The Island’s MP Andrew Turner has reacted to yesterday’s news that the Liberal Democrats will not now support the proposed boundary changes to equalise the size of constituencies. The proposals would have guaranteed the Isle of Wight had two Members of Parliament following a cross-party campaign to prevent parts of the Island being part of mainland constituencies.
Yesterday, Nick Clegg MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats, announced that because his hoped-for reforms of the House of Lords could not get enough Parliamentary support to pass into law he would order his MPs to oppose the boundary reforms in a vote planned for October next year.
Mr Turner is a member of the Commons Select Committee which considers Political and Constitutional Reform and on April 12th this year Mr Clegg gave evidence for their investigation into the Coalition Government’s plans for reforms.
Mr. Turner said:
“Only a few months ago Mr Clegg was absolutely adamant under questioning that there was no link between his support for fairer boundaries and House of Lords reform – indeed he explicitly denied it three times. I was in the same room and heard his words. I was therefore astonished when I heard his comments yesterday. The best that can be said is that his position is inconsistent – and many people are saying it is much worse. He is supposed to be helping rule the country in a time of economic trouble and uncertainty – not engaging in party political tit-for-tat games.
“The plans for the House of Lords received heavy criticism from many quarters – including senior LibDem figures. I agree the Lords need reform – but what Mr Clegg wanted was a massive increase in the power of political parties to appoint their favourites to Parliament. That is not an increase in democracy – it is just a new kind of political patronage.
“Without LibDem support it appears the Boundary review is dead in the water. That will mean the Isle of Wight will remain as one constituency after the next election. Some people will welcome that – others will not. The campaign against splitting the Island argued that the Island would accept either one MP or two, but not one and a half – that was reflected in the amendments I put forward that would have brought in the change. Mr Clegg eventually accepted that when the House of Lords voted emphatically not to split the Island. It is far from certain that a House of Lords composed mostly of party placemen would have stood up to the Government in the same way. So at least we can welcome the news that these misguided reforms to the Upper Chamber will not be taking place.”
Full exchange with Eleanor Laing MP and Nick Clegg MP (below8). Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee – 12th April 2012 Read more via this link
*Q177 Mrs Laing: Deputy Prime Minister, you are absolutely right of course that it is very important that we-that everyone knows what you actually say rather than what you are reported to have said. I for one very rarely believe anything I read in the papers at all. Therefore, I would like to take your mind on to something else that has been reported on the issue of boundaries. In the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, the two parts of that Bill do not naturally sit together but were deliberately put in the same Bill. My understanding was that the deal in the Coalition Government was that each part would be supported by both parties in the coalition, even though one party wanted one part and one party wanted another part. It is now being reported that the Liberal Democrat party, as part of the coalition, will not continue to support the boundaries legislation unless House of Lords reform is passed in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Is that the case?
Nick Clegg: How can I put it? It just does not work like that. There is no sort of “You do this. I’ll do that. You do this. I’ll do that”. One just has to look at each of these things on their own merits and in their own terms. We legislated as a government very logically on those two issues at the same time, because we felt that we wanted to get on with the issue of the referendum on the electoral system as quickly as possible, so we needed to legislate in the early stages of the Parliament. In order to complete the boundary review and then submit the conclusions of the Boundary Commissions to both Houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in time to make those changes before the General Election, we needed to legislate early as well. That is why they were both decanted into the same Bill.
I have said that I do not recognise this idea that there are links between one bit of what is actually, as I have described earlier, quite a long list of constitutional political changes we are making, and another. We are trying to press forward on all of them, and we are trying to do so-in fact, I think we are successfully doing so-in keeping with the commitments we both made, both coalition parties, in the Coalition Agreement.
Q178 Mrs Laing: Thank you. I am pursuing this point, Chair, because when it is looked back upon, the work of this Committee in considering the political and constitutional reform in respect of the workings of a coalition government will be of great interest to those who examine these matters. Because I entirely agree with you about hearing what you actually say rather than what is reported, can we take it then that the further progress of the boundaries reform legislation is not dependant for its support by your part of the coalition upon the-
Nick Clegg: There is no formal link between the two. I will tell you where I accept maybe some suspicions-if that is not too strong a word-have been provoked. I have been asked in the House of Commons a number of times about, “Why you are wasting your time?” I have to be blunt, this is often asked by members of the Conservative party, “Why are you wasting your time pushing forward with House of Lords reform?” I then made a rhetorical response, in which I said, “In exactly the same way that I assume people who defend the boundary review, which is not the top of the electorate’s concerns by any stretch of the imagination, would justify they are wasting their time on that”. I am just making a generic point, which I have always made about constitutional and political reform, whether it is individual electoral registration, whether it is House of Lords reform, or whether it is boundary reform. All of these issues are not issues that come up on the doorstep a great deal. They certainly have not in the last few days when I have been canvassing in my own constituency for the local elections; of course not. It does not mean they are unimportant. In the same way, the reform of the World Trade Organization never comes up on the doorstep, but that is important. That is only the point I have made, and perhaps I have used two illustrations to make that point in ways that have been laden or invested with a degree of complex suspicion, which I don’t think is warranted.
Mrs Laing: I could not agree with you more in the point you make about doorsteps, but of course this Committee cares about constitutional reform.
Nick Clegg: Of course; as do I.
Q179 Mrs Laing: I never think it is a waste of time. Therefore, is it the case that the reports that your party’s support for further progress on boundaries legislation is dependent upon progress on House of Lords reform legislation are wrong?
Nick Clegg: Of course, there is no reliance on our support for a Coalition Agreement commitment for progress on unrelated or other significant parallel constitutional formations. I have said that. There is no link; of course, there is no link.
Mrs Laing: Thank you.
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