Campaigners condemn ‘dangerous u-turn’ as May ploughs ahead with cut in MPs

Posted on the 19th February 2018

ERS say scrutiny will suffer – with Parliament’s role increasing after Brexit yet a weaker voice for voters

  • For immediate release, 19th February 2018
  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society. Chief Executive Darren Hughes is available for interview. For more information, contact [email protected] or 07717211630

The Electoral Reform Society have condemned a ‘dangerous u-turn’ from the Prime Minister, with news emerging [1] that the PM is set to cut the number of MPs.

Reports had initially suggested [2] that the PM had dropped plans to force through the cut in MPs linked with the boundary review.

However Theresa May now appears to be rejecting calls to keep the number of MPs at 650 – despite the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee warning today [3] that moves to cut numbers to 600 are unlikely to secure the backing of MPs.

The ERS are warning that the cut in MPs actually represents a cut in backbenchers if there are no plans to cap/cut the size of the executive or ‘payroll vote’ correspondingly.

At the same time, voters will lose European representation while Parliament gains more powers after Brexit. Yet the Commons will have less capacity to scrutinise those powers. The ERS argue that places a greater burden on our democracy while posing significant risks for policy making.

ERS research in 2016 showed that in a smaller, 600-seat Commons, nearly one in four (23%) of MPs would be on the government payroll if the parties’ proportion of MPs – and the total number of ministers and whips – stayed the same – an all-time high, and up from the 21%at present (figures as of November 2016) [4].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Without a corresponding cap on the ‘payroll vote’, this reduction in MPs represents an undemocratic cut in the power of backbenchers to hold government to account.

“This dangerous u-turn smacks of constitutional injustice. Cutting backbenchers at the same as bolstering the executive looks to many like a worrying power-grab.

“Parliament will have a whole raft of new powers after Brexit – yet less capacity to scrutinise those powers. That places a greater burden on our institutions, while posing significant risks for policy making.

“Meanwhile it’s just common sense that this cut cannot go ahead while the House of Lords remains the second largest chamber in the world with around 800 members. If the government are concerned about reducing the cost of politics, they would do well to deal with the over-sized second chamber.

“Voters need real representation in the Commons to provide the essential scrutiny and capacity we need: both for now and when we gain new power after Brexit.

“Far from reducing political representation and weakening voters’ voices, the Prime Minister should cancel the proposed cut in MPs and move forward with fair boundaries based on a properly resourced Commons.”

The ERS have a five main concerns about the cut in number of MPs and the proposed boundary changes:

  1. There is a significant risk for scrutiny: If, as the government proposes, the number of MPs in Parliament is reduced without also reducing the number of ministers, the power of the executive is proportionally increase – making it more difficult to hold power to account. There must be a cap on the ‘payroll vote’ before a cut in MPs is even considered
  2. These will be highly incomplete as well as out of date – people who registered to vote for the EU referendum won’t be counted for the new boundaries
  3. The tight 5% ‘difference threshold’ between size of constituencies risks awkwardly splitting up communities or grafting very different towns/counties onto each other
  4. Unregistered but eligible voters are not being considered when drawing up these constituency boundaries – even though they could register at any moment and still need support from their MP. This disadvantaged poorer constituencies – they end up with lower representation, often despite greater need
  5. This cut simply cannot go ahead while the House of Lords remains the second largest chamber in the world with around 800 members

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Read the ERS’ full views on the boundary changes here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/upgrading-our-democracy/fair-boundaries/ and here https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/cutting-the-number-of-mps-will-have-consequences-lets-get-this-right/

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/may-to-press-on-as-mps-warn-against-cutting-their-number-0h0vmscns

[2] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/may-set-to-drop-manifesto-pledge-on-cutting-number-of-mps-hxrcr03np

[3] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubadm/559/55902.htm

[4] http://archive.electoral-reform.org.uk/press-release/boundary-proposals-would-mean-record-high-proportion-mps-government#sthash.pTD47qoD.iMMRIu1M.dpbs

 

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