All 5 Lord Hayward contributions to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020

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Mon 27th Jul 2020
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Tue 8th Sep 2020
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Thu 10th Sep 2020
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Tue 15th Sep 2020
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Thu 8th Oct 2020
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Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Lord Hayward Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 27th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, first, I hope that I am correct in wishing the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, a happy birthday. Secondly, I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about the sad death of Professor Ron Johnston, who would have given evidence to the committee in the other place had he not died so tragically only a few days before he was due to do so. He was a man of great and impartial expertise, to whom the political geography of redistribution came so naturally—and so charmingly to everyone he spoke to.

Given the brevity that we are required to maintain in the debate, at this stage I intend to speak on only one aspect of the Bill: Clause 5, on the number of Members of Parliament. No doubt I will return to other more contentious matters at a later stage, such as automaticity, quotas and the like, but I should add that I broadly support the other elements of the Bill as they stand.

We have too large a political class in this country. It has inflated beyond a level that is acceptable in a modern western democracy. I am therefore disappointed to see that we are moving away from 600 MPs, a number which, as far as I was concerned, was far too many. In his opening comments, the Minister justified moving back to 650 MPs in part because of Brexit. I would have sympathy with that argument were it not for the fact that when we went into the EU, no one suggested that we should reduce the number of Members of Parliament.

When we went into the EU, and when the last EU legislation was passed in 1986, we had only two elected bodies in the United Kingdom, one in Stormont and one in Westminster. The 1986 Act states:

“The number of constituencies in Great Britain shall not be substantially greater or less than 613.”


We currently have 19 more MPs than the Act recommended, and since 1986 we have added 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament, 60 Members of the Senedd Cymru, 12 more Members at Stormont, 25 Members of the GLA, 41 police and crime commissioners, and elected mayors in Merseyside, Manchester, Watford, Bedford, Teesside and the like. Then, of course, we have 792 Members of this House which, sadly, is just about to be heavily inflated, a decision that I greatly regret, particularly given that so many of the people who will be undertaking that process had said themselves that they wanted to reduce the burden of government on individuals.

Where I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is that if we have a certain number of Members of Parliament, we should also have control over the Executive. We have much larger Houses than most other democracies. If we reduce the number of MPs to what I believe to be an acceptable level, there should be some way of acknowledging the control of the Executive. That is the job of both these Houses. But at the same time as we have been adding elected bodies in one form or another, depending on how you make the calculations we currently have 120 Ministers and Whips, a not quite record 42 Parliamentary Private Secretaries, and 109 special advisers—a number that in itself is up from 27 in 1987, almost the same point at which the legislation was passed.

We should reduce the number of people who govern this country, not just stabilise the total at 650. Given that I read the Sunday Times yesterday, I hope that soon—possibly in Committee—we might have what one might describe as a Quentin Letts amendment. We should restrict the numbers in this place and the Commons.

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Lord Hayward Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 8th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, before I pick up on the specific question of automaticity, I will pick up on one or two comments made by other noble Lords during this discussion. In relation to the timetabling and inadequate consideration, I have sympathy with that view but, given the timing process that one faces in terms of completing a full boundary review, a timetable must be set so the Boundary Commissions from the different countries can go through that due process. In terms of timetabling, that process is set out and, in fact, in this particular piece of legislation, had the agreement of the Electoral Commission and the other Boundary Commissions as well as the other political parties involved in the discussion. The slight foreshortening of the timetable has been agreed, but it means that we need to complete the legislation within a certain timescale. I have sympathy as to whether this should be considered in Grand Committee or on the Floor of the House—no question about that—but the circumstances we face are somewhat different.

When talking about inadequate consideration, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, also talked about trusting or not trusting the Executive. This clause takes the power away from the Government and gives it to the Boundary Commissions in the different countries.

Just as an aside, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, made reference to reducing numbers of politicians without any hesitation. It may reflect that I am a sad git, really, but I turned up the extract from the BBC for October 2019. At Second Reading, I said that we should have fewer politicians, not more. On 19 October, Italy voted to reduce its lower House from 630 to 400. Significantly, it also voted to reduce its upper House from 315 to 200, and that is in the process of being implemented.

I seek guidance—and it may be that the Minister can clarify this now or at some other point. I read the Constitution Committee’s report somewhat differently. Paragraph 4, which I have in front of me, says:

“The removal of Parliament’s power to block Boundary Commission recommendations is constitutionally appropriate and therefore welcome.”


Others have cited it, but that seemed to me to be an indication that it was acceptable.

And acceptable it is. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, to whom I always listen with great care, referred to the fact that there had been no discussion—but this is not a constitutional aberration. As the Minister said, in his response at Second Reading, it operates in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. I pointed out to him after the debate that it also operates in India. This is a process that has worked for decades in a large number of countries, and there has been no objection. The run-up to the New Zealand election is going on at the moment, and there has been no objection that I have been able to trace.

I had discussions some 10 years ago when, I am afraid, it is probably my fault that I coined the word “automaticity”. I was in discussions with the then Australian commissioner about the Australian process. It works well in Australia, New Zealand and other countries. I have checked with Tom Rogers, the current Australian electoral commissioner, and I thank them both for their help in relation to the details of the process. So this is not some constitutional aberration that does not exist and has not operated anywhere else.

The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, raised the question, quite reasonably, of changing the numbers—from 650 to 600, or some other number—but that would still have to go through primary legislation. I have here the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, to which there has been reference. All those considerations would have to be made to change the existing primary legislation—and, significantly, this is the process that one is following, which leads up to automaticity. We have a judge-led commission process. There is a series of stages that one goes through, which under the current legislation, on page 11 of the Act, are bound by the factors in Section 5. You have to follow certain guidelines. Clearly, if the commissions failed to follow those guidelines as outlined in the rules, it would be perfectly reasonable for somebody to go to court and say that they had not followed those rules—any of the Boundary Commissions. We will come back to certain other elements as well. But it is a judge-led process; it is not some process that has been thought up and is part of a government appointment. It is fully independent. On the actual discussions, I have not heard anything so far that persuades me that automaticity should not be adopted. It is a perfectly reasonable process.

What is significant about the discussions and the comments that we have had so far is that while people have referred to the efforts of the aborted reviews and the associated legislation, not one person has referred to 1969 or 1983, which saw specific attempts by government to interfere with the final stage of the process. This clause and set of clauses find another way whereby Governments cannot interfere with the process. There are quotes in relation to 1969, in particular, in which members of that Government acknowledge that they were operating on a constitutionally unsound basis.

As far as I am concerned, we have here a process that is tested in other countries. It is independent. It goes through a whole series of stages of independence and due consideration. It operates within a set of principles outlined in the existing legislation. There is clear evidence that Governments have interfered with the process on previous occasions and therefore it is appropriate that we should remove that from the system and introduce something that has been constitutionally tested in other countries.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, might also refer to what happened when he left in 1992, when the then Conservative Government more or less doubled expenditure on the Boundary Commissions in order to expedite the process and to try to bring forward a review earlier than might otherwise have been the case in an attempt to save their skins. People might say that it did them a fat lot of good in 1997 but it was an attempt by a then Conservative Government to alter the process.

I am inclined to disagree with these amendments in principle, but I may be willing to support them if the same kinds of flaws remain in the Bill as were contained in the previous legislation from 2011. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that it was with the aim of preventing gerrymandering and because of these flaws that I was one of the movers of the crucial amendment in the House of Lords that halted the boundary review in 2013. A cross-party group in the House won approval for our amendment and this then achieved a clear majority in the Commons, which had the effect of blocking the implementation of that review. I have no regrets at all about that.

The Bill before us now is better in many respects than the one introduced at the beginning of the coalition. The plan for 600 MPs was a bad one when the so-called payroll vote remained so large. Reducing the number of MPs, while maintaining the same number of Ministers, Whips and PPSs, would have given greater power to the Executive and weakened the legislature when we should be moving in the opposite direction. That problem is addressed by retaining the number of MPs at 650. This change will also reduce—at least marginally —the disruption involved with boundary reorganisation and which is proposed to be every eight years, as opposed to every five, although perhaps 10 would be better.

However, two significant problems remain with the Bill and they are relevant to these amendments. If not addressed, I think that Parliament should still be given the final say over implementation. The first problem relates to electoral registration. The Electoral Commission has reported that 9 million people may be missing from, or inaccurately included on, the electoral registers. This is a very high proportion given that the registers contain around 47 million names. The potential figure of perhaps 6 million people completely missing from the registers is far higher than was suggested to Parliament when it approved the 2011 legislation, and the missing millions obviously greatly distort the work of drawing up boundaries properly. I await with interest the Government’s response to the discussion on Amendments 11 and 24 relating to automatic voter registration.

The second major flaw with the process proposed is that it is unnecessarily disruptive. Whether inadvertently or otherwise, it will allow for small population changes in one constituency to trigger massive changes in many others throughout the remainder of the relevant English region, or in Scotland, or Wales, not just in neighbouring constituencies. This problem can be addressed, as the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee concluded in its excellent report in March 2015, by allowing perhaps 7.5% or 8% flexibility. A little more flexibility in the 5% margin allowed for variation to the quota for each constituency would enable more natural constituencies with sensible boundaries to be created, with fewer constituencies proposed that cross county boundaries, for example. Perhaps more importantly, more flexibility would help ensure that the entire map of constituencies is not ripped up whenever a review takes place. The Government should note that the Liberal Democrats are not under the same constraints as in 2011 to support aspects of the Bill such as the principle of 5%—which was very nearly changed to 10% to secure the passage of the Bill, but the compromise was not made.

A good process, with fair rules, using independent commissioners, should not be halted, varied, or expedited according to the whim of the party which can control a parliamentary majority. However, when so many people are not included properly in the electoral registers and there is the likelihood that the process will be unnecessarily disruptive in a way that would particularly disappoint many good constituency MPs, the case remains for Parliament having the final say.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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The word of the day seems to be “automaticity”. The noble Lord, Lord True, wants to remove any political interference or influencing from future boundary reviews. But as the noble Lord, Lord Young, eloquently said, this is the one area where any future Government could use political influence or interference, with the Executive slowing down the implementation of such future boundary reviews. You cannot pick and choose your automaticity. If it is good enough to remove Parliament from the ability to debate, question and vote on the boundary review, it is good enough to remove any possibility of the Executive delaying the implementation of a boundary review, especially if they do not like it. I offer another word of advice to the Minister. I seriously suggest that, apart from adopting this amendment, the Government should look at getting the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, back on to the Front Benches.

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Young, on the exemplary way in which they have introduced their amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Young, suggested that I might follow on from some of his detail. I do not want to bore the Grand Committee with excessive detail, but I will make one or two further observations on the process.

Until 1986, there was no timetable for any part of the process of boundary reviews. The 1986 Act introduced one change: to identify the point at which each review should start. Later legislation introduced timetables for each stage with one notable exception, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra has just said, which is the concluding stage. If we have moved to a position where we should identify the timing for each stage in the process, it would be sensible to do so for the conclusion as well.

As I have said, there is just one stage that has no timetable, but it is worth looking at the justification for “as soon as reasonable”. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, has said, it is just 27 lines with vast quantities of pages thereafter. The argument made to me on previous occasions was, “Well, the maps have to be prepared; we have to ensure that we have got the wards right and all the rest”. As already identified in an earlier debate, however, all the political parties spend their time throughout the process trawling around the edges of every single ward—and nowadays even the polling districts—with a view to ensuring that the right arguments are put forward and the right boundaries are set.

There is absolutely no reason why much of the work cannot be done in advance. The noble Lord, Lord Young, has identified many of the timescales, but it is worth while looking within the process of each review. When a review is brought forward, the initial recommendations are tabled by the boundary commissioners. Some 50% of those are changed, meaning that 50% are not. Some of the changes are agreed across the political parties. In the last abortive review, all three parties put forward exactly the same proposal for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. This means that officials can start working if there is excessive work, which I am not convinced that there is, since the councils have much of the detail anyway. Given the way the review process works much of the preparatory work on maps, street identification and the like can be done well in advance.

From 50% of the initial recommendations being changed, depending on which review you look at you might get down to changes of perhaps 8%. There was one review where the final stage resulted only in the change of the name of Yvette Cooper’s constituency. There was an argument about whether two locations or three should be identified within the constituency name, rather like that of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

There is an enormous opportunity, in this day and age, for a large amount of preparation. Most of the data is already computerised. It is readily available: you can go on the web and look for the ward map or constituency map. I could do it for any constituency in the country within 30 seconds. It was suggested that it needs a long time. The noble Lord, Lord Young, identified the timescales. I must admit that when he showed them to me, I cynically observed that they seemed to be getting longer, despite the advances in technology associated with the process.

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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I am pleased that we are all paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland and the membership of his Select Committee, and their advisers, for their excellent review of the workings of the electoral administration legislation from 2013, and I shall stay awake until midnight waiting for the government response to their excellent report. In any event, I look forward to it being debated properly in the House.

The committee achieved cross-party consensus on the crucial issue of automatic voter registration. The principle of fair boundaries, with MPs representing roughly equal numbers of people entitled to vote, requires a complete electoral register, but we are far from achieving that.

Even if the principle of automatic voter registration is accepted and is implemented as far as possible, there will still be gaps and inaccuracies. However, introducing it would be a significant step towards increasing the capacity of people legally entitled to vote and to take part in elections or referendums.

It would also mean that constituency boundaries will be more likely to reflect actual populations and those legitimately entitled to vote. At present, only those people who are already included on electoral registers count for the purpose of drawing up boundaries. We know that those now on the registers are not representative of all those entitled to vote, especially young people, private sector tenants and, perhaps especially, people who rely on the widespread misconception that they are registered to vote automatically.

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing last week that there is a legal obligation to comply with the registration process and for his undertaking to try to ensure that all registration forms make this clear, as many people do not understand the fact of these obligations. However, in a reference to automatic voter registration, he suggested that the problem was that no single dataset had been identified that could be properly used. It seems to me, however, that several different datasets could be used to contribute to the process of automatic voter registration.

Last week, the Minister highlighted the problems of checking nationality. Nationality is specifically included in passport information, so every time someone obtains a new passport, perhaps with a new address, they should be included on the relevant electoral register, without having to check whether they want to opt in to the right to vote. The right to vote is fundamental. Whether to exercise it is as matter for the individual, but they cannot do this unless they are registered.

Last week the Minister said that

“the sacrifices and battles that people made across the generations to secure the right to vote for every citizen mean that it is vital that it should be enjoyed.”—[Official Report, 3/9/20; col. 501.]

The Chartists and the suffragettes demanded the right to vote, not the right to opt in to a register if they happened to know that this was needed and how and when the relevant paperwork must be completed. These amendments are about removing unnecessary barriers to facilitating that fundamental right to vote.

The DVLA database, for example, may not contain details of nationality, but if someone is already properly included on the electoral register, then when they notify the DVLA of a change of address, their electoral registration details could and should be automatically transferred.

Some databases, perhaps including those of the DWP, universities registering students or those held by the Student Loans Company, may include details of nationality. Where it is appropriate for people on such databases to be included in electoral registers, this should be done automatically, without further ado about inviting them to apply to register and to opt in to a basic right—the right to vote.

Finally, I will put to the Minister one very clear proposal that would be a step towards automatic voter registration and could be easily implemented. It was made in the recent report sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, written by academic experts at the University of East Anglia. It was included in the “missing millions” reports produced by the APPG on Democratic Participation, for which I have been an officer, and it was supported by the House of Lords Select Committee looking at electoral registration issues.

Will the Minister undertake to promote the practice of ensuring that all 16 year-olds should be automatically registered to vote when they receive their national insurance number? This is a simple and very achievable proposal that could greatly improve registration levels of young people, enabling them to vote as soon as they reach the age at which they are entitled to vote. The Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators and the Electoral Reform Society have all supported this. I suspect that there may be some opposition within government to improving the completeness of the register, in spite of what we are told. But this practical proposal may enable cost savings to be made in the registration process, and it should be seen as a necessary step, given the difficulties of canvassing young people, particularly in the current Covid crisis, or engaging with them in school.

Much excellent work has been done on this subject by Dr Toby James, professor of politics and public policy at the University of East Anglia. I hope that the Minister and his team will study the excellent report that he helped to produce for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, and respond positively to this idea in particular, before we have to consider further amendments on the issue of automatic voter registration on Report.

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, I am going to start with an element of agreement with a number of others who have spoken. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, for his excellent chairmanship of the committee, which produced an excellent report and brought people together in any number of different ways.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for his charming request to me to put my name to Amendment 24, from which I demurred. The reason I did so was specifically highlighted by the introduction and opening comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lennie. I subscribe to the key recommendations of the report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, referred and which he quoted in part. Recommendation 2 refers to,

“further modernisation of registers, including piloting automatic registration for attainers.”

That is all one phrase. The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, managed to pause before he moved on to “for attainers,” because this is in some people’s minds an automatic commitment to move on to automatic registration in general, and I do not support that.

I do support, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, has just suggested, assistance/automatic registration for attainers, because it is absolutely crucial that we get people involved in the community and the politics of society from an early age. That is the reason why attainers are so important. And I recognise that there are other groups—no question about it—that should be registered. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, made reference to Canada and identified that I had referred to Australia earlier in the debate. When I had the conversation with Tom Rogers, the current commissioner, the other day, he talked to me about how Australia has increased its level of registration. We did not take evidence from Australia, but the Government should look at it.

However, the Government have introduced a series of measures and efforts to ensure that registration improves. Although the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, was right in saying that the register is not more complete, it is more accurate, and that was the evidence that we received in relation to registration. For those who are not economically deprived, the availability of online registration has been proved to be an enormous boon—hence the surge in applications at the general election. Many of them were not valid—they were duplicates and the like—but they were important.

We talk about getting people involved by ensuring that they are registered. One of the other points on which I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, was when he said that people when asked say that they want to participate. Well, the vast majority have the opportunity to register online, and they do not—and, even if they do, I have just checked and the figure for turnout at the last election was 67%. If you ask the question, “Do you want to do something?”, the automatic response, unless you phrase it carefully in polling research, is going to be, “Yes.” It is like motherhood and apple pie— nobody ever sins. So one has to take that in context.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill Debate

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Lord Hayward Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 10th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Norton of Louth Portrait Lord Norton of Louth (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Cormack, who is a signatory to the amendment, sends his apologies for not being able to be present today, but has asked me to stress his support for what I shall be arguing this afternoon.

My amendment to increase the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 800 is drafted for one purpose, and that is to get the Minister, on behalf of the Government, to explain the arguments against having a legislative Chamber of 800 Members.

We have a second Chamber of roughly 800 Members. The Government have not taken any steps to reduce the number—quite the reverse. What change has been achieved has been through pressure from within this House, primarily in the form of Private Members’ legislation, such as the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, which enabled the retirement of Members and the removal of Peers who fail to attend for a Session. Without that measure, the House would be closer to 900 Members. The committee under the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has come up with recommendations to reduce the number to give effect to achieving a House that is no bigger than the House of Commons.

If there is to be a disparity in size, it makes more sense for the Commons to be larger than the Lords. The greater the number of MPs, the smaller the size of the constituencies. That arguably would be to the benefit of constituents. It would make possible even closer contact between Members and their constituents. It would facilitate more cohesive constituencies, avoiding some of the anomalies that were described in Tuesday’s proceedings on the Bill. It would potentially reduce the workload of individual Members, which is now becoming quite onerous.

This House has no constituencies. Members do not carry the substantial burdens shouldered by Members of the other place. This House fulfils the role of a reflective Chamber. As such, it merits being smaller than the elected Chamber, as is the norm in other bicameral legislatures.

There is a case not only for this House being smaller than the Commons—a relative point—but for reducing the size of both Houses. I have form in making that case. I chaired a commission that recommended a reduction in the size of the House of Commons over time to 500. I have argued the case for this House to be no bigger than the Commons. Having smaller Houses reduces the pressure on resources, be it in terms of physical space or legislative proceedings. We are, I think, especially alert to the pressures on this House in terms of the number of Members seeking to intervene in time-limited proceedings. However, this is not a question of the convenience of Members. It is important from the perspective of the House if it is to fulfil its core role as a reflective Chamber. There is the danger of quantity overwhelming quality.

The Government also have form, but only in favouring a smaller House of Commons. This Bill stipulates a House of 650, but the Government would have preferred a House of 600. Why, then, has it argued the case for a smaller House of Commons but not for a smaller House of Lords?

Furthermore, what this Bill does is stipulate the number of parliamentary constituencies. The size of the House of Commons has varied. It has had a larger membership in the past, as a consequence of the number of seats in Ireland, but since 1918 the number of constituencies has varied between 625 and 659. The key point is that the number is set in statute. There is no such statutory limit for this House.

If a House of 650 is appropriate for the Commons, why not for the Lords? If there is a fixed number in statute for seats in the first Chamber, why do we not have a statutory cap for the number of Members of the second Chamber? A cap is an important discipline. Those wishing to be MPs have to compete for a parliamentary candidature. A set number for the upper House would impose a discipline on the Prime Minister of the day in nominating Members.

To argue that this House could not operate effectively if it was the same size as, or smaller than, the Commons, is clearly not sustainable. Following the enactment of the House of Lords Act 1999, the size of the House was very similar to that of the House of Commons. The number has expanded massively since, for reasons unrelated to what the House needs to fulfil its key functions.

If having 800 MPs will place too great a strain on resources in the Commons, why does a membership of 800 not place too great a strain on resources in the Lords? In short, what are the arguments against having a House of 800 in respect of the Commons that do not apply to the Lords?

This House has agreed, without a Division, that we are too large. We have pressed for action to reduce our size, making the case for a reduction in terms of output—that is, Members retiring from the House—and a limit on input, in the form of Prime Ministerial nominations. It has to be both if our size is to be reduced. That is key to the work of the Burns committee. The problem in seeking to reduce the size of the House of Lords lies not with the House but with the Executive—hence the following questions to my noble friend Lord True.

Do the Government accept, as the House does, that the House of Lords should be no bigger than the House of Commons? Why are the Government prepared to condone a second Chamber of 800 Members when they seek to limit the first to 650? I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s answers, and I beg to move.

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, in light of the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, perhaps I might start with, “Rwy’n flin, dwi ddim yn siarad Gymraeg.”. For those who are not fluent in Welsh—as I have just proved that I am not—that was my attempt at “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Welsh.” All I wish to add in relation to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is that I have signed and supported his amendment, which endorses the Burns committee report that was accepted by all sides of the House of Lords.

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Therefore, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will reject Amendments 15, 16 and 17 as driving a coach and horses through electoral fairness. Although I like the sound of Amendment 19, I am content to stick with the current variation.
Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, perhaps I may pick up on a number of points that have been raised by other noble Lords before I move on to commenting on the core points that I want to make.

First, I pick up on the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in relation to the loyalties of constituents. If the Committee will indulge me, I am pleased to say that constituents are loyal on many occasions, and MPs are loyal to their constituents. One of my former constituents, Gary Sheppard, retires today as a doorkeeper in this House. I had the pleasure of refereeing him on a number of occasions, and I am wearing my Bristol referee’s tie as a compliment to the doorkeeper who is retiring this evening. I wish him well in his retirement.

I move on to the different interpretations of percentages. My noble friend Lord Blencathra gave some calculations, but perhaps I may indicate that, certainly going on the December 2019 electorates, the projection would probably be that the average constituency of 650 seats would be around 73,000, rather than the slightly higher figure that he gave. However, that does not deny the point that he made. I certainly did not come to blows with him over what he said when he argued with me. I remember Sir Michael Fallon making exactly the same point when I worked for the Tory party on a national basis. Basically he said to me, “What you want is two seats with 7,000 majorities and I want one seat with a 14,000 majority.” That sums up the view of most Members of Parliament when one is trying to deal with the issue on a national basis.

As for arguing that you follow the route that one English monarch followed when invading Scotland, that is for mere beginners. I remember listening to Hazel Blears argue that there was a distinct difference between Salford and Manchester because Salford predated Manchester in the Bronze Age. I think that that was the term she used, but certainly it was very common to go back way beyond the Norman invasion, and Roman times were cited on many other occasions.

There is a difficulty with a 5% target, although I support it. It provides a reasonable range, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra indicated. People talk of going down to 2.5%, 3% or 3.5%. Australia has scales of geography and difficulty way beyond ours in terms of distance, yet it operates on a target of 3.5%. I think that 5% provides a good range, and I say that because the presumption is that 5% will be the cause of all the problems. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made the point that one has to adhere to local ties. The other day I cited the existing legislation, which goes unchanged. Rule 5 quite specifically says:

“A Boundary Commission may take into account, if and to such extent as they think fit—(a) special geographical considerations …; (b) local government boundaries …; (c) boundaries of existing constituencies; (d) any local ties that would be broken by changes in constituencies; (e) the inconveniences attendant on such changes.”


Those rules are not changing.

However, the problem people start to identify is on the supposition that everything is perfect at the moment and that all will fall away if we have a 5% rule rather than a 7.5% rule. The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, identified that that is not the case because it does not change political allegiance very often. He cited Greg Cook’s research. Greg Cook and I have shared many a hearing in one part of the country or another and I respect him enormously, but it denies what the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, which is that people were storming in to see the Whips because they discovered that they were going to lose their seats because the range was 5%. They discovered that they were going to lose their seats for a whole series of other reasons, but it was not to do with 5%. It probably had a lot more to do with the fact that the number of seats was going down from 650 to 600 and you cannot force a quart into a pint pot.

I will give some examples of the difficulties one has at the moment. Take the MP for Carshalton and Wallington, who was formerly a Liberal and is now Elliot Colburn. He cannot get from one part of his constituency, Clock House, to the rest of his constituency without going out of it. Tom Brake likewise could not do so.

Equally, Lancaster and Fleetwood is split by a river. If you go from Fleetwood to the rest of the constituency, you have to go out of the constituency and through two other constituencies, I believe, to get back into the other part, except for the fact that you could, if you were lucky, catch the ferry. But the ferry finishes at 5.45 pm, so if you have an evening engagement or surgery you will have to drive round. This is not something that is specifically new.

If Jon Cruddas leaves the core of his constituency and visits Rush Green, the main route he follows, which he does not have to take, takes him into Andrew Rosindell’s constituency. Why? Because the boundary of Barking and Dagenham borough is based on the grounds of Barking Abbey, which existed in the 15th and 16th centuries. It makes no sense. Rush Green is very close to the centre of Romford and it should not be part of the other constituency, but it is.

Any noble Lord who knows the Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial will know that there is that slight sliver at the top of Knightsbridge—the museum area—which is part of Westminster. Logically, it should be part of Kensington. Why is it not part of Kensington instead of Westminster? Because Queen Victoria did not want Bertie in the suburbs, was the phrase she used.

A thin finger of land links Newmarket with the rest of Suffolk. I think that I am right in saying that if the Secretary of State gets off the train at Newmarket station he is in his constituency, but if he gets on it on the other platform he is in a neighbouring constituency. There are houses to the south that are not in his constituency. There is a vast range of these circumstances right across the country already where problems exist.

Boundaries do change. I represented what used to be the city and county of Bristol. It then became the county of Avon. It shifted its boundaries. I am a Devonian by birth. My father is Cornish by birth. The boundaries of Devon and Cornwall constituencies have changed. They are not immutable, as some Cornish friends of mine would maintain. The constituencies shifted in the 1960s. A series of problems already exist.

There is no question that there are problems with the ranges. Statistically, if you move to a broader range, you are likely to solve some of the problems. Some of the evidence has been identified, but as I said, I think that 7,000 and a bit is a good range.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill Debate

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Tuesday 15th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 22 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain, who spoke so impressively in support of it. I will also address the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Foulkes and I particularly warmed to the case made for Cornwall. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that if our amendment relating to Wales is not acceptable, there is nothing to stop similar, parallel amendments being put forward with a case for England, Scotland or, indeed, Cornwall itself. That is in the hands of noble Lords in this Committee or on the Floor of the House on Report. All I would say is that the case for Wales stands out because of the extent of the changes proposed by virtue of the rules being put forward.

I will pick up on one point that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, made about the valley communities. The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, will be familiar with this as well. When I was a councillor in Merthyr before becoming a Member of Parliament, I had good friends who had never been to the Cynon valley, the next valley to the west, or the Rhymney valley, the next valley to the east. That is the nature of the valley communities. It is not because of a closed mentality but because the geography and topology of the area dictates it.

We have already debated the number of seats that Wales should have in the House of Commons and I hope that the Government will give careful thought to that between now and Report. Amendment 22 addresses the other aspect of this issue—the factor that led to Wales having a slightly higher representation than is fair statistically. That does indeed relate to geography and topography and the nature of Wales, the distribution of our population and, in particular, our communities.

As I said at Second Reading, MPs are representatives not delegates. If they were delegates, then, arguably, the number should correspond to the number of electors on whose behalf they cast their votes in the legislative process. If that were the case, they should also reflect the political balance of their constituencies by proportional representation which, of course, the House of Commons has rejected. If MPs are not elected on such a basis, it is quite illogical that their constituencies should be determined by that very dimension.

MPs deliver a service to their constituents. That involves making themselves available to discuss, dealing with individuals and with groups of constituents, a diverse range of issues, and taking them up at Westminster. As MP for Caernarfon, I represented a range of different communities of interest in the 92 towns and villages which made up my then constituency. I had to be reasonably knowledgeable about farming and fishing, manufacturing industry and slate production, river pollution and radioactivity, tourism and higher education, as well as a whole range of social legislation and service delivery. I had 28 community councils all expecting to see me on a regular basis, and I worked very closely indeed with Gwynedd Council, the unitary authority within which my constituency was wholly located. I had to work within the twin structures of UK government departments and the Welsh Office, as then was, and deal with a plethora of all-Wales bodies. I had to discuss and correspond about such issues in two languages, since 84% of my constituents had Welsh as their first language, and I had a five-hour journey each way, each week, between Caernarfon and Westminster.

My point is this. If I had had a compact seat in London, I could have undertaken my duties as MP in far less time than was needed to do so in Caernarvon. For there to be an equivalence in the service afforded by an MP to constituents, there has to be some weighting in the structure of representation. Rural areas, communities for whom London is remote, areas where the structure of government is different and communities of a different nature to those of metropolitan England—all these should have a representational weighting to achieve an equivalence of service delivery. In practical terms, it would be ludicrous, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, emphasised, for a county such as Powys to have only one MP. The south-east of that county looks to Newport and Cardiff for many services, the south-west to Swansea, the north-west to Aberystwyth and Bangor and the north-east to Wrexham. The commission which draws up any new Welsh constituency boundaries should start with the assumption that Powys has two MPs, and the rest should follow from there.

There should be a flexibility in the numerical size of constituencies to allow such a structure, and Amendment 22 goes a long way to provide this. There can never be a perfect answer that fits all circumstances, but I believe there should be some guarantee in both constituency service terms and the coherence of a national voice, of a de minimis representation for Wales in the House of Commons and, within that, the flexibility to make it work for its communities. Amendment 22 offers that possibility and I commend it to the Committee.

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, I will not repeat some of the debate on the previous grouping, when my noble friend Lord Blencathra and I made comments on a number of issues in relation to some of the localities we have discussed today and the scale of geography that different constituencies face. I merely repeat my observation that I have a Cornish father and I was born in Devon, so I have sympathy with and understanding of the emotive issues that that division may generate.

Perhaps I may clarify one point for the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, because he was not sure about the balance between the numbers game, to use his phrase, I think, and the influence of local factors. I say this with at least two glass walls between me and the Government Whip, because she may want to hit me for pointing this out. In fact, in the legislation to which I referred, Schedule 2 says that the electorate of any constituency “shall be”, in other words the number is pre-eminent, whereas the requirement to take factors into consideration is described by “may”, as the noble Lord is indicating. Therefore, one has pre-eminence over the other.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill Debate

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Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 8th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, not for the first time I find myself very much in sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who always contributes sage and sensible comments to debates on constitutional affairs.

I would like to begin by congratulating and thanking my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. By accident, my amendment went ahead of his in the debate in Committee, but he was the one who did all of the work and he made a most impressive speech, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said a few minutes ago; he has also been foremost in the negotiations following the debate. It would be churlish—because my noble friend Lord True was effectively replying to my amendment— not to thank him for what he said and what he has subsequently done.

I do not want to enter a discordant note, but I was tempted, as I said to my noble friend Lord Young the other day, to put down an amendment on the timing. I am very disappointed that it is four months. My noble friend Lord Young suggested “three months”, I suggested “six weeks”. I would happily have compromised, but I think four months is a shade long and I would like a brief explanation from my noble friend Lord True as to why he felt he had to go to that far.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, talked about exceptional circumstances. Of course, I accept that there are certain very sad and exceptional circumstances—one of which my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham referred to—but “exceptional” really has to be exceptional. I remain, always, suspicious of the Executive, from whichever political party they come, and I am always, first and foremost, a Parliament man. We have at least got a better outcome that we had in the original Bill. I am grateful for that, and I very much echo the words of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, who said there is great virtue in compromise. Of course there is, and may this indeed be a lesson to those who are currently conducting the most important negotiations in which our country has been involved for a very long time.

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, before I comment on this amendment, can I pick up on what two noble Lords have said? When I spoke in Committee, I referred to automaticity and its derivation in this particular context. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, pointed out that the trade unions had got there first. I have mentioned to her since that, while we were in Committee, I was doing a search on the word “automaticity”, as was one of my noble friends, who managed to come up with an even earlier use of it. Shall I say, he was “cycling” through the web, which may indicate who found this wonderful piece of information. It is a study of the

“Effect of adenosine on sinoatrial and ventricular automaticity of the guinea pig”.

My noble friend Lord Blencathra talked about the years 1969 and 2011. Of course, he missed out 1983. I know that he, like the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, does not have a direct interest in 1983, but it affected some of us very strikingly and was the third occasion when this occurred.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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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.