Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

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Tuesday 25th January 2011

(13 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear!

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks, and indeed for the way in which they were responded to throughout the House. I will ensure that they are passed on to my noble friend.

Clause 11 : Number and distribution of seats

Amendment 75

Moved by
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Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach
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Obviously, I do not believe that it can. That is why I think that public inquiries, which we will come to later, are of such fundamental importance to the position.

Of course, the Boundary Commission draws up conclusions at present and then, in many cases, particularly where there is controversy, there will be public inquiries in order to see whether the original suggestion by the Boundary Commission should stand or be altered. Of course, arguments as to whether these are exceptional cases or not would be argued out both early on, I suspect among the commissioners themselves, and then also at the boundary review—that is, the public inquiry. That has proved to be incredibly successful over the past number of years and I think that the boundary commissioners, if they were standing here, would agree that this has prevented some Boundary Commission suggestions that were not very sensible coming into effect. Therefore, I agree with my noble friend’s point.

My noble friend Lord Lipsey emphasised in his amendment that he is thinking about exceptional factors. He is not advocating—nor are we, for that matter—that the factors mentioned in rule 5 should dominate in all cases, just that they should be given their due weight and that, in some areas, this weight is pretty significant. Existing rule 6, by which I mean rule 6 in the 1986 rules, says:

“A Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of rules 4 and 5 if special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, appear to them to render a departure desirable”.

That does not make the present rule 6 more important than size but makes it equally important. Both are considerations that the independent Boundary Commission can take into account. The difference with the way in which the Bill is drafted, of course, relates to the size of the constituency; unless the constituency is within 5 per cent, none of the considerations in the Bill’s rule 5 will come into effect.

I remind the Committee that if the flexibility in the variance in the size of constituencies were increased from the 5 per cent stated in the Bill as it stands, the problems that my noble friend set out when moving his amendment, and which his amendment seeks to avoid, would be far less likely to occur.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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My Lords, I start by indicating to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that in the days when I had to attend economics lectures from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, I also had to read Richard Lipsey’s Positive Economics. I hope he will take it in the spirit that it is intended when I say that I find the noble Lord’s contributions much more engaging than what I recall of his textbook.

The amendment would allow the Boundary Commission to decide, in particular instances, that the factors in rule 5 are so important that it should override the preceding rules. It has been evident from the debates that we have had so far that the core principle of this part of the Bill is to ensure that votes cast across the country have an equal weight. The best way to achieve this is to ensure that there is broad equality in the number of registered voters in each constituency. The principle of parity must be paramount.

In introducing his amendment, the noble Lord said that there was consensus in the Committee on the principle of equity, although he indicated that there was no consensus on the 5 per cent or 10 per cent variation from the electoral quota figure. I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s ingenuity for coming forward with this amendment. He claims that it is a very narrow exemption but, while ostensibly reasonable, the amendment would undermine the principle of parity that we have said ought to be paramount by allowing other factors to take precedence over the equal weighting of votes. This could, and almost certainly would, perpetuate a situation in which constituencies can be of very different sizes, and votes cast in one part of the country can have a very different weight from those cast in another.

The amendment would override rule 2(1), so it would not just be a question of a debate about a 5 per cent or 10 per cent variation. Indeed, by that rule being overridden, the variation could be sizeable indeed. Existing differences in constituency size matter. There is a 41 per cent difference between Manchester Central, with 85,522 electors in 2009, and Glasgow North, with 50,588 electors in 2009. That means that 10 voters in Glasgow North have the same weight as 17 voters in Manchester Central. Frankly, that simply cannot be right.

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport
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One of the reasons why we are still here in this Committee on the 13th day is that the Government persist in the illusion that if they equalise the number of electors in every constituency, desirable of course though that is in principle, that will produce votes of equal value. The reality is that differential turnout and differential marginality mean that votes in different constituencies will continue to have different values. If the coalition really wanted to achieve votes of equal value, it would have put an alternative option on the referendum for people to vote for proportional representation. Why did the Government not do that?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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Obviously the noble Lord is right to the extent that differential turnout has an effect on the value of votes, but the Bill at least gets everyone to the same starting point. The argument that seems to be coming from the noble Lord is that somehow or other you can have an equal starting point that would then be compounded by differential turnout, making the situation even worse. That is what I find unacceptable.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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Why is it not right in terms of constituency sizes but right in terms of London elections—in Westminster in particular? The Minister was here last night when I read those statistics out for Westminster that showed a huge differential between wards in central London. Why is it all right for one and not for the other?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I was here last night and I heard those interminable statistics. The point is that this is not what we are debating at the moment; we are debating parliamentary constituencies. I have enunciated a principle that the Government consider important for this part of the Bill, and one that we believe would be seriously undermined by the proposal that is implicit in the amendment.

In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, acknowledged in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, this also overrules rule 1, and the Committee has debated at considerable length the question of the size of the House of Commons and the fact that the Government’s position is that there should be a House of 600.

The current situation is that there is no hierarchy of rules and there is a flexibility to move away from the aspiration, which is there in the current rules, that the Boundary Commission should go as close to the quota as possible. It was clear from the exchanges that took place in the debate that in fact there is that flexibility to move away that has led to the kind of wide variation that I have just illustrated with the difference between Manchester Central and Glasgow North, and indeed has led to a steady increment over many years, almost invariably in an upward direction, in the number of seats.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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I have followed the noble and learned Lord’s course, and I am going to try to be helpful. He is worried that the amendment put forward by my noble friend would conflict with rule 2 on parity; he has made that point and I understand it. Not for the first time, I shall put to him a possible compromise. Would he be prepared to have a provision under which there was a 10 per cent divergence from the electoral quota that was an absolute ceiling and could not under any circumstances be exceeded or broken through, but the Boundary Commission would have the right to breach the 5 per cent ceiling up to 10 per cent in the event that it gave the assurance—the text of which is in my noble friend’s amendment—that it had considered that there were matters of “exceptional importance” that justified that move outside the 5 per cent band?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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That is not far away from the amendment that we debated almost exactly a week ago. Indeed, I have already had discussions with at least one of the noble Lords over this, and I believe that other discussions have flowed on from that between Mr Harper and representatives of the Opposition.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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I think there is a misunderstanding. What is new about what I have just said, as against the proposal that we discussed before, would be the incorporation of the phrase “exceptional importance”, drawn from my noble friend’s amendment.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I hear what the noble Lord says, but the point that I was on at the moment is not just that there is no limit on the 10 per cent—I shall come on to the question about exceptional circumstances in a moment—but that the number of 600 could be reached. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Eccles yesterday who raised the question of 630, which is the target aspirational number. Even that varies, though. With the one exception of when the Scottish seats were redistributed following devolution, the number has gone up after every Boundary Commission review.

The noble Lord, Lord Soley, asked about “shall” and “may”. The fact that it is at the Boundary Commission’s discretion whether and to what extent at present it should take into account the factors in rule 5 does not mean that it is able to decide simply to ignore a relevant factor on a whim. The commission cannot just dismiss it. I shall give two reasons why “may” is preferable to “shall”. First, and this reflects back to what I was just saying, the 1986 Act currently has conflicting rules. The British Academy said that,

“the rules set out in the Bill are a very substantial improvement”,

because they are clear and not contradictory. Our fear is that changing “may” could reintroduce conflict between the rules. Secondly, it is important that the independent Boundary Commission has the freedom to use its discretion. Many of the noble Lords moving amendments similar to this have talked about the importance of giving the commission flexibility. I fear that by using “shall” rather than “may”, one takes away with one hand what is perhaps sought to be given with the other.

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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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There is still confusion here. On that matter, there is a great difference between individual political parties arguing that their cases are of exceptional importance—the noble and learned Lord is absolutely right: they will all say that—and the Boundary Commission sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity and allowing itself to be seduced into accepting that something is exceptional in a majority of cases. That could never happen; the Boundary Commission would not do that. It would be too jealous of its own credibility and integrity to allow a procedure that could be justified only in exceptional circumstances being used in anything more than a very small number of circumstances. There is a great difference there between the impact of this word on the Boundary Commission and the likely arguments—about which I quite agree with the noble and learned Lord—that individual litigants and representatives will make to the Boundary Commission.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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My Lords, even if one puts aside for a moment the question of public hearings, there is still opportunity under the Bill for representations to be made. The minute you import words such as “exceptional importance”, however the case may be presented, you can bet your life that organised groups such as political parties would find some means of suggesting exceptional importance in almost every constituency. Some have argued that the constituency boundaries should be drawn on the basis of population. We have heard that argument; it was suggested earlier that it would be one way of dealing with the situation, but I hope we have dealt with that in times past.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said that this is a modest amendment. However, some of the key principles that the Government have enunciated about what is important in the Bill—for example, that there should be no increase in the size of the House of Commons beyond 600—could be undermined by this amendment. Even if we set aside the question of whether there is a 5 per cent or 10 per cent variation, the amendment would allow for a variation that goes beyond even 10 per cent. That would override the parity of one vote, one value and would almost certainly inhibit the Boundary Commission’s ability to report that it had ensured that the new boundaries were in place for the May 2015 election. It is against the background of these different points being undermined by this modest amendment, as the noble Lord called it, that the Government cannot accept it and I ask him to withdraw it.

Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this brief but informative debate—my noble friends Lord Howarth, Lord Soley, Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Bach. They have all made substantial contributions to moving the argument forward. I thank the Minister for a comprehensive reply but I cannot apply the phrase “moved the argument forward” to his remarks. I know there is a feeling in many quarters of the House that this debate has gone on too long; I share it. However, one reason for that is that scrutiny is not just about making changes to the Bill; it is about listening to each other’s arguments and hearing what we are saying—not merely repeating one’s starting position. I was saddened to hear the Minister repeat what we debated last night when the noble Lord, Lord McNally—I join in wishing him a very quick recovery—repeated this stuff and nonsense about the equal weight of votes. Indeed, he did not seem fully to have wrestled with the concept because he thought we were talking about something to do with differential turnout.

Differential turnout has nothing to do with it. In a majoritarian system only some votes affect the result of a general election. Those are votes cast in marginal seats. Everybody else’s vote has no weight whatever, except in so far as it is used to claim that the system is biased in some way after the election. Sadly, under our system most people might as well not bother going to the polls for all the chance they have of affecting the result. To talk of some cast principle of equal weight for equal votes when our system embodies a quite contrary principle seems wrong. Moreover, it is sad that it is still being repeated after 13 days of argument

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We will get to the issue of public inquiries in due course. There is a lot of feeling in the House in favour of their retention. We hope that the Government will listen to it.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, for introducing the debate, which focuses on three rivers: the Mersey, the Tyne and the Thames. Although there have been a number of contributions about the Tyne and the Thames, I am sure the noble Baroness knows that she is not alone in her concerns about the issues of the Mersey.

I indicate at the outset that it has never been considered, even in the 1986 Act, which sets out the current rules for the Boundary Commissions, that rivers are geographical features that are so exceptional as to be unable to be crossed by a constituency boundary. Perhaps that is not surprising. As my noble friends Lord Cavendish and Lord Swinfen indicated, in many cases rivers can actually link communities. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, indicated that in Newport the river was by no means a barrier but was a link between communities. In many places, the transport arrangements are such that there is no particular issue.

An important issue has been raised in the debate on the importance of community. It was mentioned specifically by the noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Dixon, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Quin and Lady Armstrong, mostly in the context of the Tyne. It is recognised that there are a number of rivers where north and south have a certain resonance.

In his introductory remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, reeled off a lot of the territorial names of noble Lords and Baronesses who have taken part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will no doubt speak later. Strathclyde is a much bigger place than Tankerness or, for that matter, Gateshead or Detchant. The important point is that Tankerness is not even a whole parish in Orkney, whereas Gateshead is a constituency and Strathclyde was a territorial name even before it was a Scottish region. There are many different levels of community. It would be a rare Member of Parliament indeed who represented only one community; most Members of Parliament represent a number of different communities. I fully understand the strong sense of belonging that Members who have represented constituencies for many years have, but no Member of Parliament has a right to represent them. If there are boundary changes or there is a fluctuation in the swing of the pendulum, a Member of Parliament may find that he or she is no longer there, and a new Member of Parliament must start building relationships with the constituents whom they represent.

The important point is the relationship between the constituent and the Member; the constituent feels that they can go to their Member or the Member can go to them. That was the point that struck me during the early contributions to this debate on the idea that somehow or other the constituents would face problems having to cross a river to see their Member of Parliament. I thought, “Why can’t the Member of Parliament cross the river to see their constituents?”. When some of us have to travel hundreds of miles to visit different islands, it is not too much to ask a Member of Parliament to cross a river to see a constituent. That is not to deny the sense of belonging in communities that rivers often define. Nor is it to say that the Boundary Commission for England would necessarily recommend a constituency that crosses the rivers named in the amendments, although such constituencies have existed under the present rules—I think Tyne Bridge was mentioned. No constituencies in Newcastle, Gateshead, London or Merseyside sit on two sides of the areas’ respective rivers.

However, the Boundary Commission is independent. The Government’s difficulty is that they cannot say definitely that the Boundary Commission would not make such a proposal, and it would be wrong to do so. Equally, in a number of debates in which noble Lords have sought and pleaded for more flexibility, it would not have been right to pass amendments that would tie the hands of the Boundary Commission. If recommendations were made in the future that resulted in constituencies spanning any of the rivers concerned, anyone who felt that that was undesirable would be able to make representations to the Boundary Commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, made a great point, which I have no doubt we will come back to, about public hearings and tribunals. My noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes indicated that people are perfectly able to make written representations to the Boundary Commission if they feel strongly.

Lord Kinnock Portrait Lord Kinnock
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I assure the Minister that there is no ambition on this side of the Committee to tie the hands of the Boundary Commission; the opposite is the case. The whole reason why we have spent many hours making the case for flexibility is to seek to ensure that the current power of independent discretion possessed by Boundary Commissions is retained. It is radically diminished by the formula in the Bill that allows for a margin of flexibility of merely 5 per cent. Conscious of that, this side of the Committee has offered an amendment which would allow a variation of more than 5 per cent but provide an absolute prohibition on one of more than 10 per cent. If there was an inclination to accept such an attitude, this side of the Committee and Cross-Benchers would not have to expend any more time and energy on trying to find a way to provide the Boundary Commission with effective discretion relating to the reality of boundaries and communities, because it would be able to exercise it within a realistic margin. I would be very much obliged if the noble Lord recognised the absence of an ambition to tie Boundary Commissions’ hands; indeed, our motivation is the opposite.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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My Lords, the terms of the amendments are quite deliberate, stating that “a Boundary Commission shall”. If we go back to the original principle of parity and one vote, one value, the Government are not saying, “Get what the electoral quota should be and that must be it, with no flexibility whatever”. There is flexibility, and there is a genuine debate as to its degree, but this and earlier amendments use “shall”, which takes away some of that discretion.

If people feel strongly about a proposal when it comes forward, it will be possible for them to make representations to the Boundary Commission. Local ties and geographical considerations are among the factors to which it may have regard if, and to the extent that, it sees fit. As I indicated in response to the previous debate, the Boundary Commission cannot set aside those considerations at a whim when it makes its initial recommendations. Where “shall” does come into effect is in Clause 12. Subsection (1), which allows for a period for making representations that is three times as long as under existing legislation, states that,

“the Commission shall take into consideration any such representations duly made”.

The suggestion made in the debate that such representations can simply be swept aside and not given proper consideration is just not right. It gives the impression that the public will somehow be excluded from the process. In many respects, the public may have more opportunities, and certainly longer opportunities, to make representations; it may just be that the parties will not be represented by Queen’s Counsel when a public hearing takes place.

Lord Wills Portrait Lord Wills
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The Minister is making a strong case, but does he not accept that representations on the grounds of community are subject to the very inflexible electoral quota and the desire for equalisation of constituencies?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I make two points in response. Yes, there is a quota, but, first, in making recommendations, the Boundary Commission may have regard to local ties. As I indicated yesterday, the Government are minded to look again before Report at the question of wards, which, perhaps more than any other electoral area, best reflect local ties.

Secondly, as I indicated in my opening remarks, there are a number of different communities within one given constituency. Members of Parliaments of all parties seek to represent as best as they can different interests in different communities within their constituencies.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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Does the Minister have a view on whether when taking decisions the commission should have in mind the marginality of constituencies?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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If the noble Lord is saying that the Boundary Commission should have regard to the political makeup of a particular constituency, I can tell him that I am aware of no statutory basis for doing that. I would be very surprised if that was a function. Indeed, the way in which political parties presently dress up political considerations in all sorts of different guises when they give evidence to inquiries suggests very strongly that the Boundary Commission would not do that.

Our reservations about the amendment are nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of past and future representation in the areas concerned, but this is not the right place to deal with such specific exceptions. Where the situations described arise, they can be dealt with under the provisions presently in the Bill. If local circumstances argued strongly for a avoiding a cross-river constituency, the Boundary Commission’s detailed consideration of specific elements of the case would produce the most effective result, where local specifics of geography and the importance of community structure in each riverside area would be balanced with the need for electors in all parts of this United Kingdom to have equal-value votes. That is the best way of achieving balance between equality of constituency size and having proper regard for community in design of our future constituencies. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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There are 70 in relation to the Scottish Parliament, so while they cannot be coterminous it must be sensible, as far as possible, not to try rigidly to make them coterminous but to have regard to them. I hope that the prescient words of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who said, “Shut up and listen and you might make some progress”, might mean that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will say that he will accept this amendment, because it seems sensible to me. Then we will regret not having followed the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, because it may be that talking too much has cost us the warm opinion and the change of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde)
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My Lords, that was interesting and, by the standards of this Committee, a relatively short debate, so I will try to be as accommodating to the noble and learned Lord as the Government were to my noble friend Lord Tyler. I thought that the point which my noble friend was making, which was very sensible, was that we did not necessarily need to listen to everybody who had once represented a Scottish constituency to get the point being put forward—although it was useful to hear from other noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was right. He was indeed the MP for my part of the world for some years. We worked together but it was, on the whole, on opposite sides. He was rather more successful at it than I was, unfortunately.

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked a specific question about how the formula will work and how many seats there will be in each nation. It obviously depends on the estimates that will take place in each nation but if the calculation were to be run on the basis of the register as of 1 December 2009, Scotland would have 52 MPs, England would have 503, Wales would have 30, and Northern Ireland 15. However, I want to emphasise that these allocations may change, depending on the electorates in each nation. That is clearly understood.

What the noble Lord is after here is to add a fifth factor into the existing four in the Bill that the Boundary Commission may take into account. The Boundary Commission has indicated already that it takes into account issues which are brought to its attention as part of the public consultation process, if it believes them to be significant—that is the key. For example, the Boundary Commission for England said in its fifth general review, published in 2007, that, where practicable, it took into account district boundaries. The report noted:

“The Commission have previously recommended constituencies which recognise both metropolitan and non-metropolitan district boundaries, where it is practicable to do so, but often it is necessary to cross district boundaries in order to avoid excessive disparities. It is expected that this will be the situation during this general review but, of course, each review area will be treated on its merits”.

That was the Boundary Commission for England in 2007.

What this means, if I may translate, is that anyone could make a representation to the Scottish Boundary Commission arguing that an element of Scottish parliamentary constituency boundaries constituted a significant factor to take into account when settling Westminster constituency boundaries. There would be nothing to prevent the Scottish Boundary Commission taking that into account. In this sense—I am trying to be helpful to the noble Lord—the intention that underlies his amendment would be achieved by the way in which the Boundary Commission has always worked, without the need to amend the Bill. The significant change which the Bill makes, as the Committee now knows, is the requirement to prioritise the “5 per cent above or below electoral parity” rule over other factors. There is nothing in the Bill that we think would cause the Boundary Commission to change the way in which it considers any factors brought to its attention in representations from local authorities or members of the public, including precisely the kind of things raised in the noble Lord’s amendment.

I expect that I have disappointed the noble Lord in not accepting his amendment, but I hope that I have said enough for him to feel satisfied that it would not make very much difference if we did not accept it. I hope that he will withdraw it.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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My Lords, that was a very full reply. I am learning that, if I speak briefly, listen to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and do not listen to my noble friend Lord McAvoy, I make progress. In light of that, I will not say any more, but, if I bring the amendment back again, I will bring it back in the form suggested most helpfully by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, in his contribution.

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Lord McAvoy Portrait Lord McAvoy
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My Lords, I suppose that, as one of the Peers from Scotland, I am duty bound to speak up for the Argyll and Bute council area. However, there was quite an extensive outline of the very justified case for Argyll and Bute in a previous debate and it would be wrong to repeat that. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his speech and I have certainly been impressed tonight by the contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts, who were outstanding in displaying their local knowledge. However, I make the point that when Labour or, I think, Cross-Bench Peers were making speeches of that nature we were getting accused of having a filibuster. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was keeping an eye on the Door in case the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, came in and moved for closure but, fortunately, he did not appear. That emphasises that we are now getting a bit of balance in the Committee in that it seems that, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, people are now being allowed to make the case for their local area without being accused of filibustering. It is a legitimate thing to do.

The breadth of knowledge coming from all sides of the House is deeply impressive, although I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, shuddered a wee bit at being part called part of a Celtic nation, with a hard “C”. He should really think himself quite lucky that he was not called part of a Celtic nation, with a soft “C”. Then he would really have had something to get upset about.

I welcome the change in attitude in the Committee. The display was terrific. I support this amendment with, at this stage, a small caveat over Orkney and Shetland, because I want to reserve my position regarding the amendment that will be moved at some point this evening. However, coming from Scotland, I think that the case for Argyll and Bute has certainly been made.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde)
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My Lords, what a fascinating debate we have had on these amendments—rather more interesting than I was expecting. It went around the House and people spoke from their different experience and knowledge. I was particularly pleased to get the support of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, which is always welcome.

Lord Crickhowell Portrait Lord Crickhowell
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It is not that rare.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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It is not that rare, but very occasionally—about once every 10 years—my noble friend is vociferous in his opposition. It is very nice to see him being so supportive today. I was also pleased to have the support of my noble friends Lord Roberts and Lady O’Cathain.

To me, this debate demonstrated the width and depth of the gulf that exists between what the Government are trying to achieve and the position of noble Lords opposite. At the heart of what we want is equality across the country of the number of constituencies. To me, that is entirely logical: 600 seats—we do not need to debate again why 600—divided by the number of the electorate to get a figure, plus or minus 5 per cent. That is what we are trying to do.

Lord Myners Portrait Lord Myners
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Surely the noble Lord is aware that this is not about equality of the number of constituencies; it is about equality of the size of constituencies. Is the noble Lord not familiar with his own legislation?

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Myners. That is precisely what I mean.

Noble Lords opposite say that equality of the size of constituencies is not important; they say that something else is important. The Bill, of course, provides for some of the other things that are important. They talked about community links and they talked about counties, as if counties were the same thing as constituencies. I totally dispute that. I live in Ayrshire. Ayrshire is, in fact, not a county. Everybody recognises it as a county, but it is not, as it has been divided in two. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, used to represent part of it. However, I do not say, and nobody says, “I come from Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley”, or whatever the constituency is called. I say, “I come from Ayrshire”. I have no emotional link with the constituency at all.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I want the noble Lord to respond to this—I am looking forward to it. Not only do I live in a Westminster constituency, but I live in a Scottish parliamentary constituency, which is called something else that I cannot remember. It simply does not matter what constituency I live in. It is of no interest to me at all.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I will give way to the noble Lord in a moment. I know that some noble Lords opposite have represented part of the country for years and feel a strong emotional bond to that area. I understand that. What I do not understand is the belief that most of the people of this country identify the area that they live in by the constituencies in which they live. They do not.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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May I gently correct the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde? There are in fact three parts of Ayrshire—East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and North Ayrshire—but there was a vigorous campaign to keep Ayrshire whole, as one county. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will remember it well, because it was his Government, bringing in local government reform, who insisted that Ayrshire should be divided in three, against all the wishes of local people. They were gerrymandering Ayrshire to keep South Ayrshire as one unit, because they thought that the Tories would take control of South Ayrshire. That was the purpose behind it and that is the kind of gerrymandering that, unfortunately, we are seeing again in the Bill.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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That exactly proves my point. The people of Ayrshire did not really care very much which constituency they were living in. To them, it is Ayrshire, whether or not there are different boundaries for different parts of it.

Noble Lords opposite will remember that in 2008 there was a by-election in a place called Crewe and Nantwich. I spent quite a lot of time in Crewe—the Conservative Party thought that I would be better in Crewe than in Nantwich, although I never quite understood why. They were two very different parts of the constituency. The Member of Parliament had no trouble representing both parts, even though they were very different. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, wants to jump up again.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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I thank the noble Lord. I have been sitting quietly through the whole debate. At the most recent reorganisation of Westminster parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, there was an initial suggestion, supported by my noble friend Lord Reid when he was a Lanarkshire MP, to put part of Ayrshire into a constituency with Lanarkshire. All the Ayrshire constituencies, including the Ayrshire Conservatives, fought to keep Ayrshire with five constituencies. We won. Where did we win? At the hearing that was held to hear the views of local people from Ayrshire, including the Ayrshire Conservatives, of which the noble Lord is one.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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Again, this rather proves my point. It is politicians who want to fix all these constituencies in a particular way, not people. They do not mind. That is my fundamental point: people do not identify themselves by the constituencies in which they live.

I was born in the constituency of Hillhead in Glasgow, which was represented by my father. People from Hillhead do not say that they come from Hillhead; they say that they come from Glasgow. That makes sense, as there is no such identity. People do not say that they come from Westminster North; they say that they come from London, or from central London. That is the point.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Portrait Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
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I have a simple question for the noble Lord the Leader of the House: has he ever attended a public boundary inquiry? He is making the assertion that local people do not get involved. That is not my experience or that of many other noble Lords.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I can deal with that very quickly, my Lords: no. We will come to discussing the appeals process later on in the Bill. Philosophically—

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I apologise for interrupting my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is important to say that nowhere in the amendment are we delineating an actual constituency. That is the point. It specifically does not delineate an individual constituency. I agree with my noble friend that constituencies change around, as they have in Cornwall, from Truro and St Austell to Truro and Falmouth. That is not an issue; the issue is the wider, broader community that people actually identify with, but that is not the constituency. I wanted to make that clear and I apologise again for interrupting.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I am happy to be interrupted on that. I understand my noble friend’s point plainly. The point that he and others have made is that an MP cannot represent well a constituency that crosses county boundaries, but my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Scotland Office represents a seat in the south of Scotland that crosses, I think, three local authority boundaries, and he does it rather well. The fact that the seat crosses several such boundaries makes no difference to his ability to represent it, so I do not accept the argument that my noble friend makes. I do not take away from him and other noble Lords the passion with which they make their argument. I just think, and this is the Government’s point, that it is a better and safer principle to stick to an equality of numbers of electors in constituencies across the country than to try to make these arguments.

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle
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I think that the noble Lord is slightly misrepresenting the point that we are trying to make. There is no attachment here to lines on maps that mark county boundaries that cannot be crossed. We are talking about the fact that these lines on maps represent real communities, which in some cases are very geographically isolated communities, and it is impossible to draw constituency boundaries that would maintain that essential sense of community. We are asking for the flexibility to take that sense of community into account, not local government boundaries.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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That is exactly what noble Lords opposite are saying. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said that crossing county boundaries destroys local identity built up in Cumbria. He said a couple of times that it would export voters into other constituencies. I just do not understand what that means or why it should be important.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I have heard the noble Lord. The parliamentary constituencies do not create or destroy historic identities; it is simply wrong to suggest that they do. I know the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is trying to trick me by moving from that place to another but I spotted that.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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I certainly would not want to trick the noble Lord the Leader of the House. When I represented a seat in the other place, my constituency crossed four local authority boundaries. I am not for a second suggesting that Members of Parliament would not do their best if they represented across significant community boundaries. However, I put this scenario briefly to the Minister. When the previous Labour Government came to office, one of the things that they did for Cornwall was to ensure that the European Union considered Cornwall as a region in its own right, so that it became eligible for Objective 1 status. If a Member of Parliament had represented a seat that straddled Cornwall and Devon—the European Union previously looked at Devon and Cornwall together—he would have been in a very difficult position. The Cornish people would have been passionate about the need for him to represent Cornwall, and the Devon people on the other side of his patch might have had a very different view. We should not put Members of the other place through that difficulty.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I am sure Members of Parliament are able to deal with such clashes. I know the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will get up again. Am I right in thinking that the North Ayrshire constituency includes the Isle of Arran? It is part of the Highlands and Islands development area, which has Objective 1 status. However, North Ayrshire certainly does not have Objective 1 status.

Lord Maxton Portrait Lord Maxton
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I know the Isle of Arran quite well. I look across to Argyll from my house on the Isle of Arran. It would be easy, given the hard logic that the Minister wishes to follow, to look at the map and say that the Isle of Arran ought to be part of the Argyll and Bute constituency. There are 3,500 electors on the island. It would be easy to say, “If you look at the map, there is a shorter sea journey between Argyll and Arran than between the mainland and Arran”. You would say, “Why not?”. However, there is no direct, regular sea connection between Arran and Argyll and Bute. Let us be clear: if you apply the noble Lord’s hard logic, Arran might well become part of Argyll and Bute, but it would have nothing to do with the constituency itself.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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My example answered the question of the noble Lord, Lord Knight. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, raises a perfectly valid point but it is not for us to decide where the constituency will be drawn. It will be the Boundary Commission that takes into account all the criteria that it has.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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This comes back to the Boundary Commission, which some of us do not trust to take the right decisions. Tony Cunningham, my successor in my former constituency, asked the Boundary Commission why it had put Keswick into the Copeland constituency—the nuclear industry-based constituency. He was told that it was because Keswick and Whitehaven are strongly linked. That was a myth. I have lived in Keswick for most of my life. There is no connection whatever to Whitehaven, yet the Boundary Commission took that decision. How can we trust people to understand what real links exist unless we have those local inquiries that we are all arguing for?

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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The noble Lord’s words spoke for themselves when he said, “I don’t trust the Boundary Commission to come up with the right answer”. Most of us do trust, and want to trust, the Boundary Commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said in his main speech that we must beware of destroying political balance in Cumbria, but the Boundary Commission is deliberately blind to such questions. That should continue to be the case. It is not the Boundary Commission’s responsibility to create marginality or safe seats. It has to look at the criteria laid out in the legislation and come to its own conclusions. It is for all those reasons that we fundamentally disagree with the amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, mentioned Cumbria. There are geographical circumstances in Cumbria that the Boundary Commission would want to take into account. However, the whole of Cumbria would fit into Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, let alone the largest existing constituency. Although the noble Lord put the case for Cumbria eloquently, it does not compare. What about Workington, which has an electorate of 59,000? The Bill allows geography to be considered within the 10 per cent range allowed between the smallest and largest constituencies. Is it really fair—this is the point that Bill is trying to deal with—that three electors in Workington have the same say as four in, for instance, East Ham? I do not think so. That is what the Bill is trying to correct.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Portrait Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
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My Lords, there could be complete agreement around the House if the noble Lord were to concede that the people who live in these areas may have much stronger views than his about his home and allegiance. After all, the noble Lord does not have a vote in a parliamentary constituency. Therefore, he is perhaps less interested. However, the problem does not relate to whether or not we are making a case that can convince the noble Lord. Has he investigated how often the original proposals put forward by the Boundary Commission have been changed as a result of public inquiries during the process? Therein lies the rub. The fact is that the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, are taking unto themselves decisions which we believe should be put back to the local people. The Boundary Commission listens. The noble Lord is not listening.

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Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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That is not what we are trying to do. We are saying that there should be a certain number of constituencies, there is a variance of 10 per cent between the smallest and the largest, there is a Boundary Commission, and there will be an appeals process. I know it is not an appeals process that the noble Baroness likes, but people’s views will be heard and taken into account.

I always like to be positive when replying to noble Lords, but it is hard to find a way to be positive on all this. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy made a point about Ynys Môn extremely well. I would have said the same thing about the bridges. It is a different kind of island from those in Orkney and the Western Isles. I hope that noble Lords opposite feel that I have tried to do justice on this Bill. Of all parts of the country, I think there is a genuine feeling in Cornwall. There is a unified view from the four MPs. However, we reject the argument made in Cornwall because we want clarity and similarity to stretch right across the country. Cornwall has many links and communities of interest which stretch across the Cornish border. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Myners, will agree that a large number of Cornish residents work in Plymouth in Devon. Therefore, there is a transfer of people on a daily basis which crosses local authority and county borders, and I do not see why that should not work in Westminster representation.

Baroness Corston Portrait Baroness Corston
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Is the Leader of the House aware that if one wants to upset someone in Cornwall, one should suggest that they have an affinity with Plymouth, or with Devon in general?

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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I assure the noble Baroness that I am not trying to upset anyone, either in Cornwall or in Devon. I am trying to make the case for a fairer system of distributing the number of electors across the country. That is what the Bill provides.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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I keep going on about the question of marginality, although I do not see it in a political context, as the noble Lord does. Does he think that the review that will be carried out under the new law if the Bill goes through will be successful if its effect is to create far more safe seats nationally? Would he regard that as a successful conclusion after the next general election?

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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My Lords, there is no evidence to suggest that that would be the likely result. The review might result in more marginal constituencies: I have not the faintest idea. The people who decide whether a seat is safe or marginal are the electors in that constituency, not the Boundary Commission.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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My Lords, I will reply and then the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will reply. That was a debate from a golden age in the House of Lords. It had three particular characteristics. We focused on the issue, we heard brilliant speeches from all sides of the House and we had a fabulously attractive speech from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in which he pretended that the argument was about one thing and answered that.

I will speak first about individual places. The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts, made powerful speeches about why Anglesey should not be treated separately because of its relationship with Bangor. My noble friend Lord Touhig made an equally powerful speech about why it should be treated separately. It is inevitable in the light of the way that the Bill was drafted that this is what must be done. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, stated that we say that there should be other factors and Government say that the issue is numbers. I am afraid that that is not what the debate on this amendment is about. The Government have accepted that there should be exceptions. We accept the principle of equality. There should be a small number of exceptions: the question is what they should be. Because there is no independent process to decide this, it must be done in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, managed with the Isle of Wight, and in the way that has been done tonight. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and in admiration for the attractive way in which he can distract us from the real point, the question is: what should the exceptions be?

The powerful speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Crickhowell, show that we need to think about whether Anglesey should be an exception. In relation to Cornwall, I hope that I will not make the same mistake as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, by saying, “This is what I think the people of Cornwall want”. We must listen to what they have to say. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, rightly placed her finger on the point; we are seeking to determine the way in which we elect people to a national forum. However, that does not answer the question about how we select the units within which they will select those national representatives. I am very conscious of that, having spoken to people from Cornwall and having heard what they said to me. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was good enough to acknowledge, Cornwall appears united on the issue. If I was allowed to refer to the Public Gallery, which I am not—I am conscious of the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is not here—I would imagine that any elected representatives there would have nodded vigorously when I said that the people of Cornwall were united in this respect. I am conscious of the fact that there is strong feeling on this issue.

The amendment has given us the opportunity to consider a range of possible exceptions. There is agreement in this House on three of the exceptions: the two Scottish island constituencies and the Isle of Wight. There is a division of view about the Isle of Anglesey. There has been broad support for Argyll and Bute, but we have not had a detailed debate on it, nor in relation to the Highland Council. The striking thing about this debate has been the position of Cornwall, which everyone has acknowledged. We cannot vote on this compendious amendment because it covers too many constituencies and there are different views in relation to it. However, it is perfectly obvious that we will have to revisit the issue of Cornwall.

On the question of Cumbria, I do not necessarily agree with my noble friend Lord Liddle that it was not included in our amendment simply because he did not get to me in time, although, having heard what he and my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said, one can see that there is a case for Cumbria. I say with respect and tentatively that it does not appear to have the same universal support as Cornwall.

We note very carefully what has been said in the course of what has been a very good debate, and we will obviously come back at Report with what may be a more honed amendment.

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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Portrait Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
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The noble Lord anticipates my next point. The Benches opposite have the temerity to complain when we try to examine the detail in this Bill. That shows an arrogance that none of the participants in the convention, including the party of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and my own, showed on this kind of issue.

That brings me to a second lesson for the Government, if I may give it to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. The first was about wider consultation. The second is about objecting to how the Bill is scrutinised. The Scotland Bill, which was a well defined, self-contained and constitutionally important Bill, came from a White Paper arising from almost 10 years of the widest possible consideration by the convention. It was dealt with in this House by two days on Second Reading, which is very unusual, 10 days in Committee and four days on Report. All 10 days in Committee went on after 10.30 pm, five of them until after midnight. The four days on Report all went on after 10.30 pm.

I was one of the three government Ministers who took the Scotland Bill through the House and I remember this very well. On the Conservative opposition Bench were the very much missed Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, known affectionately some of the time as the Mackay twins. What a difference there was in the way in which we negotiated and behaved towards one another from what we see now. As the Government, we did not accuse or complain about the many amendments and the long hours that the Opposition originated or about the mantra—

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Portrait Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
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Just let me finish the sentence. The mantra that we kept hearing repeated, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will remember, was that, although the Conservative Party had campaigned for a no vote in the referendum on a Scottish Parliament, it accepted the decision of the Scottish people and all the many amendments were, as it said, only “to make it a better Bill”.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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Will the noble Baroness remind us how many clauses were in the Bill when it came to the House?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Portrait Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
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There were many clauses, but it was one Bill—one self-contained, sharply focused Bill on the Scottish Parliament, quite different from the hybrid Bill that we have in front of us.

I am not claiming that there was some kind of golden age in 1998 when we were in government and the Scotland Bill was being debated. Of course we got tired and we got angry with one another sometimes. However, we kept our cool and even accommodated in the timetabling of the Bill the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish’s love of salmon fishing by allowing dates when he could do that.

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Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach
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My Lords, I will be brief. I agree very much with a great deal that was said by my noble friend in moving his amendment. The trouble is that we cannot support the amendment, although we think that he talked a great deal of sense about matters of important principle that have been raised before in Committee, which I am sure the Government have taken on board.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Ramsay for her contribution. The Leader of the House asked how many clauses were in the Scotland Bill. Perhaps he could remind us how many printed pages were in the Bill. I remind him that this Bill is now 301 pages long, many of them having been added during the last knockings in another place, and there will no doubt be a few more government amendments in this place, too.

On the amendment and why we on the Front Bench cannot support it, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said in the last debate that we supported the fact that Orkney and Shetland was to be a preserved constituency. The effect of my noble friend’s amendment would be to instruct the Boundary Commission in Scotland to treat Orkney and Shetland in exactly the same way as the rest of the country. The electoral quota would be applied to Orkney and Shetland. With an electorate of 37,000, Orkney and Shetland would have to be joined up with the mainland to form a constituency to meet the size of the electoral quota.

We have argued that there are cases in which special geographical and local features of an area require the Boundary Commission to think differently about how it will redraw constituencies. Island communities including the Isle of Wight, on which there was a strong view on all sides of the Committee, Anglesey, which has already been debated tonight, and Argyll and Bute, about which there is strong feeling across the House that it is not being fairly dealt with, merit such an approach. We on the Front Bench believe that Orkney and Shetland should obviously fall into this category. After all, the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 first preserved the status of that seat. I am afraid that we cannot support my noble friend in his amendment.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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My Lords, nobody has risen to support the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, but I would not think of suggesting a degree of mischief in his moving the amendment. I said to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness that he was far too expert on the subject of this great constituency to respond to this and that I would gladly do it for him.

To reply to one small part of my exchange with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, there are only 18 clauses in the Bill. It is so long because the schedules are included in it, which would otherwise form part of secondary legislation. There is no need to remake that point; it explains the thickness of the Bill.

I think that noble Lords now understand what the amendment would do. It would remove the exemption from Orkney. We have in this Bill provided two named exemptions to the parity rule, for Orkney and Shetland and for the Western Isles, Na h-Eileanan an Iar—that is said in an Ayrshire accent, to help Hansard.

We believe that it is very important for electors that their vote has the same weight wherever they are in the United Kingdom. The noble Lord has been urging us through the debate to break down the parity. In the amendment, he is saying that we should be even more vigorous on the parity, but we have created the two exceptions named in the Bill because they are dispersed island groups that are not already included in a constituency that covers part of the mainland.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick Portrait Lord Lamont of Lerwick
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I urge my noble friend to tread gingerly on this issue for two reasons. First, he will remember that North Sea oil is British because of the Shetland Islands, which form the median line between Norway and Britain. As he will remember, the Shetland Islands, along with the Orkney Islands, are only on loan to this country—as a result of the wedding of the Maid of Norway to, I think, James IV of Scotland—so they could be repaid at any time. Will he please bear that in mind? Secondly, when it comes to distance, will he remember that, if any constituency has a case it must be Shetland, because the nearest railway station is not Aberdeen but Bergen?

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It says so much about the House of Lords that I thought that my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness was the only Orkney and Shetland expert here, but there speaks my noble friend Lord Lamont, who has real personal knowledge of Orkney and has very helpfully contributed that information. I agree with what he said.

If my noble and learned friend had been here, he would have reminded us of the practicalities involved in getting between Orkney and London. The Government are not thinking here about the travel convenience of Members of Parliament; rather, we believe that it would not be practicable for constituents to have a Member of Parliament whose base is a 12-hour ferry ride away, as would be the case if Shetland was required to be combined with the mainland.

I am pretty convinced that the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, knows and understands these arguments. I hope that he feels that he has had a fair hearing and that he will withdraw the amendment.

Lord McAvoy Portrait Lord McAvoy
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My Lords, I do not know about a fair hearing, because some mean-spirited attitudes have been shown on the Liberal Benches—not from the noble Lord. I of course accept the practical difficulties of Orkney and Shetland. I have made it plain that the amendment was a device—I make no apology for that because it was a quite proper device—to enable me to hear from a Liberal why a Liberal area should get preferential treatment over the Isle of Bute. I was robbed of that pleasure and had to listen to the noble Lord.

I laid out a number of issues where I thought that movement could be made without anything being sacrificed and I made a genuine attempt to inject into the debate an atmosphere of agreement. I was near enough mugged by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, who said that I was mischief-making. That does not augur well for future negotiations and attempts to get this Bill through with some improvements. This Bill can be improved. I hope that, as people go away from here and take off their political party war helmets, they will perhaps realise that there are the bones of something in the amendment. I hope that Cross-Benchers and other Members who do not have closed minds will find the suggestions that I have put forward worthy of consideration. This is not all about obstruction and defeating this Bill; it is about trying to improve it. I have put forward some ideas which I hope will take seed somewhere. On the basis that I certainly accept that Orkney and Shetland should be a separate constituency, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord McAvoy Portrait Lord McAvoy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will speak very briefly on this amendment because I have spoken quite a few times about the Rutherglen area. There are two amendments in this group. One proposes that the three present constituencies contained within South Lanarkshire should be the three constituencies there. There would be a small addition in the sense that the southernmost part of South Lanarkshire council area is in another constituency. The three constituencies—East Kilbride, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and Lanark and Hamilton East—all have around 76,000 to 77,000 electors. That is near enough the quota that we are talking about. I was prepared to make a number of points, but I have already made the point about that.

I will speak only for two or three minutes on this issue and say why we fear this boundary redistribution. If the boundary redistribution starts at the border with England, according to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, there will be seven fewer seats in Scotland. That is a worry for us. However, a bigger worry for those in the Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway area is that if the boundary redistribution starts at the border with England and moves north, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, clearly said, they are heading for a situation where local communities do not matter. They will simply be blocks on a map. A few people have done an exercise for me—I have done it myself—by just moving blocks of 75,000 on a map, coming from the south of Scotland. It can go east or west. However, the danger for us in my local area is that a block of 75,000 stops at Cambuslang and Halfway. As for the next 75,000, the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen will almost certainly get put into a Glasgow parliamentary seat.

We have been a royal burgh since the year 1126 when King David I gave us a royal charter, renewed by Robert the Bruce; and we have the Robert the Bruce renewal charter in which he refers to his great-grandfather, King David I. We have had that tradition since 1126. I have already made reference to this, so I will mention it briefly. In 1973-74, the Heath Government put the towns of Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway into Glasgow District. In 1994-95, we achieved success in getting back out of Glasgow and back into Lanarkshire. That is not hostility to Glasgow or to the people of Glasgow; there is no big barrier of the River Tyne or the River Tees. However, we believe in a smaller community and we believe that we have something special in Rutherglen. We have recovered and renewed our community roots since the advent of South Lanarkshire council and the formation of a parliamentary constituency that is entirely within Lanarkshire and nothing to do with Glasgow. This is a dagger in our heart, moving us back into a Glasgow parliamentary constituency, with ramifications, at a later stage, for any local government reformation, redistribution and formation of new boundaries. The push would then be for the town of Rutherglen to stay within the Glasgow local authority. That is a big, big issue in our local community.

There are the local Liberal Democrats. I know that I must seem obsessed about the Liberals, and I probably am, but too many Focus leaflets are pushed through the door, although they have dried up recently. We have a local Liberal Democrat party and a local Liberal Democrat personality that campaign with the slogan “Rutherglen for Rutherglonians”. Now we have a Liberal Democrat coalition with the Conservatives, which is a danger to Rutherglen. I am trying to expose the danger to my community of that redistribution. I hope that the Liberal influence there, that is supposed to support a separate Rutherglen, will end up supporting us in that fight. It is a very limited amendment. I do not see us spending much time on it, and I have cut it down a lot because I have spoken about it previously. I beg to move.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 83 would guarantee that there will always be three constituencies in the South Lanarkshire council area, irrespective of whether they respect the 5 per cent above or below the electoral parity rule. Amendment 84A requires a specific number of named areas to be included, including a constituency called Rutherglen and Hamilton West, which is the name of the constituency that the noble Lord had the privilege to represent over a number of years. These named areas are already contained in the South Lanarkshire council area and, if read together, Amendment 84A appears to be a more detailed requirement to specify that at least one of the constituencies of the three referred to in Amendment 83 should be called Rutherglen and Hamilton West, preserving that constituency as it currently stands—or one very similar to it.

I heard the noble Lord speak about this and have heard him speak about it on other occasions. I know Rutherglen and I know the pride that exists in it. There has always been that tension over whether it was part of Glasgow or not. But as the Committee is aware, the principle of the Bill is one of fairness, so that a vote across one part of the United Kingdom has one value. For something as important as one’s right to choose the Government of the day, I believe that equality and fairness are key principles. The two named exceptions to the principle in the Bill are there for a very clear and tightly defined set of reasons. Both have small populations and a very dispersed geography. Even with the wildest imagination, one could not say that South Lanarkshire fits into the pattern of being very remote and having a much dispersed geography. That is why distinctions are made there and not in the case of South Lanarkshire.

I have heard on more than one occasion in this Committee the noble Lord regret the fact, to put it mildly, that Hamilton, which itself has a long history, has been a divided place with regard to Boundary Commissions. At the moment it is divided east and west, but I recall an earlier boundary change that made Hamilton North and Bellshill and Hamilton South. It has been divided in other ways, too. Who knows—it is not for this House to be prescriptive of the Boundary Commission—it may even be that Hamilton comes together again as a result of these proposals. I am sure that would be greatly to the noble Lord’s satisfaction.

We are confident that in South Lanarkshire it will be possible for the Boundary Commission for Scotland to draw new boundaries, which will allow equality of votes among the constituencies within 5 per cent either side of the electoral quota and, at the same time, fit together logically and meaningfully for the electors in that area. This amendment would tie the commission’s hands unreasonably and, perhaps—almost inevitably—force it to produce a less coherent set of boundaries than otherwise would be the case. While I understand the motivation behind it, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord McAvoy Portrait Lord McAvoy
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I have heard what the Minister said. It is not just about remoteness. I understand totally that remoteness is a criterion that can apply to other areas, but I have not mentioned remoteness because it does not apply here. It is community that I am arguing for in respect of my former constituency, because the community is such that after the damage done 30 years ago we have only begun to get it together again in the past five, 10 or 15 years. We are getting it back to the old Rutherglen, and we would be damaged if we got put in with Glasgow again. It was not on remoteness that I was arguing the case; it is about community. The Minister refers to the straitjacket into which the Boundary Commission would be put. There is no guarantee about any Boundary Commission, but it lessens our chances, because the whole essence of the Bill seems to be about blocks of 75,000 or 76,000, and that is a danger to us. It would have been remiss of me not to make the case for Rutherglen in this situation, and I had no hesitation in doing that. However, above all else I am a realist. I shall not push this to a vote and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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My Lords, we have had a tour around Britain right around the House since supper. Every place we have stopped at has been absolutely fantastic on the basis of the speeches that have been made, but Cornwall should be very proud of my noble friend Lord Myners, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who is not in his place for reasons I cannot understand, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who is also not in his place. They make not just a strong case for Cornwall, but a case that obviously catches the mood of the House.

There is an issue about precisely how the problem is to be dealt with. The first amendment that we are either debating or not debating at the moment states:

“Parliamentary constituencies shall not cross the county border of Cornwall”.

That amendment was not moved by my noble friend Lord Kennedy. My noble friend Lord Berkeley did not move his amendment, but it states that:

“No constituency shall include parts of both the counties of Devon and Cornwall”.

My noble friend Lord Myners has moved his amendment which states:

“There shall remain the current number of constituencies in Cornwall, and these constituencies shall be entirely within the county of Cornwall”.

The amendment that has least favour technically is the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Myners. The one that plainly has universal support is the amendment that states that no constituency should cross the boundary between Cornwall and Devon.

It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, who made an effective and forceful speech, made the point that was made in our earlier tour of Britain, which I know the noble Lord is sorry he missed. It is that communities are what matter in relation to this. There are two ways to give effect to “Thou shalt not cross the boundary between Devon and Cornwall”: either by a 10 per cent margin, which studies suggest would mean that the Devon/Cornwall boundary would not be crossed, or by making Cornwall an exception to the rule about county boundaries. I sense that the House wants to do something about Cornwall, and we need to consider between now and Report what is the best way to deal with that problem.

I specifically pay tribute to the contribution made by my noble friend Lord McAvoy in these debates. He has spoken with just as much elegance and eloquence as everybody else in relation to his community. He has made a substantial contribution to this debate and will make very substantial contributions to debates to come.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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My Lords, I am conscious that some hours ago I replied to a debate in which the issue was not crossing the rivers Tyne, Thames and Mersey, but I rather suspect that the Tamar is slightly wider in symbolic terms than those rivers. When I entered another place in 1983, my knowledge of things Cornish was not extensive. An acquaintanceship, I like to think also a friendship, with the late David Penhaligon soon put an end to that. He made very clear what the essence of being a Cornishman was. On numerous subsequent occasions I was able to visit Cornwall and I certainly recognise the passion with which noble Lords have expressed their affinity with Cornwall and the arguments they have presented today.

It is obvious—the case has been made for some time—that this part of the Bill seeks to address the significant differences in size between many parliamentary constituencies. Those differences make the effect of votes in some parts of the country more effective than others depending on where people live. We seek to address that with a parity rule which requires constituencies to be within 5 per cent of the United Kingdom electoral quota. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said that the matter under discussion on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Myners, could be addressed by a 10 per cent flexibility. While that would be a better bet, there is no guarantee that it would not result in one constituency crossing the Tamar.

The issue of what the exceptions should be has been well debated, both in previous sessions of the Committee and today, and the Government have made it clear that extreme geographical circumstances can make it necessary to do so, specifically with regard to Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles—remote islands and communities which are not readily accessible for inclusion with a mainland constituency—and the House voted last week on the Isle of Wight. Aside from these specific exceptions, the Government do not feel that other features should detract from the fundamental principle of equality between constituencies and votes.

As I have indicated, I am well aware of the depth of feeling on the subject of the Cornish boundary. I have received numerous e-mails and letters on the subject and representations from my honourable friends, Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert and Dan Rogerson. I am under no illusions as to the strength of feeling and I recognise that Cornwall has a proud and unique history.

It was significant that my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Taylor of Goss Moor said that they may be prepared to accept underrepresentation, but the two amendments which might have provided for that were not moved. We have before the House today an amendment which does the opposite and would lead to overrepresentation. That would be a much more difficult position from which to make exceptions and it does not carry the same kind of moral force as the point argued by my noble friends.

The Government do not agree that an MP would not be capable of representing people effectively in both Cornwall and Devon at the same time. It was not fair to say, as was said in an earlier debate, that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde had been dismissive of Cornwall’s opinion because he made the factual statement that some people living in Cornwall work in Plymouth. That point was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Myners, when he moved the amendment. It is of course the case—although it may not be instinctively what people think—that there is some community of interest between people living in one county and working in the other. I do not believe that a Member of Parliament could not represent a constituency effectively, wherever his constituents lived within Devon or Cornwall.

Several constituencies have widely varying cultural factors. I recognise the strength of the arguments but, given the parity that the Government seek and that exceptions should be limited to where there are extreme geographical considerations, it is not possible to accept the amendment. I therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Myners, to withdraw it.

Lord Myners Portrait Lord Myners
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My Lords, I have now recovered my composure after the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, criticised my service as a Minister. I have done so with the support of some informed comments from my noble friends Lady Corston and Lord Howarth of Newport. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, although he has reminded me of the “Scillonian”, on which my wife, family and I used regularly to travel to the Isles of Scilly on holiday. My wife will no longer go on the “Scillonian”. It is a boat with a very shallow draft, which makes for a wobbly crossing, to put it mildly. She now insists on us flying, although my son and I would prefer to go by boat. I do not know whether we will be going next year because this year when we were on holiday in Tresco she was attacked by a lady in an electric golf cart—on an island that should not have any motorised transport at all other than that owned by the ruling family of Tresco.

The people of Cornwall will be listening carefully to this debate. They will have heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, speaking on behalf of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord was kind enough to his own colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches in the other place to list them by name, although I noticed that he had to look at his notes to remember the names of the three Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament for Cornwall. The people of Cornwall will have heard him say, “I’ve listened to your representations but I’m ignoring them. They simply don’t carry weight. Our rigid adherence to an arithmetic formula will disregard any issues around local community, local culture and local identity”. I found that to be a matter of deep regret.

It is also a matter of deep regret that there was not a single contribution from the Conservative Benches, even though three of the seats in Cornwall are held by Conservative Members of Parliament. When this issue was debated in the other place, Cornish MPs were somnolent. They barely participated and did not vote against the proposal that Cornwall should not be treated separately and given appropriate recognition for its culture.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, made an interesting observation. I do not stand here to make the case for my amendment and to listen only to my own voice; I listen to the contributions of other noble Lords on this amendment and others. A recurrent feature is the 5 per cent tolerance figure in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, got his maths wrong. It is not 10 per cent on 95 per cent; in fact, it is about 11 per cent on 95 per cent. However, as he got his numbers wrong on other matters, we can put that to one side. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, is a welcome addition to the House and he made an interesting point about the mathematics.

That leads one to say that Cornwall at the moment appears to be eligible for five and a half seats in the other place. We have heard arguments about whether Cornwall should have five or six seats. Perhaps my amendment is deficient in specifying six, because I readily acknowledge that many of the people in Cornwall who express an opinion on this—I fully appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked how we would test this and prove it to a high degree of competence—say that they would rather have seats that fell within the boundaries of Cornwall even if that meant having fewer seats.

The tolerance level at 5 per cent narrows the opportunity for qualitative judgment on this matter. I would be inclined to continue to support the view that Cornwall should have six seats. I do that because of its great geographical isolation and the enormous distances that our Members of Parliament have to travel to return to their constituencies. It is possible that I am alone in seeing this, but it seems that the closer you are to Parliament, the less your constituents want to see you on a regular basis. If you are a Member of Parliament for Cornwall, your constituents expect to see you every weekend. They expect to see you all the time that Parliament is not sitting. That is a factor that we should take into account. It has been argued in respect of Scottish constituencies and the argument applies similarly to Cornwall.

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Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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My Lords, I am tempted to say that perhaps the prime reason why the Government’s scheme is better is one of simplicity. With the two exceptions given in the Bill, we would divide the United Kingdom electorate by 598 to give us the electoral quota with a 5 per cent variation either way. However, I recognise that considerable work has gone into producing the noble and learned Lord’s alternative method of allocating constituencies to the nations of the United Kingdom.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental differences, and it is at the heart of the amendment, is that, whereas the Government’s proposal is for a Parliament of 600 Members in the House of Commons, the alternative scheme would seek to retain the present size of the House of Commons, since 650 would be used as a baseline for future reviews. I do not intend to open up all the arguments that we had at some hours of the morning last week on 650 versus 600.

The Government’s clear view is that there is a case for making a reduction in size. We have articulated it and had debates about it. Our proposal is simply to end the upward pressure on the number of Members of Parliament, which has seen an increase in every successive boundary review since 1950, with the exception of that which came immediately after Scottish devolution. However, in making that proposal, we have been mindful to reflect an existing range of experience. Six hundred gives a quota of around 76,000, which, if my memory serves me correctly from earlier debates, is within the 5 per cent-either-way range of a third of the constituencies in the other place. It also seeks to ensure that the reduction in number of seats is not wholly disruptive.

The amendment would limit any change in the number of seats in each nation to 10 per cent of the existing number. If the intention is therefore to allow a phased reduction—I think that that was the point which the noble and learned Lord was making, not least in respect of Wales—I ask the Committee to bear in mind that the secretary to the Boundary Commission for Scotland made it clear in evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee that there would be no advantage in doing that. He said that it would be better instead to reduce the number of seats in one go so that disruption was reduced in the longer run, rather than have successive disruptive boundary reviews. The Government agree with that.

Has the noble and learned Lord done any modelling on the 650-seat base, given the absence of a size limit on the House in his amendment and given that the Sainte-Lague formula could continue allocating seats? His amendment says 10 per cent more or 10 per cent less, so it could work in a way that the number of seats reached the absolute limit of 10 per cent above each nation’s current allocation and we could end up with a House of 715, which would be 10 per cent more than 650. I fully understand what the noble and learned Lord said about a phasing-down, but his amendment would allow also for the total to go up by 10 per cent. I suspect that that is not the intention of his amendment, but is he able to reassure us that that would not be the effect? I think that there is enough doubt and complexity in the amendment for me to invite him to withdraw it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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Naturally I am disappointed by the response to my scheme. I am not sure what the answer is to the question of whether it can go up to 715, but that is only because of my mathematical inadequacy, not because the scheme is necessarily flawed in any way. However, I will consult my advisers closely on whether that very unlikely possibility could occur.

If I may, I will deal with the bit that is easier to deal with: phasing. With no disrespect to the boundary commissioners, it is perhaps not surprising that the people tasked with drawing the boundaries would say that it is much easier to get there in one go than in a series of phased goes. You would not expect the boundary commissioners to judge, or attempt to judge, the effect on the constitutional glue that holds our country together, because their job in effect is to apply particular rules that are obviously easier to apply if there is no phasing. Without in any way disrespecting the view that they express about the technical process, it is surely for Parliament to judge the effect of reducing the representation of one part of the United Kingdom by 25 per cent over a period of four years on the national glue that holds the country together.

Ultimately, I suspect that it is our view, not just the view that will prevail, which is constitutionally the position, that it is better to listen to than the Boundary Commission’s. I hear what the noble and learned Lord says about my maths, which may well be well judged. However, on the other more significant constitutional issue, I am not persuaded by a quote from the secretary of the Boundary Commission that that is the most authoritative voice on whether phasing is sensible. We will certainly come back to that second part on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Moved by
89BZA: Clause 11, page 11, line 22, at end insert—
“( ) Where the figure given by sub-paragraph (3) above is the same for two or more parts of the United Kingdom, the part to which a constituency is to be allocated shall be the one with the smaller or smallest actual electorate.”
Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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My Lords, Amendment 89BZA deals with the unlikely, but nevertheless mathematically possible, scenario in which the Sainte-Lague formula results in a tie in entitlement between two or more nations as to the final seat. In the Bill as drafted, there is no way of resolving such a tie, so it would be unclear as to which of the four nations of the United Kingdom would have the final seat. The amendment proposes, in these circumstances, that the final seat be allocated to the nation with the smaller or smallest electorate. Although both nations would have equal mathematical entitlement to the seat, I hope noble Lords will agree that, in these perhaps highly unlikely circumstances—nevertheless, we have to take account of all possibilities—it would be fairer for the nation with the smallest electorate to have it, given that the nation with the larger electorate will almost certainly have a larger number of constituencies across which the extra electors could be spread. On that basis, I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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I have just three questions. First, why will it apply only in the final seat? Why would it not be possible for there to be a tie on the way there? Secondly, when it says,

“smaller or smallest actual electorate”,

what is the difference between “smaller” or “smallest” actual electorate? Thirdly, does “smaller or smallest actual electorate” refer to the total electorate in that part of the United Kingdom, or to the electorate that is left? I am more than happy to repeat my questions if any of them are not clear. However, they are not alternative; they all have to be answered.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
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I hope I can answer them. My understanding of the amendment is that the tie would happen at the end with the last seat.

The noble and learned Lord asks me why it is the, “smaller or smallest … electorate”. It is a grammatical issue. My understanding is that it would be the actual electorate for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and not the balance. I think that that must be right—and I think it is because of the possibility of a tie. For the sake of argument, if it was between Scotland and Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland would have a smaller electorate than Scotland. If it was between Scotland and Wales, Wales would have the smaller electorate.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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That is very helpful. So you could have a situation in which England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all tie for smallest electorate. and you would give the last and therefore additional seat to Northern Ireland because it has the smallest of the populations or registered electorates of those three countries. What is the logic of giving it to the smallest?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness Portrait Lord Wallace of Tankerness
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The logic of giving it to the smallest is that there is a sense of fairness in that. Also, the larger country has more seats over which to spread the extra number of voters that would result from that; it would be much more difficult to spread them over the country with the smaller electorate.

Amendment 89BZA agreed.