main the export of constitutional democracy has been to the advantage of our world. However, I cannot think of a single instance-perhaps the Minister will help me on this-when this House has sent a constitution to a former colony or dominion and not required that at least two-thirds of those elected to power under that constitution have supported it before it comes into effect. Yet I fear, on this as on many other issues, that the strictures of the Constitution Committee have been cast to one side, the previously expressed opinions of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on the validity of the substance of the amendment have been cast to one side, and we are about to see something of profound constitutional significance railroaded through this House. That must be a matter of regret and I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will think twice before they fail to support the amendments.