All 1 Baroness Deech contributions to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020

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Thu 10th Sep 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Baroness Deech 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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Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has said and, therefore, I oppose this amendment, because it is clear to everyone that 800 MPs in this or any other legislature in the world is too great a number for ease of debate, expense, space, collegiality and concentrated expertise. Indeed, 650 Members of Parliament was thought to be too many, and it seems that that number has been chosen over 600 to avoid too many MPs losing their seats. If that is the case, 800 is certainly too large for this House as well, even though a substantial proportion rarely show up or participate. Even when we have been operating virtually and many of the barriers to physical arrival in the House have been removed, only about 550 have participated in votes. One is grateful to those who absent themselves because it relieves the pressure on facilities but, at the same time, one asks what they are doing accepting a peerage if they do not want to join in the work of the House.

In opposing this amendment, I call for a renewed effort to reduce the size of the House to a number comparable with the Commons. The fact that our efforts so far have turned out to be in vain is not our fault. This House, sadly, seems to be as unpopular as it has ever been, partly because of its size and partly because of unexpected appointments. It might have been more explicable if a practice recommended by the Lord Speaker’s committee of appending a notice to the announcement to a new appointment of how that person qualifies and expects to serve had been adopted. It is unpopular, too, because it has vigorously and repeatedly rejected the clear will of the electorate, expressed first in a referendum and then confirmed by two subsequent general elections, that they do not want to stay in the European Union. But I wish there was more understanding of our role as scrutineers of legislation and, on occasion, as the moral conscience of the nation—an issue that is likely to come up shortly.

On the issue of size, your Lordships know very well the sensible measures for reduction put forward by the Lord Speaker’s committee. We were progressing quite nicely with reduction until the addition of the new appointments made by this and previous Prime Ministers in the last few years. Despite the pledges made, it seems that Prime Ministers cannot resist the temptation of handing peerages to supporters and donors. There is no way that the House can defy the Writ of Summons calling them to Westminster. The size and composition of this House are also hemmed in by the presence of 26 Bishops and the hereditaries—elements that work to block a better gender balance. Therefore, we have to take matters into our own hands and ask the party groupings again to consider how each may reduce its share of membership. Some will have to be thrown off the life raft in order that more may survive. Rejection of this amendment is a spur to action, and I call on it to serve as such.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on the size of the House of Lords are not quite relevant, with respect. When we discussed this before, I said—I was a lonely voice—that our efforts to reduce the size of the House of Lords were bound to fail because of the grim truth that no one could restrain future Prime Ministers. It is the like the puzzle you had as a schoolboy doing your 11 plus or the equivalent—filling the bath at one side and emptying it on the other; there is no means of controlling the end product. That is what I would say on the relevance.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, whom we all respect for his contributions in this field, has put his case very strongly. There is no magic number of 650. Nobody has explained to me why it should be 650 and not 651 or 649, or whatever number is justified. There is no case in my view for reducing the present membership of the House of Commons. That is why I support the principle, whatever the details of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norton.

Being an MP is now much more demanding. In 41 years of representing my own constituency, things were fairly level. There were other problems, mainly industrial problems, but now the task of the MP has become much more difficult. There is an expectation, with the development of email, of instant action on behalf of a demanding constituent. I tried to pursue two professions—of being a Member in the House of Commons and practising at the criminal Bar—and I hope that I succeeded. I doubt that in the present circumstances, such are the demands on a modern Member of Parliament, one could have done the same thing for 41 years.

This is an important amendment. I support it on the principle that the greater the number of MPs, the lesser the chance of wrecking the physical make-up of the membership in Wales. Under the present proposals, the county that I represented in part would again be subject to a huge wrecking operation to justify an equality of numbers for each of the new constituencies. Therefore, the principle of the greater number helps me in my argument of trying to preserve representation that offers some degree of continuity. I used to speak for constituents; those were the people I represented. They value continuity, value the membership of the House of Commons and value the fact that they know who their Member of Parliament is. In my part of the world that may be more important than in a major industrial area, where perhaps there is more anonymity. In our area, it is important that constituents know who to go to when there is trouble.

I support this amendment very much, because it tries to meet present needs, and a reduction in the House of Commons to 650 is no more justified than the original proposal to reduce it 600.