Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:56 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative 4:56 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, I welcome this Bill to address the inconsistencies in the composition of constituencies. I shall keep my remarks as brief as I can in view of the inordinate length of the speakers’ list.

It is ridiculous that in a modern, vibrant democracy, we still operate elections to the House of Commons based on data from 2000, and 2001-03 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Your Lordships will be aware that the attempts to address this in 2011 were postponed until 2013, and in 2013 until 2018, because it seemed unlikely that the other place would approve any changes both to the size of constituencies and, more importantly, to their overall number.

Of course, the electorate deserve not just to be properly but fairly represented. As with any rules, there are exceptions—such as the Isle of Wight, Orkney, the Shetlands and now Anglesey—to be taken into account, as the Bill quite rightly does. However, the differentials between seats have become too great over the passage of time, and it is quite clear that change has been resisted, particularly by Labour, to seek electoral advantage. I suppose that that is not as bad as trying to seek electoral advantage by altering the whole system in your favour, as the Lib Dems unsuccessfully tried to do—which seems neither liberal nor democratic, but I suppose one should not be too surprised about that.

The significant change in the Bill from the proposals made in 2011 and 2013 is of course the reversion from 600 to 650 seats. I have listened very carefully to the debate but I still have no idea what the right number should be. Perhaps one of the next 42 speakers will enlighten us. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that it is not exactly a revolutionary change, but it is clear to me that the Government have made this significant concession to ensure that the Bill is enacted and the electorate get the fairer representation they need. The Government have justified the change in that policy by citing the increase in the workloads of MPs following our departure from the EU. I hope that the Government recognise that that increase in work at one end of the Corridor will inevitably lead to an even greater increase in work in your Lordships’ House, which already habitually sits for longer hours and more days than the Commons—as evidenced by our sitting today while our honourable and right honourable friends frolic on the beaches.

I therefore hope that the Government will ignore the currently fashionable but woolly-headed idea that this House is too large. A House whose membership is largely part-time obviously requires more Members than a House of full-time Members if it is to fulfil its role, particularly if its workload is greater. That is just simple logic. However, I suspect that that change in the Government’s policy in relation to the size of the House of Commons may have had rather more to do with the realisation that turkeys do not vote for Christmas. Perhaps the Government will remember that when they turn their attention to the future of this House.