Amendment 11

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour 3:45 pm, 8th October 2020

My Lords, I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and I encourage him to press his amendment to a vote. I do not wish to repeat the observations I made in Committee in support of the noble and learned Lord, save to say that, first, as he has outlined, the office of Lord Chancellor is much more political now that it is held in the Commons. Instead of a quasi-judicial figure who sat as a judge in the Supreme Court and usually had no further political aspirations, we now have a highly political and mobile politician as Lord Chancellor in the Commons; these are not personal remarks.

As one who campaigned for the Ministry of Justice to be headed by a Commons Minister, and welcomed that, because it is a spending department, I have no complaint. But a political Minister should not have his hands on the machinery of elections—or, indeed, anywhere near it. The office dealing with elections should be manifestly independent.

There is one point that I wish to repeat: it is a parallel and wider argument. I noted the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, a few moments ago, and in Committee I gave my experience as Secretary of State for Wales in appointing the chairman of the Welsh Local Government Boundary Commission. I certainly was a political Minister, and headed my party’s campaign in Wales for six years in my tenure as Secretary of State.

Local government boundaries are one of the building bricks of parliamentary constituency boundaries. On the previous amendment, the Minister confirmed that. I once lost the eastern part of my constituency because of a new county council boundary, and I had to be compensated by the addition of a number of wards from the same county council area to the rest of my constituency. My submission, therefore, is that not only should a judicial figure appoint the Boundary Commission, but the Government should also consider doing likewise for the Local Government Boundary Commission.

Since the power of appointment might already have gone over to the Government of Wales, it would too late to legislate for Wales. But the Government could certainly legislate for England. Indeed, I believe that they should do so. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s views. Local government boundaries are inextricably linked to parliamentary boundaries, and decisions should be politically distanced on both of them.