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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for the detail in which she described the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, and indeed the final decision of the Secretary of State. Let me say immediately that it would be, in my view, a gross impertinence for this House to intervene by way of a vote in the composition of another place. I do not know what the constitutional division of powers is but it is not a matter where I think we should do anything other than express general views about the issues which, constitutionally, have to come before us. In introducing my few remarks I pay tribute to the work of the commission and to its stalwart concern throughout for the many representations which were made to it. The Minister referred to a five-fold increase. I understand that there were no fewer than 40,000 representations made to the commission. That must have been a considerable task which I believe the commission carried out with its usual independence.
It is important to compare our country with a number of other countries, notably the United States, where Mr. Gerry Mander has many successors and where there are deliberate and quite conscious attempts to change boundaries in order to achieve certain social and ethnic effects. One can contrast that with our system where the commission is independent of government and independent also, of course, of opposition. That contrast is marked and is, I believe, very much in our favour. However, I am not sure what it is that we are supposed to do other than give a sort of good housekeeping seal of approval to the commission. I shall not do anything other than make a couple of quite general remarks which might be thought to be applicable to our responsibilities too.
The first is on the size of the House of Commons. The effect of the commission's recommendations and of the recommendations of the commissions for Wales and ScotlandI understand that we expect the Northern Ireland commission report within a short periodis to increase the House of Commons to 659 Members. I think that that is too many. The House of Lords is obviously far too large and has far too many Members. A rational distribution of responsibilities and a rational size of constituency would lead, I believea number of my honourable friends have said soto a House of Commons of around 450 Members. I believe that the country would be grateful if the next time instructions are given to the commission they are given with the deliberate intention of reducing the size of the House of Commons to a body which balances the responsibilities of Members of Parliament to their constituents with the practical problems of running a legislative chamber which is at the moment too large.
At the moment Members of the House of Commons have far too limited an opportunity to intervene in the business of the House or even to intervene in the business of committees. It would, in my view, be a rational reform to reduce the number of Members to 450. When we abolish hereditary peerages in this House, it will be possible for us to reduce this House to a comparable number.
The second point I want to make may not come directly out of the Boundary Commission's report but I hope your Lordships will allow me to comment on the inadequacy of the register. It is absurd in these days of information technology that we have a register once a year only which takes a number of months to compile. It is then published and, some months later, it comes into effect and is not changed for another 12 months. It is perfectly possible these days to have a register in which corrections are made as they occur, as they would be on a valuation list, a rating list or a council tax list, and for them to be frozen when a general election is called. The effect of having an annual register rather than a rolling register together with the effect of the poll tax and the exclusionto use the European Community wordof large parts of the population from their civic responsibilities is that if we compare the parliamentary roll with the local government roll and local government taxation records at least a million peopleprobably substantially moreare excluded from parliamentary voting. That is not a satisfactory basis for democracy. It ill becomes my saying so but as an individual who believes in parliamentary democracy, I hope that the House will forgive me for making that additional point.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, we are being invited to agree to an increase in the size of the House of Commons. We should ask ourselves what precisely is the case for a further increase in the number of Members of another place. As the noble Baroness said, when she referred to the Welsh and Scottish orders and the forthcoming order in relation to Northern Ireland, we are now talking about a House of Commons of 659 Members. That is by far the largest legislature among the advanced industrial democracies.
The German Bundestag, admittedly, will have three more members than the next House of Commons. However, Germany is about 50 per cent. larger than the United Kingdom, both in respect of population and land area. France, with a land area more than twice the size of ours and a population about the same, will have 82 fewer members of the Chamber of Deputies than will exist in this country. The most striking comparison is with the United States. Here is a country 40 times the size of the United Kingdom with a population four times as large. Yet the House of Representatives is already only two-thirds the size of the House of Commons. The power of its members, through the committee system, is infinitely greater.
Yet we are asked to approve a further increase in the size of the House of Commons. Like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I believe that some justification is called for from the noble Baroness who moved the order today.
Faced with some criticism, not altogether surprisingly from outside Parliament, in moving the order Mr. Howard said that the rules set out in the second schedule to the 1986 Act had the effect of requiring that the number of parliamentary constituencies in England should not be substantially greater than 507. However, he added that,
I do not believe that that is acceptable. On the basis of that rule, there are already 17 more seats in England than the 507 to which I referred. Now there are to be another five. Mr. Howard said that the Government agreed in principle that the size of the House of Commons should be stabilised. However, the Government have rejected the proposal of the Home Affairs Committee aimed at achieving that result.
Mr. Howard said that there would have to be consultations with interested parties. I have no objection to that. However, would it not be far more sensible to consider attempting to achieve a reduction in the number of seats in another place combined with an indication that the money saved would be used to improve the inadequate facilities for private Members in the House of Commons and also, to a degree, their accommodation?
The Government constantly assure us of their determination to secure value for money in the public service. It seems to me that it is a very good idea to make sure, just for once, that that applies to politicians as well as to anyone else.
Lord Monkswell: I rise to make an observation about our responsibilities as the House of Lords. We have the right and, if necessary, the duty to amend or reject orders that are placed before us. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is not in his place, but I am sure that had he been present he would have supported me in
From my personal experience of the operation of the Boundary Commission, I wholeheartedly endorse the compliments that have been paid to it in arriving at a solution to difficult problems which is, in general, fair and just. I refer particularly to the situation which faced the Boundary Commission with regard to Manchester and Trafford. The saving of the community of Wythenshawe following a public inquiry was an important act by the Boundary Commission. It reflects strongly held views and will be of immense benefit to the local communities not only in Wythenshawe but also in other parts of Manchester and Trafford. They will have Members of Parliament who can represent genuine communities. That will be wholly beneficial to our electoral process.
I said that it is possible and, if necessary, our duty to amend or reject regulations such as these. It is important to recognise that the Minister did not see fit to amend the recommendations of the Boundary Commission because in this context it is important that politicians stand back from the independent review that has been conducted.
One of the problems that we have to face is the make-up of this Chamber. It has an inherent Conservative majority, not only through hereditary peerages. If hereditary peerages were abolished tomorrow, the Conservatives would still have an in-built majority over the Opposition. Therefore, we do not have the standing to say that we, as the House of Lords, can look at matters independently. As a nation we have to consider how, within the parliamentary process, we have some oversight over the overseers.
Regarding the size of the House of Commons, I join with other speakers in this debate in suggesting that the Members of the House of Commons represent too few people. However, I suggest that we should not compare this country with the United States of America, where a Congressman in the House of Representatives represents approximately half a million people. The equivalent is much more akin to the European Parliament, where Members of the European Parliament represent half a million people. If Members of the House of Commons were to represent 100,000 people rather than the half million that Congressmen and Members of the European Parliament represent, we might arrive at a more sensible size for the House of Commons.
Finally, I support the final comments made by my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey from the Front Bench about the exclusion of electorspeople who have the right to take part in our parliamentary electoral processfor various reasons, partly bureaucratic and partly unfortunate accidents of history and legislation. Perhaps I may refer to the council tax. Something ought to be done about that denial of democracy. I suggest that the figure is rather greater than the 1 million or 2 million that my noble friend suggests. I support the Motion.
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