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Eighteen months is barely time for the local parties to sort out any changes. If by some chance there were to be an earlier general election, say one year earlier, there would be only six months in which to sort things

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out, which is patently ridiculous. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has fought elections-no doubt, he probably has-but I am sure that some members of the Government have not. I say to those people that it is not workable. The local constituency party associations need time to sort out the effects of boundary changes, which will be much more dramatic and widespread. Because they will bear little relationship to existing communities, they will be even harder to manage. It will be hard to ask local parties to do it and to ask local communities to accept it.

The Government have not thought this through. The Bill has all the hallmarks of a Bill which was rushed in because they said, "We have got some deadlines. Anyway, there is no legislation, so we have to find something to fill this long time". After all, we have had no legislation in this House pretty well since the election, except for the Public Bodies Bill, which has been an equally botched effort. I just wish that the Government would say, "Let's slow down on this. Let's think this through. Let's consult on it". We would end up with a better system than we will get now.

11.41 pm

Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, it is not my wish to block legislation that has come out of the House which I served for more than 30 years. But I think that I am entitled to make some constructive criticism, perhaps in the form of amendments. I was interested when listening to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who brought back memories. It was very commendable of him when he had to sign the Boundary Commission report and get it put down on the Floor of the House for debate knowing that it would cause great difficulty for his local constituency. I remember a Conservative MP, Phil Gallie, who always fought his corner for the Conservative Party. The boys, like myself, and the girls who sat under the Gangway used to have some banter with him.

Doonfoot is a community I know well. I think it would be safe to say that it was a traditionally Conservative area. It was put into South Ayrshire, which was at that time the constituency held by George Foulkes, now my noble friend Lord Foulkes. That meant that Phil was fighting a seat that would go from Conservative to Labour. No words of bitterness or rancour came from Phil Gallie. He took it with dignity when he lost the seat, and everyone admired and respected him.

My noble friend Lord Dubs touched on the problems of boundary changes. We should forget about reviews every five years. I would like to see an amendment to make it eight years. We have done a great deal in this House to educate young people. I do not know a noble Lord who would refuse to go along to a school or college to talk to children and young people about the value of serving their country in politics. That goes for the other place.

I was asked whether I would go to Northern Ireland to speak and I said, "Of course I will. We are talking to young people". I remember my noble friend Lord Healey saying, "You know Michael, our generation neglected our young people. We had to spend six years in the war and those of us who were lucky enough to get back wanted to get on with our own careers. We forgot about going into colleges and universities and

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schools because we wanted to get on with our lives". It meant that people felt then that politicians were too far apart from them.

When I was asked to try for the nomination for my old seat of Glasgow Springburn, the first thing I did was sit down with my wife Mary and talk about it. I remember her saying, "Michael, your father was a merchant seaman and your mother told all her boys and her daughter never to take a job away from home". I said, "Mary, I am not going to win the nomination". I won by one vote, and to this day Mary says that I knew I was going to win, but I did not know, and that is the way it turned out. But Mary and I did not need to up sticks and get our children into another school or move to another part of the country. The culture I am so proud of and wanted my children to be brought up in would be different.

Some of the many Members of Parliament who came in with me in 1979 came from Edinburgh and had been fortunate enough to win English seats. The whole family would move and change jobs because they had to bed themselves into the new communities they were representing. With five-year Parliaments and five-year boundary reviews, if a young couple in the same position that Mary and I were in 35 years ago were asking whether to go for a nomination, they might say no, especially women being encouraged to come in to Parliament. They would see that they were doing well in their careers, but would have to leave to serve for one term. It is one thing to take a chance with the electorate, but you will have to take your chances with the boundary commissioners as well.

I know what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was talking about when he mentioned the difficult situation where two seats are merged and two Members of Parliament have to go to selection conferences. Frank Dobson is still down at the other end, but Jock Stallard came into this House and served it well. It was a great pity that those two parliamentarians had to fight it out for one seat. We are going to get that every five years. If you go for eight years, at least people will say, "The chances are that we will get 10 years out of this Parliament, so why not try for it?". But let me say that when the Boundary Commission has finished, the fun starts because the new boundary has been taken up.

An MP might have two wards that he has his eye on, but his adjoining neighbour might think they belong to him. When I was Speaker in the other place, I had to hold the jackets over a dispute about sending out leaflets. Someone would say, "Those two wards are going to be mine under the new boundary review, so I want to put leaflets out". I will have to check Hansard, but I recall making a Statement from the Chair to say, "Look, Members of Parliament in this House represent their old boundaries, not the new ones that the boundary commissioners have produced". That kind of fighting is going to get worse because if a Member of Parliament takes on a ministerial job in those circumstances, they will have to be in their department on a Friday. But the adjoining neighbour has none of those responsibilities. I know who is going to turn up at the Women's Institute, the Union of Catholic Mothers and the bowling club. They will ask, "Where's Michael?", and the answer will be, "Oh, he's awful busy. He's a Minister and he can't make it".

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There will not be a word said against the colleague, but a hint will be put out that if you get me under the new boundaries, I will be your man. I do not want to know about being a Minister.

I have many friends in the Liberal Party, but maybe the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, could pass the word along. Sound bites fall off the tongue, and the sound bite is this: no one should have a job for life. The implication is that no one should have a safe Labour seat. It has been said a few times tonight that nobody should have such a thing as a safe Labour, Conservative or Liberal seat.

When I represented Glasgow Springburn, I always cringed when someone said, "You're all right, Michael, you've got a safe Labour seat". I worked just as hard to ensure that my electorate were well looked after as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in his marginal constituency. The worst thing that anyone can do is take their electorate for granted. The only branch of Marks & Spencer that could beat the store in Argyle Street was the one at Marble Arch. I can remember the manager, Aubrey Green, saying, "If a customer says to one of my assistants that he or she is displeased about the service or the product, I want that customer to come in for a coffee and a chat about why they are displeased". This was a very successful company and yet he had it in mind that that one customer fitted the parable of the lost sheep. That was the view I took about my constituents regardless of the majority that I had.

I know that the night is getting on and that other noble Lords wish to speak. All I can say about public inquiries is that they are very fair. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that I went to a public inquiry which was held in Glasgow in about 1981 in preparation for the 1983 election. The people who turned up there came from every walk of life, some of them with no political axe to grind. Scotland would have lost a seat had we not put our argument-which was accepted-to the Boundary Commission. It was not a case of QCs arguing in front of another QC, the inquiry chairman, but of men and women coming from their communities and saying, "This should not happen and this is why we wish to give evidence". So inquiries are worthwhile. Sometimes when inquiries were lost and the person or the party did not win their case, they always went away feeling that they had had a good hearing. That is very important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Adams, mentioned Argyll and the islands of Jura and Islay. I advise noble Lords to visit the area, particularly Islay. I am a teetotaller but it has some lovely distilleries there if anyone likes a whisky. It is a widely spread out area. However, on the mainland, if the Member of Parliament representing Galloway arrives at Glasgow airport, he will have to travel further south than Carlisle in order to get to the Mull of Galloway; and to get from the Mull of Galloway to Carlisle is a job and a half because in some of these isolated places there are only one-track roads. Consideration should be given to these communities.

11.54 pm

Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I want to concentrate my remarks on the proposals for voting reform. I agree with the criticisms of the rest of the

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Bill as set out by many noble Lords, particularly by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and put crisply by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. However, I shall leave that on one side and concentrate on the issue of the referendum and electoral reform.

If there is going to be a referendum there obviously needs to be a case for reconsidering the voting system, and that case has to be set out in terms of looking at wider social and political change. Usually, the considerations adduced by reformers cover some of the following issues. First, they claim that we live in a more diverse society but that that diversity is not properly reflected in Parliament. This argument is used mainly by those in favour of a form of proportional representation. There is also-the noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke powerfully on this from his experience in Liverpool-a sense of alienation from politics. It is not entirely clear to me that the voting system is necessarily the best solvent of that alienation, but I am pretty sure that that sense exists and we need to be alert to it-perhaps the voting system can play some part in ameliorating it.

The third point that is often made is that people have lost a lot of confidence in the effectiveness of political processes and perhaps look to civil society organisations in particular as an alternative to political involvement and even voting. It is certainly true that many civil society organisations have much larger memberships than political parties. I think that I am right in saying, although I would not want to go to the stake over it, that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has more members than all the political parties in Great Britain and Northern Ireland put together.

There has also been a sharp decline over the years in party identification and party loyalty. People vote far more instrumentally now. First past the post in a largely two-party system was a good vehicle for mobilising party identification and party loyalty. However, if people vote more instrumentally and in a multiparty system, that feature of first past the post seems far less salient. In addition, it is argued that first past the post has worked well enough in a two-and-a-half-party system, but we no longer have such a system. The Lib Dems no longer fit in a telephone box or a taxi-the party is larger than that-and we have the growth of the nationalist parties as well. We no longer have that kind of two-and-a-half-party system in which first past the post worked effectively.

It is argued that first past the post has often been supported by the doctrine of the mandate: a single party would be elected under first past the post and would have the right to carry out its mandate. However, this idea of the mandate and the right to carry it out in full has been eroded by the declining percentage of people supporting the successful party at an election, which was a point made very effectively by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. The doctrine of the mandate is less secure if a governing party gets a substantial majority of seats from a very low percentage of the vote.

Some people have said that first past the post was good at preserving a sense of political identity and differentiation. There would be a Conservative Party,

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a socialist or social democratic party and a Liberal Party and this sort of differentiation between parties, which fitted in with first-past-the-post politics rather well, mobilised party members and offered clear-cut alternatives to the voters. However, the criticism is-there is a lot of academic evidence on this-that the winner-takes-all system, which first past the post is, gives parties a strong incentive to move towards the position of the median voter or, to put it more colloquially, the centre ground. This has clearly happened. It has happened since 1982 with the Labour Party and the invention of new Labour as a vehicle for getting to the centre ground. It has also happened with the Conservative Party since 1997. The idea has been attributed to the Prime Minister, although I do not know whether he used the exact phrase, about detoxifying the Conservative brand. That is because of the pressure to move towards the centre ground for which the winner-takes-all system provides the incentive.

The struggle is now over the middle ground and not ideological purity, whereas first past the post was a kind of defence of ideological identity. The expenses scandal in the House of Commons has weakened the authority of that House, which is not helped by the fact that many MPs, as critics say, are elected on much less than 50 per cent of the vote. Perhaps the final point in favour of some kind of consideration of the electoral system is one not often put, but is quite a powerful one. In a position where we are likely to be devolving more power to the devolved Parliament in Scotland and the Assembly in Wales, it is very important to increase the authority of the House of Commons and of Members of Parliament within it, as the national Parliament. If people elected in the devolved bodies are seen to have greater legitimacy compared with MPs in the national Parliament, we are in for some problems.

Let us assume for a moment that these are good reasons to re-examine the electoral system and consult people, should the choice be between first past the post and AV. There is a case for saying that it should be a broader choice, because both first past the post and AV are majoritarian systems, whereas many criticisms of first past the post embody the idea that representation should be more proportional. Yet there is no guarantee at all, and quite a lot of evidence to the contrary, that AV would produce more proportional outcomes. There is a case for saying that the choice should be between a majoritarian principle and a proportional one or between two majoritarian systems like first past the post and AV, with the option of a proportional system. But of course that makes any referendum far more complex and the results of it much more difficult to determine.

AV is more pluralistic than first past the post, which allows the elector to choose more widely, should he or she wish to do so. While being pluralistic, it is also more consensual, which I suppose is an advantage to it, and it preserves the constituency link, which in the light of the expenses scandal is a very effective form of political accountability, to the electorate and not just to the party. Of course, it makes coalition government much more likely, but the pressures from the media in particular at an election run on those lines would be such as to require political parties to indicate before the election what their preferred coalition

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partners would be. That would make the whole process of forming coalitions, if they were indicated by the results, much more transparent and open.

It is sometimes said that one great advantage of first past the post is that it creates strong government, and no doubt it does. We can all think of examples over the years where governments have acted in a very strong and decisive way, but it is not necessarily the same thing as effective government, whereby a decision sticks and has wide consent behind it. There is nothing particularly partisan about this; the Suez invasion, the poll tax and the Iraq war were examples of strong government, but I am not sure that they were clear examples of effective government. It would be absurd to say that Germany, which has a coalition, has not had effective government over the whole time of its existence as a federal republic. So we need to be wary of assuming that single-party government is the same thing as effective government. If we have this referendum and it goes in favour of the alternative vote or if there is a proportional option on the agenda, we have to accept that coalition will become the norm and not the exception. We would therefore need to think much more clearly about the processes of coalition formation, rather than the protracted and not very edifying experience that we had earlier this year.

12.05 am

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, in a few hours I am catching a train back to Hull because I am teaching in the morning before returning tomorrow afternoon. I mention that because I have just worked out that I will have a bigger audience in my seminar in the morning than I have here this evening.

As various speakers have noted, this measure is two Bills in one. I deprecated the practice of the previous Government of bringing forward omnibus Bills and I do not endorse its continuation under the present one. I shall address the two parts of the Bill. I start with two overarching concerns, the first of which has been variously mentioned this evening. Unrelated to the merits of the particular proposals, it is the speed with which the Bill has been brought forward. As the Constitution Committee has noted in its report on the Bill, and I declare an interest as a member of that committee, it is to be regretted that there was not time for consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny. I know there are reasons why Bills cannot always be subject to such scrutiny, not least in the first Session of a new Parliament under a new Government, but Bills in such a situation have usually been contemplated and worked on prior to the general election. In this case, because the government manifesto or programme was a post-election product, there is a somewhat greater case for rigorous scrutiny.

The second concern is the relationship of the Bill, primarily Part 1, to the stated aims of the Government. I am uncertain about how a referendum confined to the alternative vote relates to the principles enunciated by Ministers as underpinning proposals for constitutional change. Voters are to be offered a referendum but on a restricted choice, which derives from a compromise; I understand the politics. My concern is how electors will feel about being offered such a choice. It does not necessarily deliver on the Government's stated aims,

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and I have problems with the premise that underpins the proposals for change. Like my noble friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick, I do not accept that our political system is broken. There has been a crisis of confidence, but it has been in politicians rather than the political system. Electing the same people by somewhat different means will not restore confidence. The answer lies in behaviour and not in institutional change. I regard what we are engaged in here as a form of displacement activity.

On Part 1, I have a principled objection to referendums. However, the Government, like their predecessor, do not. As the Constitution Committee notes, if there are to be referendums then reform of the voting system is a constitutional issue that merits being subject to one. However, the proposal raises two basic problems. Reform of or, as is proposed, abolition of the House of Lords is also a major constitutional issue. Why a referendum on one but not the other? The other problem is the provision to give effect to change if more electors vote yes than no. If there is a turnout of only 20 per cent of electors and they split 51 per cent to 49 per cent in favour of change, to what extent can one claim that the change enjoys legitimacy through endorsement by the people? I appreciate that there are problems with thresholds. One has a choice between having some form of threshold, be it in terms of turnout or the proportion of those voting yes, or omitting or amending Clause 8 so that the implementation of a yes vote is not automatic but instead is left to Parliament to determine what to do in the light of the turnout and outcome.

On the second part of the Bill, I shall focus on the reduction in the number of MPs rather than on constituency boundaries. On the provisions for boundary changes, I confine myself to endorsing some of the proposals embodied in the report by the British Academy Policy Centre entitled Drawing a New Constituency Map for the United Kingdom. In particular, I see the case for providing for an extra period of consultation, following publication of representations received in the initial 12-week period, in order for counterobjections to be made, thus following the practice of New Zealand and Australia. I also endorse the proposal for more assistant commissioners to be appointed, not least for dealing with the representations made on boundary proposals.

I turn to Clause 11 and the provision that the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom shall be 600. I support a reduction in the size of the House of Commons. I chaired the Conservative Party's Commission to Strengthen Parliament, which reported in 2000; my noble friend Lord Forsyth was a member. We were more radical than what is proposed here in terms of numbers, though less ambitious in terms of timing. We favoured a staggered reduction in the number of constituencies. That would give time for not only the Boundary Commission to prepare, but also the parties and the Members themselves.

My noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury introduced a Parliamentary Government Bill in 1999 providing for a staggered reduction over a 20-year period. At the end of that period there would be a House of 400 members. We recommended a staggered reduction

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resulting in a House of 500. In our view, that would leave us with constituencies that were still quite viable-some MPs already serve their constituents well in seats with electorates in excess of 90,000-and not damage the capacity of the House of Commons to fulfil its functions effectively. Indeed, we believed it could enhance the efficiency of the House, given that we identified the current number as contributing to the strain on the House's resources. Better resources for fewer Members would, in our view, aid rather than hinder the efficiency of the House. We also took the view, though it may seem counterintuitive, that larger constituencies may facilitate a closer, longer-term relationship between Member and constituents, in that less radical changes would be required to constituency boundaries to take effect of demographic changes.

I accept that there is no magic number. As I say, our view was that a House of 500 could deliver efficiently what is expected of the House of Commons, but one could make a case for a smaller or even a greater reduction. The principal point is that there is a case for reducing the size of the House. However, there is a necessary corollary to such a reduction-that there must be a corresponding reduction in the number of Ministers. Indeed, in our report we argued that there was a case for having fewer Ministers, even if the size of the House of Commons remained unchanged. Various people who gave evidence to our commission, including former Ministers, argued that there were too many Ministers. We recognised that Ministers were seen to be busy people but, as Frank Field put it to us, the amount of work increased to occupy the time made available by Ministers. The case for a reduction in numbers was well put to us by my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, who told us that,

A reduction is not only desirable but also essential if the number of MPs is reduced. So far, the Government have resisted attempts to amend the Bill to provide for a reduction proportionate to the reduction in the size of the House. The Minister in the other place, David Heath, argued that the demands of government necessitated the number of Ministers. If my noble friend wishes to argue that when the debate finishes, I will be interested to see what empirical support he is able to provide.

The other argument advanced is that the issue could be considered later and does not need to be addressed in the Bill. I do not accept that argument. I do not regard reducing the size of the House of Commons by almost 10 per cent to be a matter of greater importance than the fundamental relationship between Parliament and the Executive-in this case, between the House of Commons and the part of it that forms the Government. I do not wish to see the Government strengthened through a reduction in the number of MPs. The so-called payroll vote-or rather the jobsworth vote, as it includes unpaid PPSs-is already too large. It will be even more so if the Bill is enacted. I know that providing for a reduction in the number of Ministers in the other place does not then

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deal with the number of Ministers in this House or with PPSs but that is not an argument for not amending the Bill. There is a compelling case for reducing the number of Ministers and for doing so now, and then for addressing the other elements of patronage. There are too many PPSs, for example, and their independence has been eroded over time, but that fact is not a reason not to move now in respect of the number of Ministers.

When we published our report, the then party leader, William Hague, described it as a route map for a future Conservative Government. I hope the Government will now revisit this issue with some urgency. It is a matter of constitutional significance.

12.15 am

Lord Whitty: My Lords, at one point I felt that I would give up on this debate and go home, but I am glad that I stayed. The last two speeches, by the noble Lords, Lord Plant and Lord Norton, bear serious assessment by the Government and by this House. It is regrettable that the Bill before us is very partisan, but it purports to address big issues: the nature of our democracy and the standing of Parliament. We all know that neither of those can be entirely resolved simply by fiddling with the system, but we also know that the system at present neither achieves a democratic result nor improves the standing of our elected representatives.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I do not have a firm view on what the correct size of the House of Commons should be, and I am a supporter of some form of electoral reform on the grounds that my noble friend Lady Kennedy outlined earlier. However, the Bill is not suitable to address either matter. For example, surely the size of the House of Commons must take account of what other elected representatives exist, both here-when we have reformed this House-and in the devolved Administrations, and the number of councillors that we have. If we look at international comparisons, it is clear that we have roughly the same number of MPs as France and Italy and rather more per head of population than Germany. However, if you take the total number of elected representatives, we have far fewer. Unless you take this big picture into account, there is no answer to the question of how many MPs there should be.

On voting systems, I said that I am in favour of reform, but AV is not my favourite form of reform and I do not believe that it will achieve the objectives that the Liberal Democrats have been pressing on us for many years. AV reinforces swings and, by and large, region by region, reinforces the position of the top two parties. The Liberal Democrats might gain a few seats in the south-west, but in most places they would not gain. If the Bill is being put forward to keep the coalition together or to provide some advantage to the Liberal Democrats, I am afraid that that party's Members will be seriously disappointed.

One central flaw in the Bill on which I want to concentrate is the way in which its approach to deciding the boundaries and number of MPs will, in effect, sacrifice the concept of community and replace that with one of statistical mean. Ever since the late Earl of Leicester, otherwise known as Simon de Montfort,

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proposed the model for Parliament that we have followed for most of the past few centuries, Parliament's representation-or that of its lower House-has been based on the boroughs and shires of this country. They were definable communities that knew where they were. The nation is an aggregation of those communities, and Parliament should be the aggregation of the representatives of those communities.

In one sense, this issue is irrespective of the nature of the voting system. You can have one, two and three-member constituencies-or even subregional constituencies-but the members must come from a definable area where people understand what that community is-as the noble Lord, Lord Martin, and others have underlined in the course of this debate. If we move away from that principle and provide as the overriding principle for setting constituency boundaries a given figure plus or minus 5 per cent, that will override not only the sense of community but other layers of government-in particular local government-and the way in which people approach the political process. Noble Lords have talked about the way in which people became involved in inquiries. That is true in some cases but not so true in others, but people become involved on the basis of the communities in which they operate, whether they belong to voluntary organisations, political parties or churches. All sorts of people turn up to those inquiries because they wish to know who their representative is and how well the community will be represented as a constituency.

Of course the total number of voters in a constituency is important and of course we should not depart dramatically from that except in a few exceptional circumstances, but allowing a variation of 5 per cent is far too tight a definition. A figure of 20 per cent would be closer. The number of voters is not the most important factor either, because the total population of constituencies can differ dramatically from those that are on the register, as other noble Lords have pointed out. Therefore, as well as the numbers on the electoral roll, the boundary commissions should take into account other considerations such as the total population, community identities, local authority boundaries, the views of local individuals and institutions and the whole question of sparsity and accessibility for constituents. Many such issues need to be balanced out. To present this House with a system that has one overriding concept does not serve democracy well and certainly does not serve representative democracy well.

I wish to make two points from a party point of view. First, if you base this issue simply on communities, you may get a distorted aggregate picture but you adjust that by having a proportionate element built in as well, as happens in Scotland and Wales and in the post-war's most successful democracy in Germany. If we do not do that but base constituencies simply on electoral size, which can change significantly over five years, we will have a situation where-to end up on a slightly cynical note-all parties will have Members of Parliament looking over their shoulder at how their constituency may change. A chicken run will develop and colleagues will fight each other over the nature of boundaries and over seats. In those circumstances, good government will suffer and I suspect that good coalition government will suffer even more.

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I plead with the Government to look at the provisions again, both in terms of the principles of democracy and localism that the Government have enunciated and from the point of view of good governance. This Bill matches none of those objectives. I am sure that the House of Lords will give it detailed consideration, but the Government should think again.

12.23 am

Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill: My Lords, I wish to focus my remarks on Part 2 of the Bill as I am concerned about the proposals to change constituency boundaries and reduce the size of the Commons from 650 to 600 Members. I want to make clear at the outset that I am not against the principle of equality and therefore can see the need for more equal numbers of voters per constituency, but I am worried that the Bill pursues that objective in a partisan and inflexible way, which may do as yet unforeseen damage to our parliamentary system. I also believe that its proposals to cut the number of MPs are not based on a true understanding of the nature of how constituencies work and the way the public engage with their representatives.

I should be interested to hear why the figure of 600 has been chosen as the right number adequately to represent the United Kingdom-it was not a figure suggested in either of the two parties' manifestos that now form the coalition, nor was it included in the coalition's programme for government. That is a serious omission because the proposed reduction of 50 seats is the most dramatic shake-up of Parliament since Irish Members were removed from Westminster following the partition of Ireland in 1921.

I believe that this drive to cut the number of MPs somehow diminishes their work. The Commons has not in fact grown disproportionately in recent years. It has increased by only 25 Members-just over 3 per cent-since 1950, but the electorate has increased by 25 per cent over that time. This has dramatically increased the caseload of MPs and I do not believe that fewer MPs will reduce the demand for their services.

This Bill fails to recognise the real work of MPs-not only in Parliament but in their constituencies. MPs are vital to the communities they represent, often as the last port of call for those in severe difficulties in regard to their housing, health, education, anti-social behaviour harassment, immigration status and every other issue where people find themselves up against the brick walls of inflexible bureaucracy. I know of offices that receive an average of 200 e-mails a day on top of the letters, phone calls and face-to-face surgery cases, all asking for their MP's help.

MPs are often the focal point of community activities, too-the pensioners groups, the school prize giving and the veterans' fundraising. This surely is the big society at local level. The 7th report of the Select Committee on the Constitution on this Bill, published just last week, shares my concern about the proposals to cut the size of the Commons. In paragraph 29, the committee states:

"We conclude that the Government have not calculated the proposed reduction in the size of the House of Commons on the basis of any considered assessment of the role and functions of MPs".

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I would urge the Government to think again about reducing the number of MPs.

I would also suggest that more thought be given to the very rigid new rules which the Bill proposes for drawing constituency boundaries. As I said, I am not against the idea of a more equal distribution of voters per constituency; indeed the principle has long been written into the law. However, the inflexible rule that no constituency can be more than 5 per cent above or below the arbitrary figure of 75,800 does not make allowances for natural boundaries, local authority areas or regional and community identities. As a Londoner, I may have difficulties recognising the important differences between Devon and Cornwall, but I am absolutely sure that those living there do not, as my noble friend Lord Myners so eloquently confirmed earlier.

Mention has already been made that more than 3.5 million eligible voters are likely to be missing from the 2010 electoral register. The Electoral Commission says that the missing millions are largely younger, poorer people, ethnic minorities, people living in private rented accommodation, and predominantly located in urban areas. The commission also reported in March that there were 100,000 unregistered voters in Glasgow alone. If they were all counted, the city would warrant at least one extra seat, but that will not happen under this rushed timetable. If these missing millions are ignored in the redrawing of boundaries, it will have a distorting effect on the electoral map and unforeseen social consequences whereby government bodies do not recognise the true nature of the communities they should be supporting with grants per head, and so on. Where these people are not missing is in MPs' surgeries up and down the country, seeking help, advice and advocacy. Just because they are not on the electoral register does not mean that these people do not exist-they do.

In conclusion, this Bill needs to be revised to make it fairer and more practical. It needs to be more responsive to the level of parliamentary representation that citizens want. It needs to strike a better balance between the speed of a boundary review, the strictness of an adherence to electoral equality, and the strong tradition of public involvement in boundary reviews that underpins the legitimacy of our widely admired system.

12.28 am

Lord Jones: My Lords, if the lecture of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is half as good as his shrewd speech, his lecture room will be full to overcrowded later today. There have been many twists and turns in this debate, and one thing that remains in my mind is the rather elegant point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who said that we are legislating to denude membership of the other place, the House of Commons, while here we are facilitating ever-more overcrowding by receiving and introducing more Barons and Baronesses. I do not think that you should have two Bills in one. This is an error and it may become more obviously an error as the stages of the Bill proceed here in your Lordships' House.

In his wise speech, my noble friend Lord Plant referred to the advance of the nationalist parties. I find it astounding that they are in office in Belfast, in Cardiff

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and in Edinburgh-and rather speedily so. Perhaps that reflects discontent with some processes, but I will not argue strongly on that point at this hour of the day.

To debit 10 seats from Wales's parliamentary account is unjust. Wales's MPs do a sound job of propelling Wales's needs to the forefront of proceedings in the mother of Parliaments. We are talking of Wales's parliamentary birthright. Our people in the constituencies look to their MPs for help. They get it-and they get it in the constituencies. The modern MP of whatever party gives constant service to the underprivileged, to the poor and to local groups and bodies who make their often bewildered and exasperated way to advice bureaux and MPs' surgeries. This is not the time to denude Wales of Westminster champions. Throughout the debate, the sense of community has been heavily emphasised. I would be dismayed to see the two Flintshire parliamentary seats hacked about: that would not be a good thing.

Westminster too often legislates first and later picks up the unintended consequences of careless, hasty legislation. Our contemporary parliamentary history is littered with depressing examples of legislative mistakes. I suggest a pause for thought and a rethink-in this instance, to Wales's advantage. To the coalition, perhaps, the concepts of the Bill are beguiling, but in the cold light of day, despite this miserable hour, it is clear that Wales needs every Member of Parliament that it has. The economy of Wales is under major pressure. The society of Wales is undergoing rapid change. We should draw back from striking out 10 Members. Now is not the time to shrink the Welsh parliamentary forces.

12.32 am

Lord Teverson: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have stayed here for so long to enjoy my two and a half minutes of fame in this debate. The bad news is that, having already missed my last train, I might as well stay here and speak until at least three o'clock in the morning, or until whenever the café downstairs opens for breakfast.

I have enjoyed much of the debate so far. In terms of the Bill generally, I agree absolutely with the idea of reducing the size of the House of Commons. I have never been a Member of that particular House of Parliament, although I have been a Member of another Parliament. However, it seems to me that, as has been said, a reduction to 600 MPs may be rather modest. I should have thought that reducing the number to 500, staged in the manner suggested by my noble friend Lord Norton, would be a good approach to the issue, although that is not really the matter on which I wanted to speak.

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One thing that comes out of the Bill is that there are a number of electoral commissions in the United Kingdom and, because of that, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not have the problem of parliamentary constituencies crossing those boundaries.

I want to come back to the issue of natural communities, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Myners, and the opposition Front Bench. Although I believe that constituencies should be roughly the same size, as that is important for electoral democracy and equity, I do not think that the notion should be so firmly adhered to that it destroys or breaks away from natural communities. That is why, as someone who lives in Cornwall, I would also support a limited change to the second part of the Bill so as to allow some of those natural communities to be represented properly. I agree with my noble friend Lord Oakeshott about the Isle of Wight-that seems to be a sensible proposition-and it seems that a proper case can also be put with regard to Ynys Mon in Wales, as well as some additional ones in Scotland.

I thought it was a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Myners, brought a very party-political angle to the Cornish issue. If he were here-unfortunately, he is not in his place at the moment-I would say to him, as someone who co-ordinated the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign in Cornwall, that that campaign goes across all political parties, including the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, Mebyon Kernow and the Greens. We are united in trying to protect the boundary of the Tamar and therefore its historical, cultural and community regions. That is something that I would like to bring forward in amendments to the Bill as it progresses through Committee.

With regard to referenda and electoral change, I say "Bring it on". It is time that we changed the way that the country votes for its Members of Parliament. How can I as a democrat argue against giving the people that choice rather than just parliamentarians? Let us reduce the number of parliamentarians and spread power down through national Assemblies and national Parliaments and to principal local authorities. I speak as a member of the unitary authority of Cornwall.

I shall finish there. It is time that we all had our cocoa, headed for the trains and went to bed before resuming this stimulating debate tomorrow. I rest my case.

Debate adjourned until tomorrow.

House adjourned at 12.37 am.

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