Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

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Monday 24th January 2011

(13 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde)
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My Lords, as we begin another week almost entirely dedicated to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, I shall update the House on its progress. I do so very much in the spirit of Leader of the whole House in order to inform the House.

The House is a self-regulating Chamber. Most noble Lords see that as fundamental to the way in which this House works. Over the centuries we have devised ways of working based on freedom and flexibility of debate. These freedoms underpin the reputation of the House as a place of responsible and serious scrutiny and all of us value these freedoms. Part of our way of working is through the usual channels. One of their key functions is to arrange business in the Chamber so that the House makes best use of the time available to scrutinise legislation and hold a Government to account. As many noble Lords are aware, the usual channels routinely discuss an overall timescale for each Bill and come to an agreed estimate of the likely number of days required to complete Committee. The usual channels sometimes get this estimate wrong, but they operate in a way that ensures that there is flexibility if a little more, or even less, time is required.

On this Bill, the usual channels have been unable to agree an estimate of the length of time required for Committee. This is unprecedented and worrying. Even on some of the more controversial Bills that this House has considered in the past 50 years, the usual channels have agreed the approximate amount of time to allow the House to exercise its scrutiny function fully and effectively. An agreement through the usual channels provides a framework that allows both government and opposition to conduct their business efficiently while not infringing upon the House’s right to regulate itself. Such agreements are the cornerstone of the work that we do here.

The Opposition asked for more time for greater scrutiny on this Bill. The Bill has received more time, but it is not good for this House, or for the legislative process across Parliament as a whole, to assign an infinite amount of time to the passage of a particular Bill. Other Bills need to pass through this House, and there is other business that many noble Lords wish to consider. Let me set out a few facts about the position that we find ourselves in today.

Today will be the 12th day in Committee on the Bill. The other place took five full days on the Floor to complete Committee. The Clerks have not been able to find another example of a Bill that has taken more than 11 days in Committee on the Floor in recent years. We have now spent nearly 80 hours in Committee on the Bill. The other place completed Committee in 25 hours. On day one in Committee, we started with 47 groups of amendments for debate. Those groups were agreed by all those who had tabled amendments, yet we start day 12 with a further 54 groups of amendments remaining.

I have spent some considerable time in recent weeks considering how, if the usual channels cannot function in the normal way, the House could exercise its core function as a self-regulating Chamber. It is not a question that I have ever had to consider before. I have discussed this with others, but we have not yet found a clear answer. If we are unable to make reasonable progress towards completing Committee proceedings, I believe that it will be right to take soundings from all quarters of the House, including from the Opposition, as to the best way forward. Clearly, any solution needs to be acceptable to the House.

There is now a real risk of the Bill not becoming law in time for the people to have their say in a referendum on 5 May. I do not believe that that is what the House intends and it will raise questions about our ability to revise if we do not present the Bill in time. The Government wish to listen to what the House has to say. Concessions were made during proceedings in the other place. We are considering, as we always do in Committee, further concessions to put to this House. The Government have already lost two divisions, with every possibility of losing more. We are open to changes to the Bill, but not to changes that would undermine the fundamental purpose of the Bill agreed at Second Reading, which I believe have majority support both in this House and across Parliament as a whole.

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Lord Williamson of Horton Portrait Lord Williamson of Horton
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My Lords, some of us are very keen to see the possibility of some approach that would lead to a solution to the evident difficulties in the passage of the Bill through the House. Since we have dealt with the amendments to Part 1 of the Bill, it would seem reasonable to foresee that this part of the Bill should go through with a view to the referendum taking place on 5 May. However, the timing for Part 2 of the Bill is not so tight, as it requires action on constituencies to be in place by October 2013, with a view to the next election. Has the Leader considered—or would he consider—the possibility that the Bill might launch the Boundary Commission’s work but that Part 2 would come fully into force only by order at a later date? We know there are several other issues, such as the need for some flexibility in the 5 per cent margin on the size of constituencies. However, I intervene now on this key issue of timing so that the Bill might pass but Part 2 be brought fully into force later by order, without compromising the start of work by the Boundary Commission.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I thank all those who have taken part, particularly the noble and learned Lord. I very much recognise the constructive way in which he wishes to continue. I hope we will soon be able to restart the Committee stage. I also thank the noble Baroness the Convenor of the Cross Benches. It is always difficult for the Cross-Benchers to involve themselves in what they might see as being a political fight. This is now much more than a political battle; there are serious issues about the role of the House in scrutiny, which I tried to lay out. I very much welcome what the noble Baroness said.

I will not respond in detail to what everybody has said. I say briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson: there are many opportunities in this House to raise the issues that he has raised—in Private Members’ Bills and through amendments to other Bills. He may well have a point but it is a point that is not part of this Bill, specifically. I urge him to raise these matters in debate, rather than on this Motion. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, makes a suggestion similar to those that many others have made. We do not mind how we resolve these issues—we know that there must be a resolution—so long as we do not delay the main purposes of the Bill. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.
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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Portrait Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
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Can my noble friend or the Minister tell me whether the sort of flexibility that the Leader of the House referred to today would allow margins of flexibility on the final number—that keeps reminding me of a book in which the answer is 42—so that it would then be easier to have regard to local differences? I think my noble friend Lord Rooker, whom I respect enormously and have worked with for years, may be able to take a slightly more laid-back view on this issue than, for example, a Minister were he or she to dare to go to the boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness)
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My Lords, Amendments 68 to 71 specify more explicitly the way in which the Boundary Commissions are to draw up new constituency boundaries and take some discretion away from the Boundary Commissions. They provide that constituency boundaries must be contained within existing county boundaries and must not split local government wards and propose limits on the number of local authority areas that constituencies can cross. With the exception of Amendment 69 on wards, they appear to be directed at English local government structure only. I am not sure whether that was the intention or whether they were intended to apply to other parts of the United Kingdom as well, but I am not going to nitpick over that because in moving the amendment the noble Lord, Lord Snape, indicated that they were important and that has been reflected in the debate that we have had.

The Bill provides for the Boundary Commission to take into account local government boundaries within the range of flexibility provided by the Bill. Projections indicate that with that flexibility it would be possible to have constituencies varying from 72,000 to 79,000 electors. The Bill’s provisions represent a rebalancing of the rules in existing legislation; namely, the equality in the weight of a vote and the flexibility to recognise local factors. We believe that the existing legislation results in unclear and potentially contradictory sets of rules. Indeed, the Boundary Commission for England has said that each rule taken on its own is quite clear but it is required to apply all the rules and its experience, and that of its predecessors, is that there is often conflict between them.

What is proposed in the Bill with regard to Rules 2 and 4 is to have a hierarchy, as was said in one of the exchanges. It is because of this rebalancing that we have given precedence to the size of electorate and the geographical area of each constituency over other factors in Rule 5, such as local government boundaries. I believe these other factors are important, and that is why we have provided the Boundary Commissions with the flexibility to consider them. I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Haworth, that it is possible for the Boundary Commission to have regard to local ties. The Boundary Commissions have regard within a 10 per cent band of the UK electorate quota between the largest and smallest constituency. We believe that the provisions of the Bill represent a reasonable balance between these factors and ensure a system where votes have equal value throughout the United Kingdom.

In response to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, there is nothing in the Bill or in the Boundary Commission rules at the moment to move individual electors from one local authority area to another. But as is the case at the moment, some constituencies cross London borough boundaries. In fact, 19 out of 32 London borough boundaries are crossed by a constituency boundary. That does not transfer the individual elector within that local authority area.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs
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I may not have been clear. I was referring to a situation where a council estate was owned by one local authority and part of that council estate was in a different parliamentary constituency and borough. It was an anomaly in terms of both borough and parliamentary boundaries.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I am grateful for that clarification. As I indicated, under the existing rules, 19 out of 32 London borough boundaries are crossed by a constituency boundary. My noble friend Lord Eccles also reflected on the fact that boundaries are crossed under the existing rules. My information is that 16 out of 35 shire counties are crossed by a constituency boundary and 31 out of 40 unitary boundaries. In its fifth report the Boundary Commission noted that in the fourth review, 13 constituencies crossed metropolitan district boundaries whereas in the review which took effect in 2010, 22 constituencies did so. And whereas in the previous review 170 constituencies had crossed non-metropolitan district boundaries, the recommendations for the fifth review included 165 which did so.

In Scotland, where I accept there are other issues with regard to wards because of the multi-Member nature of the local authority wards, there is one constituency—that of my honourable friend Mr Mundell, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Scotland Office—which covers parts of three council areas. His constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale covers the council areas of Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Borders and South Lanarkshire. This is an important point. My noble friend Lord Naseby mentioned the fact that he had at one stage represented three local authority areas.

Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach
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I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, is not in his place. I should have asked him at the time. The three he mentioned would have been two district councils and Northampton county council, which overrode both the two district councils. So it would not be three separate district councils—it would be a county council and district councils within the same county, as far as I know Northampton.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I defer to the noble Lord’s superior knowledge of the English local government system. In the case of Mr Mundell, it is three unitary council areas. The constituency which I used to have the privilege to represent in Shetland is one of those preserved by this Bill and it had two local authority areas within it.

I recognise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, about the relationship which individual Members of Parliament have with their local authorities. There are numerous cases where Members of Parliament represent more than one local authority area. No one is suggesting that any of those who fall into that category do not do their job on behalf of their constituents as well as those MPs who only have only one local authority within their constituency. I note in passing that Mr Mundell increased his majority at the 2010 election by 1.9 per cent. Without causing any difficulties with my coalition partners, that, for a Scottish Conservative in the 2010 election, was quite an achievement.

It is important, too, to look at this from the perspective of the elector. With regard to “one vote, one value”, the electors are only in one local government area with one Member of Parliament. We should not necessarily be looking to the administrative convenience of Members of Parliament at the expense of the value of votes for the individual elector.

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Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport
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I would be very grateful if the Minister could give the House his response to the following observation made by Dr Lewis Baston in Democratic Audit: January 2011 on this issue of the splitting of wards:

“It is probably impossible to implement a 5 per cent rule without splitting wards between constituencies, something which the Boundary Commissions currently avoid doing because of the potential for voter confusion and highly artificial constituency boundaries, not to mention causing headaches for the organisation of all political parties. … The worst-affected areas are those where wards have large electorates, such as the English metropolitan boroughs, most of Scotland and some unitary authorities and London boroughs. A rigid 10 per cent rule might still involve a few isolated cases of ward-splitting, but it is likely to be very uncommon in comparison with a 5 per cent rule”.

Is there not a lot of very good sense in that?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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As my noble friend Lord Rennard said, there is no limit to the number of special cases. If we move without any other limitation to a 20 per cent band rather than a 10 per cent band, we are moving away from the basic principle of equal value. Broadly speaking, we have followed the provisions of the 1986 Act with regard to local authority boundaries, and while we are keen to avoid being too prescriptive on this issue, there may be some merit in placing a discretionary consideration of wards in the Bill. We certainly want to consider further the elements of these amendments that concern the use of wards. Other amendments have been tabled with regard to wards by the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Foulkes, and my noble friends Lord Rennard and Lord Tyler. We want to consider, therefore, the use of wards and to bring back a fully considered response on that on Report since it is an important point. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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Before the noble Lord sits down, will he recognise that there will be considerable pleasure in many parts of the House at what he has just said about the recognition of the importance of wards? On a first reading of this Bill, it looked rather strange that other criteria were mentioned in Clause 11(5), such as local authority boundaries and European constituencies, but there was no explicit mention of wards. What he has just said about considering making a specific mention will go a long way to reassuring a lot of people who are concerned with this point.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I am grateful for those reassuring remarks from the noble Lord. Not only do wards provide possibilities as building blocks, but their very nature means that local ties are cemented through them.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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This has been an interesting debate. Fourteen noble Lords, including those on the Front Benches, have participated and I will ensure that my closing remarks guarantee that the debate is concluded in less than two hours. That gives the lie to those outside who say that none of this debate has been particularly relevant and that much of it, if not all of it, has been designed merely to hold up the Government’s legislation. That is not the case and I am sure that I speak for noble Lords on all sides of the House in thanking the Minister for the way in which he has just responded. If he could persuade his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to adopt the same emollient tone, we might have two nice Ministers responding. So far he has not been too successful, so he had better stay where he is to ensure that the mood of your Lordships’ House does not change.

I will refer in closing this debate to some of the contributions that have been made from both sides, all of which have been relevant. My noble friend Lord Kennedy gave us the benefit of his knowledge of Derbyshire, pointing out that it would be difficult to retain parliamentary seats in Derbyshire under the 5 per cent rule and that it might be necessary to cross county boundaries. He mentioned High Peak and Greater Manchester. There is some affinity between the two, in that many commuters travel between them, but that is about it; from a social and economic point of view, there is not a great deal to unite them. He also emphasised the importance of the names of seats.

My noble friend Lord Dubs correctly pointed out that there are anomalies under the present system, to which the Minister also referred. No one says that the present system is perfect—it cannot be—but I refer without quoting directly to the committee in the other place, which said that there would be a great many more anomalies unless we looked in detail particularly at the 5 per cent rule.

My noble friend Lady Liddell of Coatdyke reminded us of the importance of the relationship between elected Members. Although, to paraphrase what the Minister said, legislation should not necessarily be about the administrative convenience of Members of Parliament, it should not be about exacerbating the differences between them either. The greater the number of district councils involved on a particular issue, the greater the number of Members of Parliament. That is regardless of party. It has been known for Members of the other place of the same party to disagree about constituency matters. I know that such a thing would never occur among the Liberal Democrats, but I suspect that the Conservatives are a bit more like us and are more inclined occasionally to fall out.

My noble friend Lord Haworth referred to a particular constituency difficulty in London and spoke of giving evidence with some trepidation at a public inquiry. We are anxious to preserve the principle of public inquiries on boundary alterations. Any confrontation between him and Ivor Stanbrook QC would lead to only one winner—you do not need the letters QC after your name to be able to act as an advocate in such a way as I know that my noble friend does.

My noble friend Lord Bilston gave us the benefit of his 40 years of distinguished service at various levels in the Black Country. He quoted Omar Khayyam. I cannot compete with that. I suspect that the words that he quoted so movingly were not aimed at Boundary Commissions or boundary alterations, but they were certainly appropriate in the context of this debate. He reminded us of the long-standing feeling of hurt when electors are transferred from one district to another. In my former constituency in West Bromwich, we had some difficulty in 1974 in deciding the name of the new borough. Even now, 40 years on, the borough of Sandwell is not immediately recognised throughout the United Kingdom. You do not often hear the people who lived in the former authorities that formed the borough of Sandwell saying in response to a question as to where they live: “Well, actually, I live in Sandwell”. I was a fairly new Member of the other place when the borough was created. I was told that people in Smethwick, which formed part of that borough, having been transferred to the new constituency of Warley, which they did not particularly recognise, were certainly not going to have imposed on them the name West Bromwich, although that seemed to me as an outsider at the time to be the most sensible name for the new borough. I suspect that there will be many difficulties and arguments such as that unless the Government see sense on the 5 per cent deviation rule.

My noble friend Lord Davies of Stamford at least provoked an intervention from the other side of the Chamber when he pointed out that none had been made until he got to his feet. He emphasised the importance of the ward structure, as, to be fair, did the Minister in his reply. One participant from the other side was the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who was rather more emollient on this occasion than he has sometimes been in the past in saying that there should be discussion rather than hard-and-fast rules. He rather skated over the fact that there will be many more such anomalies unless, I repeat, the 5 per cent deviation rule is eased. He implied, although he did not say so in as many words, that just a few more constituencies would cross local authority boundaries under the legislation. That was not the view of the committee in the other place or of organisations that wish to defend the integrity of counties such as Cornwall. I readily accede to the experience and knowledge of constituencies of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard—it was until fairly recently impossible to conceive of a by-election taking place without a figure lurking in the background with a coy and retiring smile, which invariably belonged to the noble Lord—but I hope that he will recognise that, unless some changes are made to the Bill, the anomalies that have been raised on both sides of the Committee will be perpetuated. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Lipsey put his finger on the matter in his brief intervention, saying that under the legislation only nine out of 46 counties would have their boundaries respected. That is an anomaly; it is a significant change, which the Government should look at.

My noble friend Lord Rooker entertained us with stories about Sutton Coldfield joining Birmingham. Unfortunately, the former Member of Parliament for Sutton Coldfield, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, was not present, otherwise we might have seen a discussion, if not a minor spat, between the two of them. My noble friend and I were referred to by the British press in the context of some of the debates last week as a couple of ageing lefties. I suppose that we ought to be suitably grateful that, for once, the British press got something half right. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said that we have to move on the 5 per cent deviation rule, as did my noble friend on the Front Bench, who said that constituencies would otherwise become fragmented and disjointed.

I was grateful for the tenor in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, responded. These are matters to which we shall have to return on Report, as he said. Given that, and the amiable nature of the debate—and the fact that no time has been wasted—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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The factual answer to that factual question is yes, of course I recall that. No one in my constituency over the age of about 40 will have forgotten that. Nevertheless, that issue was resolved happily for all concerned in the context of public inquiries and establishes a very good precedent for them as a way of maintaining, or when necessary restoring, public confidence in the system.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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The amendment would restrict the Boundary Commission in drawing up new constituency boundaries by a series of provisions specifying that constituency boundaries may not cross certain local authority or European constituency boundaries. I noted that, when moving his amendment, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, reiterated that he and his colleagues recognised the need for greater equality but seek to put that restriction on to the Boundary Commission in its recommendations.

The Bill provides for the Boundary Commission to take into account local government boundaries, as well as local ties, although that has not been acknowledged in some contributions. As we have said on more than one occasion, that is subject to the principle of equality. We believe that the details of how it does that should be a matter for the Boundary Commission. Just to clarify, a government amendment to the definition of local government boundaries was made in the other place. I re-emphasise that it means that the Boundary Commissions may take unitary authority boundaries into account.

It has been made clear in several contributions, not least that of my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree but also that of the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, that even under the existing arrangements the Boundary Commission has not exactly achieved what in some people's view might be perfection. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, talked about Hamilton being split into two. Even before the current split, there was a previous split between Hamilton North and Bellshill and Hamilton South. An important point, which was made by my noble friend Lord Newton and alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, is that local government is not the sole challenge that Members of Parliament have to deal with. There are health boards, primary healthcare trusts and police divisions. It would be a nightmare, if not an impossibility, to try to ensure that the Member of Parliament had to deal with only one each of police, health and local authorities.

As we mentioned in debates on previous groups, we have sought generally to follow the 1986 Act provisions on local authority boundaries. We want the Boundary Commissions to have flexibility to take account of specific circumstances, but we also recognise that there is some merit in placing discretionary consideration in the hands of the Boundary Commission, including with regard to wards, about which I will say more in a moment.

In its fifth general report, the Boundary Commission for England noted that,

“some wards on the outskirts of towns contained very different communities. For instance, there were occasions where the majority of the electorate of the ward were urban dwellers residing in a very small area of the ward on the edge of a town. However, the small remainder of the ward’s electorate was made up of those living in rural communities some distance from the town”.

That is why we believe there is a reasonable case in certain circumstances for the Boundary Commission to have discretion to split them and why there should not be a prohibition, which would be the effect of at least four of the provisions of the composite amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord.

I repeat that we seek—and this is enshrined in the Bill—to ensure one value for one vote, not to draw up constituencies to suit the administrative convenience of Members of Parliament. I cannot accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, proposed, it is somehow impossible for a Member of Parliament to discharge his or her functions if his or her constituency includes more than one local authority. My noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree made that abundantly clear.

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport
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I am not saying that. I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, represented his constituents entirely admirably. I am objecting to the thrust of reform that makes it far more likely that local authorities will be fragmented and that constituencies will consist of more, rather than fewer, local authorities, which must be calculated to make it harder for all concerned—Members of Parliament, other elected members and constituents.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I listened to the noble Lord’s speech, and he gave the very clear impression that that was challenging in the extreme. As my noble friend said, there were three local authorities in the constituency that he represented. The constituency that I represented contained two local authorities. On the basis of the figures that I gave in a previous debate, by my calculation 187 Members of Parliament represent constituencies that have more than one metropolitan or non-metropolitan district boundary. I believe that it is more than possible to do an adequate job of representing one's constituents where there is more than one local authority in a constituency.

We do not believe that we should be tying the hands of the Boundary Commission in a way that prevents it from recommending the best solutions for electors simply for the convenience of Members of the other place. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Farrington, about the importance of local constituency parties. They of course have an important role in oiling the wheels of our democracy, but I do not think that their interests should be elevated above those of individual constituents.

I do not want to follow down the path of anecdotage, but the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, mentioned the number of party fundraising events at this time in Scotland that are focused on Burns suppers. I had the great pleasure of attending a Liberal Democrat Burns supper in South Edinburgh, which has already reorganised itself to take account of the changes in the boundaries and the disjunction between Scottish parliamentary boundaries and Westminster boundaries. I do not really want to hear more of the Burns supper adventures of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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I just wondered whether it was in the Edinburgh South UK parliamentary constituency or the Edinburgh Southern Scottish parliamentary constituency.

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Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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The point I was making was that it now calls itself South Edinburgh to take in the various parliamentary constituencies in the south of Edinburgh.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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Will the noble and learned Lord give way?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I have tried to be patient.

Four out of the seven provisions in the amendment relate to wards and how they should be used in the Bill. I cannot accept that the Government have been dismissive—the word used by the noble and learned Lord—of wards. I certainly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said, about the importance of the ward level. That is why, in response to the previous set of amendments, I stated our belief that wards are in many cases already the building blocks of constituencies. They are the level that can often reflect local community ties. The English Boundary Commission has confirmed that in the majority of cases in England, wards are used as the basic element of each constituency. For reasons that I have already given—that some wards might combine a large part of an urban area on the outskirts of the city and a rural hinterland—there might be reasons to give the Boundary Commission discretion to split boundaries. Therefore, an absolute prohibition, as proposed in the amendment, goes too far. I hope that the undertaking that I gave in response to the previous debate to look seriously at the issue of wards and to bring back our proposals on Report will satisfy the House at this stage. On that basis, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the detail into which he went. I will very briefly deal with his points. First, he rightly says that the Bill states “may take into account”, rather than the commission being bound not to cross ward, unitary authority or other boundaries. If the noble and learned Lord cares—not now—to read my amendment, he will see that in some cases it is an absolute prohibition, for example in relation to European Parliamentary boundaries, district or borough wards. In others, it is not; it is a provision to “take into account”. I have sought to reflect the point that the noble and learned Lord makes.

Secondly, I think the Minister said that 187 constituencies cross both metropolitan and other local authority boundaries. He does not need to intervene on this; his point is broadly that 187 currently cross different sorts of local authority boundaries. I completely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, who has much influence in the House, said. I am sure that he completely and excellently represented his constituency. The point that is being made on the other side is that it is better if that is not the position. One assumes that if it is 187 now, it is bound to go up under the changes to be introduced under the Bill.

The noble and learned Lord’s third point was that he accepts as a matter of principle that the ward will be the building block. That was expressed explicitly by Nick Clegg when he appeared before the House of Lords Constitution Committee and when he spoke in answer to questions in the Commons. Why not put that into the Bill? My fourth and final point is to say how sad I was not to be in Edinburgh South—that is, Morningside, where I was born and brought up—to attend the noble and learned Lord’s Burns Night supper.

I am grateful that he said at the end that he will come back with some ideas. I am not taking that as him giving me any kind of assurances, but I shall wait to see what happens next before deciding what to do about this sort of amendment. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.