Report (3rd Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 9th February 2011.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 7:30 pm, 9th February 2011

My Lords, the debate has been dominated by realism and cynicism: realism from the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, who said that patronage had oiled the wheels of the Palace of Westminster since time immemorial, and cynicism from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who said that he did not trust the Government.

I am grateful to noble Lords for contributing to the debate. I see myself as a transitory Minister but a long-time believer in parliamentary checks and balances on the Executive. There is no difference between us on that. In Committee, we on these Benches outlined two key points that are worth returning to now. First, we are not at all against the spirit of the amendment. Since the Government came to power, they have demonstrated on several occasions that they believe in dispersing power. For example, they moved swiftly in the other place to implement the Wright committee recommendations to establish the Backbench Business Committee, passing control of much more parliamentary time to Back-Benchers and enabling them to elect the chairs and members of Select Committees by taking these decisions away from the Whips, who had such a dead hand on parliamentary democracy for so many years. I am too delicate to name the guilty men at this moment.

Noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, can be reassured that the Government are not looking to extend their influence. We are not seeking to expand the so-called payroll vote as a proportion of Members in the other place. However, we are not certain that legislating for this is necessary. We have said that we will look at all legislative and non-legislative options for addressing this-and we will-but we need to look at all the ramifications. For example, it might seem an odd consequence if we were to reduce the number of Ministers in one House by increasing the number of Ministers in another-this House. If the business of government demanded a larger number of Ministers who could not sit in the other place, that would be the only alternative. Ultimately, we want to be governed by the principle that the number of Ministers must be a function of need, which is not necessarily related to the number of MPs.