Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:40 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 4:40 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, there are many positive aspects to the Bill, but I will concentrate on a couple of points. First, with regard to who finally decides, we have a view in this country that if you appoint an outside body, everybody on it is therefore independent and impartial. The trouble with that is that they are not accountable; for better or ill, Members of the House of Commons are. It would be worth looking again at this proposal because, if a body is accountable, the political decision clearly lies there. We cannot push all our key decisions to third parties and not be prepared to take tough decisions ourselves. While there is, of course, self-interest in having the power to decide, that is what the House of Commons is there for. Members are elected to the House of Commons to take decisions, not to farm them out to somebody else.

There is an issue about flexibility. Having equal constituencies and votes of equal weight is an impossibility when you have already set aside special circumstances for geography, which I fully accept. It is an unachievable dream.

I would like the Minister to run over another issue. We have four boundary commissions. Why? We are talking about seats in the House of Commons—a UK-wide Parliament. Following the recent 2018 review of parliamentary boundaries, our Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland was taken to court and lost the case. It was said that it had fettered its discretion. We can achieve the same goal of having local input by having people from all four nations on a boundary commission. We did that recently with the formation of the agriculture commission. So we need to look at that. If people think that our boundary commission is so good at local knowledge, it came up with a constituency that looked like a sausage—it had neither shape nor make nor any coherence to it. So I am not convinced that having four outfits trying to do the job of one is necessarily the best way forward. Perhaps that is something we can look at in Committee.

In general I support the Second Reading, but there are some very good points to argue. Farming decisions out to third parties is not necessarily the best way to do things.