Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:38 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 5:38 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, I am amazed to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, can do from north to south in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, where I live, in an hour and a half. It takes me two hours, or perhaps one hour and 50 minutes if my wife is driving, so it is wonderful that she can do it so speedily, But—and here is the point—at the moment the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency has 53,000 electors. The quota under the new system will be 72,000: in other words, it will have to put on 19,000 electors. Where are they to be: north, south, west or across in another valley? It beggars belief that such a proposition could be seriously put before this Parliament.

I want to join the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Hayward, in regretting the recent death of my very good friend Ron Johnston, who was the great academic expert on all things boundaries. Without him, consideration of this Bill feels a bit like “Hamlet” without the prince. This Bill is “Hamlet” without the prince. It puts right a whole lot of things in the Bill that your Lordships’ House destroyed in 2011—except its worst feature: namely, the 5% plus or minus differential between the size of electorates. I could go—and no doubt in Committee may go—into the full details of the poverty of the arguments put in favour of that, but I want to make a political argument, because that is the only thing that ever convinces this Government, in my experience.

The previous boundary reform fell apart because Tory MPs found that their constituencies were being messed with and they had to fight the Tory MP in the next-door constituency to decide who should be the candidate, when they preferred to be fighting the Labour Party—and I can understand that. The Whips got fed up, so the Minister did not lay the orders and nothing changed. Although going from 600 to 650 helps, I can tell noble Lords that the same thing will happen this time. In three years, when the penny has dropped, Tory MPs will find themselves fighting each other for the new seats that have been formed out of chunks of their old seats—and that is going to happen every eight years, ad infinitum, unless something is done about it. Indeed, I look forward, with considerable anticipation, to the moment when the then-vulnerable noble Lord, Lord True, stands up before this House and does his Callaghan, proposing that we get rid of this Bill because we have to get rid of the 5% variation.