Hansard (They Work For You)

  • Oct 20, 2020:
    • Cancer Task Force - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, I refer to my interests as in the register. Cancer Research UK and Macmillan have reported that 2.4 million people are now waiting for screening, tests and treatments for cancer services. The Commons Health Select Committee has reported that the number of MRI and CT scans to diagnose the disease has plummeted by 75%. Given that the Government spend on average half as much on capital in healthcare compared to similar countries, what is the scale of the investment over the next year that will be specifically allocated for the latest technologies and additional staff to deal with the backlog of cancer diagnosis and treatment?

    • Cancer Task Force - Question | Lords debates

      To ask Her Majesty's Government how the new cancer taskforce will operate; and what funding that taskforce will be able to direct towards reducing any backlog in identifying and treating cancer patients.

  • Oct 14, 2020:
    • Amendment to the Motion | Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Very High) (England) Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve | Lords debates

      My Lords, there is possibly nowhere else in the country more lacking in confidence and trust in Boris Johnson's Government than Liverpool. Previous Conservative Governments spoke about "managing Liverpool's decline"-but Liverpool fought back, and what the city needs now is a managed recovery from the Covid pandemic. Almost everyone in Liverpool recognises that, with intensive care units at 95% capacity in the main hospitals, saving lives is paramount. The question is how best to do this, and people know that saving livelihoods is vital for the long term, too. As the Echo said yesterday:

      "Many of us will feel frightened, isolated and lost amidst the tangle of seemingly contradictory rules and support packages-barely providing a sticking plaster to cover the deep wounds to our region's economy."

      The problem is that there is simply no confidence that Boris Johnson's policies are soundly based on science or that there is a proper plan for making sure that lockdown measures do more than just postpone the spread of the virus and ensure that people's livelihoods are protected. The Government expect to be trusted but they have not trusted local authority leaders or local public health services, which could have done a much better job with test and trace.

      People see Boris Johnson's Government as incompetent and uncaring. They sense a whiff of corruption as contracts are inexplicably awarded to friends of those in government without normal transparency rules. They hear from journalists about briefings from a "senior government source" and assume that this must mean the man who goes to Barnard Castle for an eye test. There should be an end to such anonymous briefings.

      People in Liverpool feel singled out. They feel that they are being told to walk alone, but the people in Liverpool never will.

  • Oct 8, 2020:
    • Amendment 16 | Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Report | Lords debates

      My Lords, in the debate on this Bill in the other place on 14 July, the Minister Chloe Smith spoke about

      "what we are doing to ensure that the registers are as accurate and complete as possible"

      and said:

      "We should encourage more people to register to vote."-[Official Report, Commons, 14/7/20; col. 1466.]

      This amendment does nothing more than ask the Government to say how. It requires them to set out proposals for doing what they say they want to do in relation to young people and makes suggestions. It asks the Government to consider two different ways in which we could easily, and without cost, ensure that more young people are added to the electoral registers by the time they are first entitled to vote.

      The Government say that the completeness of the electoral registers is back up to the levels that predated the introduction of individual electoral registration. However, as my noble friend Lord Shutt pointed out, the Electoral Commission showed in 2019 that while 94% of over-65s are registered to vote, only 66% of 18 to 19 year-olds are registered to vote. Those who will attain the age of 18 in the next year or two are supposed to be included in the electoral registers for the purposes of the Boundary Commissions. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Wills, pointed out, the registration rate for this group has fallen dramatically. According to the Electoral Commission, only about 25% of attainers are currently registered, compared to about 45% in 2015. It is therefore perfectly reasonable for this House to insist that the Government lay proposals before Parliament to implement their declared policy of improving the completeness of the electoral registers and recognising the problem with young people in particular.

      Linking the registration process to the issuing of national insurance numbers is an obvious way in which that can be done. If the Government were willing, the Department for Work and Pensions could notify electoral registration officers that young people must be added to the registers when they get their national insurance numbers. All their rights to be registered anonymously and not be on the public register could be properly protected. The Government have been reluctant to extend across Great Britain the model successfully used in Northern Ireland to register 16 and 17 year-olds at school but accepted that students, when registering for university, should be notified of the electoral registration process, thereby encouraging them to register, as the Government say they want.

      We need a system for registering young people that works. I can think of no better way to do this than by linking the process with the issuing of national insurance numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Hayward, who sadly cannot be here this evening but is trusted by many Conservative candidates to advise on their campaigns, said on this issue in Grand Committee that he supported either assisted or automatic registration for all those about to attain the age of 18 and that they should be included in the electoral registers. Both options are possible with the amendment. He said that it was crucial to get people involved in the community and the politics of society from an early age. The amendment is about enabling that. We encourage young people to think for themselves and vote accordingly, and I urge this House to do the same.

    • Amendment 12 | Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Report | Lords debates

      My Lords, in 2013 and 2018 plans for revisions to constituency boundaries were published. They did not find favour with MPs, the Government dare not even produce the 2018 report before Parliament for it to be considered, and these plans were never implemented. The plans themselves clearly demonstrated how much more massively disruptive all future boundaries will be compared with anything that has ever happened previously, when the boundary commissioners worked to their old rules, if they are now given very limited flexibility.

      MPs on the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee looked at the issue in the light of having seen the 2013 proposals. There was cross-party agreement then that there must be greater flexibility in the numerical quota for each constituency than 5% either way. That cross-party group of MPs examined the issues in detail and concluded that in order to avoid large numbers of anomalies in drawing up new boundaries, and major disruption with every review in future, a variation in constituency electorates of up to 10% is really required. The amendments now being considered are a compromise between that conclusion and the position of the Government, who seek only a 5% variation.

      Amendment 13, the position of the Labour Party, provides for a variation of 7.5%, which is exactly half way between the position of the Commons Select Committee in 2015 and that of the Government now. Amendment 14, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tyler, provides for 7.5% variation, but also allows the Boundary Commission flexibility of 10% in exceptional cases.

      A short while ago the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, suggested that there was a political conspiracy in these amendments, but the academic experts studying the issues have proved beyond reasonable doubt that there is no party advantage at all in permitting greater variation. I draw noble Lords' attention in particular to a Private Member's Bill currently before the House of Commons, which proposes a 7.5% variation, with 10-yearly reviews. The sponsors of the Bill are Mr Peter Bone and Sir Christopher Chope. These two Conservative MPs can hardly be described as champions of liberal democracy or as socialist conspirators. They may be accused of disloyalty to Boris Johnson, but I have checked, and there was nothing in the last Conservative Party manifesto about a 5% variation from the average electorate.

      The aim of roughly equal-sized constituencies is one that we all share. There are international standards that can be applied to the creation of constituencies of roughly equal size. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe says that

      "in a majority voting system, the size of the electorate should not vary by more than approximately ten percent from constituency to constituency."

      The Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters produced by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission states:

      "The maximum admissible departure from the distribution criterion … should seldom exceed 10%".

      The additional variations proposed in these amendments are within these guidelines. Sadly, the time for deliberation about the consequences of allowing only a 5% variation was extremely limited among MPs when they debated the issues.

      In Committee, the Members present heard the expert testimony of Dr David Rossiter. He explained how the Boundary Commissions must work within the boundaries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, very significantly, also within the nine recognised regions of England. With the likely population changes over the eight-year period between each review, there would be changes to the quota of constituencies to be created in eight of these states or regions. Four of them would gain a seat and see new constituencies created; four of them would lose a seat and see constituencies abolished. This would trigger major changes, in at least two-thirds of these states or regions, in constituency boundaries.

      The movement of local government wards, to redistribute those voters, would trigger large-scale changes across the entire state or English region. With an abolished seat, over 60,000 voters would have to be redistributed. When added to neighbouring seats, nearly all of those would then be over quota. These surplus voters would then have to be redistributed to other seats, in turn sending many of them over quota, and so on. Similarly, with the newly created seats, around 60,000 voters must come from somewhere. Taking them from other existing constituencies will put those constituencies under the quota. The knock-on consequences of putting those voters elsewhere will also stretch across the entire state or region. Unless we change the rules, a small population shift in Kent could, for example, require major changes not just across Kent but in East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey and involve the creation of illogical seats that cross those county boundaries. In every region or state it will be the same.

      Splitting local government wards may ameliorate some disruption, but for many reasons it is not generally possible to do that. Many MPs have clearly not appreciated the fact that a constituency within quota is not safe from change. Moving one ward from a constituency to the next one will not be the end of the matter. The upshot of all this is that there will be major changes to the boundaries of half or more constituencies every review. Only about one in five constituencies is likely to be unaffected by boundary changes.

      Earlier in the debate, the Minister praised those who have previously served the Boundary Commissions. Let us look at what some of them have said. As the then secretary to the Boundary Commission for England told the Commons Select Committee in 2015,

      "the smaller you make the tolerance level from the actual quota, the harder it becomes to take into account properly the other factors that are mentioned in the Act, such as not breaking local ties, respecting local authority boundaries, and minimising change."

      It is clear that 5% is too small a variation. It means that we will have many illogical constituencies that will ignore local ties, local authority boundaries, communities and basic geographic considerations. More importantly, perhaps, they will not last for very long because every time there is a review, there will again be massive disruption to the boundaries, with at least half the constituencies having major boundary changes. That is why we need to give the boundary commissioners a little more flexibility.

    • Amendment 2 | Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Report | Lords debates

      My Lords, the Bill sets out a system for reviewing constituency boundaries which will result in changes much more dramatic than those of any previous reviews ever put in place.

      I would like you to imagine the position of a newly elected MP in a general election in 2025. They will have won a seat with new boundaries, but just four years later a new boundary revision process will begin. From 2029 they will be engaged, over a two-year period, in arguments about whether the constituency might exist again, or whether it should be redrawn in a very different form. They will not know the decision of the boundary commissioners until the end of September 2031.

      Under these rules, Parliament will no longer have a say over whether the proposals are implemented. The new boundaries will therefore take effect in any general election from February 2032. There will be just four months between the Boundary Commissions' reports being finalised and their proposals automatically taking effect in any general election. All that is certain is that the proposed constituencies will be very different from those at the previous election.

      The problem with eight-yearly reviews, a fixed number of seats in each state or region and very limited flexibility from the quota of electors in each seat is that they will involve major changes to more than 300 constituencies every time. Not many more than 100 constituencies are likely to have unchanged boundaries. This is not a one-off problem but is what will happen with every boundary review in future.

      The frequency of reviews involving dramatic changes to boundaries does not make sense if the link between MPs and their constituencies is to be valued. Unfortunately, little consideration was allowed in the other place for the question as to how frequently reviews should take place. Over the past 50 years, we have had 14 general elections. That is an average of one every three and a half years. Therefore, with a boundary review every eight years, and with the rules as proposed, we can expect that only one in five constituencies will exist with the same boundaries for two consecutive general elections.

      Somebody winning a seat shortly after a boundary review will know that they will get the chance to fight that same seat just one more time. There will then be a 50% chance that it is reorganised in a major way, and an 80% chance of the boundaries being changed in some way. But somebody winning a seat more than four years after a boundary review will immediately face a 50% chance that the constituency boundaries will change in a major way at the very next election, and an 80% chance that the constituency boundaries will be changed. It may be that some people welcome this kind of disruption to constituencies. Internal selection battles may be a great joy for some people but constantly having to engage in them cannot be good for anyone who wants to serve the people of a constituency or to demonstrate that they could do so in future. Party HQs may welcome frequent reorganisations so that awkward MPs might find themselves forced out and without a seat, while more obliging loyalists could be rewarded with new opportunities.

      One of my friends on the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was an excellent constituency MP, but he twice found that a constituency that elected him with large majorities was effectively abolished by the boundary review process. Constituents cannot be well served in a system in which constituencies are likely to exist for only two general elections.

      The late and much missed Professor Ron Johnston, has been quoted by all sides many times in our debates on the issue of boundary reviews. In Grand Committee, the Minister, referred to his "respect and appreciation" for him. Professor Johnston felt that a constituency should exist for three general elections before its boundaries could be redrawn. The only way in which to make that more likely while keeping boundaries reasonably up to date is to make the reviews every 10 years, not every eight.

  • Sep 21, 2020:
    • Health Care: Guidance - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests. Older people are more vulnerable to complications from the virus. Many more of them will have diabetes, and many more will feel that they need cancer treatment urgently. So why are so many older people still worried that they might be treated less favourably by the NHS due to their age? In particular, will the Minister explain how the backlog in treating cancer patients will be dealt with?

  • Sep 14, 2020:
    • Anti-obesity Strategies - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, the need for psychological support for people with such eating disorders is often identified through face-to-face meetings with GPs. Is the Minister satisfied that it is possible, in safe conditions, for people to obtain such meetings at the moment and that, if such a need is identified, sufficient psychological support is available for them?

  • Sep 10, 2020: