Amendment 11

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Charities), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues) , Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 4:00 pm, 8th October 2020

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Beith, said, our Constitution Committee accepted the move from parliamentary sign- off to automaticity, but it stressed that this change would

“only protect against undue political influence” if the Boundary Commissions were “genuinely independent”. As it said:

“This makes the selection and appointment of impartial Boundary Commissioners, independent of political influence, all the more important.”

As we have heard, it is hard to see how an appointment by an elected politician—a member of the Cabinet—can look independent, especially, I am sad to say, when this Government seek to appoint their own to run the BBC, Ofcom, NHS Test and Trace or other major bodies. Sadly, because we are all here now, we have not been able to watch Peter Riddell appear before the relevant committee in the House of Commons this afternoon, but I gather that he has interesting things to say about the expansion of appointments beyond the normal lines of restriction. As people have said, what looks bad is bad, even if it is not actually the case. However, as a good Welsh girl, I think that we should always have the Welsh to judge our rugby matches, as we would then win every single match.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon said, when the present system was set up, the appointments were overseen by the Lord Chancellor, who at that stage was a Member of your Lordships’ House and the head of the judiciary. The impartiality was guaranteed and outwith the purview of an elected politician.

Given that the recommendations of a boundary commission could affect even the seats of the Secretary of State’s own party, then no matter how much, like Brutus, they were an “honourable man”, or even an honourable woman, it is really hard to see how the appearance of disinterest could be demonstrated. As the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, said, it is perceived impartiality, and that is vital. The solution in this amendment is surely right, in that it would demonstrate that, as the commissions now effectively make law, with no parliamentary role, their decisions were patently free from any political taint. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, now that their decisions cannot be appealed, they effectively make law with the same force as any tribunal.

The second proposal—for non-renewable terms—is equally important to ensure that there is no temptation to curry favour with the reappointing Minister, nor, again, even an appearance of that. Our Constitution Committee, without endorsing the proposal, noted that the Commons committee had discussed ideas to strengthen independence, such as by single, non-renewable terms. However, even more important than any one thing, our Constitution Committee urged us to consider

“what safeguards are required to ensure the independence and impartiality of the Boundary Commissions and their recommendations.”

Sadly—and, I think, inexplicably—the Government have refused to produce any change in response to that call. Fortunately, however, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has done so, and we are happy to support that.