Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:28 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative 5:28 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, some dozen years ago I gave David Cameron a paper entitled Reducing the Cost of Politics. I stand by most of it. It covered, for instance, the fact that there are too many councillors—often people cannot get people to stand in council seats—and too many spads, far too many researchers in the Commons hanging around Portcullis House, too many Ministers and far too many Peers.

With regard to the House of Lords, I suggested a retrospective time limit, say 17 or 22 years, which is not that far from the Burns report suggestion. Yet when I put forward the idea of retrospectivity in a debate on the Burns report, I noticed that it was not met with universal acclaim in your Lordships’ House. I also suggested a Commons of some 500 Members. I remember that David Cameron said to me that “Turkeys will never vote for Christmas”, but then, and perhaps I had some influence on this, he put in the 2010 manifesto a reduction down to 600.

The reason why that was not carried through under the coalition was that the Liberal Democrats reneged on the commitment. My memory is better than those of the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Oates: the commitment to fewer constituencies was linked to the PR vote, which they lost. The Bill was very eloquently introduced by Nick Clegg, as my noble friend Lord Young said. He then realised that his party might lose seats so he betrayed the coalition agreement. That did not actually help the Lib Dems, who went down to eight seats from 57-odd—eight too many, some would say, but I did win some money on the bet.

As a former MP of 23 years, and like my noble friend Lord Hayward, who has great experience of this matter and of psephology, I know that the arguments around Boundary Commission recommendations are based very often on personal interest or party-political interest; indeed, my noble friend Lord Dobbs referred to them as “sordid party shenanigans”. MPs are worried about their own seats and parties are worried about their chances of winning elections. We hear complete nonsense spouted about why some change or other should not happen.

After 23 years as an MP I dismiss the idea that an MP cannot deal with 100,000 constituents. Of course they can—easily. I do not claim to have been an especially brilliant MP—I am sure that nobody will be really surprised to hear that—but I never had any complaints about not dealing with constituents’ problems. Quite the opposite—although you might not always have liked my way of dealing with them. There are too many Members of the House of Commons and there are far too many Peers. They start all-party parliamentary groups because they have got to keep themselves busy somehow. I do not support the Government in keeping 650 MPs. There are too many politicians. Let us reduce the size of the Commons and the Lords, and the number of politicians all round, and the cost of politics. That might start in some way to restore the damaged faith of the British public in politics and its practitioners. We should do the right thing.