To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce legislation amending the provisions relating to the 2018 Boundary Reviews.
My Lords, following laws already passed by Parliament, the independent Boundary Commissions are consulting on their proposals to deliver boundary changes. They will submit their final proposals to Parliament in autumn 2018, ensuring fair and equal representation for the voting public across the UK. We have no plans to change this process.
My Lords, millions of people have registered to vote who are not taken into account in the present parliamentary boundary review. Will the noble Lord commit the Government to including these people? Would he comment on the general opinion that the present boundary review is dead in the water because the DUP does not want it and that any review approved by Parliament will be on the basis of there being 650 seats in the House of Commons? If that is the Government’s real intention, they should say so quickly and stop wasting any more public money on a review that will not be approved.
My Lords, the country has already fought two general elections on out-of-date boundaries for reasons that are familiar to the noble Lord. If we followed the noble Lord’s suggestion and started again with a new register, there is a risk of a third general election on boundaries which were set in place in 2000. That would be an affront to democracy.
My Lords, fair and equal representation is clearly one of the principles. The principle of a single-member constituency also refers to the importance of place and community. Are we now abandoning that, as seems to have been done in the proposals which we are developing, and following the American system, where boundaries are drawn up entirely according to which party has the advantage in each state and without reference to local communities? Will we still try to hold on to the principle that representation should be based on towns, communities and counties?
We are implementing proposals put on the statute book by the then leader of the noble Lord’s party, who was Deputy Prime Minister. He put on the statute book the legislation implementing the reviews which are currently being delivered.
My Lords, is the reduction from 650 to 600 still on the cards? Is that going to happen? Has the DUP approved that?
The legislation, which was approved by both Houses of Parliament, reduced the numbers of Members of Parliament from 650 to 600. The review that I referred to in my earlier response postulates boundaries for 600 constituencies.
My Lords, I speak as someone who, when Secretary of State, had to sign a Boundary Commission report which made my own constituency unwinnable. Would my noble friend confirm that it is the duty of this House and the other place to approve the independent Boundary Commissions’ proposals? If it becomes a party-political matter, that way lies great danger to our democracy.
I heartily agree with my noble friend. His constituency was made unwinnable by the Boundary Commission; mine was actually abolished; I am not quite sure which of us came out of it best. So far as his question is concerned, it would be an affront to democracy if the proposals of the independent Boundary Commissions were obstructed.
Is it not also an affront to democracy that the strategy of this Government has been to plan a reduction of the number of MPs from 650 to 600, while in the same period increasing the size of this House by 240-plus life Peers? Could the Minister explain the thinking behind this situation?
The noble Lord will know that the coalition Government sought to reduce the number of noble Lords by a very substantial number, but because of the failure of his party in the Commons to support it, that Bill did not go through. He will also know that the Lord Speaker has set up a committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which I understand may report in July. There is a consensus across the House that the numbers need to come down. We look forward to the noble Lord’s proposals, to see how that might be delivered.
Does the Minister agree that the punishment handed to Wales is utterly out of proportion; that, whereas the loss of seats for the United Kingdom as a whole is one out of every 13, in the case of Wales 40 seats are reduced to 29; and that this is regarded as being entirely out of kilter with the whole principle that has been adumbrated?
It is out of kilter only because Wales is overrepresented compared with other countries in the UK Parliament. At the moment, the quota for Wales, the average number of voters in a Wales seat, is 56,000, against 71,000 in England. At the moment, we have a constituency in Wales, Arfon, with 39,000 voters, while North West Cambridgeshire has 92,000. The proposals that the Boundary Commission is introducing will ensure that each vote has equal weight.
I think it is this side’s turn. Can my noble friend, having referred to the Burns committee, give an assurance to the House that, when the committee reports, its report will be fully debated and that, if there is indeed a consensus, the Government will give it a fair wind?
The business of the House is in the capable hands of the Government Chief Whip, who will have noted exactly what my noble friend has said. If my noble friend looks at what we said in our manifesto, he will see that we said we want to work with the House of Lords where there is a consensus on measures to take it forward. What we have actually said—I have now found the quote—is that the Government will work with Peers where there are measures that command consensus across the House.