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That is the joy of SV. All candidates after the first count are eliminated, apart from the top two. SV concentrates the mind of the electorate on who is likely to be in the run-off. It provides an incentive for people to use their second preferences as they can really influence a credible result. It blocks the extremes who can sometimes pick up large numbers of additional preferences under AV.
As I have already said, AV is often confused by academics all over the world. A lot of material is available, much of which is in our Library. That being the case, why not have an SV question in the referendum? Such a question could be justified on the basis that it is a variation on AV. The public need a system that is simple to interpret and understand.
Finally on SV, I believe that we should build an element of greater proportionality-not full PR. I would argue that if 10 per cent of all seats were list seats, with built-in safeguards against excesses by list members-there has been some experience of that in Scotland-we could create a healthy electoral system that is fairer. We should work on devising a credible list system. Perhaps some of us should get together and do that.
In finishing my contribution, I should like to say to the Liberal Democrat Benches that they have to make the coalition work. If they fail, they threaten the whole programme for electoral reform. For the public to support electoral reform, they will have to be convinced that coalition government is not weak government, but that it is strong government which works. The route they have taken is very high risk. I wish them luck.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden: I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said in his excellent speech about Scotland and the various elections we might be faced with in five years' time. I also agree with what he and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said about the rearrangements, if I may put it that way, in this House.
I shall not delve into the problems of AV. My political baptism was as a volunteer, coming through the ranks from branch to association and then to chairmanship of our own national union executive committee. The sentence about creating equal sized constituencies is very important and I was pleased to hear what my noble friend Lord McNally had to say in his opening speech. It sounds easy, but it is easier said than done given the vested interests. I wish to make one or two points which should be addressed as the Government give the boundary commissions their marching orders. In passing, perhaps I can be bold and say to my own party, "Do not be fast asleep when these changes are being discussed". In my experience, our political opponents-here I refer to the Labour Party-are much better at dealing with maps and boundaries than ever our party has been.
What are the points to bear in mind? Fair votes means what it says: that, where possible, each person's vote should be equal to that of the next man or woman. Is this so now? Certainly not. I shall deal with the obvious anomalies first and then ask a few pertinent questions which arise from the devolved assemblies.
Taking Glasgow as a typical city of the UK, I estimate that at present the average constituency has approximately 60,000 people. In one of the shire counties, Cambridgeshire, South West Cambridge has an electorate of 88,857 and South East Cambridge one of 83,068. I cannot for the life of me see what this example is except standing equality of representation on its head. It is not an isolated example. Bedfordshire has seats in the high 70,000s and yet three of the four Liverpool seats are in the low 60,000s. The figures speak for themselves and the boundary commissions' membership must be made aware of the extreme disquiet that these anomalies create among those who study them.
Now is a good time to address these matters and, as legislation is required to cut the number of seats in the House of Commons-as I believe is common ground with our partners-then so be it. I realise that is upsetting for new MPs, who have to face a shake up of constituencies, but it must not be delayed as changes will take time to pass through the system. I hope that in any Bill brought forward the appeal timetable for the commissions' work will be looked at. In addition, as the key will no doubt be the building blocks of the local authority boundaries, it is not as straightforward as it may seem. However, it must be addressed. It has been the practice to combine local authority wards together to make up a parliamentary constituency, but if the map is drawn in such a way that these wards are smaller than the average, the result is smaller than average parliamentary constituencies, particularly in the cities. I have a question in this regard. Can we be certain that equalising the size of constituencies is the rule that the Government will instruct the commissions to follow? If not, why not? Surely that is the meaning of fair vote reform in the manifesto.
I shall say a few words about the size of constituencies in Wales and Scotland. Now that there are devolved Parliaments in each country, whose Members cover
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I realise that the Western Isles is an island situation, as is Orkney and Shetland, but given that they have Holyrood Members in addition, is it fair that they should have electorates for Westminster of 22,000-odd and 33,000-odd respectively? I think not. If there is to be a cut in the number of seats and a consequent enlargement of constituencies, it would be possible and practical to link Orkney and Shetland to Caithness and Sutherland, making an electorate of 80,000, and the Western Isles with Ross, Skye and Lochaber, making an electorate 74,000-odd. Therefore, my second question is about Scotland. Will the Government instruct the Boundary Commission for Scotland to consult its English opposite number to ensure fair votes? Will the chairmen of the respective boundary commissions in each country be told that there are no no-go areas, as I understand was the case when the Scottish island situation was last discussed?
In Wales, I notice some quite small electorates compared to England; for example, Arfon, with 41,000-odd voters, and Aberconwy, with 44,500. They seem small when one considers that they have the benefit of a Welsh Assembly Member as well. In contrast, over the border in England, the Hereford constituency has 71,000 voters. That seems wrong.
I know that these questions could be interpreted as trying to tell the Government that all is not well in the boundaries area, but I firmly believe that to be the case. I trust that my noble friends will agree and realise that in order to do anything this side of a general election, the work has to start soon, with the guidelines for the commissions clearly stated and published to ensure transparency.
I wish the joint Front-Bench team well as they start their work together. In the days of Gladstone, who started life on the Tory Benches when Pitt, Liverpool, Canning and Peel were around, our party was a reforming party. In the years between 1846 and 1859, there was no monopoly of Whigs or Tories that undertook the many reforms. Gladstone was a leading light in many of those reforms, including colonial self-government for Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the reform of the Civil Service and the universities. However, I must remind my noble friends here from the Liberal Democrat Party that it was the Conservatives who brought forward the second Reform Act of 1867. If history is to repeat itself, changes that give equal value to the citizen must be accomplished within the lifetime of this Government.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, on his genuinely good maiden speech. He has very much to offer this House. He was the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education and Employment from 1997 till 2001, and he practised what he preached. He achieved a lot by change. We have much to learn from him.
I also congratulate with real sincerity the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on his appointment to the Ministry of Justice. He is somebody of real warmth and ability who is extremely popular in this House, and we all genuinely wish him very well.
My noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington wished to speak today; the noble Lord, Lord McNally, should be grateful that she did not. She would have mentioned how loyally the noble Lord served her father and the Labour Party, then how loyally he served the Liberal Democrats and, now, how loyally he serves the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the self-styled tubby toddler.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in an excellent speech, mentioned the no confidence vote in 1979. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, will remember what Jim Callaghan said describing that event-"Turkeys voting for an early Christmas". I assume that it is that memory that has led the noble Lord to argue for a fixed-term Parliament, so that if the turkeys with whom he now associates lose a vote of confidence, they will not have to leave government.
What a marvellous sight the coalition is! The language of Cameron and Clegg is the language of love. It reminds me painfully of those "Spitting Image" programmes in the 1980s. Do noble Lords remember the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Steel, and the boy David nurtured in the arms of the noble Lord, Lord Owen? They had to choose a name for the leader and David Owen suggested that there should be one name from the Liberals-say, David-and one name from the SDP-say, Owen.
New politics-a coalition, and an opportunity to achieve through Parliament changes to the constitution which could be for the benefit of the whole country. There is a huge opportunity offered by this new politics, one which is in the process of being horribly lost. At the heart of the constitutional proposals are attempts to reduce the ability of Parliament to stand up to and restrain the Executive; proposals to prevent the Commons from forcing an election; proposals to make this House a creature of the Executive-something that it has not been since the late 1950s, when this House did not even bother to have votes, because a Tory Government down the road and all the Tories here did not think it worth while.
I think that a fixed-term Parliament is a good idea; it is a good idea to take away from the Prime Minister of the day the power to determine the date of the election. But depriving him of that power has to be consistent with the basic principle of our constitution-that the Government are selected by the House of Commons and survive only as long as they enjoy a majority in the House of Commons. For well over 110 years, whenever a vote of confidence has been lost in the House of Commons, the Government then go straight to the country. Why is that? It should not be us or them down there who choose who should be the next Government; it should be the public who choose.
Mr David Heath, the deputy leader of the House of Commons, suggested that there was an exception to that, when Mr Stanley Baldwin was defeated at the
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The twin aims of depriving the Prime Minister of the right to fix the election date while preserving the bedrock principle that if the Government lose the confidence of the House they should call an election can be achieved with a Bill that says that there should be a fixed-term parliament of X years subject to the PM having an obligation to advise Her Majesty to have a general election when his Government had obtained the confidence of the House of Commons but then been defeated on an Opposition vote of confidence. That would meet every aim that the coalition has. Why on earth has it proposed this 55 per cent? As my noble friend Lord Hunt said, a whole variety of different reasons have been suggested. But think what the consequences of that 55 per cent are. First, it means that this Government are not affected by the fixed-term Act because they have more than 55 per cent of the MPs. Secondly, well over half the years since 1945 have involved Governments with more than 55 per cent of the MPs, so it is likely that in years to come this provision will not apply to most Governments. Thirdly, what would happen if the coalition splits up? Fifty-three per cent is the number of non-Tory MPs in the Commons. If there was a vote of confidence-
The Earl of Onslow: If the party had more than 55 per cent of the MPs and the Prime Minister wished to call an early election after three and a half years, all the party has to do is to get 55 per cent in the Division and, lo and behold, it gets an election and the fixed-term Parliament is quashed.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Earl has got it completely. That is exactly the point. The coalition Government can have an election whenever they want. They say now that it will be on 15 May 2015. Can noble Lords imagine a Prime Minister saying, in two years' time, that circumstances have changed, and that of course it was right then to commit themselves to 15 May 2015 but the right thing to do now is for the country to see whether, in the current circumstances, it wants to go on with the current Government. It is a totally bogus piece of legislation as far as concerns the current Government.
I was about to talk about what happens when the coalition splits up. On the basis of the 55 per cent, if it splits up and is then defeated in a vote of confidence by the 53 per cent of non-Tories, there would not be a Dissolution. Until Mr David Heath spoke on Tuesday there would have been, as I describe it, a zombie Government. There would not be an Opposition who wanted to form a Government and the Conservative Government would not have the confidence of the Commons. What would then happen? I assume that there would have to be an election. If there has to be an election in those circumstances, why is there this 55 per cent in the first place? It is obviously a botched
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That sort of problem is something that this House would be incredibly good at fixing. However, we read in the newspapers of an intention to stuff this House with 100 coalition-supporting Peers. I am sure that it is not true and that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, will confirm that, because then Parliament would lose the one part of the body that has stood up to the Executive over the past 10 or 11 years.
The last point I want to make is that there was a sinister reference to the Salisbury convention by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Members of this House will remember that the Salisbury convention has at its heart the proposition that if the electorate has endorsed something-for example the Labour Party's proposals in 1945-it would be wrong for this House to reject it. It cannot seriously be suggested that because fixed-term Parliaments were referred to in the Liberal Democrat manifesto-the Liberal Democrats who lost more seats than they had before-that that represents endorsement by the electorate. If that is the case, then the coalition has very severely lost its way.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, in our parliamentary new world, I would like to talk about one area of work already trailed by the noble Lords, Lord Filkin and Lord Rooker, and on which the House, through its working groups, prompted by the Lord Speaker, has already done a great deal of work. It is work for which this House would be particularly well suited with or without the Commons and the Joint Committees. We would be well suited because the work would and should involve all sides of the House and the coalition Government have made clear their intention not to be exclusive, because good government should be as inclusive as possible. That is the way to the best outcomes.
Having a coalition Government does not exempt any Member of the House, whether or not his party holds office, from holding the Government to account and scrutinising their decisions and actions. There is a distinction between government and Parliament that has been eroded over the years. I disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, about that.
I have not been the only one of your Lordships over many years to question the quantity of legislation with which Parliament and the real outside world is faced and to ask whether it is necessary. Is not its objective covered by earlier legislation? Is legislation always the best way to address a particular problem? I suggest that the time is right-as the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, put it, "Let's stop talking and start doing"-for the House to put in place a structure for post-legislative scrutiny. It should ask whether a particular Act has achieved what it was intended to achieve, which is not necessarily the same question as the merits of the underlying policy. Does it succeed in its own terms?It would be interesting to know in some cases whether all the parts of an Act have actually come into force, and how much has lain fallow.
What has the impact been on those who work in the particular policy area? Taking evidence would be valuable; we do so a little now at the pre-legislative stage, and I
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Scrutiny, however, is not just a job for opposition. Indeed, I found in another sphere of government that there would be alliances between supporters and opponents of a given project, both vigorous questioners-the opponents because they wanted to find the weaknesses and the supporters because they wanted the project to succeed. I welcome the reports of the working groups that have been referred to today, and I trust that they will be pursued.
This seemed to be an occasion on which to raise that issue, although I realise it is important today not to be thought to be inward-looking. There are major matters of policy as well as of procedure. I have commented on the quantity of legislation in the past. Having no new legislation for a year and not many orders either would be an attractive thought but it is not going to happen, certainly not with a new Government-although we all recognise the public's preference, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, put it some hours ago, for being left alone.
However, significant parts of the coalition's programme for government are about the repeal of laws, especially in the area of civil liberties. The freedom Bill-the Liberal Democrats published such a Bill in draft some time ago-is about restoring freedoms to the citizens and rolling back the overintrusive state. I hope this will mean, among other things, an end to the notices that I find offensive around the parliamentary estate about the "offence" of trespass in what, above all, should be a public building. It was particularly sad that on the day of the Queen's Speech, Brian Haw was arrested and the Mayor of London started proceedings to remove protesters from Parliament Square. The coalition Government are set to restore rights to non-violent protest. I believe that the Metropolitan Police commissioner commented:
Part of pushing back the state-or, as the Minister put it, the citizens' control over the state-is acknowledging that other entities in the world of government may make mistakes, or what central government regards as mistakes. There is a degree of bravery required to let go. The previous Government dealt in earned freedoms and flexibilities for local government, and our coalition partners were very critical of that and argued the localism agenda. I could go further back in history, but I shall just say that I hope that neither of the coalition partners this time will bottle it. We should acknowledge that some local authorities will do things that central government does not like, and we should be careful about the constraints imposed or
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We need to recognise some dilemmas. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to CCTV. I have often felt that local authorities are pulled in two directions on this issue: public calls for CCTV for crime prevention, and public concerns about liberties. I suppose that the answer is somewhere in proper regulation.
One policy area which is moving fast is education, with the plans for academies. I have always thought that schools are central to a local authority's operation because they are central to the local community. I am sure that Parliament will look at how academies fit into the localism agenda when it looks at localism in the round. Local government is not in for an easy time. One concern that I have is the perhaps unmanageably high expectations and demands that will be made of the voluntary sector in providing services. There are many in this House who will ensure that we do not lose sight of that. My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury has already drawn our attention to this.
There are many more areas of Home Office policy than one can cover. Immigration proved in the election to be a thorny area, not least for my party. I hope we will look at the issues in the round and address what causes people such anxiety, not least housing and jobs. I am ashamed to say that in my own borough candidates with an obviously Asian name did not get elected, while others of the same party were elected in the same ward. It has made me wonder what people today would have made of my name on the ballot paper.
The House expressed its concerns on control orders not so long ago. I look forward to putting our legislation where our speeches are. Sentencing was mentioned by those who can speak far more authoritatively than I can. I will simply say that it is a happy coincidence that the approach to sentencing trailed by the programme for government, including neighbourhood justice panels, restorative justice and so on, is also money-saving.
In summary, on the whole: the less legislation the better. Let us find ways of reviewing legislation already on the statute book-and whatever may join it-through mechanisms at which I think this House could excel. In Parliament, as in life, it is not just what you do; it is the way that you do it.
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