Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:58 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 6:58 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord True, said that this was the first Bill he was taking through the House—well, welcome. It is also a Bill on which he will hear more special pleading, with, coincidentally, most of it being in the interests of the party making it.

I will start by reminding noble Lords of the historic cry for “Equal votes of equal value.” In this debate, we seem to have done a lot of asking for special favours to make votes less equal. Also, it is fine to talk about registering people, but we are doing so against the background that at least two, often three and sometimes more in every 10 voters do not vote at all. They are on the register, but they do not vote.

The next point that I would like to make is this. You can have your peculiar constituency anomalies and you can have fairness if you have the German system where there are two votes, one of which elects the party and the other elects the constituency representative. For at least 30 years, I have been a supporter of proportional representation, and the only Private Member’s Bill I have had debated in the House was on that subject. But I find it difficult to believe that we are living in a full democracy when the Greens are so badly underrepresented and the SNP is currently overrepresented —although for a time it, too, was underrepresented. Although this is a limited Bill, we should not lose sight of the wider principles that we are dealing with.

One area where I have sympathy with the changes being proposed in the Bill has been referred to by a number of noble Lords, although the first to do so was my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. We have to get to a position where, if the Boundary Commission is going to be independent of political interference, Clause 2 must be changed and the words

“As soon as reasonably practicable” replaced with a much firmer formula.

My final point is this. I have been through a lot of Boundary Commission decisions on the fringe in both the Labour and the Conservative parties. My experience has been that the Labour Party is much better at discipline, so I would counsel my party, the Conservatives: “Get your act together. Don’t get in the position that I was in, where one Conservative association was appealing against the Boundary Commission’s decision and it was being opposed by another Conservative association.” One of the reasons for losing out is when you do not think it out, and that is something which has to be done.