The wrong target: Don’t reduce the number of MPs – take the axe to the Lords


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The Independent Online

There are many things that could be done to improve the way Parliament works, but the pointless reform that will be presented to MPs next week is not one of them.

David Cameron will claim that his proposal to cut the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600 will save money. It will, but the saving is insignificant in relation to overall public spending.

Britain has not got too many MPs. Cutting their number to 600 will produce the smallest House of Commons since the union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, when there were 658 members. By 1918, when women voted for the first time, there were 707 representing a population that was below 47 million. Today there are 650, and for a population of almost 63.5 million.

If David Cameron really wants to cut Parliament down to size, the place to begin is the ridiculously bloated House of Lords – one of the world’s biggest legislatures, with “about 760” members. Yet instead of reducing its size, the Prime Minister is about to hand out yet more peerages.

Or if he is still looking for savings, Mr Cameron could consider cutting the number of ministers, which would save on salaries. In 1900, when Britain was the hub of a worldwide empire, the government was run by 60 ministers. Now there are twice as many. The Commons Public Administration Committee recommended in 2010 cutting their number by a third – a proposal on which the Prime Minister has been curiously silent.

It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the real reason for the planned boundary change is that it would eliminate around 24 opposition MPs, compared with just 19 Conservatives. This is not legislation for the sake of the country: it is law-making in aid of the Conservative Party.