Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:48 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 6:48 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, there is much to welcome in this Bill. In particular, I strongly welcome the specified constituency proposed for Ynys Môn, which rectifies a mistake made previously and provides a consistency of principle across the UK that is entirely appropriate. However, I have some reservations about the Executive appearing to promote a principle of independence from politics in the decision-making around future Boundary Commission reviews. That additional power to the Executive contradicts that supposedly principled approach and needs to be investigated very carefully at the different stages of the Bill in this House.

Having listened to the debate, I will change my third point to a more substantial one. I worry that this is yet another piecemeal change to the governance of the United Kingdom. The Bill is largely welcome. I do not support the increase back to 650 MPs; we have too many politicians in this country. We should look to reform all our government structures to make sure that the representation of the people is more effective at different levels, rather than necessarily focusing on the number of MPs in the House of Commons. Frankly, if the number of MPs is to be increased again through legislation, it would be a very good time to decrease the numbers in your Lordships’ House by way of compensation. Perhaps that is something the Prime Minister might want to reflect on in the coming days, if rumours are to be believed.

More generally, we now have a number of elected mayors. Last week we discussed in your Lordships’ Chamber the new authority for part of Yorkshire. We have a constantly evolving devolution settlement in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For example, in Northern Ireland, despite all the difficulties of the last few decades, the Executive have apparently outperformed the Governments of the other parts of the United Kingdom during this Covid emergency. That has been a tremendous success for their co-operation.

We also have a long-standing problem with the credibility and authority of your Lordships’ House. The matter of venue might be up for debate, but so should membership as part of any ongoing review of our governance structure. These kinds of changes—the independence of boundary review proposals and the number of Members in the House of Commons—should be made in a wider context that includes consideration of the second Chamber, of devolution that is happening to regions and city mayors, and of our relationship with the three devolved nations. While the Bill is very welcome, it is another piecemeal move, perhaps in the right direction, but which should have been part of a bigger picture. I hope it will be at some point soon.