My Lords, first I comment on the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to “party hacks”. I shall disregard that description, given that I spent so many hours, days and weeks at so many inquiries, initially, and then hearings, and I take his comment in the spirit in which I hope it was intended.
This amendment is really divided, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, identified, into three sections—and it is important that we treat them as such. First, there is the historical accident, as I think it probably was, in 2005, when the circumstances changed. The amendment attempts to bring back the position in England and Wales to where it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland, of total impartiality.
The noble and learned Lord touched on the point that it has to be seen to be independent. Today I am wearing the rugby tie of the House of Commons and House of Lords. Many noble Lords will know that I am a fervent rugby supporter and participant; in many ways it is probably more important to me than my membership of this place. The near-neighbour of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Nigel Owens, is not allowed to referee at the Millennium Stadium except at a club match, because he might be accused of bias, if Wales were playing another country. Nobody believes that Nigel Owens would be biased, but there is that risk. Equally, Wayne Barnes, who was voted last year’s Referee of the Year, was not allowed to referee the World Cup Final, for exactly the same reason: England was in the final.
This amendment addresses an exactly parallel situation. Two years ago I went to Zimbabwe to monitor the elections. We all know that elections, if they are fixed, are fixed not on voting day but by the processes beforehand. Sad though I am, I looked at the size of the constituencies in Zimbabwe. Funnily enough, they had not been reformed for years. The most anti-Government constituencies were in Harare and Bulawayo, and they were the largest constituencies. If we Brits had said to the Zimbabweans, “You should deal with the question of boundary redistribution”, the automatic response from the Zimbabwean Government—what I would have said as a member of that Government—would have been, “Well, you have a political Minister making the appointments to your own commission”. That is why it is important that we bring the position back into line with Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, on the second part of his amendment. I have indicated that to him. He refers to appointments by the Speaker. I discussed this with the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and he said that I was over-reacting to the previous Speaker. Lindsay Hoyle has made untold improvements in that position, and we are all very pleased that he has taken us back to a traditional Speakership. Long may he continue in those efforts. I would not, however, want to put appointments in the hands of the Speaker, because of what I have seen could happen in recent years.
The third part of the amendment deals with one-off appointments. I had a view for several years—this was touched on in Grand Committee—that when you appoint somebody to a Boundary Commission they sit there for years doing virtually nothing, and then they are under extreme pressure for a period of time. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their local government boundary reviews and parliamentary boundary reviews handled by one body. Surely it would be better to do the same in England and Wales, so that these organisations would not lose the expertise acquired in handling one set of boundary reviews—it would be cumulative, and they would take it to the next review.
I have made three different comments in relation to the three different parts of the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. They tackle the problem in very different ways, but I would have hoped that the Government could have accepted, in particular, the impartiality in the first part of the amendment.