Amendment 11

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:45 pm, 8th October 2020

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has argued, the amendment reflects a constitutional principle. In an effective democracy, in which the power of the Executive is limited both by the rule of law and by the scrutiny of Parliament, regulatory authorities independent of undue executive influence play a vital role. Separation of powers between legislature, courts and Executive is central to constitutional democracy —and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, they must be seen to be separate.

We are all painfully aware of the baleful impact of gerrymandering in American politics. The institution of independent Boundary Commissions is there to ensure that political representation in the United Kingdom does not follow any distance down that path. The change in the position of the Lord Chancellor that took place in 2005 makes it entirely appropriate, therefore, that the Lord Chief Justice should now inherit that role in England.

Our current Government have recently demonstrated worrying tendencies towards authoritarian populism. Their attacks on the Supreme Court and on judicial review have uncomfortable echoes of the approaches of the Polish and Hungarian Governments. The Electoral Commission is now under sustained attack, including from a co-chairman of the Conservative Party, for attempting to enforce the rules on campaign spending and political advertising. Calls from some Conservatives for its abolition suggest that they reject regulation of electoral campaigning as such.

In addition, we have seen some recent calls in the Conservative press to throw over the idea that regulatory bodies should be independent of government. The argument is made that future appointments should come from people sympathetic to the Government’s approach, as against the “liberal elite”, who are thought to dominate the BBC, Ofcom and many other regulatory bodies.

I have been sorry on several occasions to hear the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, using the language of right-wing populism to claim that this Government represent “the people” against the elite. His political life has been rooted in Richmond—a place that contains, as he will know well, an unusually high proportion of the liberal elite. I hope that he does not call them “enemies of the people” or he must face difficulties with many of his neighbours.

This amendment is therefore not only valuable in its own right but a precedent in maintaining the autonomy of regulatory bodies, free from executive influence and control. For both those reasons, I hope that the House will give it its full support.