Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:31 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Conservative 7:31 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, there was much wisdom in my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s observations, but Members of Parliament do like to represent real communities; it gives them the opportunity to represent a distinctive voice. That is far better than being on a party list, where courage tends to increase the higher up the list you are. It has always been about balance between communities and the electoral quota. After 20 years, the numbers are simply out of kilter: at one extreme, there are 21,000 in a constituency, and at the upper extreme, 111,000. This is what happens when a review goes on for too long and the gap becomes too great.

The changes are simply a reflection of the changes in the population. If there is a fixed number of seats, there has to be an electoral quota. As the former Deputy Prime Minister said,

“it is patently obvious that individuals’ votes should carry the same weight, and if that means reforming the rules for drawing boundaries, that is what we must do.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/10; col. 35.]

I may be the last Member of the clan to agree with Nick, but there is some sense in that.

There has been much talk of the 5%, but minus 5% or plus 5% means 10%. So, when we talk about 7.5%, we are really talking about 15%, or when we talk about 10%, we are really talking about 20%—and 20% is incompatible with fair votes. Of course, there will be movement in parliamentary seats, but that just reflects what is happening on the ground.

I have prepared many schemes for boundary reviews, submitted evidence and appeared before a local inquiry, and I do not have the slightest doubt that the Boundary Commission is scrupulously fair. Where we have seen dirty work at the crossroads, it has always been by the political system, be it hiding behind Parliament, the Government voting down their own recommendations, dubious challenges in the courts, or some in your Lordships’ House getting into a strop over the loss of the AV referendum. I therefore welcome the automatic nature of the acceptance of the Boundary Commission: to an extent, it removes much of the temptation to interfere, but in truth it simply raises the bar.

Although I am open-minded, I thought that my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham made a reasonable point about setting a time period for laying the recommendations. I look forward to hearing the Government’s considered response to this idea of a self-denying ordinance.

Finally, I congratulate my noble friend for the way in which he introduced the Bill. However, I thought that he made a mistake: he was far too eloquent, far too erudite and far too competent. I am afraid that he will find himself in very high demand in future.