Amendment 6

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Constitutional and Political Reform) 3:00 pm, 8th October 2020

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, has brought some very important, practical questions to your Lordships’ House this afternoon. I hope the Minister will be able to reply to them. The noble Lord speaks with a great deal of experience and expertise on these issues. It is significant that he has done the research to spot some potential difficulties.

In the meantime, I am full of admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. We have known each other for many years and I have a huge amount of respect for his experience of the way in which ministries, Whitehall generally and the House of Commons and House of Lords operate. He has almost unique experience. It is interesting that so many distinguished former MPs and Ministers have contributed to the development of this amendment at all stages, some of whom spoke again this afternoon. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Young, who must be one of the best experts to tell us about what happens behind the scenes, is wholly confident that the amendments he is now promoting, as he said, put these matters out of reach of political mischief. If they are totally out of reach of political mischief, we will be all be relieved; if he is confident of that, I take his word as very persuasive.

However, I take seriously the issues originally raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem and then referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Cormack—quite a trio. They were asking what exactly the exceptional circumstances were that would permit any return to a more lackadaisical approach to the timing of the tabling of these proposals from the Boundary Commissions. If the Boundary Commissions are, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, just said, absolutely specific and there is no room for manoeuvre for Ministers or the House of Commons, surely it should be a much smoother operation than is implied here, even in exceptional circumstances. I hope the Minister will explain in his response exactly what he has in mind.

We should pay tribute to the Minister. It is always a mark of a good Minister and a listening Government when there is a move between Committee and Report. There has been a move; the Government have accepted a change here and we should all welcome that. It is a sign of a Government who are prepared to think again, and that must be healthy.

It also indicates that this Bill is being improved in your Lordships’ House. I know there were some Conservative Members who thought it was rather inappropriate for the House of Lords to make any changes to a Bill that dealt specifically with elections to the other place. As a former Member of Parliament, I take exactly the opposite view; after all, there is a degree of self-interest at the other end of the corridor which we hope at this end we are largely able to avoid. We have a greater degree of impartiality in that respect.

As a result of two Divisions and likely support for this amendment, we now have some changes that will undoubtedly have to be considered in the other place. It is very healthy that MPs be asked to think again about these issues. As was mentioned in a previous debate, there is already substantial Conservative Back-Bench rethinking on the important issues of the 7.5% quota tolerance in preference to 5% and on the 10-year review period. I therefore hope that the fact that there is now government support for a government change to their Bill will be taken as an indication that our role in this House is to make sure that this Bill is improved before it goes back to the other place.