Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:09 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Conservative 5:09 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, as always, and share in the pride he takes in his roots. I am not sure that he sufficiently emphasised one important point: that it is not possible to be fair to Welsh, or Irish, or Scottish voters without at the same time being fair to English voters too. It is that sense of balance between us that allows us to take strength in our differences and move forward.

The Bill comes against a long background of sordid party shenanigans, and that has been part of this issue for decades. I was first a voter in a general election in 1970. It was an election that the Labour Government tried to tweak, or fix, perhaps, by voting down its own Boundary Commission report. Who will forget the somersaults performed by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition who, having time and again promised voters their voice in a Brexit referendum, changed their minds only when it no longer suited them? So much for political virtue: “Dear Lord, may I be chaste and virtuous, but not just yet.”

We know that we need the Bill: it is long overdue. We will discuss the finer merits of 5%, 6% or 7.5% and dance on the head of a pin, although I think the Opposition need to do much better in identifying why their favoured target is better than 5%—which, of course, means 10%—because the further we get away from it, the less equal the outcome will be.

I say this about parliamentary oversight and automaticity. Frankly, it goes against all my instincts to hand over too much power to a quango, a Boundary Commission. You have only to witness the appalling record of the Electoral Commission for all doubts to magnify. Yet Parliament has shown that it is not up to the job of being both judge and jury. On the other hand, my caution about quangos still kicks in, particularly in an age of social media lynch mobs. Does the Minister have any plans to strengthen the independence and judgment of the Boundary Commissions and to protect them in their work?

This is a Bill that would have been welcomed by Chartists and suffragettes alike, and I hope that this unelected House will welcome it too.