Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:24 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 4:24 pm, 27th July 2020

I agree with the Minister that it would be absurd to fight the next election on boundaries that are a quarter of a century old, but let us not exaggerate the good that the Bill does. It will not give every citizen an equal say in the nation’s affairs. It cannot while we hang on to first past the post, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, reminded us, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, reminded us, while we reject automatic registration, leaving off the register 9 million eligible people, primarily poorer, younger and from minority-ethnic communities. Automatic registration works elsewhere. Democracy demands it here.

My chief concern is the cohesion of the kingdom. We are told that Scotland will lose three seats and Wales will lose eight seats. Are we sure that statistical tidiness makes political sense? Right now, I oppose the 2011 Act, which would have culled six Scottish seats, so of course I welcome Clause 5, but it does not address the elephant in the room: the growing perception in Scotland, Wales, and now, strikingly, in Northern Ireland—because of the Johnson frontier in the Irish Sea—that the voices of the smaller nations go unheard. The Bill will not weaken and may slightly strengthen that perception.

If it were not against the spirit of the age, I would suggest that the Government reflect on the allocation of seats in the European Parliament, which has from the start favoured smaller member states, as has the Council’s voting systems. If it were not against their perceived party interests, the Government could have proposed amending Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act to allow the Boundary Commissions to consider the additional criterion of peripherality, and to take more account of sparsity of population. The more distant a constituency, the harder the job of representing it. To drive to the highland constituency represented for so long by Lord Maclennan of Rogart, whom we greatly miss, would take 12 hours; to drive across it would take two more hours. For distant rural seats, it would make sense to widen the permitted 5% variation. To do so makes sound strategic sense if we really think that our endangered union is precious.

“Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom”.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord True, knows his Burke.