House of Lords
Wednesday, 26 January 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Hereford.
Introduction: Lord Kestenbaum
Jonathan Andrew Kestenbaum, Esquire, having been created Baron Kestenbaum, of Foxcote in the County of Somerset, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Sainsbury of Turville and Lord Puttnam, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Morgan of Ely
Mair Eluned Morgan, having been created Baroness Morgan of Ely, of Ely in the City of Cardiff, was introduced and took the oath, in English and in Welsh, supported by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon and Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
European Arrest Warrant and Investigation Order
The UK’s transposition of the European arrest warrant complies fully with the concept of habeas corpus. UK implementation of the European investigation order will also be fully compliant. However, I understand that the noble Lord’s principal concern is the separate issue of European arrest warrants being issued for trivial offences. The Government share this concern and are talking to other EU countries, bilaterally and through the European Union, to stop this happening.
I thank the Minister for her considered reply, but I am not as optimistic. The fact remains that hundreds of UK citizens are being compelled to appear before any EU court without the merit of the often frivolous charges being first assessed. They can be locked up without pre-trial. Is she not concerned that this totally overrides the ancient liberties of the British citizen enshrined in Magna Carta and habeas corpus? Will she assure the House that this will be resolved? Three member states of the EU have already declared the European arrest warrant unconstitutional. We should do the same. It really is time that we started to say no to damaging EU legislation.
My Lords, the Government are concerned, as I have just said, with the disproportionate use of the European arrest warrant for trivial purposes. That is one of the reasons why we have asked Sir Scott Baker, with the panel that he is heading on extradition, to look specifically at the operation of the European arrest warrant. He is able to take submissions from Members of this House and others and I hope that the noble Lord will take advantage of that.
My Lords, of course one must share the Minister’s concern about the civil liberties principles at stake, which sometimes are being breached, as the noble Lord said. On the other hand, will the Minister confirm that some serious criminals charged with terrorism or other equally serious offences have been brought back to Britain to face trial through the use of the European arrest warrant?
Indeed, my Lords, and I suspect that that is why our predecessors signed up to this measure when they were in office. It is the case that it has facilitated the return of prisoners to jurisdiction, so the noble Lord makes a perfectly valid point.
My Lords, I hope that I have just indicated what we are doing. We think that we need some expert advice, so we have asked Sir Scott Baker to look at the operation of the European arrest warrant. He is due to report in September of this year and the Government will take action in the light of his report.
Does not the Minister agree that habeas corpus is a process and not a principle? It is designed to make sure that a person who is in custody is there legally. If a European arrest warrant has been issued improperly, a writ of habeas corpus will succeed and, if not, it will fail. It is a simple issue and there is no conflict between the principles.
My Lords, in this House of legal eagles I hesitate, as a non-lawyer, to get on to the grounds, but I understand that the principle of habeas corpus is indeed a legal remedy against unlawful detention. It is therefore right to say that the European arrest warrant in principle is compliant. I accept entirely, however, that there is dissatisfaction with the warrant’s operation, which is what the Government have asked Sir Scott Baker to look into.
I think that I will have to write to the noble and learned Lord about that. There are figures but I do not entirely have them to hand. The numbers are not huge, but they are sufficiently significant, and we wish to know how well this remedy is operating.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that one of the prime duties of government is to protect the interests of the citizen, particularly when abroad. She will be aware that members of the British public have been extradited to other countries without the production of any prima facie evidence at all. Moreover, they often go to countries that do not have the same respect for law and individual interests as we do in this country. The Government were warned about this when the Bill was discussed in Grand Committee. It is a serious matter and I hope that the Government will understand the level of concern about it throughout the country.
My Lords, the point that the noble Lord makes about the Government having been warned at the time of the passage of the legislation is perhaps to be directed at the other Benches. We are concerned about the operation of the European arrest warrant, which is precisely why we believe that it needs to be looked into. I would add one point about the European supervision directive—I may not have the title quite right. There is a framework agreement on an arrangement that will come into operation whereby individuals who have been summoned for jurisdiction can nevertheless return to their country of origin during the period of bail and, if sentence is passed on them, can also serve that sentence there. Extra remedies are coming into operation to protect people’s rights.
My Lords, could my noble friend not take some advantage of the provision of European arrest warrants? We also have the problem of control orders. Perhaps she could get some friendly European country to take those who are currently subject to control orders and bang them up in a jail somewhere, without the need ever to bring them to trial. That would seem to be a most convenient solution.
My Lords, the Question refers to the European investigation order. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are satisfied with the operation of that order and whether the demands placed on UK police forces as a result of such orders are proportionate?
My Lords, the European investigation order is, of course, not yet in operation; it is still being discussed. Its objective is to facilitate mutual legal assistance between sovereign legal systems. We are endeavouring in the negotiations on this to ensure that its operation, when it comes into effect, will be satisfactory from the point of view of the traditions and the standards of this country.
Elections: Second Home Owners
My Lords, the Government have no current plans to restrict the right of second home owners who meet the residence requirement to register in two places, but we will keep the issue under review. An individual may be registered at more than one address if it appears to the electoral registration officer for the local authority area in which each address is located that the individual is resident in that area. However, it is an offence for a person to vote twice in a general election or European Parliament election.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Is it not a principle, just as we have for one person one vote, that for a national election an individual should be able to cast their vote where they really are a resident and a stakeholder in the community? Will the Minister make sure that that is clarified for returning officers, and will the Government take steps to ensure that people are able to vote in national elections only where their main residence is located?
I thank my noble friend for that question. The electoral registration officer is responsible for defining this particular issue. I also thank him for suggesting nominating a main residence, and I can confirm that the Government are considering this further. Noble Lords will recognise the difficulties that can arise from such definitions.
This matter has been a long-standing feature of our electoral system. The whole business of permanent and temporary residence has been defined by case law, and two English cases that set out the principles state that a person may have two residences that qualify them for an interest in the outcome of the elections in two local authority elections.
My Lords, returning to second homes, I wonder whether, since the Government have so rightly emphasised the importance of getting equity between the value of votes, they should address this issue of giving some people two votes, while everyone else, including those of us who are allowed to vote in whichever elections, have only one.
This is a matter which, as I said in my original Answer, the Government are reviewing. It is a long-standing tradition that people can register in two different addresses where they have an interest. I should emphasise that it is against the law to vote twice in the same election to the same body.
Does the noble Lord not agree that the real problem that real democrats are concerned with at the moment is that 3.5 million people are not registered and are therefore not entitled to vote? Could he update the House on what the Government are doing to try to reduce that number?
The Government are trying to make sure that all databases and the electoral register, which is in effect a database, are made as comprehensive as possible. I answered a Question not so very long ago, as the noble Lord will remember, on the census, as I did on election registration. There is currently a review to produce a national address gazetteer, which will assist both electoral registration officers and the census process in providing information, so that a more positive approach can be taken to address the issue that the noble Lord has raised.
I do not think, with respect, that the Minister has precisely answered the question put by my noble friend Lady Trumpington. She asked whether it was right that a student should have two votes—one at home and one at the university—when he or she is likely to be at the university for only two or three years and is therefore electing someone who might well be in office for many years after they have left the university.
Does not the Government’s decision to set their boundaries on the basis of the December 2010 register, which includes this flawed material on second homes and the registration of voters, further confirm how the data that are being used for boundary setting are just unacceptable and should not be used?
I wondered when that question would be posed, because it ties in with the debates that we are currently having on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. The distortions that all databases have—the census is no exception, because it, too, has to be assessed in various areas because of low returns—are distortions to the electorate numbers and would affect electorates in university towns and coastal recreational areas in particular. I should emphasise, however, that residences that are used primarily for recreational purposes are not, in general terms, considered to be second residences and should not be registered.
My Lords, the noble Lord has properly reminded the House that it is illegal to vote twice in the same general election. Will he say, under the present arrangements, how it is possible to police that law; and how many people does he think, or does he know, have actually been prosecuted for doing that?
My Lords, the Government believe that design is an important tool for innovation and economic growth. The strategic use of design can be transformative for companies, for the commercialisation of science and for the delivery of public services. The Government will promote design through their continued support and funding for the Design Council and the delivery of its mission to place design at the heart of social and economic renewal in the UK.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that positive answer. Does she agree that there have been seminal reports from Sir James Dyson and Martin Temple explaining the importance of design to economic success, contributing, as it does, about £15 billion to GDP directly, quite apart from its wider impact? If she does agree, will she be a little more specific as to what the Government will do to ensure that the widest national expertise is brought to bear on giving design its proper place in strategies on innovation and growth?
My Lords, the Government have welcomed the reports of both Sir James Dyson and Martin Temple, to which the noble Baroness referred, and the insight that they have given on the role of design in social and economic renewal. The Government are committed to continued funding and support for a restructured Design Council and we are working together to implement the recommendations of the Temple review. One of the recommendations was that the council should restructure to incorporate a broader cross-section of industry and society, with representation at both national and local level. This will ensure that the widest national design expertise can be utilised to contribute to our strategies for innovation and growth and to help to return the United Kingdom economy to strong, sustainable growth.
The Minister will know that the Design Council has done good work and produced good results in the National Health Service in controlling infection and other improvements. Will she do her best to ensure that the council is not overlooked and that it will make a contribution to our reorganisation of the NHS?
I am delighted to answer that question from my noble friend. The Design Council has done some excellent work with the National Health Service and the Department of Health. The Design Bugs Out project demonstrated how the design of equipment can reduce hospital infections. These are wonderful ways of extending the use of the great talent that we have in this country for innovation in these areas. I am sure that other government departments will start to look at the sort of help that the Design Council could give them in saving money and promoting better practice.
As chairman of the Design Council, perhaps I should declare an interest. Does the Minister agree with me, as I think she might, that design is a powerful driver for economic recovery and for creating better public services at less cost? Will she ensure that her department takes the lead in developing a strategy across government for design? The lack of that at the moment suggests that design is not fully understood and is not given the priority that it deserves in all departments.
My Lords, I am aware that, as chairman of the Design Council, the noble Lord has a particular interest in this subject; if I remember correctly, he made it the centre-point of his maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. The Government recognise the excellent work of the Design Council in promoting the use of design to create more efficient and effective public services. For example, Lewisham Council’s homelessness service now costs £1.2 million less than in 2008 as a result of mentoring through the Design Council’s Public Services by Design programme. There are other excellent public sector examples, such as in the NHS, as we have heard, and the Department of Health’s collaboration with the Design Council. These programmes have helped to raise awareness of the value of design across government. I know that this is an absolute personal crusade for the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and no doubt he will continue to ask me questions in this area until we have fulfilled his every want.
My Lords, the UK’s internationally recognised strength in design was built on 150 years of investment in design education in some of the world’s best colleges. The Government’s HE funding system takes no account of the economic value of any subjects, apart from science, technology, engineering and maths. If design is mission-critical to UK plc, as the Minister suggests, will she say how much will be invested in English design education in the 2011-12 academic year and what policy guidance the Government will provide?
Future funding for all university courses will increasingly flow from graduate contributions. Our universities will be able to secure an equivalent flow of income and, if their course provision remains attractive to students, some may be able to attract more income. Universities must consider, therefore, how to structure and design their courses in ways that make them as attractive as possible to students. The students will be making the choices, so the more attractive the courses, the more students they will attract.
I think that the noble Baroness is referring to the work of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. We recognise that good design of living environments can greatly enhance the quality of life for inhabitants. Following the decision by DCMS to withdraw funding from CABE, we are actively considering future arrangements for delivering its functions. An announcement is imminent.
Does the Minister agree that, in many areas, design and engineering are inseparable? It seems strange to me that they have been separated in terms of university funding. Will she ensure that design plays an integral part in the new technology innovation centres?
Perhaps I can slightly broaden the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. Does the Minister accept that the creative industries, of which design is a significant aspect, will have to play a key part in the growth of the British economy? In the light of the GDP figures yesterday, does she not think that this is the moment for the Government to set out their plans to ensure that the creative industries provide a spur for growth in our economy?
Work on the creative industries is going on all the time, as my noble friend knows. He is right that the UK design sector has a worldwide reputation for creativity and innovation. Research indicates that £15 billion was spent on UK designs in 2009, so there is every reason for us to encourage every aspect of this that we can. I thank my noble friend for his question.
The Government recognise the need to help young people into work and the adverse effect of long-term unemployment. Personalised support for young people through Jobcentre Plus, coupled with the new work programme will enable young people over 18 make the transition into work. We will help young people to make an effective transition from learning to work, and increase participation to reduce the numbers of young people who are not in education, employment or training.
My Lords, given that these are the highest numbers of 16 to 24 year-olds recorded as unemployed since records began in 1992, does the noble Lord think that it is time for the Government to reconsider their decision to abolish the Future Jobs Fund, the guarantees on youth employment and the education maintenance allowance, as there is now a real danger of another lost generation? That concern is reinforced by the latest lack-of-growth forecasts, as I like to call them.
My Lords, the figures for unemployment among young people aged 16 to 24 have risen with the recession and have been broadly flat from around the middle of 2009. They are still too high at 951,000 but they have been broadly flat in that period. However, I am worried about the number of NEETS in this country, which rose over the period of the previous Government by 250,000 to 1.4 million. That is a serious, long-term structural issue, and we have long-term structural plans to sort it out.
My Lords, I confirm that I am very worried about the situation in respect of NEETs, which is underlying and structural, as I said. We have now transformed the programmes to do something about it. We are introducing the work programme in the middle of this year, and we are also transforming the nature of provision in Jobcentre Plus, making it far more flexible and designed to look after people as individuals rather than in broad groups based on their benefit, as has been the case.
My Lords, given the Minister’s concentration on NEETs, which many of us would agree is entirely right, is there more that companies could do to encourage young people to come in part time but be trained at the same time? Can he say more about that?
Yes, an effective strategy has to be built around employers, and we are doing quite a few things. The most important one was the introduction earlier this month of work experience. The idea is to give eight weeks’ work experience to young people aged between 18 and 21 who are not in university, while they continue to collect benefit. We are also looking to introduce later this year the academy programme, which combines work experience with elements of training to introduce people to work.
My Lords, as a Minister, I introduced something very similar to those new work experience programmes. We should note that between 1997 and the beginning of the recession claimant youth unemployment fell by 40 per cent. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Young, that unemployment for 18 to 24 year-olds increased from 17.7 per cent to 18.1 per cent in the last quarter. Is this because of the cuts to the Future Jobs Fund, the ending of the young person’s guarantee, the cuts to the education maintenance allowance and the raising of the cost of going to university; or is it because of bad weather?
My Lords, I think that it is important that we do not get cheap on the movements: this is, as always, a very complicated set of movements. During the last month, for instance, the claimant count went down a little for the youngsters. It went up by 30,000 or so, but has been broadly flat since 2009. There will be reasons for the figure being up a bit, but I do not think that is the point. The point is that we have a serious underlying structural problem. We have about 600,000 youngsters who have not managed to get sustained employment after education. Within that figure, I do not have the exact number about whom we should be seriously worried. Of the 16 to 17 year-olds, it is about 50,000. These are youngsters who may never make the transition into proper economic activity. It is vital that we have structures to help them make that transition.
My Lords, in the year 2009-10, there was a 99 per cent increase in the number of people who were taking the job seekers allowance for more than 24 months. Among that group, who are the hardest to get into work, there must be a significant number of young people without qualifications. What actions are the Minister and the Government taking to deal with many of these people who were parked by training providers because they were too difficult to deal with?
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the outcome of the review of counterterrorism and security powers.
The review has taken place in the context of a threat from terrorism which is as serious as we have faced at any time. In dealing with that threat, it has been the consistent aim of this Government not only to protect the security of our citizens but also the freedoms of us all. We reviewed counterterrorism legislation because too much of it was excessive and unnecessary. At times it gave the impression of criminalising entire communities. Some measures, such as the extraordinary attempt to increase the period of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects to 90 days, were rightly defeated in Parliament. Others, such as the most draconian aspects of control orders, were defeated in the courts. These measures undermined public confidence. So I am delighted that the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that he will support me in preventing the excessive use of state power.
I make no apology for the time that this review has taken. It has rightly been deliberate and thorough to ensure that we safeguard both security and our freedoms. The review has taken account of all sides of the argument. It has received evidence from academic experts and civil society groups, from communities across the country and from the law enforcement and security agencies. I have, of course, consulted regularly with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, has provided independent oversight of the process. He has had access to all relevant papers and has played an invaluable role in ensuring that all the evidence was given proper consideration. I should like to thank him for his contribution in ensuring that the recommendations of this review are not only fair but seen to be fair. I am laying the review, a summary of the public consultation, the equality impact assessment of these measures and Lord Macdonald’s report in the House.
On pre-charge detention, the Government announced to the House last week that we would not renew the current legislation on extended pre-charge detention. This means that the sunset clause inserted by the previous Government has now brought the maximum period of pre-charge detention down to 14 days. The review sets out the detailed considerations leading to this conclusion.
The police, prosecutors and the Government are clear that the normal maximum period of pre-charge detention should be 14 days. However, we recognise that in exceptional circumstances this might need to be temporarily increased to 28 days. We will therefore draw up draft primary legislation to be introduced for parliamentary consideration only in such circumstances. We will therefore publish a draft Bill and propose that this be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. I should make clear to the House that until it is repealed by the Freedom Bill, Section 25 of the Terrorism Act 2006 will remain on the statute book allowing the Government to increase the maximum period to 28 days in an emergency, subject to Parliament’s agreement. There has therefore been no gap in our ability to seek Parliament’s consent to increase the period of pre-charge detention should the need arise.
On the use of Section 44 stop-and-search powers, I have concluded that the current provisions, which were found unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights, represented an unacceptable intrusion on an individual’s human rights and must be repealed. But the evidence, particularly in Northern Ireland, has demonstrated that where there is a credible threat of an imminent terrorist attack, the absence of such powers might create a gap in the ability of the police to protect the public.
We therefore propose to repeal Section 44 and to replace it with a tightly-defined power which would allow a senior police officer to make an authorisation of much more limited scope and duration for no-suspicion stop-and-search powers to prevent a terrorist attack where there is a specific threat. This targeted measure will also prevent the misuse of these powers against photographers, which I know was a significant concern with the previous regime.
On the regulation of investigatory powers, we will implement our commitment to prevent the use of these powers by local authorities unless for the purpose of preventing serious crime and unless authorised by a magistrate. In this context, surveillance—the most controversial power—will be authorised for offences which carry a custodial sentence of at least six months.
On the wider question of communications data—the who, when and where of a communication, but not the content—the Government intend to ensure that, as far as possible, it is only accessed through the revised Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. We will bring forward specific legislation to this effect in a future communications data Bill.
This Government are committed to tackling the promotion of division, hatred and violence in our society. We must expose and confront the bigoted ideology of the extremists and prosecute and punish those who step outside the law. The review considered whether counterterrorism legislation should be amended to tackle groups which are not currently caught by the law but which still aim to spread their divisive and abhorrent messages. After careful consideration, we have concluded that it would be disproportionate to widen counterterrorism legislation to deal with these groups, however distasteful we find their views. To do so would have serious consequences for the basic principles of freedom of expression. We therefore propose to use existing legislation, as well as tackling them through our wider work to counter extremism and promote integration and participation in society.
On the deportation of foreign nationals suspected or known to have been involved in terrorist activity, the review found no evidence that this policy was inconsistent with the UK’s human rights obligations and found that it was legitimate and necessary to seek to extend the arrangements to more countries which would include independent verification. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, says, the Government’s engagement with other countries on these issues is likely to have a positive effect on their human rights records.
Finally, on control orders the Government have concluded that, for the foreseeable future, there is likely to be a small number of people who pose a real threat to our security, but who cannot currently be successfully prosecuted or deported. I want to be clear that prosecution, conviction and imprisonment will always be our priority—the right place for a terrorist is in a prison cell. But where successful prosecution or deportation is not immediately possible, no responsible Government could allow these individuals to go freely about their terrorist activities.
We are also clear that the current control order regime is imperfect and has not been as effective as it should be. We therefore propose to repeal control orders. Instead, we will introduce a new package of measures which is better focused and has more targeted restrictions, supported by significantly increased resources for surveillance and other investigative tools. Restrictions that have an impact on an individual’s ability to lead a normal life should be the minimum necessary, should be proportionate and should be clearly justified. The legislation we will bring forward will make clearer what restrictions can and cannot be imposed. These will be similar to some of the existing powers used in the civil justice system; for example, to prevent sexual offences and domestic violence.
These terrorism prevention and investigation measures will have a two-year maximum time limit, which will clearly demonstrate that these are targeted, temporary measures and not to be used simply as a means of parking difficult cases indefinitely. The measures will have to meet the evidential test of reasonable belief that a person is, or has been, engaged in terrorism. This is higher than the test of reasonable suspicion under the current regime.
Curfews will be replaced by an overnight residence requirement. Forcible relocation will be ended and replaced with the power to order more tightly defined exclusions from particular areas, such as particular buildings or streets, but not entire boroughs. Individuals will have greater access to communications, including to a mobile phone and to a home computer with internet access, subject to certain conditions, such as providing passwords. They will have greater freedom to associate. They will be free to work and study, subject again to restrictions necessary to protect the public. We will add the crucial power to prevent foreign travel.
These measures will be imposed by the Home Secretary with prior permission from the High Court required except in the most urgent cases. The police will be under a strengthened legal duty to ensure that the person’s conduct is kept under continual review with a view to bringing a prosecution and they will be required to inform the Home Secretary about the ongoing prospects for prosecution.
I have asked the incoming independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, to pay particular attention to these issues in his first report on the new regime and to make recommendations that he considers appropriate to ensure the new regime is working as intended. I am also today laying a Written Ministerial Statement outlining the next steps in the work to find a practical way to allow the use of intercept as evidence in court. We will repeal the current provisions which permit control orders with restrictions so severe that they would require the United Kingdom to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights. I cannot imagine circumstances in which the Government would seek to introduce such draconian measures. So the review I am announcing today will create a more focused and flexible regime. However, in exceptional circumstances, faced with a very serious terrorist threat which we cannot manage by any other means, additional measures may be necessary. We want to prepare for this possibility while ensuring that such powers are used only when absolutely necessary. So we will publish, but not introduce, legislation allowing more stringent measures, including curfews and further restrictions on communications, association and movement. These measures will require an even higher standard of proof to be met and would be introduced if in exceptional circumstances they were required to protect the public from the threat of terrorism. We will invite the Opposition to discuss this draft legislation with us on Privy Council terms. These powers would be enacted only with the agreement of both Houses of Parliament.
All of these measures will be accompanied by a significant increase in resources for the police and security and intelligence agencies to improve their surveillance and investigative capabilities. This will underpin the effectiveness of the regime and support the gathering of evidence admissible in court which could lead to a successful prosecution.
We will bring forward legislation to introduce the new regime in the coming weeks. We want to give Parliament the opportunity properly to scrutinise our proposals. I am sure the whole House would agree that in the past too many laws in this area were rushed through without the opportunity for adequate debate and consideration. So while Parliament considers that legislation, we will renew the current regime to the end of the year. Many of the other measures I have outlined will be brought forward in the forthcoming Protection of Freedom Bill.
I should like to finish by thanking the police and the security services for the tremendous work they do to keep our country safe. The measures I have outlined today will help them to continue to ensure our safety and security at the same time as we restore our civil liberties. They are in keeping with British values and our commitment to freedom, fairness and the rule of law. They will restore public confidence in counterterrorism legislation and it is my hope that they will form the basis of an enduring political consensus. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Home Secretary’s Statement made in the other place earlier today.
Recent events in Moscow have reminded us, if we needed reminding, of the devastating impact of terrorist attacks, and of the vital importance of the work that our police and security services undertake to protect us and the dangers they face in carrying out that work. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
Although we want to support the Government on matters of national security wherever we can, as Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition we also have a responsibility to scrutinise in detail the Government’s proposals and the evidence on which they are based. We support many of the measures that the Government have announced in the Statement repeated by the Minister. We support the Government’s approach to deportations, with assurances, to countries with which we can reach agreement, which continues the work we did when in government.
The Government have decided to continue with the existing regime for proscribing groups that are engaged in terrorism, which seems appropriate. The Minister confirmed to the House the other day that decisions for proscribing groups would continue to be made on the basis of the facts and hard evidence available. Does this mean that the Prime Minister’s commitment to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, made prior to the election, presumably without knowing the facts, will be abandoned or is his decision now supported by the evidence?
While we will scrutinise the detail to ensure that councils can continue to take action on issues such as tackling underage sales of tobacco or alcohol, we agree that the use by local authorities of powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act should be restricted, as some of the uses to which those powers have been put have gone far beyond the intention of the original legislation.
We also support sensible changes to stop-and-search powers in order to prevent their misuse, and it would appear that the legislative changes proposed largely reflect the practical changes already introduced. However, in respect of Northern Ireland, stop-and-search powers have played an important role in preventing terrorist attacks. Are the Government completely confident that the police will still have all the powers they need in Northern Ireland under the new arrangements?
Turning to pre-charge detention, in the past three years no case has invoked pre-charge detention for more than 14 days, and if police and security evidence shows that we can reduce the maximum period for pre-charge detention from 28 days with sufficient safeguards then we should do so. However, the Government’s review concludes:
“There could be circumstances in the future in which detention for longer than 14 days will be required. There may be rare cases where a longer period of detention may be required and those cases may have significant repercussions for national security”.
It recommends an emergency option to return to 28 days if necessary. Where, then, is the emergency legislation to do this? The old powers lapsed on Monday and the emergency legislation is not, it seems ready. Why did the Government not wait until the emergency legislation was ready before letting the old powers lapse?
Last Monday, the Government said that they could extend detention through an order under Section 25 of the Terrorism Act, yet the Government’s review appears to conclude that it would be very difficult to extend detention to 28 days in that way in response to, or during, a specific investigation, since time would be needed to get the necessary measures through Parliament. Again, recent events in Moscow have reminded us that this is an area where we cannot predict what may happen. What are the police and the Crown Prosecution Service meant to do if a difficult and dangerous case suddenly emerges now in the absence of the emergency provisions being in place? It appears as though the Government are relying on being able to rush emergency legislation through in respect of an individual and difficult case. Is that a sensible way to proceed? What would be the position if an urgent issue arose during a recess, or even during the weekend break?
On control orders, the Government’s review concludes that there is,
“a continuing need to control the activities of terrorists who can neither be successfully prosecuted nor deported”.
The proposals that the Government have set out today are not an alternative to control orders, but simply amendments to control orders. This is the view that appears to be held by Liberty, which has expressed its disappointment that control orders will continue in all but name. Many of the elements remain, including restrictions on movement, restrictions on communications, an overnight residence requirement in place of a curfew—it will look remarkably similar in practice—at the instigation of the Home Secretary and reviewed by the court. I shall say a little more about that later. The Deputy Prime Minister told the BBC that he had abolished control orders. The truth is that he has simply abolished the name.
First, the Government are introducing a two-year limit with a requirement for new evidence before a control order can be renewed. The last annual review of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on control orders said that:
“There is significant and credible intelligence that”,
three of the controlees, I think it was,
“continue to present actual or potential and significant danger to national security and public safety. I agree with the assessment that the control order on each has substantially reduced the present danger that exceptionally they still present despite their having been subject to a control order for a significant period of time”.
Those three individuals have been on control orders for more than two years, one of them for over four years. In the light of the proposed two-year limit, will they have their orders revoked? What measures will be put in place to keep the public safe from the threat that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the police clearly believe those individuals pose?
Secondly, will the Minister tell us whether these changes will mean a reduction in the restrictions that the Government are currently imposing on the rest of the eight people on control orders at the moment, and what measures will be in place to protect public safety?
Thirdly, the Minister has made clear that she intends to rely more heavily on surveillance and less on measures under control orders. We support greater use of surveillance if it increases the chance of prosecution, but why do the Government believe that exchanging court scrutiny for that of the security services improves transparency and enhances civil liberties? I also note in the Minister’s Statement in relation to these new measures on control orders that:
“These measures will be imposed by the Home Secretary with prior permission from the High Court required except in the most urgent cases”.
I am not clear exactly what that means. Have there been any discussions with the judiciary to see if they will take on what appears to be an extra burden, since they will have to give the Home Secretary prior permission? Or is that not what the Minister’s Statement means? Normally, the courts review decisions made by, for example, a Home Secretary, but that sentence in the Statement appears to mean that the Home Secretary can act only with prior permission from the High Court—in other words, the other way around.
I mentioned the Statement’s reference to greater surveillance, but there are issues about the extent of the resourcing of these increased surveillance operations. The Minister announced a significant increase in resources for the police and security services to cover this surveillance. The Daily Telegraph appears to know rather more, since today it said that MI5 would be given £20 million. Surveillance is extremely resource-intensive and expensive. Can the Minister confirm that this money, whether it be a significant increase in resources or the Daily Telegraph’s £20 million, follows a £150 million cut in the counterterrorism budget and billions in cuts for the police? Can she assure the House that this will be extra money and will not be taken from the resources already needed elsewhere to fight existing threats to our security? Is she confident that the police and security services will have the resources that they need to keep Britain safe from terror?
This has been a delayed and confused review, riven by leaks, as today’s further story in the Daily Telegraph only emphasises, and influenced by the need to resolve differences between the coalition parties. It is the security of our nation that should be paramount and it is against that test that we will judge the detail of the Government’s proposals.
My Lords, I will take the noble Lord’s last point—that this is somehow delayed and confused—first. As I said the other day when we were talking about pre-charge detention, the review has undoubtedly taken us longer than we originally thought it would. That is because we have taken great care over it. We do not intend to present Parliament with a series of differing proposals, such as was presented to us by the Opposition when they were looking at the question of pre-charge detention, eventually falling back on something that they had certainly not proposed in the first instance. We have tried to do a thorough job so we are confident of the rightness of the proposals. It is right that a Government should consult inside in doing that. We know the consequences when Governments inside fail to consult each other. I make no apology for the time it has taken, or the care with which this review has been conducted.
The noble Lord raised a number of detailed points and I will try to answer them. I was asked whether we are confident of the powers remaining in relation to Northern Ireland. One of our main concerns was to ensure that this was not a GB policy, but a UK policy. On stop-and-search powers, we felt it particularly appropriate to take due account of the situation in Northern Ireland. The new power has been fashioned to enable us to maintain a high level of security throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
The question of legislation for pre-charge detention was raised. Noble Lords will not find us dilatory in bringing forward the legislation. There is a problem of being at fault whether you do or do not. We want to try to consult heavily on this legislation so that it has general acceptance. One of the things that we are most concerned to do with this review is to lay a stable and accepted basis for the legislation and the provisions that we have in law governing our approach to terrorism. We want to involve the House as much as possible. Noble Lords will find that we will not be slow in bringing forward the necessary measures. In the mean time, Section 25 is not a perfect way of doing things, but it is certainly there, it remains and it is the power that we will resort to if we need to. We will certainly get on with the legislation.
The question of the House being able to legislate applies also to the question of whether we might have to introduce control orders in extreme circumstances. It is notable that if there is a consensus Parliament can act extremely fast and both Houses can enact the necessary legislation within one day; that is why we want to try to establish one. I do not think that we will be faced with a situation where we are not able to take action if we need to in an extreme situation, which I imagine that all sides of the House would recognise as being so. Parliament will act to protect the people of this country.
On the three individuals who are still under control orders, I remind the House that the legislation does not cease to have effect until new legislation is passed. Clearly, for the rest of this year, broadly speaking, because we will renew for the end of the year until such time as the freedom Bill goes through, we will have the existing regime and review cases under that. As the House knows, each control order has to be reviewed on an annual basis.
On surveillance, the emphasis on the ability and the duty of the police to increase the likelihood of bringing a successful prosecution is an important feature of these new measures. We do not believe that they are merely a new brand of control order. If noble Lords take them in their total substance, they constitute a different regime with a different emphasis. Undoubtedly we need to continue to have legislation on the statute book that enables us to take measures to protect the public, but there is an important emphasis on two things. We need to balance that protection with the rights of those individuals, because it has been demonstrated through the courts that we need to respect those rights; and we must increase the chances of a successful prosecution. That was not the effect of the previous control order regime, which we intend to reform. These are not like regimes. I was asked whether there would be new money for the extra surveillance. I can confirm that there will be new money available during the CSR period.
I hope that I have dealt with the various points that were raised. No doubt other noble Lords will have points that they wish to make.
My Lords, I have two questions for the noble Baroness: one on control orders and one on 28 days, and that is all. I congratulate the coalition Government on getting rid of control orders at long last, if that is what they have done. We shall see how this works out. No one can say how much damage control orders have done to community relations over the past six years. Only one thing is clear; control orders have done great damage to our reputation as a country that values freedom and the rule of law.
Does the noble Baroness agree—I think she does from what she has said—that if credit is due to anyone in this whole unhappy affair, it is due not to us in Parliament, I am sorry to say, but to the judiciary? In particular, it is due to the judges sitting in the administrative court in keeping control orders within reasonable limits so far as they could and forcing the Government on so many occasions to think again.
On the 28 days, I opposed the increase from seven days to 14 days as long ago as 2003 when ACPO was asking for 14 days and got it. I opposed any increase in 2005 when ACPO asked for 28 days and got it. I opposed any increase in 2006 when it asked for, but happily did not get, 90 days. Has ACPO now accepted that it never needed 90 days or anything like it, despite the advice that it gave the Government at the time? Does ACPO accept that it was never, as it put it in 2007, “up against the buffers” with only 28 days? If so, how much faith can we put in the advice of ACPO in these affairs?
My Lords, one reason why the Government were determined to deal with control orders before they even came into office was precisely because of our perception that they were damaging to community relations. In the evidence and the responses to questionnaires and surveys, stop and search comes up quite as often as a source of grievance, if not more so, than control orders, but the Government accept that they were harmful. The Government respect the role of the judiciary, which is one reason why we are bringing this regime into line with what we believe is legally acceptable.
On the question of the number of days needed to bring a successful prosecution, I have not asked ACPO the specific question posed by the noble and learned Lord. However, like the rest of us, ACPO has learnt from experience about the time needed in practice to bring successful charges, and made it absolutely clear to the Home Secretary—as indeed have the intelligence and security services—that it is content with the proposals.
My Lords, I am happy to give a general welcome to the Statement. In confirming that this is not a mere rebranding of control orders, will the noble Baroness point to requiring the permission of the High Court, which seems to take us into a completely different legal structure? I suspect that many of us will wish to explore the evidential test that she mentioned and whether we can move towards a criminal test beyond reasonable doubt. Will she and her officials continue to work actively on that? Secondly, does she agree that arrangements that enable a person subject to the measure to work or study are very significant indeed? That control was extremely offensive.
I am sure that the last point would be very widely accepted. It does not particularly facilitate observance of the law or good behaviour on the part of someone who is under a measure of this kind if they cannot occupy their time usefully. One of our objectives has been to bring the daily life of people who are under such restrictions as near to normality as it can be, while being compatible with the security of the rest of the community.
On the question of whether we are rebranding, I hope I made it quite clear to your Lordships that this is not a rebranding exercise. There are significant differences in the measures that we are putting into place. They have a purpose that includes the need to continue at all times to open up the maximum opportunity for actual prosecution. One of the chief complaints about the previous regime, in our view, was how it made that extraordinarily difficult.
As the noble Baroness will be aware, we have raised the test to reasonable belief. We want to work in co-operation with the High Court. One thing that has clearly been learnt through experience is that to get into a situation in which any measures that we put in place are subsequently demonstrated in the High Court or in a court to be unacceptable does not add to their credibility. We want to get into a situation in which there is a clear understanding. We believe that it is necessary for the Home Secretary to be able to act in emergencies without seeking prior agreement with the High Court because, as I am sure noble Lords can imagine, in practical circumstances there may be a great need to do something extremely fast.
That is me. Thank you very much indeed. I congratulate the noble Baroness and the coalition on actually having a review, because that is needed. Indeed, we need to have one constantly. No one was ever happy with control orders; they needed to be looked at. I am also delighted that it has seen that they were necessary for the very small number of people who were a threat to this nation. To try and pretend that they are not now control orders is pushing things a little. I would be interested to know what these new restrictions will be called. My advice would be not to call them anything, or else they will become another shy that people will throw things at.
I am also very concerned about resource. A very limited resource is available, both in manpower and in money. We know that there are real problems with money across all areas of government and I am concerned about the full amount of resource that will be required. Also, if we go for these slightly lesser periods of people being in their homes and so on, we will go back to the period before I became a Minister when people actually absconded. Will the Minister reassure us that she is absolutely certain that that will not become a feature again, because clearly that is a real risk with this very tiny number of people?
I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, that there is no doubt whatever that many other countries use other mechanisms to stop very dangerous people from being on their streets, some of which would be quite abhorrent in this country, so I do not think that we need to feel ashamed. I also thank the coalition for reassuring me; I began to feel that I might have been authoritarian and trying to have a police state. The people who were formerly Lib Dems certainly made me feel that. Now, I am delighted that the coalition clearly understands how important these security issues are and, as I say, I congratulate it on keeping measures in place for that tiny number of people who wish to do us harm.
I thank the noble Lord for the generosity of those sentiments. As I say, they are not going to be orders. I cannot emphasise too much that the total package really is different from the control order regime. These measures will be called terrorist prevention and investigation measures—note the insertion of “investigation”; it is part of their purpose.
The noble Lord is quite right to stress that resources need to be taken seriously. We do so, and, clearly, while control orders are still in place, it will be important that resources are made available such that one can increase the capacity and capability of those involved. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not go into more detail, but we are mindful of the need to make a reality of the extra mitigations that we are putting in place.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend and, through her, the Home Secretary on striking the right balance in this very difficult area between the need to protect the public and the need to safeguard personal and individual liberty. May I ask about the emergency legislation to extend the period of pre-charge detention? Given what my noble friend has said about the Government’s ability to put that in place very quickly, do they intend this emergency power to be available not simply in a general period or emergency but for an individual suspect under detention, in respect of whom the police, and perhaps a magistrate or a judge, are convinced that a longer period of detention is necessary?
I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks, which I will pass on to the Home Secretary. On the question of emergency legislation, the intention is really to cover an emergency. I suppose that I can imagine—this is hypothetical territory—two broad categories, for instance, where the general threat level had risen even further. Those will be very dire circumstances in which we might be in a real emergency. There is also the possibility that one or a number of complex conspiracies come together and it is clear that a different approach is needed to the amount of time for, say, pre-charge detention. However, we stress that we believe that these kinds of measures, which at the moment are the norm, should be reserved for really exceptional circumstances.
Thank you, my Lords. I need to declare an interest in that I was a former member of ACPO and of the police service in the metropolis. I thank the noble Baroness for the Statement. I merely carry on from the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, which is: how can Parliament legislate on the back of a police and Security Service operation? One reason why ACPO brought up the question of the length of detention in a period when we had no atrocity immediately before us was so that Parliament could debate it in an open atmosphere. I do not suggest that it cannot be done, but an enormous amount of thought has to be given to how both Houses of Parliament could decide that the situation had reached the point at which emergency legislation had to be brought in, particularly if it was not after an atrocity but merely because of a series of desperately significant operations going on. I do not understand how this House or the other place could debate that in the open.
The noble Lord raises a perfectly fair question. The choices that we have made are not easy. In fact, I suggest to the House that there is no ideal solution here. Why have we gone for this method? I remind the noble Lord that we are not just going to place something in the Library or, indeed, suddenly bring the matter to the House without having gone through an important part of the process—pre-legislative scrutiny with the House—so that some of the conditions that would be needed to build consensus so that we could act rapidly and in agreement in an emergency were actually understood between us and in place. That process will be important in building the underlying consensus on which legislation can be passed in an emergency of that kind.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the independent overseer of the counterterrorism and security powers review. Would the Minister agree that the review has made good progress in meeting its objectives of recommendations that, if implemented, would roll back state power consistent with public safety, and that on stop and search, surveillance powers, pre-charge detention, the removal of relocation and curfews, and house arrest powers, important reforms are signalled?
Would she also acknowledge that more work needs to be done on the precise circumstances in which restrictions may be placed on those who are not charged, prosecuted or convicted of crime, and that some quite tough decisions will have to be made before legislation is brought before this House?
Finally, will she indicate whether the Government will consider the proposal in my report that any regime of restrictions should be much more closely linked to a continuing criminal investigation so that the primacy of prosecution is protected and that prosecution is the prime aim of public policy in this area?
I take this opportunity to reiterate my thanks to the noble Lord for his contribution, which is very significant to the work of the review. He makes some important points and has outlined more eloquently than I have the effect of reducing the measures in relation to individuals that constitute a new balance between public protection and the rights of the individual. We believe, however, as the noble Lord acknowledges himself, that it remains necessary that measures of this kind are available in the interest of public protection. He is right that there is more work to be done on some of the detail, and as we work through the legislation and subsequently its implementation, I am sure that more detail will come into effect.
On the question of the regime of restrictions and the need for a closer link to criminal investigation, the Government share the view that it is important to increase the possibility within this regime of bringing successful prosecution. We are mindful of that being the proper goal. As the Home Secretary said in her Statement, terrorists should be behind bars in a prison cell. At the same time we draw back from the notion that one would not be able to introduce a measure of this kind in the absence of a close link to and a realistic prospect of being able to introduce a prosecution. We do not wish, therefore, to claim that we can do that, given that it might not be an honest claim. What I can say on the part of the Government is that we will try very hard to ensure that the maximum possibility for bringing prosecution in any given instance is a clear objective.
My Lords, the Minister has twice referred to pre-legislative scrutiny. Will she confirm that all the measures she has mentioned today will be subject to full pre-legislative scrutiny?
Secondly, she mentioned intercept evidence. The previous Government were looking at it and her Government have been looking at it. When are some positive proposals likely to come forward, because if we can accept the use of intercept evidence, some of the other measures will not be necessary?
On the noble Lord’s first point, that is certainly the case with the legislation relating to the possibility of having to revert to a longer period than 14 days. We are not going to introduce the legislation relating to control orders. We are, however, going to discuss it with the Opposition on Privy Council terms.
On the question of intercept as evidence, I am a proponent of being able to introduce intercept as evidence. Serious work is still going on on it. The issue is not entirely without complexity, but we take it seriously and we share the previous Government’s view that it will be highly desirable to be able to introduce intercept as evidence in such cases.
Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill
Committee (14th Day)
Clause 11 : Number and distribution of seats
89BA: Clause 11, page 11, line 26, at end insert—
“(5) If the number of constituencies allocated to Wales under sub-paragraph (3) is fewer than 35, an additional allocation shall be made to Wales to ensure that it has 35 constituencies.
(6) Where an additional allocation is made under sub-paragraph (5) above, sub-paragraph (7) shall apply in place of rule 2.
(7) The electorate of any constituency in Wales shall be—
(a) no less than 95% of the Welsh electoral quota; and(b) no more than 105% of that quota;the “Wales electoral quota” meaning W/P, where W is the electorate of Wales and P is the number of constituencies allocated to Wales.”
My Lords, I am pleased to be opening this debate on Wales so that we can air some issues that concern many of us. But at the same time I am saddened because none of these amendments was debated in the other place because of the use of a guillotine, which shows the importance of the scrutiny that your Lordships’ House is able to afford at this time.
Wales, more than any other part of the United Kingdom, will be adversely affected as a result of this Bill. Wales has just 5 per cent of the United Kingdom’s population but in this Bill Wales will lose 10 parliamentary constituencies. That equates to 20 per cent of the total reduction in the number of constituencies the Government are seeking across the whole United Kingdom. The Bill will see the number of MPs Wales sends to the Parliament of the United Kingdom reduced by one in four. That is 25 per cent compared with around 7 per cent for the rest of the country. That means fewer MPs than after the great reforms of 1832 when the population of Wales could be counted in thousands.
We are a small nation within a large country but our contribution to our democratic parliamentary life has been far greater than many would think possible for a country of around 3 million people. Sons of Wales at one time or another have dominated the British political scene. David Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan are but two. Our adopted sons James Callaghan and Michael Foot rose to great offices of state and came to lead their party. From the Conservative Benches the noble Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, changed the course of British politics when he resigned from Mrs Thatcher’s Government. The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, became leader of his party. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, the longest-serving Welsh Office Minister who was in office for half the time the Welsh Office actually existed, was responsible for steering through the Welsh Language Act which gave Welsh equal status with English for the first time. And I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who served as a distinguished Secretary of State, is also with us this afternoon.
More than 700 years ago, with a population that counted in thousands, 24 Welsh MPs were summoned to Parliament. In those seven centuries, as the population has grown to 3 million, that number has increased to just 40. Parliament in its wisdom passed the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 and in Schedule 2 it states:
“The number of constituencies in Wales shall not be less than 35”.
That, I would argue, gives a valid and sound basis for the amendment we have before us. It was based on the unanimous conclusions of the 1944 Speaker’s Conference and that 1986 Act went through Parliament without a Division. In fact, it was supported by all parties. If anything could be said to have support on all sides of the political spectrum it was that Act. Contrast that with the present Bill which was not the subject of a Green Paper, a White Paper or any pre-legislative scrutiny and certainly cannot be said to have widespread parliamentary support. I further believe that, by guaranteeing that Wales should have a minimum of 35 Members of Parliament, recognition was given to the need to make special provision for the small nations in our United Kingdom. With only 5 per cent of the UK population, Wales needs this sort of provision if we are to play our full role in the multinational British state.
Many people fear that reducing Welsh representation in the other place by 25 per cent when many aspects of Welsh life, including the ability of the Welsh Assembly to do its job, depend on the Government and Parliament in Westminster, would fuel a further interest in separatism. I raised the matter at Second Reading when I warned that this could be a threat to our union. When the people of Wales voted by a very small margin in 1997 for devolution and the creation of a Welsh Assembly, it was on the clear understanding that this would have no effect on Welsh representation in the British Parliament. I can, albeit reluctantly, accept that that now could be interpreted in terms of the minimum 35 seats in the UK Parliament, which this amendment seeks to achieve. Based on the many comments that I have received from noble Lords on all sides, I cannot accept that the protection afforded to Wales of a minimum of 35 seats should be removed.
Even after the establishment of a Welsh Assembly, huge areas of Welsh life continue to be determined by decisions of the Government and Parliament in Westminster: everything from pensions, benefits, criminal justice and policing, taxation, levels of public expenditure, macroeconomic policy, and defence and foreign policy, will remain the responsibility of the Government and Parliament in Westminster. This will continue to be the case even if the people of Wales vote in the referendum in March to devolve further powers to the Welsh Assembly.
The situation in the United Kingdom, with devolved Administrations in the various nations, is not uncommon around the world. It is common for countries which have a mixture of central and devolved government to exercise positive discrimination in their constitutions to safeguard the smaller, devolved areas. In that way, the strength of the union is made secure. In the United States, California, with 37 million people, sends two senators to Washington—as does Wyoming, with a population of 544,000. Again, it is important for their union. The smallest state in Germany, Bremen, with a population of 220,000, sends three members to the German Bundesrat, while the largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, with a population of 3 million, sends six. Again, it is important for their union that the smaller regions and nations are protected. Nor should we forget who helped the Germans to devise their constitution after the last war. Representation in the Spanish senate is weighted towards the smaller regions. That also happens in Australia. This is all done because of the need for a strong, central, good union.
Noble Lords on the Conservative Benches should wake up to the threat to our union posed by a 25 per cent reduction in the number of Members of Parliament that Wales sends here. The Conservative Party rightly and for a long time prided itself on being called the Conservative and Unionist Party. Regardless of our political differences—they will always remain, which is good and healthy for our democracy—we should make common cause to defend our union. Noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches, the heirs to Lloyd George, know in their hearts that it is not right to remove 25 per cent of Welsh Members from the House of Commons, with Wales bearing 20 per cent of the total reduction in the number of MPs for the whole United Kingdom. A week ago last Monday was the anniversary of the birth of Lloyd George. He loved Wales, her people and her language, and he would never have done anything to diminish her role in the United Kingdom.
The Government have made a case for special treatment for two parliamentary seats in Scotland, which will not be required to meet their ambition for seats of equal size. Your Lordships' House has done the same for the Isle of Wight. Why, therefore, will the Government not consider that there is a case for special consideration for Wales? The Bill proposes that Wales should lose the largest number of MPs in percentage terms of any part of the United Kingdom: 20 per cent of the reduction for the entire country will come from Wales. In the interests of fairness, that cannot be right.
There is another important aspect of Wales that merits special consideration: the Welsh language. In five parliamentary constituencies—Ynys Môn, Arfon, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Ceredigion and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr—Welsh is the first language of a majority of voters. Mr Lewis Baston, a senior research fellow with Democratic Audit, has been much quoted in the debates that we have had in the House in recent days. In evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place, he criticised the impact that a reduction of 10 seats would have on Welsh-speaking areas. He said:
“The Bill risks severely depleting the representation of Welsh-speaking areas in the UK Parliament”.
Wales is the only part of the United Kingdom where some 20 per cent of the population speak two languages, Welsh and English. Surely that merits special consideration. If special consideration can be given to preserving two parliamentary constituencies in Scotland because of geographical, historical and community factors, surely Wales can be given special consideration. The same historical and community factors exist in Wales, on top of which there is the unique factor of the Welsh language, which is the first language for a majority of people in five parliamentary constituencies. Have the Government given any consideration to the fact that Wales is the only part of the United Kingdom where a second language is spoken by 20 per cent of the population? What thought has been given to ensuring that the sparsely populated areas of Wales are properly represented in Parliament?
We had a very good debate the other evening about Brecon and Radnor. As many noble Lords will know, this constituency in eastern Wales runs along the border with England. The northernmost tip of that constituency is closer to the north Wales coast than it is to the southernmost tip of the constituency, and the southernmost tip of the constituency is closer to the south Wales coast than it is to the northernmost tip of the constituency. It is a huge area. It is conceivable, if the Bill is not altered, that there could be just two Members of Parliament representing an area from the Welsh/English border in the east to Cardigan Bay in the west: two Members from the Heads of the Valley Road in the south to the borders of Wrexham and the A55 in the north. At a stroke, the long-established community links between MPs and constituents would be lost. Rural MPs in Wales would have to travel great distances to see their constituents, and they would have to travel great distances to see them.
I remind the House of a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, in our debate the other evening. He said:
“This piece of legislation says that you should look at representation from the viewpoint of the Member of Parliament and the number of constituents that he has. No, my Lords: you should look at it from the other end of the telescope—from the end of the ordinary constituent, who asks himself, ‘How accessible is my Member of Parliament to me?’. If you ask that question, you are likely to get a more reasonable and just result”.—[Official Report, 24/1/11; col. 800.]
I endorse what the noble Lord said.
I will take a step further the argument for the need to preserve community-based representation in Parliament. Has any consideration been given to sustaining the distinctive community-based representation of the south Wales valleys? The noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, made powerful arguments the other evening in favour of sustaining the close link between an MP and his constituents when they admirably put the case for the Isle of Wight. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said:
“This is not just a numbers game. If we end up making it a numbers game, we may very well find that respect, support and influence that Parliament is able to bring to bear through its Members in their constituencies are greatly diminished at a time when we need to strengthen Parliament”.—[Official Report, 19/1/11; col. 413.]
We face the loss of community-based representation across the Welsh valleys. I mentioned this at Second Reading and again in the debate the other evening.
The Electoral Reform Society carried out an exercise redrawing the electoral map of Wales and reducing it to 30 parliamentary constituencies. In the case of my former constituency of Islwyn, it would put the community of Abercarn in the new constituency of Caerphilly. They are separated by two mountain chains and three rivers. It would put to the community of Cefn Fforest in the new constituency of Merthyr Tydfil, when it is not even in the same county. I give the same illustration that I gave the other night. Think of the South Wales Valleys as being like a hand. The valleys are the fingers, the palms are the cities of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. There is movement from valleys to city for jobs, shopping and entertainment. The transport links, rail and road, are from valleys to city. There is very little cross-valley movement. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind when the Minister comes to reply.
The amendment in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon, my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport, and the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, and supported by many others—the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, and my noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea cannot be here today—would ensure that Wales had a minimum of 35 seats in Parliament.
On the day of Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord McNally—like many others, I wish him well and look forward to seeing him back at that Dispatch Box and giving us all a bit of a ticking off and amusement as soon as possible—spoke on radio about fairness in relation to this debate. I fear that, throughout this debate, the Government and their supporters believe that fairness in representation in Parliament can be achieved only by constituencies of equal size. Why is that the only definition of fairness that they are prepared to admit to? I said on Second Reading that the Union of the four nations of these islands, which has united us as one country for centuries, recognises that fairness means allowing the smaller nations to have a greater representation in Parliament than their population might justify. That sense of fairness and understanding is the glue that has held our Union together for these past centuries. The amendment ensuring that Wales has 35 seats in the Commons will go a long way to protecting that Union.
Amendment 89BC would ensure that no English region, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland would suffer a reduction in the number of seats of more than 10 per cent at any one review. None of us knows what will be the effect of individual registration. Many would argue that the heavily populated inner cities, where there is a greater population turnover, will be severely underrepresented if we are not careful. The amendment provides that there should be a reduction of no more than 10 per cent in the number of MPs at any one time.
The final amendment, Amendment 102AA, would ensure that there could be no change to Welsh parliamentary constituencies unless the referendum results in March say yes to additional powers for the Assembly and those powers are actually passed to the Assembly.
I hope that I have been able to convey to your Lordships the very real anxiety that many of us have about the impact of the Bill in Wales. I am sure that other noble Lords will now have their say, and I look forward to hearing them with interest. I especially look forward with interest to the reply of the Minister. I hope that he will at least agree that a fair case has been made to cause the Government to reflect and reconsider these issues concerning Wales. Based on his reply, I must consider whether or not I should seek leave to divide your Lordships' House. Let me say now that I hope that when he replies, the Minister will give me every reason not to do so.
My Lords, it is many years since I represented North Wales at cricket, but I assure the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, that I shall follow these discussions with considerable interest. I hope that he will allow me to make one brief intervention, which relates to Clause 11 as a whole. Thereafter, of course, the tour of Wales will continue. I have today tabled an amendment, to which we shall come eventually, but not immediately, which would defer the coming into force of Clause 11 until the end of the work of the Boundary Commission on the constituencies—that is, until the reports are laid before Parliament, the Secretary of State proposes to appoint a date and there are affirmative resolutions of both Houses.
I intervene briefly now to avoid any misunderstanding, thats if the coming into force of Clause 11 is deferred, we do not need to amend the clause now. I have tabled my amendment in the hope that it may contribute to an agreement that the Bill should pass, with a view to the referendum on the alternative vote on 5 May. In my view, it remains very important that we should try to get the Bill right. Obviously, there are the key questions of 5 per cent and the excluded constituencies. Before long, we shall come to the question of public inquiries. Today we have the question of the Welsh constituencies. I emphasise that I believe that all these amendments should be properly considered. If we can reach agreement, that is good. That is not inconsistent with my amendment, which would defer the coming into force of Clause 11 if the Bill is passed.
I thank my noble friend Lord Touhig for laying out the case on behalf of Wales so impressively. These three amendments, to which I have added my name, together form a coherent whole. There is the amendment that states that the number of parliamentary constituencies in Wales should not be reduced below 35; there is the amendment that states that there should be no reduction of more than 10 per cent in the number of Welsh parliamentary seats at one boundary review; and there is the amendment that proposes that the measures in the Bill should not come into force unless and until powers have been transferred to the Welsh Assembly in consequence of a vote of the people of Wales in the referendum that is to be held this spring.
This is an important debate. It is a debate that we have to have, not least because in another place, there was no debate specifically on the measures in the Bill which would have such an enormous impact on Wales. In Committee in the other place, when amendments dealing with the situation in Wales would have been reached, I understand that some 30 Members of Parliament stood to catch the eye of the Chair, but the guillotine came down and that debate did not take place. That timetable Motion was not a proper way to treat the House of Commons, least of all when dealing with major constitutional legislation. As a consequence of that, aside from other considerations, it is our responsibility in this House to scrutinise the measure as it would affect Wales and discuss our amendments.
The Government are proposing an extreme and rapid reduction in parliamentary representation for Wales. Wales, which has only 5 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom, would, under the Government's proposals, suffer 20 per cent of the reduction in the number of parliamentary seats for the country as a whole. Wales would lose 25 per cent of its existing seats. By comparison, Northern Ireland would lose 17 per cent of its seats; Scotland 9 per cent; and England only 5.5 per cent. Of course, it is in England that Conservative electoral strength is most concentrated. Whether or not it is the Government's intention to rig the parliamentary system in support of the Conservative Party, I must tell them that there is a real perception in Wales that that is what it is about.
The noble and learned Lord the Minister may contend that, as things are, Wales is overrepresented in the House of Commons. I recognise that, by reference to the principle of numerical equality between constituencies, that is indeed the case. But, as we have frequently contended in the debates on this legislation, there are other factors that it is proper to take into account. Wales is a nation. It was joined with England in 1536, but over the centuries it has had its own history and, as my noble friend emphasised, its own language. Until now, the Parliament of the United Kingdom has recognised that and has accepted that proportionally Wales should have more seats in the House of Commons than the numbers in its population alone would imply.
There are very good reasons for that. Aside from the reality of Welsh nationhood, there is also the geography of Wales which, as the House is aware, is singularly intractable when it comes to trying to achieve numerical equality between constituencies. There are very large rural areas that are very thinly populated. We have spoken about the constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire in our debates. It is 80 miles from north to south and 40 miles from east to west. It is a huge constituency geographically. If the Government’s proposals were to be implemented in their undiluted form, we would have a constituency that might stretch from Crickhowell in the south to Wrexham in the north. It would be an impossible constituency for a Member of Parliament to represent satisfactorily.
RS Thomas wrote some lines about a Welsh farmer penning his sheep in a gap of cloud on the bald Welsh hills. It is that kind of constituency. It is very difficult to traverse the length and breadth of it, and I wonder how the Member of Parliament, even so excellent a Member of Parliament as Mr Roger Williams, would be able to do justice to the work that needs to be done in the constituency on behalf of his constituents and also to his responsibilities here at Westminster. In the south, there are the valleys, the deep valleys, each of which contains its own very distinct community. Let me again say to the House that the Reform Act 1832, which the Deputy Prime Minister cites as his inspiration, introduced into our system of parliamentary representation the principle that Members of Parliament should represent communities and interests. That way, the people of this country would know that they were represented in the House of Commons and Members of the House of Commons would know what the responsibilities of their colleagues were in terms of representing their communities. It is not wise to ask Members of Parliament to attempt to represent at one and the same time very different communities separated by geographical realities that you cannot simply or sensibly ignore.
It may also be argued by the Government that this wholesale reduction in Welsh representation in the House of Commons is the more justified because Wales has its own Assembly which exercises devolved powers of government. I must remind the House that the powers the Assembly exercises at present are powers of secondary legislation and, as my noble friend Lord Touhig explained to the House, great swathes of the policy that determines how life in Wales is to be led emanate from central government. In macroeconomic policy, Wales receives a block grant that is transferred from London to Cardiff. It is an essential responsibility of Members of Parliament representing Welsh constituencies to consider that block grant and make representations on behalf of their constituents as to its implications. Benefits policy, pensions policy, police, immigration, criminal justice, broadcasting, defence and foreign policy are not devolved responsibilities. The people of Wales accept the policy made on their behalf by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and, correspondingly, they need to have representation that enables their interests to be articulated and allows them to make their contribution to our debates. The Welsh nation has a right to see its interests protected through adequate representation in the House of Commons.
It is the practice across the world where you have decentralised government or devolved government for small states or small nations to be allowed a somewhat disproportionate representation in the central government. That occurs in the United States of America, Spain and Germany. In the case of Wales, where there is so much dependence on the public sector for employment, it is particularly important that the representation of the people of Wales in the House of Commons should not be abruptly and drastically reduced. We are entering exceedingly difficult times. We saw figures yesterday that showed the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom actually contracting. Wales is a part of the country that is peculiarly vulnerable to that contraction and to the policies that the Government have judged appropriate to try to extricate our nation and our economy from this situation. They have thought it appropriate to cut public spending on a large scale and at a rapid pace. They need to recognise that the impact of this in Wales is going to be felt with peculiar force, and I put it to them that it is not a sensitive thing to do to drain Wales’s parliamentary representation at the same time as they are draining its economic life blood. The people of Wales feel strongly about that.
My noble friend spoke of the contribution that great Welsh parliamentarians have made to our Parliament of the United Kingdom. He spoke of Lloyd George, Aneurin Bevan, James Callaghan and Michael Foot, and I would add the name of my noble friend Lord Kinnock. I also respect very much the contribution that distinguished Conservative Ministers, such as the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts of Conwy, have made, and they take their place in that pantheon. I do not think it is in the interests of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that the contribution of Welsh parliamentarians should be so reduced.
It is not wise, probably in any circumstances and certainly not when you are trying to reform the constitution, to impose a one-size-fits-all solution. I put it to noble Lords opposite and appeal to them not to apply the full rigour of the numerical formula to Wales. Government by formula, almost by definition, must be insensitive and is liable to produce inappropriate and unhappy consequences. Whatever reduction in parliamentary representation for Wales the Government intend, they should proceed more gradually than they have proposed. In their response to the fourth report of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in another place, the Government said that,
“there is a need to get on with the job of constitutional reform as soon as we can”.
Why this rush to constitutional reform? Surely the appropriate approach to constitutional reform is through sustained debate, gradual advance, the negotiation of compromise and the construction of consensus. That is the spirit of these amendments.
I say to noble Lords opposite, please do not break faith with the people of Wales. When they were offered devolution in 1997 and voted for it, it was on the understanding that there would be a continuation of the same representation in Parliament. I am prepared to accept that it is reasonable to review the representation of Wales in Parliament as and when the devolution settlement is significantly altered. That may occur this year. There will be a vote of the Welsh people in a referendum which will ask them whether they wish to see primary legislative powers transferred to Cardiff in those areas that are already devolved. The scope of devolution would not otherwise be widened. If the people of Wales, knowing that the implication of a yes vote in the referendum would be that their representation in the Westminster Parliament would be reduced none the less decide that that is what they want, then, and at that point only, it would be reasonable for a change to be made in the number of Welsh seats.
The manuscript amendment tabled today by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, is significant, and I am grateful to him for drawing it to our attention early in this debate. I agree with him absolutely that it is more important to get the Bill right than to rush these proceedings and the implementation of any measures. If in 2015 the dates of a general election and elections to the Welsh Assembly coincide, it is possible that there will simultaneously be two sets of elections on two sets of boundaries with two different voting systems and, in many parts of Wales, two languages. This is a recipe for confusion if not chaos.
When the Government replied to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, which raised many of the same objections of principle to this legislation as we have in your Lordships' House, the Government, in reference to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill and the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, said:
“The Government believes that these two pieces of legislation will be the foundation on which we can rebuild public confidence in our political system … This demonstrates the practical benefits of the Government's Respect agenda”.
Rebuild confidence in the political system? Respect? This Bill as we have it shows disregard for Wales as a nation; it shows contempt for the people of Wales as citizens of our democracy; and it shows a reckless willingness to alienate the people of Wales from the union.
My Lords, save for a short intervention of about one minute, I have not so far taken part in debates on this Bill. My short intervention was on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNally—whom I wish well—when, in a fragile mood in the early hours of the morning, he reminded the Committee that the other place had lost its freedom of unlimited debate at the time of the Fenians in the 19th century. Whether the purpose of his remarks was a gentle hint, a threat—which was denied—or just a Freudian slip, I know not, but I was not surprised when, in a very short time, government supporters trooped into the Lobbies, in a very illiberal step, to force a closure not once but twice on the debate. Was that a sheer coincidence of comment and action, or was it something else?
I shall be very brief and I shall not go into the detail of the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Touhig, who has broadened the canvas and dealt with most of the points. However, I shall return to his main issue: our proposal that the number of parliamentary seats should be 35, rather than the 25 per cent reduction from 40 to 30 as proposed by the Government.
The figure of 35 has a long, almost entrenched history. In 1918, the number of seats in Wales was 36; in 1954, it was not less than 35. The figure remained at 36 through each review until it reached 39 in 1986, as recommended by the Boundary Commission in order to take account of geographical considerations in the county of Gwynedd. The fifth periodical review, operating under the same rules, determined that the number of seats should not be less than 35 and, in fact, it allocated 40.
I have been in politics more than 50 years, I have to confess—I have been in Parliament for more than that period. I had it always in mind that the figure of 35 is, somehow or other, entrenched so far as political representation for Wales is concerned. The reason for that goes back to the basic point made by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig: that Wales is a nation within a larger country. We need go no further than that. It is because we desire and need good representation as we are a small part of the United Kingdom. That is the basis on which our distinctive voice should be heard, in the way that it has been heard over the centuries.
We need within that very small number of 35 Members of Parliament of all political persuasions from north Wales, mid-Wales and south Wales to articulate the needs of Wales. Its distinctiveness as a nation is exemplified in one way—it may be a small way, but it is important—by the fact that no one in his senses would dream of chopping off bits of either Wales or England and adding it to the other. Why? Because England is a nation and Wales is a nation, and you would not go over the boundary of either country to make a brand new seat which straddled the two countries. Our basic case is that our need as a nation for strong representation at Westminster has in the past been recognised. If there is concern about the Tamar, the Tyne and the Isle of Wight—I have heard the debates about them—how much more concern there is when a nation is concerned. We are dealing not with counties in England but with the nation of Wales, hence our need for our traditional representation.
I understand the case for arithmetic equality across the whole country, but it is a fact that, in the past, Boundary Commissions have been allowed—indeed encouraged—by Parliament to take into account a whole host of other factors. Arithmetic equality is not the beginning and the end and it has never been thus. If it were, we could draw straight lines and squares across the whole of the United Kingdom. Allowing for the coast, we could parcel England and Wales into neat little squares. That is what relying solely on arithmetic equality would result in. Indeed, we would be behaving like our colonialist forefathers in Africa, drawing straight lines and creating new countries regardless of tribes one way or the other. It was my privilege as a young Minister as long ago as the early 1960s to help draw up plans for sharing the wealth of the North Sea. Well, that was very easy to do by drawing squares, because it was only water that stopped you from extending the square one way or the other, but you cannot do it when countries are involved and without having regard to strong community ties.
In the past, valleys and large areas such as Brecon and Radnor and Gwynedd have had to be taken into account by Boundary Commissions. People in the valleys do not often cross from one valley to another—I can count almost on the fingers of one hand how much I went over from my valley, the Afan valley, into other adjacent valleys. Some people did—there was some community of interest—but, generally, people went up and down, and the community of interest was north and south. The imagination boggles at the thought of trying to create maps in the north of Glamorgan and the north of Gwent to meet the needs of those different communities and of the poor, eventual, long- suffering Member of Parliament having to attend to those needs time and again.
I have seen this happening. I have appeared professionally before Boundary Commissions, and generally they do their work well. It is the assistant commissioner, usually a Queen’s Counsel, who sits. Arguments are heard. They are very short—three or four days at the outside, in most cases. Communities can express their interests, and political parties can appear and put their interests. Everyone feels at the end of the day that they have had their day in court. Anything that constrains, limits or diminishes the discretion of a Boundary Commission is bad news.
My worst experience was appearing professionally for the city and county of Cardiff, when there were four seats to be distributed. An inquiry was necessary, although the two main parties—the Conservatives and Labour—had agreed. Unfortunately there was a split in the Conservative Party and therefore there had to be a public inquiry. The local Member of Parliament was a witness; he happened to be Mr Callaghan. It was my big moment to call this star witness and I had the proof of his evidence before me. Unfortunately, I relied on that proof too much. I asked, “Is your full name James Callaghan?”, and he said, “No, Mr Morris. It is Leonard James Callaghan”. It was the worst moment for me of that inquiry. I should have known better, having seen those magic initials, LJC, on so many documents.
The question for the House is how to achieve fairness with the least turmoil. Do we want candidates to be constantly reselected because of redistribution? A constituency that has had a Member of Parliament of either party knows whom to look to. It is a strain on that relationship if they have to change time after time, not for political reasons but because of the arithmetic which the legislation has determined. Such regularity of changes is not good, and I speak as a former Member of Parliament of more than 40 years’ standing. It was that internal relationship which I valued very much. I saw young, rebellious men and women growing up to be mature leaders in their communities and to see their children doing the same. It would be a tragic loss if there were this unnecessary change because we were acting far too quickly.
If there is to be a change and if there has to be more arithmetical fairness, let it be as limited and as infrequent as possible in order to retain that sense of community which constituencies, local authorities, local political associations and political representatives have, whether there is a change in that representation or not. They have acquired this long relationship with their communities over the years.
I will close with one very real illustration. For 23 years, I represented the constituency of Aberavon, but because of the change in the county boundaries, it became necessary to detach three of my eastern wards and give me instead a couple of wards from the neighbouring constituency of Neath. There has always been long and intense rivalry on the rugby field between Aberavon and Neath. There I was, in my new ward, canvassing in what I regarded as a 90 per cent safe area, when someone came up to me and said, “I can’t vote for you, Mr Morris”. “Why?” I asked. “Well, I’ve got my little boy here, and when he grows up I don’t want him to play for Aberavon, I want him to play for Neath”. It was an uphill task for me to try to persuade that man that boundary redistribution had nothing whatever to do with rugby rivalry or loyalty.
With these few words, I hope there will be pause to consider the needs of Wales.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has made some very helpful points about Wales as a whole and about the valleys, the language and a certain number of counties. In view of his familiarity with west Wales, in particular Ceredigion, perhaps he could help the House by saying something about the special needs for representation in those areas.
I do not want to detain the House. I have made the point that there is a long association between a Member of Parliament and a constituency. If anyone knows anything about west Wales, and I venture to suggest that I do, other Members of this House also do; I see the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, nodding.
My Lords, we have had an excellent debate already, and nearly all the salient points in favour of these amendments have been made with great force and eloquence by earlier speakers. I endorse, adopt and applaud everything that has been said. I am deeply flattered by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, quoting from an intervention of mine. Was it some days or weeks ago? I am not sure; time now seems to have lost its significance. I believe it goes to the very heart of truth. The most important contributions that have been made have centred on the nationhood of Wales. I do not believe that there is anyone in this House who does not accept the fact of Welsh nationality and respect that as an historical and incontrovertible fact. TS Eliot, I think, says that a,
“Rose is a rose is a rose”.
It says everything. We could say, “A nation is a nation is a nation”, which means that surrounding that concept of nationhood there is respect for, and indeed an acceptance of, that entity, and that is the basis on which we should approach this question tonight, as I am sure we will.
Wales is one of the oldest nations in Europe. Noble Lords will remember that Milton, who was not only a great poet but the Principal Private Secretary to Oliver Cromwell for many years—in many respects the spin merchant of the Government of that day—spoke of Wales as an ancient “nation, proud in arms”. That was three and a half centuries ago. David Lloyd George, as I am sure his distinguished grandson will recollect, said once in the House of Commons that we in Wales were a land of poets and kings when the Anglo-Saxons were on the shores of the Baltic subsisting on piracy and periwinkles. I do not necessarily adopt that historical theory as the basis of my case, but one thing is certain and it has been said so clearly and eloquently; what is proposed here is not just a marginal change but a savage amputation of Welsh representation in the House of Commons. That is no exaggeration. It means that Wales, with 5.3 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom, has to bear 20 per cent of this surgery.
To put this another way, in the whole of the United Kingdom there is a diminution of seats to the tune, I calculate, of about 7.6 per cent. In Wales it is 25 per cent. We can bandy figures around, but the fact is that Wales is disproportionately dealt with to a very cruel degree as far as this part of the legislation is concerned. Do we deserve that? Is that right? Is that just? Is that inevitable? Those are the questions which I think that the House would wish to exercise in relation to this matter.
I believe there to be real sincerity in the attitude of many Members on the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches, who believe that they can achieve fairness by a slavish adherence to arithmetical consistency. I respectfully suggest that they are wrong. Of course, some idea of a norm that would apply generally, all other things being equal, to constituencies as a whole would be utterly admirable. I have no doubt, and I accept, that in every consideration arithmetical consistency has some part to play. However, my first submission is that it is entirely chimerical. It does not achieve fairness because of so many other factors, with which we have dealt earlier. For example, the accessibility of a Member of Parliament to each and every constituent is far more important.
Secondly, mathematical correctitude cannot be achieved. Let us think of it in these terms. The register will be inaccurate, so far as the population and the possible electorate of a constituency are concerned, to the tune of about 3.5 million. As for Wales, my calculation on the basis of 5.3 per cent is roughly 185,000. That is a considerable totality of votes, which can of course completely affect this philosophy. It is as if the Government are saying, “We are aiming at a target through telescopic sights, and once we have that target in the crosshairs, we will be satisfied that we have done everything”, but they forget that the barrel is bent. That bullet will never reach the spot at which the crosshairs are aiming. It will be a long way away. What possible validity can there be, therefore, for the theory that arithmetical correctitude governs all? There can never be.
I know that the noble and learned Lord who will reply to the debate will inevitably turn to devolution. In many public statements, he has already done so in relation to Wales and Scotland, but in Wales in particular devolution is linked with this considerable diminution in the number of seats. With great respect, I challenge that completely. Just before the Summer Recess, I asked the noble Lord, Lord McNally—I join everyone in wishing him a speedy return to this House—whether the culling of seats in Wales and Scotland would be affected by devolution. His answer was clear and to the point. He said, “No”.
I know that the noble and learned Lord, who is a man of high intelligence and total integrity, will consider this argument very carefully. It can be tested in this way. Let us pretend for a moment that there had never been devolution in Wales and that no Wales Office had been created in 1964. Let us assume that no Welsh Assembly had come into being in 1998 and that there had been no Government of Wales Act 2006. Wales would still be losing 10 out of 40 of its constituencies. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, must have been right; this problem has nothing to do with devolution.
Further corroborative evidence, were it necessary, comes from the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution. The Deputy Prime Minister gave evidence before it and was asked why the diminution should be so great in Wales? All he said was, “Either you apply the same rules to Wales in order to bring about a commonality of electors or you do not”. Not a word was mentioned about devolution. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord would accept that, but from the way in which I have looked at that, whatever can be said about devolution I see that it has nothing to do with the reduction of seats from 40 to 30.
The case is simple. For a long time, Wales has enjoyed generous overrepresentation. There is no doubt about that. I think it was in 1377—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, will correct me—that the figure of 24 was decided upon. Some centuries later it went up to 28. In 1832, it was 32. We know—indeed, we have had the benefit of the researches by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, into the latter period—that there is considerable overrepresentation.
People might say, “What are you whinging about? The thing to do is to say not that you should continue the overrepresentation but that it is wholly just that you should bring it to an end”. That argument would be overwhelming, were it not for the central dominating feature of this issue: the nationhood of Wales. In 1992, when many Members here would have been Members of the other place, a Bill passed through the House of Commons that dealt with boundaries and the Boundary Commission. The right honourable Kenneth Clarke was Home Secretary at the time. He was exhorted by many Members to bring about a massive review of boundaries in Wales and Scotland with a review to diminution. He said, “No. There are national, cultural, historic, geographical and many other weighty factors that would make it impossible for me to do that”. The situation is exactly the same now as it was then.
Finally, many speakers have referred to the federality —if that is the correct term—of the United States and many other countries when small communities have been given, at a certain level, the same or virtually the same representation as other larger units. One might say that a federal system is not possible in England, Wales and Scotland because of the massive size and power of England compared with the other two countries. However, it seems to me that some concession to the principle of federality has been made over the years by allowing that very overrepresentation. That has a great deal to do with the ethos of a United Kingdom. Destroy that by savage surgery and the future of the United Kingdom might well be fundamentally affected.
My Lords, I had rather expected that I might follow the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, whose name is on the amendment, but probably it is right that we should split the Cross-Bench speakers at this time—the noble Lord will have the opportunity to demolish any arguments that I may make.
I hope that it is not out of order for me to start with two personal remarks. The first is that it is a great pleasure to see the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, in the House. He and I often did not agree with each other, but I always respected his views and the way in which he put them forward. My second personal observation is that the amendment was introduced with the extraordinary courtesy that is always shown by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig. It is in the spirit with which he spoke that I wish to take part in this debate. He said that we should all think about this issue. I have been thinking about it and I shall continue to think about it, but I would like to discuss a few thoughts that I have had along the way.
The noble Lord spoke about going too quickly. Others have also raised that subject. I greatly welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, because it gives the possibility of some further consideration along the road. I contrast that with the third amendment in this group, Amendment 102AA, which seems to me to kick the whole thing out so far into the future that it would effectively kill this legislation. I find it difficult to have any but negative thoughts about the third amendment, but I, too, understand the need for thought.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, referred to the 1944 Speaker’s Conference. My first thought is that there have been considerable changes since then. At that time, we did not have a Secretary of State for Wales in the British Cabinet. We did not have a Welsh Office or, as it is now, a Wales Office. We had not taken the first steps down the road to devolution and the creation of a Welsh Assembly, whether it has the existing powers or the powers that it may have after the referendum. Even the world of the valleys, about which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, spoke with feeling and great knowledge, has changed a good deal. Communities in those days were probably even more tight-knit than they are today. People walked straight out of their homes and into the pit or the mine and the road links between the valleys had not been improved. The first moves in 1944 were made at a time when the horrors of the recession were in many people’s minds and it was felt that Wales needed special consideration. But things have changed.
My second thought is about the effect of having more Welsh Members of Parliament. In part, the answer was given by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, when he started listing the names of distinguished Welshmen. In my experience, what has influenced the decisions of Governments has not been the number of Welsh Members of Parliament but the quality of the arguments that they advanced. I spent a number of years leading on Welsh affairs from the opposition Benches and then for eight years I was Secretary of State for Wales. I cannot think of a single occasion when an important decision was taken—or, indeed, when any decision was taken—with the thought in Ministers’ minds, “My goodness, there are 35 Welsh Members of Parliament, not 30”. The number was, I think, 35 in those days. I was influenced by the quality of the argument that was put to me.
I will cite one example, which will be all too familiar to Welsh people in this House. In the dramatic early days, when the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, and I had only just become Ministers, we found ourselves in passionate debate about the future of Welsh language broadcasting. The crucial moment in that consideration was not, as has sometimes been said, the actions of Mr Gwynfor Evans. In fact, it was a visit paid to Lord Whitelaw and me by three very distinguished Welshmen: one much-loved former Member of this House, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the then Archbishop of Wales and Sir Goronwy Daniel. After the meeting, Lord Whitelaw asked me what I thought we should do. I said, “If we cannot carry sensible, wise, moderate, middle-of the-road opinion on this issue, we should change our policy, because we cannot deal with the extremists if we cannot have the support of people like that”. The point that I am making is that it was the weight of the argument that was put to me that influenced the Government; it was never the thought of there being 35 Welsh Members of Parliament rather than 30. Therefore, I start with a certain scepticism about that argument.
Then it was argued—I think that the implication was made in this debate today, but it was certainly argued in another place at the time—that somehow the case for the Welsh language would be weakened if there were fewer representatives from north Wales, probably one fewer, incidentally. I think that I am probably right in saying that today there are more Welsh-speaking Welshmen living in Glamorgan, Cardiff and the industrial belt in the south than there are in north-west Wales. Furthermore, many of them represent the professional classes. They are in government, local government and the media. A number of them are very distinguished Members of this House. It is their voices—not just the voices, however strong, of the Members of Parliament for the north Wales constituencies—that support and sustain the Welsh language. Perhaps I might dare to add that it is not only the Welsh-speaking Welshmen. Regrettably, my grandfather was the last Welsh-speaking member of my family—I greatly regret that I do not speak the language—but I do not think that any Government of any political party have done more to support the Welsh language than the Government of which I and my English-speaking successors in the Welsh Office were members, supported and sustained all through, of course, by my Welsh-speaking noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy. The Welsh language has its defenders without the need for that special representation.
Then there is the argument that I thought that I must consider most carefully and which I do consider most carefully. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, will advance this argument, too. It is about the pace of change.
I have listened carefully to the noble Lord’s most eloquent submissions in favour of the argument that numbers do not really count; it is quality that counts and the ability to put a case. Would he with equal equanimity view the prospect of the number of English Members of Parliament being reduced by 25 per cent, confident that the remaining 75 per cent would put all the necessary arguments?
I do not really wish to add to the strength of the argument that I have already put. I am talking about the quality not just of the Members of Parliament but of all the other advocates who speak for Wales. They are not all in the House of Commons; indeed, some of the most effective ones are outside it.
I was going on to the question of the pace of change. I might be rather tempted on that, but I do not see how you seriously undertake the process gradually if you are to set about change. It is difficult. I cannot think of anything much worse than having a series of reductions taking place in successive elections. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, said that the relationship that the individual Member of Parliament has with his constituency should as far as possible be stable and long-lasting. I therefore doubt whether a step-by-step change is feasible.
The other argument to which I have given thought was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, in moving his amendment. Indeed, he brought me up short and made me think again. He suggested that somehow this would increase the threat of separatism and would threaten the union. I am doubtful about that proposition. It may be right, and I will listen to the argument, but I suspect that those who are so deeply moved by the question of whether there should be 35 or 30 Members of Parliament that it affects their view of the union are mostly politicians—Members of Parliament and perhaps Assembly Members—rather than members of the great Welsh public. I may be wrong, but I do not think that Owain Glyndwr is rising from his unknown grave and about to lead the people of Wales into a great campaign because our nation is threatened by this terrible change. I am a bit doubtful about that argument.
Then there is the proposition about small nations needing special representation. While pondering these issues over the past few days, I said to myself that it was rather demeaning for the Welsh nation to believe that it has to have a few more Members of Parliament in order to stand up as a nation. Surely that cannot be right. I know that there are examples elsewhere in the world—normally because of the structures of government in other nations, such as federal systems—where more Members are given, but I believe that the Welsh nation can take pride and have confidence in itself because it is the Welsh nation and not because it has 35 rather than 30 Members of Parliament. I do not find that argument wholly convincing.
We come to the final issue of community-based representation, which gives me some concern. I have some sympathy with the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde last night that most people are much more interested in the county or the area in which they live than in the political constituency. Indeed, I confess that I still have some difficulty remembering the new names for the two constituencies that now make up my former constituency. I have a feeling that, if any of my former constituents were asked where they live, almost without exception they would say “Pembrokeshire”. Very few, if any of them, would ever refer to a particular constituency. Yet, of course, community-based representation is extremely important and it is because I believe that it is important that I have consistently supported the proposal that there should be a 20 per cent spread from top to bottom rather than a 10 per cent spread. Indeed, I supported Members on the opposition Front Bench when they put forward that proposal, which deals with many of the community problems that have been identified in the debate today.
I do not see how we can go gradually down this road, although I was glad to have the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. I will continue to think about it. I hope also that my colleagues on the Front Bench will continue to think about the genuine issues that have been raised today. In that spirit of consideration, although I would find it rather hard to support a vote if the amendment was pressed by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, I shall certainly continue to consider very carefully the arguments that have been advanced.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for whom I have great respect. Yesterday he was courteous enough to mention that he was going to attack certain aspects of the three amendments with which I am proud to be associated. I am sure that your Lordships have had quite enough of special pleading. During the past few days, special pleading has really been the game around in the many hours of debate that I have sat through—although certainly not as many as other noble Lords. Yes, this is special pleading, but with a great difference. Wales is not a region but, as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, have both mentioned, we are a nation of the United Kingdom.
At the weekend I looked again at my set of Encyclopaedia Britannica from the late 19th century which stands on a shelf in my library. I just wanted to remind myself and perhaps get a little worked up for this moment. There it was: under “Wales” it says, “See England”. We have come, admittedly, a long way since then. Rather perversely I could turn that on its head and say that if we were part of England, we would have a reduction of only 5 per cent. Coming from one section of the encyclopaedia to the “W” section and getting a full explanation of what our nation does appears to have cost us 25 per cent of our parliamentary seats.
So much has been said most eloquently by previous speakers, but I have three problems that I want to address: process, perception and fairness. I shall take process first. Last night, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, drew our attention in a different context to the report of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Constitution. I shall read just two brief excerpts from it. The first relates to a report produced last October by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee of another place which was highly critical of process in the Bill. Paragraph 50 of the Lords committee states:
“We also note their view that ‘the unique position of Wales in terms of its geography, culture and history has long been recognised in its Westminster constituencies’ and their recommendation that the Government amend the Bill ‘to permit the Boundary Commission to give greater weight to these factors when drawing up new constituencies’”.
That is the considered opinion of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee. The report goes on to say in paragraph 51:
“We reiterate that pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation would have provided an opportunity for these concerns to be properly addressed”.
That, to my mind, puts a question mark against process. When things are done, they have to be seen to be done in an equitable fashion. Equity is quite a distorted word, so let us just call it doing things in a fair way. I can understand, though I disagree with, what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said about whether we needed so many MPs. I overhead a noble Lord saying, “We could halve the number of MPs to 15 on that basis and we would still be a very proud nation”. The question is not whether Wales is overrepresented; it has been acknowledged for a long time that Wales was overrepresented, but it is overrepresented for a reason. I do not want to rehearse the reasons that have already been mentioned.
My attention was drawn to an exchange of correspondence between the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Speaker Clifton Brown on 24 May 1944. I am not going to quote it to you, though it would actually do us all well to hear the words of one of the more eloquent gentlemen of the last hundred years. In the letter that the Prime Minister wrote to the Speaker, he requested that the Speaker set up a Speaker’s Conference to report within a certain period on—of course—redistribution of seats, reform of the franchise and methods of election. It does not seem to go away, does it? There are two points to make. One is about the process. The Speaker had assembled 22 or 24 Members of both Houses and some outsiders. They came back to the Prime Minister within four months with some very good recommendations which were sent to the Boundary Commission. That was the process: there it was; one could see how the whole thing started. It was a committee of all political parties which wanted to address what was concerning the Prime Minister at the time—that he wanted to take a look at the redistribution of seats in the United Kingdom.
We have heard that the last time there was an Act in which it was clearly stated that Wales should have “no less than 35 seats” was back in 1986. What we are missing in this is some reason why the Government have decided on numbers and then went on to fit parts of the United Kingdom into those numbers. I cannot be convinced. If I feel that way, I am sure that other equally ignorant people in the world will feel it also. The process is really faulty—it is faulty to my satisfaction, and will be faulty to the people of Wales when it is presented to them.
Let me draw the attention of noble Lords to my second point, about fairness and perception. In respect of fairness, I have talked about the reduction of seats—25 per cent, 40 to 30 and so on. I said in a slightly jocular way that if we were still part of England—“For Wales, see England”—or even Monmouthshire, we would only have got a 5 per cent chop. Where is the fairness in that? It just escapes me. Yes, I put my name to 35 MPs—the 1986 Act of Parliament has never been repealed. There are other parts of the Act that have been repealed. Why should it now just be thrown out because somewhere some group of individuals have put themselves together and said, “Wales is overrepresented; take it down by 25 per cent”? Really, the more I think about it, the more I think it is just extraordinary and savage—that was the word used by my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan.
I am a great supporter of these amendments. I believe that we really have to ensure that the Government think carefully about their treatment of Wales. I am a unionist, but I am talking about perception. What will the people of Wales think? I can tell you that the 10 MPs who lose their seats are going to make a great noise about it throughout Wales, and only one side of the story will be heard, and the perception will be there. I think it is dangerous.
Before I conclude, I would like to correct something that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said. He said that the third amendment, Amendment 102AA, was to kick the issue into the long grass. It was no more kicking it into the long grass than the amendment recently tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. He was actually saying, “Look, hold on a second. If you are going to do something, just wait, because, if in March the people of Wales say, ‘We want to give more powers to our Assembly—to give them some power to make primary legislation’, then there could be a reason to look at representation”. But certainly in my opinion, it should be no less than the 35 seats that sits on the statute book today.
I lend my support to this amendment, which has been so admirably moved; there have been a number of excellent speeches. I see that I do so in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who, among other things, represents the powerful traditions of David Lloyd George, whose spirit hovers over this debate. I think that the proposals to reduce Welsh representation in this way are deeply unfair to Wales as a nation and deeply damaging to its interests, to the House of Commons and to the United Kingdom.
Parliamentary representation is central to what has happened in the modern history of Wales. We heard the famous quotation from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It was a Welsh Bishop—not the Welsh Bishop who is the distinguished ancestor of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, but another, the Bishop of St David’s—who said that there was no such place as Wales. He said that it was geographical expression, as Metternich had described Italy.
Since then, Wales has advanced rapidly. It has acquired increasing recognition of its nationhood and its identity. It has, in important ways—if the Minister will allow this thought—achieved equality with Scotland, and with other areas on the rugby field, more than equality, I think. This has been acquired through parliamentary persuasion. It has been in large measure political, but it has had social and cultural aspects as well. The interesting feature to me, and a feature of the history of modern Wales, is that this recognition of nationhood has gone along with ties with the Union of the United Kingdom remaining extremely strong, even after devolution. Therefore, the history of Wales in the United Kingdom, and the history of Ireland in the United Kingdom have been manifestly different.
The motor of change has been democracy; that means the use of the parliamentary persuasive method. I note the very sound point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that the quality of the people involved is important. If Wales were represented by 40 idiots or people of mediocre talent, perhaps it might not matter how many you had. If you had a genius, Wales could be represented by one person. But I also think—to quote a famous advert—size matters, and a significant number to make a collective point at all levels of the legislature of the United Kingdom is extremely important.
If we look back, as I am prone to do, we find that the achievements of Wales have relied very heavily on the parliamentary pressure that Welsh MPs have been able to bring. A great landmark was the beginnings of legislation for Wales alone. That legislation was the ill starred Sunday Closing Act 1881, which is commonly thought of in a moral or religious context, but it was very important because it stated for the first time that you could have a statute that applied to Wales—a distinct legislative principle that did not apply to England. Obviously, that depended heavily on Welsh parliamentary pressure and representation. It was followed by the famous Act that set up the county schools in Wales and eventually, as it was seen then, the great triumph of the disestablishment of the church in 1920. There have been many cultural aspects associated with this, such as the National Library, the National Museum of Wales and the University of Wales, for which I had the honour to be vice-chancellor for some years. All of that depended on effective political pressure through Parliament. That was the way the Welsh chose—the method of persuasion. It is significant that throughout this period not only did Welsh parliamentary representation increase in quality but the numbers of Welsh Members of Parliament went on increasing, from 34 to 36.
In the period after the First World War, parliamentary achievement stalled. I think that that was because the United Kingdom was involved in social and economic problems of a great kind. Trade unions were strongly unionist in sympathy. The Labour Party changed quite remarkably in the interwar years from support for local devolution shown by people, such as Keir Hardie, to a strong commitment to centralisation. There was no advance between the wars but no retreat either. What we have heard about the Speaker’s Conference of 1944, including the very sensitive approach adopted by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister at that period, shows how the point about Welsh nationhood and identity had been absorbed.
From the 1960s, as everybody knows, there was a period of very dramatic change. We had the Welsh Office, devolution and associated major changes in the cultural life of Wales, including aspects of a culture in the visual arts, for example, not traditionally associated with Wales. The movement for Welsh recognition has gone on but, as we have heard, the connection between Wales and Westminster and Whitehall has remained extremely powerful. We have heard of many areas such as social services, justice, and so on, indicating the enormous importance for Wales in having strong representation and pressure to sustain its interests. Throughout that period, representation went up until it reached a total of 40 in the Act of 1986.
One important point that strikes me from this historical background is that all the parties have contributed. It has been profoundly to the advantage of Wales that all the main parties have adopted a non-adversarial and constructive approach. The Liberal Party played a glorious and distinguished role before 1914. It is interesting to see how the Liberal Party changed its approach to Welsh matters. Gladstone, that great man who was concerned with home rule for Ireland, came to realise that Ireland and Wales were different. If you had, for example, disestablishment of the church in Ireland, that was taking you along the road of separatism. In Wales, that disestablishment of the church was an alternative to separatism and was committing you the more strongly to being in the United Kingdom.
The Conservative Party has been increasingly sympathetic, if the Bishops’ Bench will allow me to say so, since the disestablishment of the church. That was the great incubus for the Conservative Party in Wales. It was thought of as an English party and the party of the Church of England in Wales. Since the disestablishment of the church, the Conservative Party has been able to be hugely more constructive. Winston Churchill set up a Ministry of Welsh Affairs. We heard the recollections of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, on setting up the Welsh television channel, which I was fascinated to hear. We have had a series of remarkably sympathetic Administrations under the Conservatives in the Welsh Office. I recall the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and when I was in Aberystwyth, Lord Walker. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is remembered with great affection; Mr Redwood, I do not recall with quite the same warmth and affection. However, we had the talisman of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who was enormously valuable and deeply sympathetic. I used to argue that the Conservative Party would benefit enormously from devolution in Wales and that it would have a much more positive and central role in Welsh life. So it has proved.
The Labour Party has oscillated. It began with a very devolutionist view, then became a very centralist party, perhaps in the 1920s to the 1960s or 1970s, and has suffered from that electorally. The Welsh Office and devolution were the work of a Labour Government and the Government of Wales Act took the process of devolution considerably further. We will have the referendum on further powers for the Welsh Assembly in March and I hope very much that it will be successful. All that will create a more diversified but more durable United Kingdom and sets Wales firmly in its place.
I worry that this Bill is quite different. It gets away from this all-party constructive approach to Welsh politics. It inflicts greater damage on the Welsh political system than any legislation we have had since the mid-19th century. The ties of Parliament with Wales will be weakened at a time when the powers of the Welsh Assembly call for a strong Welsh presence in Parliament and when, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said, the economic recession will make the need for a strong protective mechanism for Wales in Parliament more necessary than ever, given the greater importance of the public sector in Wales. This is a very damaging change of stance by the present Government and I find it deeply ironic that the party of the union is proposing a step that will weaken the ties between Wales and Westminster.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, observed, the perception is deeply important, and perception can lead to other things. It has been done in a thoughtless and casual way. We look forward to what the Minister will say, but so far there has been no compromise, no consideration or alternative views. We had the rejection of an idea of a Speaker’s Conference. There is no suggestion that we might have the kind of Boundary Commission that would take local views into account and reflect on a range of issues. As my noble friend Lord Touhig observed, a mishmash of new constituencies will be created, based on the crudest mathematical formula without concern for geography, history or community—the idea for which philosophers whom the Conservative Party reveres, such as Edmund Burke, have called across the centuries. The crudity of the process ignores the subtle variations within Wales, which as we have heard has very large constituencies, where the connection between electors and the Member of Parliament can be very difficult to sustain. It is particularly harmful to the Welsh-speaking areas of Wales. Again, slightly demurring from the stance of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I believe that what is important is preserving Welsh communities. It is quite true that most Welsh people live in south Wales—the Cardiff et cetera bourgeoisie—working in the public service. The huge concentration of governmental machinery in south-east Wales is a major reason for that. We want to take account of communities in sparsely populated rural areas. As I mentioned the other day, I have a Meirionnydd mother and a Cardiganshire father divided by the River Dovey. There are subtle variations that the mathematical formula pays no heed to at all.
I dread the thought of some of these new constituencies coming into play. We have already had aberrations in the reorganisation of Welsh local government. I well recall when I was at Aberystwyth dealing with a monstrous aberration called Dyfed, and confronting the councillors in Llanelli and Burry Port, trying on occasion perhaps to play the Labour Party card and totally failing because they did not really regard that area of the frozen north, as they saw it, as a part of Dyfed at all.
We must have a formula for the size of constituencies that is flexible. I find the irrational process in which this change has been conducted deeply distasteful. It is a result, as with so many of the policies we currently have, of secret backstairs private discussions within the coalition. But we have not had them within Parliament so far. The House of Lords is doing, as it so often does, what the House of Commons was not enabled to do. There was no debate on these dramatic changes in Wales that occurred because of the use of the guillotine. I regard these proposals as a throwback to the cultural imperialism of the 19th century, with a coalition claiming, in effect, that there is no such place as Wales; that they really do not care about it and they are not prepared to listen. That is, unless their policy changes, very deeply to their discredit.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who is a fellow north Walian. I look forward to hearing his maiden speech, but perhaps not this evening. We have gone on long enough I think.
As we are all aware, under the Bill as it stands, the total of Welsh parliamentary seats will be reduced from 40 to 30, which is an unprecedented figure. Even in 1832 Wales had 32 seats and, of course, the number has grown since then to 35 under the Representation of the People Act 1918, 36 under the Representation of the People Act 1948, to 38 in 1982-83, and 40 in 1995, under various statutory instruments passed by Conservative Governments. So the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, is perfectly correct in saying that both major parties have contributed over the years to this increase in Welsh representation. It is interesting to note that in 1948, while the Labour Government reduced the overall number of Members of the House of Commons from 640 to 625, they increased the number of Welsh seats by one.
How have the present proposals come about? The Government made their views very clear in the evidence that they supplied to the Welsh Affairs Committee, which conducted an inquiry into the implications for Wales of the Government’s proposals. It is clear from that evidence that it is the equal value of votes cast at parliamentary elections across the UK that is the overriding principle. Currently they do not have equal value. The Government go on to say in that evidence:
“The electoral quota for Wales’s forty constituencies averages around 56,500, the lowest of the four nations in the United Kingdom. Welsh constituencies now have on average some 20% fewer electors than constituencies in England; almost 14% fewer than constituencies in Scotland; and some 13% fewer than constituencies in Northern Ireland”.
Those are the facts. The Government go on in that evidence to point out the inequality in vote value among constituencies in Wales. They say:
“For example, the vote of an elector in Arfon, with an electorate of around 41,000, is worth almost twice that of an elector in Cardiff South and Penarth, with an electorate of over 73,000. The votes of electors in Aberconwy, Dwyfor Meirionydd and Montgomeryshire, all with electorates below 50,000, are worth considerably more than those in the Vale of Glamorgan, with an electorate of over 70,000 … The Government believes that, again, there is strong justification for ending this manifest inequality”.
I cannot say that that is felt at all acutely in Wales. Nevertheless, those are the facts that we must consider.
Some would think that the Government’s proposals are among the consequentials of devolution and the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales with its 60 representatives. They would recall that Scottish representation was reduced in 2005 from 72 to 59. The Government’s evidence appears to deny that in the case of Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, was absolutely right on that. In their evidence the Government deal with the view,
“that given the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales and the extent of devolution to the National Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government, Wales’s representation at Westminster should be proportionally less than that of England, not the same. The Government disagrees with this view. Since devolution, Parliament continues to legislate for the whole of the United Kingdom on matters that are non-devolved, including social security, tax, immigration and defence. It is surely right in principle that the people of Wales should have the same level of representation in respect to these matters as the people of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland”.
There we have the Government’s reasoned justification for their proposals. We are all aware of the factors that the Boundary Commission may take into account in deciding boundaries. We would all probably agree that a 10 per cent variation on either side of the quota would probably make life easier without mortally injuring the basic equality principle that lies at the heart of this Bill. As has already been said, Mr Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit has drafted a list of a possible 30 constituencies approximating the required size. The list is to be found in the Welsh Affairs Committee evidence. It merits close study. Of course it would be controversial, as any proposals for boundary changes are bound to be.
Devolution and the election of 60 National Assembly Members should have reduced the constituency workload of MPs, especially in the areas of devolved government—health, education, housing, and so on. But some MPs tell me that constituents still come to see them rather than their Assembly Members. If so, that is a problem that they should sort out among themselves at ground level. Wales has many problems. Indeed someone asked where Wales would be without its problems. More MPs than average is not the answer in my view. I agree that it is a matter of quality. Better quality MPs might help, but not more.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell has expressed my views very well about the very eloquent arguments that we have heard in the course of this debate. Like him, I shall continue to ponder, but your Lordships may rest assured that there is no doubt that the issue of parliamentary representation of Wales is crucial. As the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, has said, Parliament has played a very important part in our history. I hesitate to say it but surely the 16th century Act that was passed requiring the translation of the Bible into Welsh was a unique piece of Welsh legislation. If my memory, which is faulty, nevertheless serves me correct, it was 1563 and it was a fellow countryman from the Conwy valley, where I reside, Richard Davies, who actually pressed that statute in this very House.
My Lords, I wish to speak very briefly. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, introduced this debate with eloquence and discipline and summarised the points beautifully. I wish to address two aspects only: devolution and Wales’s contribution to the UK today.
In the devolution settlement for Scotland, the powers were much clearer. Even if Wales has greater devolution —the Liberal Democrats had always said that they wanted to cut the number of MPs when the Assembly was stronger—and we go down to 35 MPs, we in Wales will still have lost a greater percentage than Scotland will have done. Fairness in devolution needs to be looked at.
What about Wales in the UK today? I refer noble Lords simply to the Armed Forces. We should remember that the population of Wales is just over 5 per cent of that of the UK. There are 37 regular battalions in the British Army, three of which are Welsh and six Scottish. Eleven per cent of recruits come from Wales and more than 7 per cent of casualties in Afghanistan are from Wales. At the height of Operation Panther’s Claw in summer 2010, the proportion of Welsh soldiers was between 20 and 25 per cent, as Welsh regiments such as the Welsh Guards were on the front line. An MoD spokesman, Paul Barnard, said in an interview last year:
“It’s certainly true … that Wales punches above its weight in the armed forces … And for that Welsh people should be proud, and the rest of the UK should be grateful”.
Indeed, the rest of the UK should be grateful, as Wales does contribute. We have a devolved Assembly, but the role of the MPs in the other place is important. We contribute to the UK. That is why this is such a serious debate and why the amendment as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, is well crafted and should be supported.
My Lords, I had the privilege of representing for 30 years one of the most remarkable constituencies in the country. It cannot be denied that Merthyr Tydfil has played an enormous role in the political, social and cultural developments in Wales, particularly in south Wales. It also has a remarkable sense of continuity. There has been mention of the Reform Act 1832. That Act created Merthyr Tydfil as a constituency, although not until the very last minute. In the last moments of the debates in the Commons and the last stages of the third Reform Bill, the Government eventually gave in to pressure to create the constituency of Merthyr Tydfil. In three successive Bills it was proposed that Merthyr should be a contributory borough of Cardiff. Neither Merthyr nor Cardiff thought that that was a good idea. Cardiff believed that it would be swamped by the Merthyr hordes and Merthyr considered that it was—as it was at that time—a more populous and more economically thriving community than the decaying county town of Cardiff. At the very last minute, the boundary change was made, and the concession was made.
When I reread the proceedings of the 1832 Reform Bills, two things struck me. One was that the Government of the day, and Lords Grey, Althorp and Russell, made considerable concessions to gain parliamentary assent. They seem to have accepted that the only way they could get that major Reform Bill through was by building parliamentary assent. They made concessions that some people thought they never should have made, but they were made. You do not create great parliamentary reform of this kind through ministerial macho approaches. It is important to build parliamentary assent. One of the saddest things about our lengthy debates is that no such attempt to build parliamentary assent has been made—not so far, anyway. I hope that at this late stage that process can and should start.
As I say, Merthyr Tydfil was created by the Reform Act 1832. During the 19th century it grew in population and electorate and became a two-Member seat. In 1900, it produced a remarkable dual membership: the first Labour Member of Parliament, Keir Hardie, who served the constituency alongside one of the richest men in Britain, the mighty coal owner DA Thomas, later Viscount Rhondda. In 1918, it reverted to a single-Member seat. Since 1918 to this very day, the core of the Merthyr constituency is the Merthyr county borough. However, given its remit, I have no guarantee or assurance that the Boundary Commission will respect that core. It may do what a former Boundary Commission once recommended and fracture the core of that constituency—the community-based constituency that I had the privilege of serving. I am fortunate that, in 34 years in the other place, I went through only one parliamentary Boundary Commission.
Listening to these debates has brought back many memories of that experience. One of the first proposals of the Boundary Commission convened before the 1983 election was that Aberfan and the Merthyr Vale ward in the heart of the Merthyr Valley should be transferred to a new constituency in the Cynon Valley. There were two problems with that. First, there happened to be a rather large mountain between the two and there was no direct route between them, which meant that local people thought that the Boundary Commission was working off a flat map with no contours of any kind.
Secondly, can one imagine the total insensitivity of supposing that Aberfan and Merthyr Vale be removed from the Merthyr constituency at a time when, some years after the Aberfan tragedy, we were still dealing with its long-term consequences at both parliamentary and borough level? That is the kind of insensitivity that I fear will arise time and again if the Boundary Commission’s remit stays as it is. It will not respect the community feeling that is such a passionate part of our political and community life. I felt that most forcefully when in 1983 the then Boundary Commission eventually amended the constituency by attaching the Rhymney Valley to Merthyr. This was not thought well of in the Rhymney Valley. There are deep attachments not necessarily to counties but to constituencies. The people of Rhymney Valley were passionately attached to their constituency of Ebbw Vale. It was little wonder that that was the case as they had been represented for more than 30 years by Aneurin Bevan and were represented at that time by Michael Foot. It took a huge effort to try to rebuild and connect communities to make the new constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney feel as one, and these were communities with identical political and social values.
While Boundary Commissions are impartial, they are certainly not infallible. The great value of local inquiries is that they allow communities to educate the commissioners in what communities are all about. However, communities will be denied that under this Bill if the Boundary Commission makes the absurd proposals that have been made in the past, which happily were quickly rejected because of the outrage that they caused locally. That experience could be repeated over and over again, as they cut across normal communities and move wards around, as is feared will be the consequence of the Bill.
I also want to touch upon the second point about the relationship between the number of Members of Parliament at Westminster and the union. I heard and reread the first attempt by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, to defend this argument a week last Monday. He said:
“The important point to remember is that the reform means that a vote in Cardiff will have an equal value to a vote in Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh or London. To me, that does not undermine the union; giving an equal value to a vote in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast and London will, we hope, bring the union closer together”.—[Official Report, 10/01/2011; col. 1227.]
The notion that by cutting 10 constituencies in Wales and reducing representation to the Commons by 25 per cent will somehow create a closer sense of union is an absurd suggestion by the noble and learned Lord, who has made a very good fist of a very poor case throughout most of these debates. I do not think that the kind of cut that is envisaged will create a closer union; I think it will sow seeds of disunion.
I cannot follow the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that numbers do not matter. Besides equality, they matter every now and then in the Lobbies. Among other things, therefore, a proper representation—certainly not 30—is essential for the good maintenance of the union, alongside devolution itself. I might be a bit of an endangered species in this case. My noble friend Professor Lord Morgan was, I think, thinking of me; I am an old-fashioned Labour unionist at heart and in the Bevanite tradition that meant that you had to be where power is. Power is and will remain, very substantially, in Whitehall and Westminster to influence the affairs of Wales. We cannot afford to reduce that representation, or to be perceived to have done so. Never mind being perceived; it will have happened if we cut the numbers by the amount suggested.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, feel any affinity to the great Whig/Liberal tradition that created the Reform Act 1832, with Lords Grey, Althorp and Russell. At least during the course of that Bill they made very strategic concessions to create parliamentary assent. Thankfully, as a result of that pressure, they created the constituency of Merthyr Tydfil. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, that they start making strategic concessions tonight by accepting these amendments.
My Lords, I rise because my name has been mentioned on a number of occasions during this debate and I ought at least to thank noble Lords for the plug. I promise that my contribution really will be brief because all the songs have already been sung so expertly—probably the correct analogy to use in relation to Wales. There is a great deal of pleading for special causes in the Bill and there is, of course, ample justification for Wales to be included. Even if it were argued, as it has been today, that Wales might have been slightly overrepresented in recent years—no one is arguing about that; there is no dispute about it—it does not deserve to lose 10 constituencies at the stroke of a legislator’s pen. These amendments, so powerfully moved by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, would address this unfairness.
A number of distinguished former Welsh MPs from all sides of the House have contributed to this debate, and in terms of such practical experience I am indeed a piping voice without substance. However, I can at least claim this; I had a grandfather, father, aunt and uncle, all of whom represented rural Welsh constituencies—for all the parties represented in this House, I have to say. I can testify to the additional burdens that physically large constituencies can impose on their representatives. This is compounded by a road network that has hardly improved over the years—I am sorry, but that is the case—and a rail system that many would argue has actually deteriorated. The personal ties which an MP can establish with constituents fairly easily in a well defined and concentrated urban area must be far harder to achieve over a large and disparate geographical mass. In the case of Wales, any attempt to extend the size of already large constituencies to encompass the 76,000-elector figure could result in the entirely inappropriate solutions referred to so tellingly by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in what I will call the Brecon-Radnor debate earlier in the week.
All these matters should surely be looked at carefully without a ticking clock in the background, which is why I hope that Amendment 102AB, in the name of my noble friend Lord Williamson, will be received favourably by all sides of the House.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be taking part for the first time in this debate tonight. The Welsh Affairs Committee report has been quoted several times tonight. I will quote from it again:
“The Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill will have a greater impact on Wales than any other nation of the UK. Wales is projected to lose ten of its forty parliamentary seats, a reduction of 25%. We agree with the principle that all votes should have equal weighting. However, equalisation between constituencies is only one of a number of factors to be taken into account when deciding constituency boundaries. The unique geography, history and communities of Wales must not be ignored when the Boundary Commission undertakes its review”.
The former Secretary of State for Wales, my right honourable friend Paul Murphy MP, said in evidence to the committee that the reduction in the number of MPs is unprecedented:
“Wales has had a dedicated number of MPs in Parliament since the middle of the Sixteenth Century. This is to safeguard the rights of a small nation in a United Kingdom”.
The report goes on to say:
“In a democracy, it is an important consideration that every effort is made to ensure that votes have equal weight. However, no electoral system genuinely delivers a wholly ‘fair’ outcome in these terms. Notwithstanding this principle, other factors legitimately weigh in the consideration of where the balance of fairness lies. It is also important that the interests of each region of the United Kingdom are properly heard at Westminster. The Government's proposals would reduce, at a stroke, the number of MPs representing Wales by 25%. By any yardstick, this would be a profound change to the way that Wales is represented”.
Tonight, we have heard a lot about having equal weight in voting, but does saying that something is equal mean fairness? Does it mean democracy? One aspect of this is that Welsh Assembly boundaries will be different from Westminster boundaries, and I think that that will cause problems. I know that this has happened in Scotland, but Scotland is not Wales. Scotland has already reduced its numbers because it has much greater devolved powers than we have in Wales. I think that it will cause problems if we have 30 Westminster seats and 40 Assembly seats, especially if we have elections on the same day in May 2015.
We do not know what the result of the referendum on 3 March will be. Most of us will be hoping for a yes vote, but even with that yes vote no greater powers will be devolved to Wales. It will mean that Wales can make primary legislation without coming to Westminster on matters that have already been devolved to Wales.
I am not sure whether the position of women has been mentioned in the 14 days of Committee debate, but with equality and fairness, surely democracy must be mentioned. There are not many women MPs in Wales. We have never had many women MPs. There have been only 13 since 1918. At the moment there are seven. The largest number that we ever had at one time was in 2005 and we are now down to seven. It could be that, throughout the country, with a reduction of 50 and the new boundaries, women will lose out. There will be fewer women MPs at Westminster in 2015 than we have now, and that is something that all parties should consider deeply. The main parties want to see bigger representation and this must be taken into consideration.
The south Wales valleys have been mentioned several times. My noble friend Lord Rowlands mentioned Merthyr Valley in his former constituency. I have lived for most of my life in the Rhondda Valley, which has an electorate of just over 50,000. We are surrounded by the Cynon Valley, Pontypridd and Ogmore, which would be possible areas where you could expand. Lewis Baston, who has been mentioned several times, suggests that in order to fit in the numbers to get to the magical 75,000, Rhondda and Ogmore could become one constituency. My noble friend Lord Kinnock is smiling because he knows the area, as many noble Lords will as well as I do. We know that Rhondda and Ogmore have no natural links whatever. How on earth can you have a Rhondda and Ogmore constituency when you have a great big mountain between us? You can go over the mountain road, but that is closed the minute there is any fog, ice or snow. It would be extremely difficult and the Rhondda and Ogmore people are totally different communities. The Rhondda Valley is unique, as are all the valleys. There is no other place in the United Kingdom like the south Wales valleys.
It is worrying. Where will you get these extra votes? Wales is taking such a big hit because 22 of the smallest constituencies are in Wales. Was it taken into account when the figures of 50 and 75,000 were decided that Wales would be the hardest hit? I doubt it. I suppose it was done on a piece of paper and someone thought that it was a good formula, but as a result Wales has taken a big hit.
In the Rhondda Valley, the community spirit is still very strong. We people in the Rhondda practised the big society before it was ever heard of. People have a strong community spirit. The miners of the Rhondda built their own hospitals and we had our own libraries, all contributed from the miners’ pay packets every week. We had our own doctors before the NHS ever came into being.
I would like to say a little about how strong the Rhondda spirit is and how strongly people feel in the valleys. John Redwood, then Secretary of State for Wales, decided that there would be local government reorganisation and we would have unitary authorities instead of districts and counties. There would be 22 councils. One of them would be made up of Rhondda, Cynon Valley and Pontypridd and it would be called the Glamorgan Valleys, which meant that Rhondda would no longer be in the title of our local government. Two wonderful Rhondda women, Betty Bowen and the late Carys Pugh, who noble Lords will remember, decided that this was not on and that Rhondda would not disappear from local government.
They fought a campaign—just the two of them—and this was before the internet and mobile phones, Facebook or Twitter. They had support from all over the world from ex-Rhondda people who said that Rhondda must not disappear. They secured a meeting with John Redwood and he had the good sense to meet these two wonderful and formidable women. As a result, the Secretary of State eventually bowed to their wishes and the council was called Rhondda Cynon Taff Council. After all that effort, the council is generally now known in the Rhondda by its initials RCT. That is just one example of how strongly people in the Rhondda feel about it.
The Welsh language has been mentioned, which is very important to all of us in Wales. I do not speak Welsh myself, but my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren speak Welsh. The Office for National Statistics states that the increase of people speaking Welsh in Wales in the 2001 census was largely as a result of children being taught the language in schools. This goes way back to the 1950s, when the old Glamorgan County Council, in a non-Welsh speaking area, made sure that Welsh medium schools were started, and they have been a great success. The report said that because of the Welsh medium schools, we now have many more children speaking Welsh. The report states that in all age groups, women are more likely to have Welsh language skills than men, and the,
“difference was most notable in the 10 to 15 and 16 to 19 year old age groups—in both cases the proportion of girls able to speak, read and write Welsh was seven percentage points higher than boys”.
I make that point because much was said about Welshmen speaking Welsh.
I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Touhig because we would lose 25 per cent of our MPs, but not gain any more powers. I can see that there might be a case if we had more powers, similar to Scotland, but it is wrong. Stifling the voice and the strength of the Welsh people is wrong. I ask the Minister to think again before allowing this to happen and to take into consideration all that has been said today because Welsh people will be listening to this debate. They did not have a chance to listen to what went on in the House of Commons because of the guillotine, but they will listen closely to what this coalition Government have to say about Wales. I am sure that they would want a really good response and that they will take note when the elections come on 5 May.
I am glad to follow my noble friend Lady Gale because she has huge insight into Wales and its workings. My noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport quoted the poet RS Thomas. I wondered then how he would have responded had this Bill come before him. I think that the Nobel-nominated genius would have responded with a grimace and a frown and with sharp, thunderous, angry denunciations. That leads to what the genius of the south, RS Thomas’s cousin Dylan, might have done. Had he encountered this measure, he would, after a glass or two, have presented a laughter-filled satire of English arrogance.
The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts, both shrewdly emphasised the qualities of shrewdness in terms of representation here in Westminster as opposed to numbers. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, instance his argument by reference to James Callaghan, a man of great quality. I studied Leonard James Callaghan in his use of power for many years, and I thought that it was seated not simply in his great quality but in his absolute certainty that he would always be followed by many Welsh Members of Parliament. That was part of his capacity. I have studied these debates for, perhaps, over two weeks and I have noticed the numbers and the power of Scottish Peers. I concluded—shrewdly, I think—that the Scots people, that great nation, negotiated themselves into our union and that that great brute, Henry VIII, the founder of the English state, annexed Wales without any public consultation whatsoever.
The coalition is off course. It puts more and more Peers into your Lordships’ House yet it legislates to take many Members of Parliament out of the Commons, which does not seem logical. Instead of two Bills, we have one which is disparate and disjointed. It is not good enough. I believe that it is wrong for the coalition to debit 25 per cent of MPs in Wales. That cannot be right; it is unjust. We are talking of something approaching a parliamentary birthright. That is how the Welsh people see their representation here in Westminster. They always have and they would not be pleased if this Bill progresses. I believe Wales to be a very mature democracy. Wales likes its parliamentary politics. It is proud of its political heritage and it gives so much to the body politic here in Britain.
I am not the only noble Lord to say that Britain has gained so much from the Welsh constituencies; our great Mr David Lloyd George, who founded our welfare state; the mighty Mr Bevan—we all know what he contributed to Britain and to Wales; Mr Ness Edwards, who was very much a representative of the Welsh mining constituencies; Mr James Griffiths, a passionate man from the west who gave us national insurance Acts. Here are risks for the future, yet the coalition seems blind to them. Wales deserves better than this. It is a careless measure with more than a hint of a Heath Robinson disjoint.
Welsh people rate their Members of Parliament. They use them and their services with gusto. Now is not the time to denude the Principality of its favoured defenders. The MPs in Wales do a magnificent job of responding to their constituents’ concerns. They deploy their staff most effectively. I would say that is the case with all Members of Parliament, whatever their party, in Wales. The service that they give now is instant, devoted and very effective. The measures in the Bill are not a reform; a reform is an advance. These measures are a negative, not a positive—deleterious, in effect. I am not the first to pose the questions, but where was the pre-legislative scrutiny? Where is public consultation? Where is the consideration of our geography and its peculiarities or of our economic and social history?
What is proposed is unjust and we now know that, in the immediate years ahead, there will be economic and social changes of the greatest seriousness. There is the imminent impact of major cuts in local government services. There has been too much legislation, by all Governments—ill considered and careless legislation. The history of our modern Parliaments is littered with examples of hurried, ill judged legislation and for these reasons, I support the amendment.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend Lord Touhig on his amendment. I do not want to repeat much of the discussion that has taken place in the Chamber during this debate. I have studiously avoided, during my repeated interventions on this Bill, accusing the Government of gerrymandering, because I do not believe that that is the motivation behind this legislation. However, in Wales the accusation of gerrymandering will stick because removing 25 per cent of Wales’s Members of Parliament will create—indeed, it is at this moment creating—great suspicion in the minds of the Welsh people.
I claim a right to speak in this debate by way of my birthright in Swansea. My family is almost entirely Welsh. Due to the somewhat rare nature of the Savours name, which is easily traceable to 1602—a task carried out by a great relative of mine at the beginning of the previous century, before the age of the internet—we have quite a lot of information about my family’s activities over several hundred years. In preparing for this debate, I particularly researched the role that my family may have played in setting boundaries in Wales. I had been informed —incorrectly, as it turned out—that sheriffs and high sheriffs had historically had the responsibility of setting boundaries. There are two high sheriffs in my family: Edward Savours in 1747 and Robert Savours in 1845. Both were in south Wales, so I obviously had an interest. It seems that the only influence that they may have had was on parish or county boundaries. Since 1832, sheriffs probably had very little influence, as boundaries appear to have been set by a boundary commission after that.
However, during the research, I turned up some interesting background material on the boundaries in Wales. It seems that in 1944, as has already been alluded to, a Speaker’s Conference was established. From a pamphlet written in 1995 by Mr Iain McLean, a notable academic in this area, entitled Are Scotland and Wales Over-represented in the House of Commons?, we learn the lessons of history on the use of mathematical formulae and seat reductions in Wales—and how interesting these lessons are. Mr McLean explains what actually happened during the 1944 Speaker’s Conference, which was established to resolve arguments over representation. The conference, he says,
“was appointed and run on very similar lines to its predecessor of 1916-17 … Like its predecessor, the conference published only its conclusions”.
However, the minutes of the Speaker’s Conference committee are very illuminating. They say:
“It was pointed out that a strict application of the quota for the whole of Great Britain would result in a considerable decrease in the existing number of Scottish and Welsh seats, but that in practice, in view of the proposal that the Boundary Commissioners should be permitted to pay special consideration to geographical considerations … it was … unlikely that there would be any substantial reduction. It was strongly urged that … it would be very desirable, on political grounds, to state from the outset quite clearly that the number of Scottish and Welsh seats should not be diminished. The absence of any such assurance might give rise to a good deal of political feeling and would lend support to the separatist movement in both countries”.
The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, referred obliquely to that matter. I think that he was suggesting that that was a likelihood arising out of this legislation as it stands. Mr McLean goes on:
“Accordingly, the conference resolved not to cut the number of seats in … Wales and to establish a separate boundary commission … The 1944 recommendations have provided a template for all subsequent legislation … There should be no reduction in seat numbers for Scotland, or for Wales … There should be a Great Britain-wide quota, or target electorate, for each seat … The maximum deviation of any seat from this target should be 25 per cent … Boundary Commissions might ‘depart from the strict application of these rules’ if necessitated by ‘special geographical considerations, including the area, shape, and accessibility of a constituency’”.
Those are exactly the same arguments as we are having today. He continues:
“The Redistribution Act 1944 implemented these rules … During 1946 and 1947 the Labour Government announced that the 25 per cent rule was too restrictive and was leading the commissioners to break up historic communities. This conservative argument was accepted by the Conservatives; an Act of 1947 removed the explicit 25 per cent rule, and placed equal constituency size below respect for local boundaries in the Commissions’ rules”.
In other words, no cuts in the number of seats and respect for local boundaries put above a 25 per cent deviation from targets—a lot more than the 5 per cent that is being proposed in this legislation.
As far as I am concerned, this legislation’s effect on Wales is utterly absurd. It is unjust. It treats Members of Parliament miserably. It will interfere in family life for many Members of Parliament because the Bill is not even staged—and I heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, on the question of staging. It also provides for a great level of disruption in the public service careers of Members of Parliament. Many Members go into Parliament because they believe in public service and the need to contribute to their communities. It is quite unreasonable suddenly to remove 25 per cent of them in the way that is being suggested.
Wales is being punished on the back of a populist response by the coalition Government. The expenses scandal has provoked a backlash against Members of Parliament. The Government’s response has been to cut expenses, promise September sittings and cut the number of MPs. It is a kneejerk response and Wales is being appallingly treated. It is absurd that this Parliament should treat the Welsh people and the Welsh nation in this way.
We have had an extraordinary debate with many outstanding speeches from all sides of the Committee. I say more in sorrow than in anger that I am disappointed that no one from the Liberal Democrat Benches has spoken, particularly with their great tradition as a party in Wales. I cannot believe that they had nothing to say on this issue.
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill will have a greater impact on Wales than on any other nation of the United Kingdom. Wales is projected to lose 10 seats of the 40 that it currently has. This represents, as we have heard, a 25 per cent reduction in its Westminster parliamentary representation. It is clearly a very significant proposal. What is so astonishing is that there was no debate in the other place on this matter. The guillotine came down. Does the Minister agree that it is outrageous and hard to understand how the elected House of Parliament could not debate this matter?
But it is worse than that. Many noble Lords who have spoken come from Wales and know how Wales is represented in another place. They will know that the Welsh Grand Committee, comprising all Members of Parliament from Wales, provides a forum for debate relating to Wales. The Grand Committee can meet only when the House directs it to do so. In effect, the Government decide when there is a need for such a meeting. A request was made from a distinguished ex-Secretary of State on 15 September 2010 to the current Secretary of State, the right honourable Mrs Gillan, to convene the Welsh Grand Committee. Unusually, the request was refused. In its report, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee made this comment about that refusal:
“We consider the Secretary of State for Wales’ decision not to convene a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee in this instance to be very disappointing”.
Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether he thinks that that decision can be justified.
As many noble Lords have said, the prospect of this drastic reduction in the number of Members of Parliament has caused great concern in Wales and among those who are interested in Welsh matters. The all-party Welsh Affairs Select Committee of another place, made up of six government supporters and six opposition supporters, produced a report shortly after the Bill began its legislative stages in another place which was highly critical of the proposed changes. It said:
“A decision to cut the representation in Parliament of one of the nations of the UK, Wales, by a quarter at a stroke should be one that can be shown to have been subject to the most careful and measured consideration, and should be taken in the light of proper examination of alternative approaches, including a slower pace of change”.
The Select Committee concluded, as we have been arguing during our discussion on the Bill:
“There is no need to rush into reorganising the electoral system without careful and measured consideration of the differential effects on the different parts of the UK”.
As the debate in the Committee today has shown, this drastic reduction in the number of MPs has provoked more than considerable concern. For a start, it is a complete departure from the current legal minimum of 35 seats for Wales, enshrined, as we have heard, in the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, which was passed by a Conservative Government, who should take great credit for that piece of legislation. It is also a significant reduction from the level of Welsh constituencies that was in place at the time when the Welsh people voted for the devolution settlement in 1998. That settlement, as the former Welsh Secretary, my right honourable friend Paul Murphy, noted in debates in the other place, was a package. It was, he explained,
“not simply the establishment of the Assembly, but the continuance of Members of Parliament, at that level, here in the House of Commons to protect the interests of the people of Wales and their nation. If we have a referendum, and there are greater powers, that might change, but at least people would have voted on it. However, in 1998, they voted for the opposite—the retention of Members of Parliament”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/9/10; col. 72.]
Importantly, that point was echoed by Mr Simon Hart, the Conservative Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, who warned the Government that a reduction of 25 per cent in the number of Welsh constituencies ahead of the referendum on new powers for the Welsh Assembly was being decided,
“without any reference to the Welsh nation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/9/10; col. 119.]
Will the Minister please explain why the forthcoming referendum on powers has no bearing in the Bill on the level of Welsh parliamentary representation?
Leaving aside the issue of the referendum, a number of factors suggest that this sudden and deep reduction in Welsh representation goes too far, too fast. The imposition of a UK-wide electoral quota of the kind imposed by the Bill is bound to create one or two enormous Welsh constituencies that will be overwhelmingly rural in nature and will cover wide and in places inaccessible territories. It will force the construction of new constituencies in the Welsh valleys, which will be impractical and injurious to local community ties, as many noble Lords have said.
Previously, these were the sort of concerns that could have been soothed to a degree through the application of common sense and through the forum of public inquiries, which the Bill proposes to abolish. Will the noble and learned Lord clarify whether there will still be a right to hold public inquiries in boundary reviews concerning the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but not of the mother of Parliaments in Westminster?
I return to the issue of whether a uniform approach is right for the whole of the United Kingdom. In fairness, the Bill contains one rule to override the electoral parity rule, which acknowledges the fact that the United Kingdom is a union of four parts. That rule prohibits Boundary Commissions from creating any constituencies across national borders and recognises that the different parts of the union have their own special characteristics, traditions and administrative structures. My right honourable friend the shadow Welsh Secretary and ex-Secretary of State, Peter Hain, said:
“Wales, because of its own special characteristics, has always had special consideration by this Parliament and by the Boundary Commission for Wales, with cross-party support over the generations. For that reason, Parliament first decided in 1947 that there should be no fewer than 35 Welsh seats. Since then, rises in and shifts between the population over the past 60 years have led the Boundary Commission to increase the number of seats by a further five to 40. As a note from the Commons Library of 28 July 2010 confirms … during the passage of the Boundary Commissions Bill in 1992, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) rejected the argument that over-representation of Wales should be tackled, referring to it as a long-standing constitutional arrangement”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/9/10; col. 123.]
That was mentioned in the debate. I ask the Minister whether he thinks that his right honourable colleague was wrong in that judgment.
We are not arguing that Wales should be protected from any reduction in parliamentary representation. The Committee is made up of political realists and we understand that the Government have some legitimate basic objectives, including the creation of more equal-sized seats. The question that has run through all our debates is whether those objectives need to be pursued in so rigid a fashion. Two noble Lords today used the word “savage” to describe the way in which this has been dealt with and questioned whether it must be pursued in a way that excludes all other factors.
We are beginning to see, in debates and votes on amendments that would inject a little more flexibility into the rigid rules set out in the Bill, a growing acceptance around the Committee that the Government should pay more attention to other considerations. Wales is an obvious area where some sensitivity at least should be given to special geographical characteristics, as well as to its status as a nation—this point was made by many noble Lords—within a larger union in which clearly England is the dominant force in wealth, population and political representation. The Welsh Affairs Committee stated that its concern was,
“about how the Government’s proposals will affect Wales in ways distinct from the overall picture for the UK”.
We know that, if the Bill passes, Wales will lose 25 per cent of its MPs, Northern Ireland will lose 17 per cent, Scotland 16 per cent and England 5 per cent. If the Government profess to be interested in fairness, it is important that the interests of each region are properly heard at Westminster.
The Government’s proposals would reduce at a stroke the number of MPs representing Wales by 25 per cent. The Select Committee said that by any yardstick this would be a profound change to the way in which Wales is represented in Parliament. Paragraph 51 of the committee’s report states:
“No persuasive argument has been presented to justify the haste with which this legislation is being pursued. There is no need for the legislation paving the way to the AV referendum to be linked to that fixing the size and number of parliamentary constituencies. Indeed, there are strong grounds for separating consideration of the two issues in time, both for Parliament and for the electorate … a decision to cut the representation in Parliament of one of the nations of the UK, Wales, by a quarter at a stroke should be one that can be shown to have been subject to the most careful and measured consideration, and should be taken in the light of proper examination of alternative approaches, including a slower pace of change”.
The vast majority of noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have agreed with that conclusion. We on the opposition Front Bench agree with it. If my noble friend seeks to test the opinion of the House, which is a matter entirely for him, we will encourage Labour Peers to support him.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for moving this amendment almost three hours ago, and for the measured and considered way in which he advanced his arguments. He encouraged Members of the Committee to be thoughtful, and triggered a considerable number of thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions to the debate. They ranged widely over parliamentary, cultural and family history, and over the contribution that distinguished Members representing Welsh constituencies have made to the parliamentary democracy of our United Kingdom. I will also refer at the outset to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, about Wales being a nation. My noble friend Lord Morgan and the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, echoed that point. Certainly I accept that Wales is one of the constituent nations of our United Kingdom. I, too, would bristle if I looked up “Wales” in an encyclopaedia and found, “See under England”. Even though I am not Welsh, I would find that offensive.
The amendment seeks to guarantee a minimum of 35 constituencies in Wales. In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, it is my understanding that when there was a debate on Report in the other place on the provisions of the Bill to equalise the size of constituencies, there were contributions from 16 Welsh MPs. Although the Government did give consideration to a Welsh Grand Committee, the Secretary of State for Wales and my honourable friend Mr Mark Harper, the Minister who is responsible for this Bill in the other place, held a meeting to which all Welsh MPs were invited. There was extensive discussion and Mr Harper offered individual follow-up meetings to all Welsh Members. That was the spirit in which the meeting took place.
No; I wish to answer some of the points that have been made in the debate.
The amendment stipulates the figure of 35, which—as was said by one or two contributors, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, in moving his amendment—reflects the figure set out in the 1986 Act, which stated that there should be no fewer than 35 Members from Wales. I observe that the same Act stated that there would be no fewer than 71 Members for Scotland. That provision was repealed by the Labour Government. I do not complain about that; indeed, I encouraged them to do so. The number of Members of Parliament from Scotland under the Labour Government fell from 72 to 59, and is set to fall again under the Bill to 52, which is about a 26 per cent reduction. That will be relevant when we come to consider issues about devolution raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan.
My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy gave a clear expression of the Government's position as admitted in evidence. One of the underlying purposes of the Bill is to try to secure fairness—equal vote, equal value—throughout the United Kingdom. The amendment which has been moved and those which have been spoken to would go against that fairness of one vote, one value throughout the United Kingdom. We believe that every elector’s vote in elections to the other place should have the same value, regardless of where that vote is cast in the United Kingdom. It is important to emphasise that we are not in any way proposing less representation for Wales than other parts of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the value of a vote in Wales will be the same as the value of a vote in England, the same as the value of a vote in Scotland, the same as the value of a vote in Northern Ireland.
We have allowed for a 10 per cent range of tolerance between the largest and smallest constituency to take account of local and other factors. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, gave the impression—a caricature—that it was simply a matter of drawing square boxes on maps. That is not the case and does great disservice to the Boundary Commission, which will look at the issues and take account, to the extent that it thinks fit, of important matters such as special geographical considerations—the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency. The noble and learned Lord put it very well when he gave the illustration that a parliamentary boundary does not define which rugby team you will play for. As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, said, when people are asked where they belong, they tend to answer in terms of old counties or smaller towns and communities. They tend not to identify where they belong in terms of parliamentary constituencies.
I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Steel is present—I saw him at one point—but he will recall that when he represented the seat of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, having the rugby teams of Hawick and Gala in the same constituency set up some interesting issues of rivalry between different communities. As I said in response to a debate yesterday evening, Members of Parliament by their nature represent a number of different communities within their constituency. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made the point about size and accessibility. Brecon and Radnorshire, which is the largest constituency in Wales, is often given as an example. To give a sense of perspective, it is worth stating that at 1,160 square miles, the current Brecon and Radnorshire constituency is considerably smaller than the constituency represented by my honourable friend Lord Thurso in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, which is just under three times larger than Brecon and Radnorshire. Then there is the constituency represented by my right honourable friend Mr Charles Kennedy, of 4,909 square miles. Of course, there are geographical limitations which the Government have submitted in the rules.
My Lords, does my noble and learned friend recall that the late Lord Livsey, who for many years was the Member of Parliament for the then Brecon and Radnor constituency, was one of the most loved Members of Parliament, hard-working and known throughout the whole of that constituency?
I think that that would be accepted and acknowledged on all sides of the Committee. It is not just me standing here saying that it is feasible to represent a constituency of such a size, but the electors of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and of Ross, Skye and Lochaber have returned their respective Members of Parliament on several occasions, which suggests that they have been able to address the genuine needs of a constituency covering many communities.
As we are explicitly discussing Wales, and the issue of Brecon and Radnorshire has been brought up, how does the noble and learned Lord suggest that that most rural constituency in Wales and England, with an electorate of 58,000, can be brought into consistency with the Government’s formula of a tolerance of 5 per cent either way and about 75,000 or 76,000 without making the size of the constituency now formed by Brecon and Radnorshire absolutely absurd and communication in that constituency almost beyond reach? I recognise the experience in Scotland. To create a constituency in mid-Wales that has about 70,000 to 80,000 constituents, there would have to be an effective destruction of neighbouring constituencies—to the north, in Montgomeryshire; or to the west, in Ceredigion; or to the south, in the former mining valleys. A suggestion about how a cogent constituency of between 70,000 and 80,000 can be formed would be helpful to the debate.
The first thing to note, because it happened very late at night, is that the Government accepted an amendment from my noble friend Lord Tyler with regard to existing constituencies being a factor to which the Boundary Commission may, if it sees fit, have regard. Perhaps that was not widely appreciated because there were not many of us around.
I think that the noble Lord congratulated us on that at the time.
The point I am trying to make is that the two Scottish highland constituencies to which I referred are substantially greater than Brecon and Radnorshire—in the case of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, almost three times as big; in the case of Ross, Skye and Lochaber, more than four times as big. We would have to go a very long way before we got anywhere near constituencies of that size, which have equally challenging geographical issues. Nevertheless, Members of Parliament have successfully represented those constituencies, as can be seen by the fact that they have been returned regularly in elections.
I take on the genuine issue, which several noble Lords have mentioned, of the effect of the interaction with the Union. I express myself as a passionate advocate of the benefits of the United Kingdom, while at the same time as someone who has vociferously argued for devolution. I recognise the sincerity with which the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, raised his concern about the Union.
My point, on which the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, picked me up, is not unreasonable. I think that there is an issue of fairness, and I have not yet heard the argument why it is in some way unfair that a vote in Cardiff should have the same value as a vote in Belfast, London and Edinburgh. Indeed, those who argue the contrary must tell us what explanation we give to a voter in Edinburgh that a vote in Cardiff should be worth more. I have not yet heard that explanation. Neither do I believe that in some way that difference in value will cement Wales’s place in the Union. In fact, I think there is some merit in saying that if all parts of the Union are treated equally, that is positive. I would have hesitated to say it, because I am not Welsh, but my noble friend Lord Crickhowell made the point that the Welsh nation can have true confidence in itself. It does not need overrepresentation in order to have confidence in itself. That is worth bearing in mind.
I come on to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, when he asked about various points I had made in the past about devolution. Points have been raised about the Speaker’s Conference. As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, much has happened since the 1944 Speaker’s Conference, and much has happened since the remarks attributed to my right honourable friend Kenneth Clarke in 1992. We cannot hypothetically say, “What would happen to this Bill if we had the Wales Office and had never had devolution?”. That is not the situation today. It is the case that on the back of devolution, Scotland reduced its representation from 72 to 59, but devolution is not relevant to the proposals that the Government are putting forward because we are not seeking to make a distinction between Scotland, which has a different form of devolution from Wales, Wales, which may have more powers following the referendum on 3 March, Northern Ireland, which has a different system of devolution again, and England, which has no devolved government.
Noble Lords made the point that the United Kingdom Parliament deals with macroeconomic policies, defence—the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke of the contribution that the constituent parts of the United Kingdom make to the Armed Forces—social security matters and pensions matters. The Government are saying that representation should be fair in all parts of the United Kingdom. There may be some who would argue that because Scotland has its Parliament dealing with a range of domestic issues, there could even be an argument for underrepresentation, but that is not the position of the Government. The Government believe that there should be equal representation in all parts of the United Kingdom, and that is what underlies this. We do not find it particularly acceptable that, for example, the constituency of Arfon, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, has an electorate of just over 40,000 whereas Falkirk has an electorate of 80,000. Indeed, it was pointed out that even within Wales, there are substantial divergences in the number of electors.
I shall pick up the point on the Welsh language. I cannot see why the reduction in the number of Members from Wales would have an impact on the Welsh language. As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, some of the great steps forward for the Welsh language were taken by people who were not Welsh-speaking in response to those who made very good, cogent arguments for the Welsh language over many years. It is the case that many Members of Parliament in our inner cities are dealing with constituencies in which a variety of languages are used by people from minority ethnic communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, made an important and valuable contribution when he referred to his manuscript amendment and there will be an opportunity to debate it more fully when—when—we come to Clause 18. The amendment would, as I understand it, mean that the first boundary review would take place as though the new rules were in force; the existing legislation would remain in force in the mean time; the new boundary provisions would be commenced only once the Boundary Commissions had reported; and votes in both Houses on the commencement order would be at that point. The House would effectively have the choice of commencing the new rules or retaining the 1986 Act rules. I recognise the intention behind this amendment, which was briefly spoken to by the noble Lord, and I salute the helpful spirit in which it was proposed. We will clearly want to give thought to the issues that it raises, but I will put down a caveat in that it invites Parliament to do what it does not usually do. Parliament usually sets the rules for the Boundary Commission and does not give people who have more than a vested interest in them the opportunity to decide whether they should introduce new boundaries that have a direct effect on them. Having said that, it is an innovative suggestion that I would be very happy to discuss with the noble Lord. I hope we will be able to have that discussion soon before we debate his amendment in due course.
In conclusion, I repeat that the provisions in this Bill will mean a reduction in the number of Welsh constituencies, just as in the rest of the United Kingdom. In opening this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, pointed out that Wales has 5 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom. On the 2009 figures, the overall proportion of Welsh seats in Westminster would go from 6 per cent to 5 per cent. I do not believe that that poses a threat to the Union. If anything, I believe that greater fairness and equality can help strengthen our union, and I beg the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, we have had a first-class debate. Seventeen of your Lordships have taken part. We have had a debate in the unelected House of our Parliament that the Government denied the elected House. In responding, the Minister took an intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who mentioned the late Lord Livsey. I, too, knew, admired and respected Richard Livsey, and if he were here tonight, I have no doubt about which side of the argument he would be on. I hope the House will forgive me if I do not follow the normal courtesy and respond to all the contributions that were made because I do not think that I could match the eloquence and power of the argument. We have spent just over three hours on this debate, and I am not here unnecessarily to take up your Lordships’ time.
Those who have spoken in this debate and I have sought to improve this Bill in the interests of the people of Wales. I am disappointed by the Minister’s response. We have clearly failed to impress upon the Government our concerns about the adverse impact this Bill will have on Wales. I believe that we have approached the debate in the best traditions of your Lordships' House. We have expressed our view and our concerns about the implications of this Bill on Wales. We have not been prescriptive and said, “Here’s a problem; here’s an answer; you must take it”. Noble Lords who have signed the amendments in this group have put their names to not one but three possible alternatives which the Government might have considered and reflected upon and come back at a later stage with some proposal that might have assuaged our fears. I believe it is in the best traditions of your Lordships' House to give the democratically elected Government time to reflect on the arguments that have been put. We offered an olive branch, but I fear that that olive branch has been tossed away. I worry because those of us who feel passionately about Wales and about the Union of the United Kingdom intend to continue to make this argument and this debate. The other place did not have an opportunity to debate these amendments or to express a view. It is with a heavy heart that I feel it is necessary to divide your Lordships' House so that we may express an opinion on Amendment 89BA.
Amendment 89BC not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 9.09 pm.
BBC World Service
My Lords, with permission I shall now repeat as a Statement the Urgent Question that was answered by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place:
“The House will agree that the BBC World Service performs an invaluable role, reflecting British democratic values overseas and supporting British influence in the world, and that the services it provides are a beacon to many in some of the poorest and most insecure countries in the world. We announced in October that, from 2014, responsibility for the BBC World Service will be transferred to the BBC itself and funded from the licence fee, a move that has been welcomed by the World Service and the BBC Trust as providing new opportunities for the World Service to develop in the future. In the mean time, the World Service—like any other taxpayer-funded body—must ensure that it is working on the right priorities and as efficiently as possible. I announced in October that its expenditure limits would be reduced by 16 per cent in real terms over the next three years.
As I set out in a Written Statement earlier today, we are providing £13 million per annum to help with the deficit in BBC pension funds and £10 million per annum for new services in markets that we and the World Service have identified as priorities. Those include TV programming in Urdu, in sub-Saharan Africa and in Hindi to be provided to local partners. We have also guaranteed the capital for the move of the World Service to its new offices in W1. That is proper provision for the future of the World Service and will make up for inherited deficits.
The other services provided by the World Service cannot stand still, and those that have become less well used because of the rise of local broadcasters or falling short-wave audiences sometimes have to close. It is the World Service’s responsibility to be as efficient as possible while maintaining as many services as possible, something the previous Government recognised when in 2006 they closed 10 separate language services of the World Service. The World Service initially suggested to the Foreign Office the closure of up to 13 language services, but I refused to give permission for that. I have agreed to the closure of five language services, accounting for 3.5 million listeners out of the total audience of 180 million. Withdrawal from short-wave and other services will have a bigger effect, but will rightly allow for concentration on online and mobile services for the future.
The BBC World Service has a viable and promising future, but it is not immune from public spending constraints or the reassessment of its priorities. While any closures might be regretted, they would not be necessary at all were it not for the inherited BBC pension deficit and the vast public deficit inherited from the previous Government”.
That completes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. This is a very sad day for all supporters of the BBC World Service—a service that has unrivalled reach across the globe and has a reputation for independence and fair mindedness. The BBC World Service is loved by many people who listen to it every day and is envied by many Governments, who wish they had it. It is known for its authoritative news reporting and relied upon for such reporting by many people. Will the Minister tell us why this uniquely valuable service is being cut so much more savagely than the rest of the FCO?
There were of course cuts and changes under Labour. They were criticised at the time, but these cuts today go much further than a mere realignment of resources. This is not just a realignment of priorities; it is a real and huge cut of 650 jobs out of a workforce of 2,400. The BBC director-general has said that these cuts will,
“inevitably have a significant impact on the audiences who use and rely upon the relevant services”.
He also exhorted supporters of the international role of the BBC “not to despair”. What a far cry that is—do not despair—from the Foreign Secretary’s exhortations on 1 July last year that the Government’s new approach to foreign policy would include “cherishing” and “growing” the networks around the world through our language. He said:
“The English language gives us the ability to share ideas with millions—perhaps billions—of people in the biggest emerging economies and … to build networks across the world”.
Those were high sounding ideals, which of course Mr Hague explicitly said were underlined by the essential importance of the BBC World Service. He said that together with the British Council, the World Service,
“gives Britain an unrivalled platform for the projection of the appeal of our culture and the sharing of our values”.
He was right. The World Service is the envy of the Americans—of Voice of America. The Americans have nothing that has the reach; nor do the French or any of our international competitors in this field.
Radio programmes in seven languages will cease altogether and one of those languages is Turkish. Does the Minister recall that only two weeks ago he agreed that Turkey has a growing and huge importance around the world? He said:
“We have already taken decisive steps to inject a new dynamic into UK-Turkey relations”.—[Official Report, 13/1/11; col. 1576.]
I am sure that at the time the Minister had no idea that the BBC World Service would cease to broadcast in Turkish shortly. After all, it was only on 1 July 2010 that the Foreign Secretary boasted of a new relationship with Turkey, Europe’s biggest emerging economy. Does the Minister recall his right honourable friend saying that there would be a,
“particular diplomatic effort with Turkey”?
This is a very odd way to implement that diplomatic effort.
The Minister is well known for his steadfast and passionate commitment to the Commonwealth. Again, he is at one with the Foreign Secretary, who castigated the Labour Government as being “oblivious” to the value of the Commonwealth. He said that the Commonwealth was not mentioned in the FCO’s strategic plan in 2009. He was right. It was not and it should have been. But in Mr Hague’s approach, which has been set out today, many people will see the cut of English for the Caribbean regional service as a bit more of a blow for everyday life in the Caribbean than the lack of a mention in a document in 2009 of which none of them has probably ever heard.
In July, Mr Hague claimed that he was introducing a “distinctive foreign policy”. Today, the results are seen in the cuts in FCO funding, which are becoming clearer and clearer. They are very destructive. The director-general, in making the cuts announcements, said today that he wanted to make it clear that these are the direct result of last autumn’s spending cuts. Will the Minister tell us why the BBC World Service is taking such an extraordinarily heavy cut? He mentioned 16 per cent. I believe that the figure is anything between 16 per cent and 20 per cent in real terms, as opposed to 10 per cent elsewhere in the Foreign Office.
The National Security Forum gave advice to the Labour Government of the crucial importance of the BBC World Service in nation-building and in making the world a safer place. It did that and it does that. What has changed? We have the ready-made vehicle to help us in nation-building, to foster understanding and to make the world a safer place, as the Foreign Secretary exhorted that he wanted to do.
The Government know that, as was shown in November 2010 when the FCO’s business plan was published. It said that the coalition priorities were, among other things, the use of,
“‘soft power’ to promote British values, advance development and prevent conflict”.
To do this, the Foreign Secretary claimed that he would:
“Devise a strategy to enhance … the impact of the … World Service”.
That was his promise and his commitment. Will the Minister tell us how today’s announcement fulfils that promise, that commitment? Will he give us concrete examples of how these cuts will enhance the role of the World Service? The Foreign Secretary said:
“Britain will be safer if our values are strongly upheld and widely respected in the world”.
The BBC World Service has an audience of more than 180 million people a week, which is far higher than other international broadcasters.
Finally, does the Minister recall, in July 2010, being asked:
“Is not the World Service an unrivalled way of demonstrating the values of this country?”
Does he recall his answer, which was:
“I heartily endorse everything that my noble friend”,
has said. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, posed the question. The Minister continued:
“The World Service is an immensely powerful network for soft power and for underpinning and promoting the values for which we all stand. Everything that he says is right”.—[Official Report, 13/7/10; col. 600.]
On 13 July 2010, the Minister was 100 per cent right. Today, sadly, in the Statement which he has had to repeat to us, he is not.
My Lords, I say straight away that I heartily endorse many of the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness about the BBC World Service. This is indeed a precious asset and, as the Statement of my right honourable friend says, we wish it to be an articulate and highly effective voice for Britain in the world. There is no disagreement about that.
The noble Baroness first asked about the size of the cut of 16 per cent in real terms over three years and asked why it is, or appears to be, larger than the overall real-terms cut in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a whole during the period of the spending review. It is not the biggest cut—the British Council has been asked to take a 25 per cent cut in real terms—but it is larger than the 10 per cent because we have to start from the position we inherited. The noble Baroness will recall that the Foreign Office took a fearful blow when the mess over the exchange rate had to be negotiated, which involved a large cut in its overall budget. At that time, the cut imposed on other ancillary bodies, including the BBC World Service, was somewhat less. If one looks at the arithmetic, all that is happening is that having to suffer 16 per cent now, which no one welcomes but is the reality that we have to face, merely brings the BBC World Service back to the same proportion of expenditure of a total FCO budget as was the position in 2008. We are back where we are.
Of course, it would be nice to be much further ahead and to have more resources, but we do not have more resources. The outgoing Minister—I forget his name—left a letter behind saying, “There is no more money”. We have had to impose on ourselves and in many parts of government inevitable cuts. Not this evening are we going to go into an argument about why those cuts were imposed or why the situation in budget terms was so utterly disastrous, which I know is a huge debate going on in this country. But disastrous it was and repaired it has to be.
As to specific services that were mentioned, five language services have been stopped, which my right honourable friend has outlined. On top of those, there are the effects of the changes in a number of other areas. The noble Baroness mentioned Turkey, for which there will be a stopping of radio programming and a concentration on online, mobile and TV distribution in a number of languages, and a phased reduction in medium and short-wave radio distribution.
That tells us something very important, which I am not sure that the noble Baroness or some other critics fully appreciate. We are dealing with a rapidly changing technology. The short-wave arrangements are not reaching the audiences. Short-wave is being cut out by the development of the technology, and by resistance in some parts of the world. In addition, millions of people are moving to online reception of news and views. They are using mobiles and television as well. This is changing the whole pattern of radio broadcasting across the planet.
Quite aside from these substantial economies, which cannot be denied, there has to be an evolution of the technology and the changes in the BBC World Service. If that is not understood, I am afraid that very little is understood about the world into which we are moving. Of course these are not the sort of things one wants to welcome—there are difficulties, there are challenges and this is the greatest matter for regret, redundancies. However, one has to also accept that we have to move on in the evolution of the World Service. In three years’ time it is going to be in a much better position, completely independent of my department or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and therefore reasserting its wonderful independence in the world in its voice and its opinions. This is something for the future which I think deserves some optimism rather than the concentration on what the noble Baroness calls “huge and savage cuts”. I believe these are overused as adjectives.
I shall ask my noble friend a few short questions. Is there any comparable international broadcasting service which has a higher reputation than the BBC World Service? Is that influence not of immense benefit to this country? Will he therefore understand that there will be serious concern about this announcement on all sides of the House? May I ask him something else which may not have such general support? If we are intent on saving money, why are we cutting only journalists and services yet preserving the costly bureaucracy of the BBC Trust? Even now it is in the process of recruiting a new chairman when even the previous Labour Government wanted to see it go. In that way we could save millions of pounds for broadcasting.
I shall start on my noble friend’s second point. We have to leave the design and pattern of the cuts to the administration of the BBC World Service within the confines, of course, of the requirement that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has to approve any cuts in language services. He has approved three. I think he was asked to cut 13 in the first place. I have no quibble with my noble friend regarding the value of the service in the promotion of our cultural diplomacy and soft power in the world. It is immensely valuable and its budget remains substantial. None of us welcomes this application of austerity but it is necessary because that is the position we inherited and we have to work within. Within those parameters the BBC World Service remains, in our minds, an immensely valuable instrument. It is a central part of the promotion of our values and I do not for one moment dispute a single word of what my noble friend said.
Can the Minister explain how the disappearance of various foreign language services from the World Service, and of radio broadcasts in Russian, Mandarin and Turkish, can be reconciled with the Foreign Secretary’s recent remarks about the importance of languages in a United Kingdom which needs to engage more energetically with the wider world outside familiar European Union boundaries? Why is there this inconsistency in foreign policy? In view of the strategic importance of these services, at home as well as abroad, should their funding not be ring-fenced and protected?
With respect to the noble Baroness, I think there is a missing point in her concerns. Of course we want to see services, communication, influence and the independent voice of Britain promoted. However, as I said in answer to an earlier question, the English short-wave broadcasts to Russia, the former Soviet Union and China were simply not getting through. What was the point in going on spending money on services that were not getting through? We are moving into a new era of technology in which the way to get our values and the message of the BBC World Service through to the millions in Russia and China for a start is not necessarily best done through trying to push our way through short-wave systems which are being closed down. These people are turning to online information. They are using their mobiles. They are increasingly turning to television. These nations are developing rapidly and the radio plays a part but not the part that was played before. So while not denying for a moment that there are cuts—of course there are and it is absurd to pretend otherwise—the reconciliation is that we are looking at a new pattern of technology and the communications required have got to be different. That is the way our aspirations match what is now being proposed.
I declare an interest as the Minister who for several years was responsible, among other things, for the World Service. This is one of the most depressing Statements I think I have heard in the House. One of the answers to my noble friend Lady Symons demonstrated that a major public speech made at the beginning of July by the Foreign Secretary meant absolutely nothing when it came to the practical implementation and the cuts. As the Government knew on 1 July what the extent of the possible cuts would be, the speech should never have been made.
In 2006—and this does lead to the question—I agreed to the cutting of some language services in eastern Europe, mostly in nations which were then part of NATO and had fully independent media of their own, in order to move the money into the Arabic and Farsi language services which were due to make a very fundamental difference to our overseas action. I believe that was the right move. Of course it is right to move away from short-wave where it cannot be received, but we were moving away even in those cases to FM, which could be received. Everybody said, especially the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, that the switch to new platforms would not be an adequate replacement. Is it not the case that, from the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, onwards, it was understood that the projection of soft power was a good deal more economical than many of the alternatives, brought huge bonuses to this country, and that in fact these savings will turn out to be a fiction?
I really cannot comment on the noble Lord’s last point because the administrators of the BBC World Service are serious about operating their budget in a new and more effective way within the limits that have been imposed upon them. However, I should like to lift the noble Lord out of his depression because I believe that he is reading too much into the gloom and pessimism around this. I know that he understands the position because he knows all about these things, but I am not sure that he is accepting enough of the new possibilities and the new patterns. I mentioned that this Statement, among other things within the constrained budget, includes some new services, including TV programming in Urdu, in sub-Saharan Africa and in Hindi to be provided by local partners. No doubt other ideas and innovations are also in the pipeline which we will learn about in due course. I have also mentioned that funds are being found to assist the BBC World Service in its immediate pension deficit, which again is an inherited matter although I do not ascribe it to or in any way blame it on the previous Administration.
That said, I think that his words are exaggerated. The very substantial budget over the next three years of the spending round is still a big part of our intentions and expenditure in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. When this joins up with the full BBC in 2014 the programmes will continue in a highly vigorous, effective and modern way. So I just do not accept the reasons for the noble Lord’s pessimism and depression at this time.
My Lords, I sympathise with my noble friend on the difficult decisions that his department is having to take. At the time I was growing up in a developing country, the only access to free and impartial reporting was through the BBC World Service. It gives me absolutely no pleasure to extend sympathy in this regard other than to say that we are living in difficult times. My questions will be brief because many noble Lords want to come in.
Has the Foreign Secretary considered the proposal put forward in the briefing provided to noble Lords today by Mr Peter Horrocks which suggests that part of the DfID budget might be extended to cover some of the shortfall? DfID has very adequate resources, so it seems to make sense that some of its resources, particularly those dedicated to stability and conflict, should be used for the Urdu language programming and so on.
There is some confusion in the briefing provided by Mr Horrocks apropos the Statement. Can my noble friend confirm that BBC audiences have been falling in any event due to technological changes and the other factors he mentioned? Is it accurate to say that last year the audience was 180 million, which was down 9 million on the previous year, 2009? If he can confirm that, some noble Lords might understand that when audiences are falling because of new technologies, it is inevitable that some of the decisions that are taken will reflect that.
Finally, the Foreign Secretary’s Statement says that £10 million per annum will be dedicated to priority areas such as TV programming in Urdu whereas the BBC briefing suggests that that will not be the case and that new money will have to be found for programming in Urdu.
I find it difficult to comment on my noble friend’s last point. If that is what she has read in the BBC briefing, which I have not seen, it would appear not to coincide with the position which is as I have stated it. It is not argumentation or opinion, it is fact. I shall have to look into this because there seems to be some misinterpretation here.
My noble friend is absolutely right about falling audiences. This is so because we are moving into a different international landscape in which people’s listening habits are changing. The position of radio in all societies across the world is changing, and certainly in my lifetime it has changed in our society absolutely fundamentally. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, and I both mentioned the fact that short-wave systems are just not operating in the way they did in the past, and the world is turning to online systems. Every morning some 2 billion people open the world wide web. That is almost a third of the entire population of the world. We have to adjust to these new realities.
My noble friend’s first point was very interesting. A certain amount of the expenditure on the World Service is classified as “ODAable”—I think that is the jargon. In other words, it is part of our overseas development budget. I do not want to encourage her that there is more flexibility in that area to be exploited at the moment, but obviously we keep in close touch with DfID on this matter and we will continue to do so. If resources can be mobilised to adapt to a new pattern of soft power projection, of which this is an important part, we will certainly look for them and I hope we will find them.
My Lords, I join with everyone in saying that it will be a sad day indeed if the BBC World Service ceases to be a beacon for many of the world’s poorest and most insecure countries because, above all, they will lose the impartiality and independence of the World Service that we have all come to rely on. I am concerned, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that the World Service will lose something like 650 out of 2,400 jobs, which is a very large proportion. These are skilled people who would have been available as resources for other services. When these services are transferred back to the BBC, which we all hope will happen in a rather better way, will the BBC be strongly encouraged to see that these specialists are re-employed and made available? No one else is going to provide this sort of independent expertise.
On the last point, I think that that is absolutely right. There ought to be—although this is of course a management decision for both the World Service and the BBC—very adequate provision, as I hope personally that there will be, for the encouragement, redirection and reabsorbing of the redundant people into the media world in various forms. Redundancies are always a personally sad business, although sometimes they open new opportunities as well. The noble Baroness is quite right about that.
As for independence, I emphasise the point that has been put to me many times in recent weeks. The move of the BBC World Service over to the BBC, with the ending of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office being the paymaster of the BBC World Service, is very positive. It emphasises and re-emphasises the independence of a body that has always been regarded as being of great value by most people. However, one did hear, in the past, the occasional query as to how it was so independent if it was paid for by the Foreign Office. That will not be the case in three years’ time, so on that score I ask for all who follow these matters closely and value the BBC World Service to feel a glimmer of optimism, despite the pessimism that we have heard in every intervention so far.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in many parts of the world, there is a serious struggle going on for the hearts and minds of people in order to persuade them to see our democratic values and the freedom that we cherish? Is he so certain that the technological changes that make him suggest that the radio is no longer important have spread into those countries where this battle for hearts and minds is going on most seriously? Turkey is only one of the many examples. Is there not a danger that the technological argument that some of the more affluent people in these countries can get television and the internet ignores the fact that there are many people who cannot and who rely on the radio? Might that not mean that we are losing the battle for their hearts and minds?
These are sensible considerations to analyse in seeing how our communications systems on the planet should change. I can only say to the noble Lord, who follows these things closely, that when I was on a visit to China the other day I was told that 330 million people in that country were now online and were looking at a bombardment of media services, not just from the BBC but from a dozen other sources throughout the planet, all of which they were absorbing before turning to the older-fashioned pattern of listening to the radio. I do not deny for a moment that the noble Lord may be right and that there may be areas where the end of these language services will be a real loss. That may be so, but I suspect that there are many more areas where the loss will not be so great because of the alternatives that are developing. Television services that did not exist 10 or 20 years ago are now filling the media in these areas, particularly those that we are concerned with, with a huge new supply of information.
Of course we want to make sure that our message gets through as clearly as it possibly can and we have to use all the methods that we can. However, it would not be a good message to the world if, at the same time as we were putting out our principles by communication, the word was coming over that this country was unable to tackle its debts, that it was losing its international credit status and that its economic recovery was being delayed by the near-bankruptcy, as some experts have said, into which our public finances unfortunately fell. That is where we start from and why we have to take these tough decisions.
My Lords, my noble friend is entirely right to identify the changes that are necessary as a result of the old-fashioned quality of short-wave radio. It makes me grieve that I can no longer get the BBC World Service while carrying around my little short-wave radio set. The other important point, which is common ground, is the extent to which the BBC World Service plays, as the Foreign Secretary himself has said, a crucial role in our soft power. That becomes all the more so for the reasons just stated by the noble Lord. For example, the Chinese ambassador estimates that in five years’ time one-third of the population of China will be learning English. We need to be benefiting from that by maintaining the service, whose quality is agreed on by everyone.
Without being egocentric, I think that during my 10 years of masochism, first as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then as Foreign Secretary, we were able to maintain the real value of the World Service even though we were going through substantial periods of hardship and were cutting expenditure elsewhere. We did that by maintaining the percentage of our GDP going to overseas aid and development, not to the 0.7 per cent desired by the United Nations but to 0.36 per cent, which may be regarded as mean. However, one can regard the huge expansion of the ODA budget under the present Government as being so large that it cannot be impossible to find the modest sums of money necessary to respond to the anxieties expressed today. If my figures are correct, the budget for overseas development assistance in 2010 was £8.4 billion, due to rise to £12.6 billion. To put that alongside the trivial reduction in the resources available to the World Service could lead one to the conclusion that we must redeploy to the extent of maintaining, cherishing and expanding the service to which we have all paid so much tribute this evening.
My noble and learned friend has been at the centre of these matters for many years. Even before he held his high offices as Chancellor and Foreign Secretary, some of us in another place were promoting for the first time the concept of cultural diplomacy and the central role that it needed to play in the survival, prosperity and reputation of this country. I do not disagree with anything that he said, but I say simply that, although he talks about English becoming the language of China—indeed, the language of the planet or the lingua franca, if I may distort the phrase—it is the language of cyberspace; the computerised communication revolution of this planet is in English. That is how it has to be and those are the technologies that we have to use. I do not deny for a moment that the radio systems and other ancillary services of the BBC World Service are an immensely important part of that, but they are only a part. We have to be realistic about that.
As for whether a little more could be found, if I may say so to one of the most distinguished Chancellors—in my book anyway—of the post-war period, he knows that if we followed the argument, “We should exempt this, because surely there is enough from the bigger budget”, we would end up with the budget not being cut at all. These things have to be done. They are not pleasant. No one likes even having to defend them; I am not particularly enjoying this session now. However, it is a reality that we have to face and we must proceed in an optimistic spirit to make the best of the situation that we have inherited. In the case of the BBC World Service, I hope that we can do so.
Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill
Committee (14th Day) (Continued)
Amendments 89C to 90ZA not moved.
Amendment 90A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 90AA to 90AC not moved.
Amendment 90B had been retabled as Amendment 90ZA.
90C: Clause 11, page 12, line 42, at end insert—
“( ) When the average number of eligible voters per constituency exceeds 74,000, the Secretary of State shall introduce legislation to amend the electorate per constituency provisions of the 1986 Act.”
This amendment seeks to provide that when the average size of constituency reaches 74,000 voters, the Secretary of State will bring forward legislation to increase the number of constituencies. This is a probing amendment, as I want to hear the Minister’s views on this issue. I am not sure that the Government fully appreciate the enormity of what they are doing and the impact that this Bill will have on our democratic system.
I shall address a few of the arguments briefly. We have a representative, democratic electoral system in the United Kingdom. It is not proportional, nor is it meant to be. In 1979, for example, the Conservative Party gained 42 per cent of the popular vote and 61 per cent of the seats. Fast forward to 1997 and the position was reversed, with Labour gaining 43 per cent of the vote and 63 per cent of the seats. The first election in which I was active was that of 1979, when 58 per cent of the vote was cast for parties other than the Conservatives. Therefore, it was surely not intended that the Conservatives should win. However, it was very clear to me at the time that the electorate wanted the Labour Government out and the Conservative Party in power. By creating such large electoral constituencies with a ceiling of 600, when we know that the population will increase to 70 million over the next 20 years, and by doing away with community links at the same time, the Government will create PR through the back door. We should have a referendum on that in its own right.
In a previous debate on this issue I talked about differential turnout, and the Minister was good enough to say that I had a point, for which I thank him. I do not know whether it will show itself in any change to the legislation, but I mention one statistic to explain this point again, and that is the turnout in Labour and Conservative seats in the 2005 election. The average turnout in Labour seats was 57.5 per cent. In Conservative seats, it was 65.3 per cent. That situation will not change under the current legislation, but it represents tens of thousands of people as we go across the United Kingdom.
One issue that I did not mention causes a problem under the first past the post electoral system. I did not mention it for political reasons; I felt that the Conservative Party might feel that I was doing more than explain: that I was making a political point. I therefore start by using Labour as an example of what psephologists refer to as an inefficient distribution of votes. In my language it means that the first past the post system needs political parties, particularly the main parties, to be broad churches that are largely representative of the public. When parties become narrow in their views, extreme or unappealing, the electorate punishes us through our electoral system. That is what psephologists call an inefficient distribution of votes. If I give the example of 1983, I think the House will understand the point I am making.
In 1983 it took 33,000 votes, on average, to elect a Conservative MP, and 41,000 votes, on average, to elect a Labour one. I am sure the House would not expect me to say that Labour lost the 1983 election because of an unfair electoral system. Indeed, if I did, anyone who was medically qualified on my own Benches would escort me with a firm hand from the Chamber. We lost the 1983 election because we deserved to lose. We were unrepresentative of the population at large and, it pains me to say, of my own party.
Moving on to the Conservative example, the right honourable Theresa May, when she was chairperson of the Conservative Party, referred to the Conservatives, at the annual conference, as “the nasty party”. She did not put that view into the voters’ minds; it was how they felt at the time. To the public, the Conservative Party had become very narrow and, because of that, built up votes in small areas of the country and no longer had representation in Scotland, Wales or many northern towns. It could no longer command support across the United Kingdom and, because of that, deserved to lose.
Let me give one more recent statistic to show how that shows itself. In the 2005 election, in the south-east region, which is only 12 or 13 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom—just a small proportion of nine English regions and the nations of Scotland and Wales—the Conservative Party had 36 per cent of its vote: over a third. It is impossible to win enough constituencies to form a Government by piling up votes in your hinterland, and that is a product of your politics, not the electoral system.
Let us look at the average sizes of our current seats. To the nearest 500, in England and Scotland, Labour and the Lib Dems have an average of 70,000 voters for every seat. The Conservative Party has 73,000, so that is well within any quota. Obviously at either end there are some larger constituencies that are outwith the quota, and there are some smaller constituencies. We need to change that. I am happy with having a boundary redistribution before the next general election. I agree with the principle, as far as is practical within a reasonable quota, that we should have constituencies of the same size. Indeed, if the same sensitivity were granted in a bipartisan way to my colleagues from Wales as was granted to the two constituencies that we already have in the Bill, I am sure they would also be happy with those arrangements.
The constituencies are not largely different. Where they are very large, the largest is the Isle of Wight, of which we are making an exception—we certainly passed an amendment on it. I believe that the second largest is East Ham, which is a London constituency. In the top 10 largest constituencies, roughly half are Labour. We will find more or less the same at the other end. Indeed, in the 1980s, there was a larger disparity between Labour and Conservative. Labour had much smaller seats, yet for that whole decade the Conservatives remained in power.
I moved this amendment because I want to understand the Government’s thinking on the matter. I do not want to see such large constituencies in which, in a small number of years, we will have seats in excess of 100,000 voters. They would hold no community of interest and MPs would not be able to have a relationship with the areas that they represented. We might as well have introduced PR.
This is also a much bigger problem than we making of it at the moment. The manner in which the Government have introduced this, and their reasons for doing so, are associated with the sort of democracy that we do not want to be associated with. If a country such as Zimbabwe were doing this, we would deplore it.
In a previous debate, one of my noble friends said that we had to be very careful because we do not have a written constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, asked what difference that would make. I have a huge regard for the noble Lord and all the work that he has done over the years, but having a written constitution would make a huge and significant difference. I have a few examples of how you would have to do this if you had a written constitution.
If you have a written constitution and the method by which you arrive at seats is within that constitution, you generally change it by referendum or you need two-thirds of your Parliament’s agreement. In some cases, you cannot change the constitution at all. When we look around at countries, and I have picked a few different ones, I have not yet come across any that could introduce this legislation in the way in which our Government are introducing it—with no debate, no pre-legislative scrutiny and a limited debate in the other place.
I shall go through a few examples. Holland’s Parliament cannot interfere with how seats are determined as that is set out in its constitution. To amend that constitution takes a two-thirds majority on First Reading. You then have to have a general election and at Second Reading there has to be a further two-thirds majority. The constitution of Ireland, one of our closest neighbours, sets out that if the Dáil were to change the size, there would have to be a referendum of the Irish people. Latvia’s seats are set out in its constitution and for its Parliament to change that it needs three sittings of a two-thirds vote. In addition, many constitutional amendments require a further referendum of the Latvian people.
Slovakia needs a referendum to reduce the size of its Parliament and a majority of the country’s vote. It had a referendum on that, and it was lost. Spain has two Chambers that are not allowed to change their own numbers of seats. Again, to amend Sweden’s constitution two identical decisions are needed, with a general election in between. Denmark also requires a constitutional amendment. The Cook Islands need non-binding referenda to alter the number of seats; then there has to be a two-thirds majority in Parliament. In Australia, the process is set out in the constitution and Parliament cannot change the principle. It is also not allowed to reject or vary a boundary commission report.
In this last part of my contribution, I really want the Committee to consider the enormity of what we are doing. It is not just that we are creating enormous constituencies that will have no community link. We are also denigrating the esteem in which our democracy is held all around the world. We are also showing as parliamentarians that we can no longer be trusted with an unwritten constitution, something which I personally support. I believe that if we pass this through in the way that we are doing, we will look back and see this as the starting point of when we lost the argument and when a written constitution became inevitable. The worst part of all is that if this all happens, it will not address the problem which the Government seek to address, which is that the Conservative Party believes that the reason for its electoral loss is to do with the differing size of constituencies. It has nothing to do with it. I beg to move.
My Lords, the Committee should be grateful to my noble friend for having raised, with her great experience, this important matter. She seeks a response from the Leader of the House to the points that she has made. From the Front Bench, we have pointed out a considerable number of dangers in the scheme that the Government propose, and we look forward to what the Leader of the House has to say in response to my noble friend.
My Lords, I, too, am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, spoke to her amendment because my officials were confused as to the intention behind it. Now we are much clearer that it was so as to have a good discussion about the purposes underlying the Bill, the case for a written constitution, more referendums, and so on and so forth, and to say in particular that this part of the Bill is somehow to do with this aching desire by the Conservative Party to fix the electoral system so as to make life more difficult for the Labour Party. The noble Baroness will not believe it but I can assure her it has nothing to do with that whatever.
The proposition under this part of the Bill is the simplest one could possibly imagine. First, it is to reduce the number of Members of Parliament from 650 to 600—nothing hugely exceptional in that. It is a drop of 7 per cent which is, I believe, popular with people and should be done. Secondly, it is to make constituencies across the country more or less of equal size. One day noble Lords opposite are going to argue why they should be of unequal size in terms of numbers of voters and perhaps even bring forward legislation to that effect if they ever get back into Government. I look forward to that.
If you have a cap at 600 and the electorate rises in the way that my noble friend is saying, does that mean that the national quota for each constituency will then have to be changed and will also rise every five years? Is that really the Government’s position?
There is a remorseless logic to that fact. To return to the noble Baroness’s speech, I did not follow this thing about the written constitution. We have a constitution and we are not operating unconstitutionally. If we wrote down our constitution and it did not have a provision for this, it would not make any difference. It would only make a difference if it had the provision that you cannot change the number of seats unless you have a referendum. I could not work out whether the noble Baroness, with all her experience, was saying that there should be a written constitution and that if there were a written constitution, it would be unconstitutional to change the number of seats in the House of Commons without a referendum, but I think that is what she was saying. I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Bach, sat down so quickly because he might have told us if that was official Labour Party policy, which would be most interesting and intriguing.
I would not rely on Irish referendums, much as I have the highest possible respect for the people of Ireland. Whenever they have a referendum and they get the wrong answer, they are told to do it again. So I am not a great fan of that. Incidentally, the fact that the Labour Party, which now thinks we should have referendums on changing the constitution, promised one on Lisbon and then did not provide it must be for ever a reminder. So if that is what it is all about, I am not very keen on it. There was a nice anecdote about the 1980s. The historians will argue about 1983 and all that. What must also be true is that the Labour Party split. My noble friend sitting next to me, part of our coalition partnership, laid out all these figures about Labour and Conservative. How many MPs did it take to vote for a Liberal Democrat, or whatever they were then? I cannot remember. They were not Liberal Democrats then but SDP and Liberals. So that is a factor and I think it laid the seeds for the coalition today.
So we are not minded to accept the amendment. It is all very interesting but our minds are set on the provisions in the Bill. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 90C withdrawn.
Debate on whether Clause 11, as amended, should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I have two questions. First, in Clause 11, rule 7(1)(b) states that if the Boundary Commission,
“consider that having to apply rule 2”—
which I understand is the electoral quota—
“would unreasonably impair … their ability to take into account the factors set out in rule 5(1)”,
“special geographical considerations … local government boundaries … any local ties that would be broken by changes in constituencies”,
“the inconveniences attendant on such changes”,
it is entitled to apply those factors, and in effect downgrade rule 2. What is the thinking behind the Government treating Northern Ireland differently, particularly having regard to the principle, stated and restated, of the need for equality in constituencies? We have not referred to that either at Second Reading or in any other debate. I ask of course because I am interested in Northern Ireland, but also to probe the principle underlying the Bill.
The second question relates to the review date. During the debates about electors who are missing from the electoral register, it was said that the date on which the register would be taken was December 2010. I assume that this comes from rule 9(2), which states:
“For this purpose the relevant version of a register is the version that is required by virtue of subsection (1) of section 13 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to be published no later than the review date”.
Rule 9(5) on page 12 states:
“The ‘review date’, in relation to a report under section 3(1) of this Act that a Boundary Commission is required … to submit before a particular date, is two years and ten months before that date”.
Is it because the Government assume that the Boundary Commission will submit a report in October 2013 that the relevant register is that of December 2010? If the commission submits a report before October 2013, will the relevant register be a month earlier; and, equally, if it is submits it after October 2013, will it be a month later? The significance of this is that I understood from answers given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, that the relevant date of December 2010 was rigidly fixed, whereas I understand that the way that the Act will work is that the register of two years and 10 months before the date of the report will be taken. If I am right in that surmise, how will the Boundary Commission know when it submits its report what the relevant register is? Those are my only questions on Clause 11 stand part.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for raising his questions in the debate on Clause 11 stand part. It is worth reiterating that the clause reforms the arrangements for drawing constituency boundaries for the House of Commons. It provides that in future the Commons will be reduced to 600 seats, and that the rules for the distribution of seats will be recast so that seats will be more equal in size and allocated to each part of the UK in proportion to the electorate.
As the clause points out, two constituencies are specifically excepted from the parity rules. We know what they are and have discussed them at length.
The noble and learned Lord asked about the role of Northern Ireland. As he pointed out, the rules make special provision for additional flexibility to allow for constituencies outside of the parity range in Northern Ireland in the event that simple rounding effects make it difficult for the Boundary Commission in that part of the UK to recommend seats within the quota. That could arise if Northern Ireland only just missed out on being allocated an extra seat. I hope that that explains the thinking behind that.
It has also been suggested that the provision is flawed and that the Bill should provide for national electoral quotas. However, that approach would give rise to more variation between constituencies. A single UK electoral quota has the advantage of simplicity and clarity, and that provision will be triggered only in the event that rounding causes difficulty. It has also been suggested that the provision ignores a similar issue that may arise in Wales. However, as Wales has about twice the electorate and will therefore have about twice the number of seats, the problem is half of that in Northern Ireland. As such, there is no need to make similar provision.
As the noble and learned Lord pointed out, the boundary review will be based on the electoral register in force at the time of the review, and the first review will be based on the register in force on 1 December 2010. Previous boundary reviews have used the electoral register. The Bill's provision is no different. As we have discussed, the registration rate in the UK is between 91 and 92 per cent. Work is under way to ensure that the electoral register is as complete and accurate as possible—for example, freeing local authorities to identify people not on the register using existing public sector databases. The date of the register to be used is fixed because it is calculated by reference to the date on which the commissions are required to report, not the date on which they actually report, hence the difference.
In summary, these proposals make a modest reduction in the size of the Commons and will ensure that the principle of equality is given its proper weight in the commission's considerations, while ensuring that local factors can still be taken into account.
Clause 11, as amended, agreed.
91: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
“Variation in limit of number of holders of ministerial offices
(1) The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 is amended as follows.
(2) For section 2(1) substitute—
“(1) The number of holders of offices specified in Schedule 2 to this Act (in this section referred to as Ministerial offices) entitled to sit and vote in the House of Commons at any one time, whether paid or unpaid, must not exceed 95 if the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom is 650.”
(3) After section 2(1) insert—
“(1A) If the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom decreases below 650, the limit on the number of holders of Ministerial offices entitled to sit and vote in the House of Commons referred to in section 2(1) must be decreased by at least a proportionate amount.”
(4) In subsection (2), after “subsection (1)”, insert “or subsection (1A)”.”
The amendment would reduce the number of paid ministerial officeholders in proportion to the reduction in the size of the other place. The text of the amendment is identical to an amendment moved in another place by Mr Charles Walker, the Conservative Member for Broxbourne. Before I come to the substance of the amendment, perhaps I may set out the relevant background.
Prior to the general election, the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, now the Prime Minister and his deputy, made much of their determination to empower Parliament and enhance scrutiny and accountability of the Executive. In a lecture which many noble Lords will recall, delivered to the Institute for Government on 26 January 2010, Mr Nicholas Clegg declared:
“The Liberal Democrats believe this election is an opportunity to turn the page on decades of relentless centralisation within government. … I want to be clear: I am talking about a major reorganisation of Whitehall … As a result of our restructure the number of Ministers and government whips would be reduced from 119 to 73”.
Less than a fortnight later, on 8 February 2010, Mr David Cameron gave a lecture entitled “Rebuilding Trust in Politics” in which he said:
“We'd want to reduce the power of the executive and increase the power of Parliament even if politics hadn't fallen into disrepute … We’ve got to give Parliament its teeth back so that people can have pride in it again—so they can look at it and say ‘yes: those MPs we elect—they’re holding the government to account on my behalf’”.
I do not want to pretend that Amendment 91 would necessarily deliver our full aim. It is arguable that it is too timid to bring about the radical rebalancing that Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg had previously advocated. It does not reduce the size of the Executive; it merely stabilises the number of paid Ministers in proportion to the size of the House of Commons, from which the bulk of ministerial officeholders are drawn. It would do so by amending the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, which currently sets the maximum number of paid Ministers allowed to sit and vote in the other place at 95. If the House of Commons were to remain at its present size of 650 seats, the limit of 95 Ministers would remain. However, if the Government persist in their objective of reducing the number of MPs to 600, the amendment would ensure a pro-rata reduction in the number of paid Ministers to 87.
As everybody knows, in our system the Executive are drawn from within the legislature, predominantly the House of Commons. That House therefore has an important dual function. On the one hand, it exists to sustain an Executive and supply the bulk of Ministers who hold office, and on the other, it exists to hold the Government and those Ministers to account. There is an inherent tension in that dual role, and frequent and increasing criticism is made that the system performs the former role—the drawing of the Executive—much more effectively than the latter. Indeed, the Speaker of the other place gave a lecture last week in which he said:
“The House of Commons needs to be an instrument of scrutiny by examination. It must be the informed critic and not the man or woman in the crowd. We have made progress in that regard, particularly in the past 18 months, but there is more that can still be done”.
Cutting the number of MPs without also enacting a proportionate cut in the number of statutory Ministers entitled would not shift power from government to the Commons. It would not enhance scrutiny and examination of the Executive. It would do the opposite, despite the proclaimed aims of Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron. Our Amendment 91 would at least prevent the scales of power tilting yet further in the Executive’s favour. Indeed, some would argue that the Executive would not feel the impact sufficiently and that a much lower limit on the size of the Executive ought to be imposed, perhaps along the lines that Mr Nicholas Clegg himself proposed in his speech. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who I am glad to see in his place, has tabled an amendment to that effect. I have no doubt that he will highlight the report of the Public Administration Select Committee, which last year held an inquiry into the size of the Executive. It heard many distinguished figures argue for a substantial reduction in the number of Ministers. Your Lordships will have an opportunity to debate that proposition, and we will see whether that significant reduction finds favour.
As I have said, our amendment is a more moderate proposal. It ensures that a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament does not lead to a proportionate increase in the size of the paid Executive by reference to the size of the House as a whole. Given the force of Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg’s previous commitments to new politics, it is surprising that a clause along these lines was not included in the Bill in the first place. It was astonishing that the coalition Government still refused to act once the omission had been pointed out. It is not as if the Government have not now had the time or the opportunity to reflect on this. As far back as last year’s debate on the Queen’s Speech, Mr Nicholas Clegg was asked whether he accepted that there should be a pro-rata reduction in the number of paid Ministers and aides in line with the reduction in the number of MPs. He refused to give any commitment.
Since then, the point has been raised in your Lordships' House and in the Commons at every stage of the Bill. On each occasion, the Government have issued the same basic response. It was repeated on 10 January by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who told your Lordships:
“The Government indicated in the other place that we agree that that is indeed an issue to be considered, but we do not believe that it is one that needs to be resolved in the context of the Bill. Reduction in the size of the House will not take effect until 2015, and we should therefore consider that issue in the light of decisions on, among other things, the size and composition of a reformed second Chamber”.—[Official Report, 10/1/11; col. 1224.]
I can do no better than respond to that line—let me emphasise that this is a political line, not a real position— by quoting from the report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee which was wrestling with exactly the same obfustication from the Government last October. In its third report, the committee stated:
“It is self-evident that a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament will increase the dominance of the Executive over Parliament if the number of Ministers sitting and voting in the House is not correspondingly reduced. This is a matter of constitutional importance that goes to the heart of the relationship between the Executive and the House. That the Government claims that no progress can be made on this issue because no conclusion has yet been reached on the overall size and nature of government is ironic at best and hypocritical at worst, given the Government's readiness to reduce at haste the number of Members in one House without consideration of the number of Members there should be in the other”.
The constitutional committee was too kind to point out that 114 extra Members of House of Lords have already been introduced.
This is an obvious opportunity to make good the promise made by Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron, or at least to give a direction of travel as to their commitment to increase the ability of the House of Commons to hold the Government to account. Instead, they are doing precisely the reverse. Why is that? I beg to move.
Amendment 91A (to Amendment 91)
91A: After Clause 11, line 12, leave out from “650,” to end of line 14 and insert “the number of holders of Ministerial offices entitled to sit and vote in the House of Commons referred to in section 2(1) must not exceed 80”
My Lords, the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, as he just outlined, is premised on the belief that reducing the number of MPs creates a problem in that the proportion of Ministers in the other place then becomes greater than at present. My starting point is different. My contention is that there are already too many Ministers. Reducing the number of Ministers exacerbates rather than creates a problem.
The size of the so-called payroll vote in the House of Commons, including Parliamentary Private Secretaries, has grown over the years. In 1950, it constituted 15 per cent of the House. It now constitutes 21 per cent. Expressed as a proportion of the number of MPs in the coalition parties, it is 38 per cent.
I accept the case for Ministers sitting in Parliament. However, Ministers are members of a body that is expected to subject the Government to critical scrutiny and to hold them to account. The capacity to fulfil that task, both in voice and vote, is limited if the votes at the disposal of the Whips increase. A consequence of the Bill is that the proportion of the House not able to call the Government to account becomes even larger.
I appreciate that there is an argument that the number of ministerial posts has increased in order to meet growing demands of government. However, as I said in evidence to the Public Administration Committee in the other place, I have seen no study to support that contention. There is an alternative explanation: that the growth has been for political reasons, providing a greater pool of patronage appointments available to the Prime Minister. In my evidence to the Public Administration Committee, I quoted Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, in his book, The New Machiavelli, where he wrote:
“If prime ministers had their way they would appoint all the MPs on their benches to ministerial office. The payroll vote is an essential parliamentary tool and the bigger it is, the better”.
The patronage explanation has found support from a range of sources. The claim that there are too many Ministers has been supported by, among others, former Prime Minister Sir John Major and my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell. My noble friend in his evidence in 2000 to the Conservative Party’s Commission to Strengthen Parliament, which I chaired, argued that the number of Ministers could be reduced without undermining the essential tasks of government. He said that,
“a decision by an incoming prime minister to abolish twenty ministerial posts at different levels would not only be popular but would be followed immediately by an adjustment of workload. The whips and those who enjoy exercising or receiving patronage would be dismayed, but the benefits would be great.”
A former Cabinet Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, told the Public Administration Committee that some tasks could be carried out by officials. There is also the argument that some tasks are not necessary anyway. Ministerial work tends to expand to fill the time available—a point well made by a former Minister, Chris Mullin.
What is required is a greater emphasis on quality, rather than quantity. The emphasis has been on quantity for the sake of patronage, rather than on quality for the sake of good government. The growth of the payroll vote has strengthened the position of Government at the expense of the House of Commons. I contend that there is no need for so many Ministers. Ministers are largely amateurs in their roles as Ministers. Providing better training for them, and redistributing some tasks to Whips, as happens in this House, would ensure there was no reduction in efficiency. If anything I would contend the reverse.
The Commission to Strengthen Parliament agreed with my noble friend Lord Hurd and concluded:
“The case for reducing the number of ministers is compelling on its merits. It also has a number of beneficial consequences. Limiting the number of ministers increases the number of MPs who are not committed to government by the doctrine of collective responsibility. Narrowing the route to ministerial office may serve to make attractive the alternative careers in the House of Commons. We believe that these benefits should not be negated by extending patronage through other routes”.
We recommended that the number of Ministers in Cabinet should be kept at 20 and the number of other Ministers capped at 50. That is a little more than the number suggested by my noble friend Lord Hurd. Back in 1940-41, the Herbert Committee recommended an even lower figure, believing that government could be carried on by 60 Ministers. My right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the 1999-2000 Session to place an absolute limit on the number of Ministers at 82. In 2006, my honourable friend Jeremy Browne introduced a Bill to reduce the number of ministerial salaries payable from 83 to 60.
My amendment is a relatively modest one. It seeks to reduce the cap on the number of Ministers who can sit—paid or unpaid—in the House of Commons from 95 to 80. It is modest but essential.
I conclude by emphasising the constitutional significance of this amendment. When I raised the issue on Second Reading, my noble friend Lord McNally treated it somewhat dismissively, as an issue that could be discussed later, after the passage of the Bill. The constitutional import of the amendment is on a par with that of reducing the number of MPs. If the number of MPs is reduced, then the proportion of the other place that forms the Government increases, to the advantage of government and to the detriment of the House of Commons in being able to call to account that part of it which forms the Government.
My starting point is that there are already too many Ministers and reducing the number of MPs will exacerbate the problem. There has been, as I have indicated, a steady increase in the size of the payroll vote in the other place, and now is the time to reverse the process and to strengthen the House of Commons in its capacity to call the Government to account. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is an enormous privilege to speak immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who, with scholarship, erudition and experience has made an extraordinarily powerful case for a reduction in the number of Ministers. But there are two matters before your Lordships’ House on these two amendments. The first is whether to maintain, as the amendment in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton would do, the number of Ministers at least proportionate to the number of MPs. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, would go further.
I support the amendment in the name of my noble and learned friend to the extent that that amendment at least ought to be accepted. The Government have come with great and, in many ways, worthy protestations of a desire to reform politics, in particular to reduce the power of the Executive—I look particularly at those on the Liberal Democrat part of the Government Benches. I do not understand how they can be content when that is not what will happen under this Bill. Indeed, it will be quite the opposite, as my noble and learned friend has said.
Lest there be any misunderstanding outside this Chamber as to the significance of the payroll vote, let me try to spell it out. First, if you are on the payroll vote, which means those who are paid or unpaid for these purposes, including Parliamentary Private Secretaries as well as full Ministers, you cannot vote against the Government without resigning. It is as simple as that. If a piece of legislation is put forward that a number of Ministers do not like, they cannot stay as Ministers and vote against it. That automatically means that the Government have a greater number of Members of Parliament able and willing to support what they want.
Secondly, as noble Lords have said, the Government cannot be held to account. When I was a Minister I could not ask questions of the Government through the mechanisms which exist in this House, let alone those in the other place. One can do what one can behind the scenes, but one cannot in an open way hold the Government to account.
On 17 January, I drew attention to the statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, that the unambiguous judgment on the part of the Government was,
“that reducing the power of the executive, seeking to boost the power of the legislature, making the legislatures more accountable to people ... collectively introduces the mechanisms by which people can exercise greater control over politicians”.
I will listen intently to what the Minister—if it be the Leader of the House—says as to how that statement can be reconciled with a position which does not accept that at the very least the number of Ministers must be reduced proportionately to the number of Back-Benchers. Otherwise, the power of the Executive will not be reduced. The power of the legislature will not be boosted. Quite the opposite will take place.
I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord will take his argument a step further. There is a powerful case here for looking at this issue. With his great experience as a very senior member of the previous Administration, but as a Member of this House, he will immediately acknowledge that this is also related to the issue of how many Ministers should sit in this House.
In the past, I have heard a powerful argument that, if and when this House is reformed, it may well be that there should be a proper separation of powers and that there should not be any Members of the Executive who are voting Members of this House. Will he acknowledge therefore that there is a good case for this issue to be addressed in the context of the future role of this House, which, as we know, this House and the other place will consider in a matter of weeks? Therefore, it may be premature for this issue to be addressed in this Bill when the relationship of the two Houses and, in particular, the relationship of this House to the Executive will be in front of this House in weeks.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention and for his kind remarks, because he makes my point. The problem is that the Government have chosen to introduce in this Bill not only the referendum, which they need as a matter of urgency because of their political deal, and with which I have no difficulty, as I have said before, but also the reduction in the number of MPs.
A part of this change is in this Bill. My concern is that this Bill does not deal with the whole of it. I do not find it acceptable for the Government, with respect to the noble Lord who will answer this point, to say, “Well, don’t worry, something will be looked at later”. I am going to ask the Minister three questions now and he can think about them. What are the Government going to do about this? I have already drawn attention to the fact that on the Constitution Committee, when we asked Mr Clegg and Mr Mark Harper, the Minister, about the risk of increasing the power of the Executive, Mr Clegg said:
“There is a strong argument that says that you must look at this and adapt the number of people who are on the government payroll so that you do not get a lopsided imbalance between those on the payroll and those holding them to account”.
If there is a strong argument—and I agree with him that there is—what is going to be done to deal with it?
Secondly, when is it going to be done? Vague statements about the boundary changes not coming into effect for some time and having been able to look at this by then are all very well—but when is this going to happen? Thirdly, will the Minister tonight in his reply commit to some method by which the reduction in the number of Members, if this House or Parliament adopts the proposals in the end, does not come into effect until there has been a satisfactory reduction in the number of Ministers, either as suggested in the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, or by that of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth? I would prefer to see that being dealt with in this Bill. I do not think it should be put off, which is why I support the amendment. At the very least, the Government should ask themselves what they are going to do, if the new politics are to have any credibility, in their proposals for increasing the power of the legislature, reducing the power of the Executive and giving more power to the people. So long as they do not give a clear, unconditional commitment on this question, that statement will appear just a mirage and a charade. Having got into power, they are happy, as many Governments have been in the past, simply to retain the reins of power and the patronage and ability to get their legislation through by having as many of their people as possible on the government Benches. For those reasons, I support the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.