MPs should be cut to 250 and paid £30,000 a year says UKIP peer

July 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm 1 comment

mpstateopening
MPs stand at the bar of the Lords at the State Opening of Parliament

by Tony Grew

A member of the House of Lords has made a series of eye-catching proposals on constitutional reform.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch secured a short debate on what he called “a trial run at the Constitutional Reform Bill of my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke.”

The bill will not make it through its Parliamentary stages in this session.

Lord Pearson was expelled from the Conservative party in 2004 and now sits as a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party.

“I am aware that in the wake of the parliamentary expenses saga there have been several debates and suggestions about constitutional change, but these have only been tinkering at the edges of our system of representative parliamentary democracy, which is now, rightly and irretrievably, discredited with the people it was supposed to serve,” he said.

Lord Pearson said the bill’s “most radical proposal” is that binding national and local referendums should be introduced in the UK, “based largely on the model which has been working successfully in Switzerland for many years.”

“To me, this is the only way in which the people can be reconnected with their democracy because it would get round behind the Westminster hen coop and force their will on those who are supposed to represent them,” he told peers.

“I am of course aware that there will be a certain amount of harrumphing about Members of Parliament taking decisions on behalf of the ignorant people, but I suggest that the harrumphers are centuries out of date.

“Of course that theory was valid in the 18th and 19th centuries when most people could not read, but now they can, and modern technology brings them instantly up to date with events unfolding all over the planet.

“I submit, for instance, that if the system of referenda envisaged by the Bill had been in force at the time, we would not have gone to war with Iraq, nor would the present Government be allowed to drag on in office, and so on.”

Lord Pearson said the number of MPs should be reduced from the current 646 to just 250.

Westminster would only have responsibility for the national treasury; defence; foreign affairs; border control; criminal law; agriculture, fisheries and food; national energy and transport policy; the national education curriculum and teaching qualifications; and medical and nursing qualifications.

MPs would be limited to a salary of £30,000 per annum, with £170,000 for their offices and a transparent system for all their expenses. They are currently paid £64,766.

“So most MPs would have to do a proper job as well and live in the real world, as do Swiss MPs,” said Lord Pearson.

“The Commons would not need to sit for more than 100 days in a year unless in emergency.

“All other areas of our national life would pass under the control of local government with local tax-raising powers.

“Both the Commons and local government would sit for staggered, fixed periods of five years.

“The Bill leaves the method of election open. No doubt that can be decided when we come to Committee, but personally I have always been in favour of some form of proportional representation, perhaps different ones for national local elections.”

It also proposes a national referendum on the future of the House of Lords.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon said he supported more referendums and a reduction of MPs, but “under the present circumstances 450 would be a more appropriate number.”

“The reason I agree to some reduction of the numbers in the Commons is that they have lost so much of their power to Scotland, to Wales and, shortly, to Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Most of all, about 70 per cent of legislation now comes from Brussels. It is being made in a most undemocratic way, so we really do not need the present number of MPs in the Commons.”

Labour peer Lord Grocott urged caution over proposals to reduce the number of MPs and for fixed-term Parliaments of five years.

“I think that is bad for Parliament; it weakens Parliament, because the knowledge that Parliament can cause a general election is one of its great strengths and why it is taken so seriously,” he said.

“My other objection to fixed-term Parliaments is that I dread the thought of the American-style electoral cycle, where you know a year in advance precisely when a general election will take place.

“There is a year’s electioneering involving—it goes without saying—colossal sums of money. It does not appeal to me one iota.

“I come now to the question of fewer MPs. I think even the proposer of the Bill would think that it goes too far in saying that the number of MPs should be reduced to 250.

“What worries me about this is not so much the reduction in MPs, but the increase in the size of constituencies.

“It would mean something like 250,000 constituents per MP.

“All I can say to that, to anyone who has been an MP—or who has not, but knows the political system well enough—is, “Just try representing that group of people”. I had the good fortune to be an MP twice, both times with very large constituencies of around 90,000 people.

“The idea that they should have been trebled fills me with deep concern, to put it mildly.”

For the government Lord Bach, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, said:

“There have been calls to reduce the number of MPs.

“The Government agree that we need to keep under review the size of the Commons but we also agree with what my noble friend Lord Grocott said on the matter.

“It has already been reduced in size since 1997, and it is important to remember that, since 1950, the average number of electors that individual MPs represent has increased by more than 25 per cent.

“We agree with my noble friend that it is important to maintain the link between people and Parliament.”

photo: uk parliament@flickr.com

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. McAvellian  |  July 8, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Reduction of the number of MPs? One needs to consider the amount of dross that would have been got rid of. It needs to be remembered we are now into party hack politics run by the executive.
    The public are no longer represented in parliament.

    Ministers often gain their position more by luck than worldly know-how, often gaining office merely because of previous resignations.
    Take the present MOD minister Bob Ainsworth, previously ridiculed as an excessive expenses claimant, now having the power to urge more scrifices from our poorly equipped front-line troops.
    That soldiers be urged on to pay the ultimate sacrifice from todays corrupt parliamentary set-up, is akin to bungling 1914-18 generals sending innocents to their graves, in a pretence they were fighting for a more decent tomorrow!

    Reply

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