|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Sanderson of Bowden: My Lords, when the Minister replies on this important issue, can he say whether the local government building blocks are in place for the parliamentary Boundary Commission to consider this matter expeditiously or otherwise?
Perhaps I may deal with the point about England and the English, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough. As someone who was born in Hackney and was brought up in Bradford in Yorkshire, I am quite happy to mention England and the English. It is just that I happened to have to go to Scotland to find employment at the time, which is the reverse of the normal case.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for narrowing down the area of debate and the area of difference between us. Perhaps I should not need to, but I think I must remind some noble Lords who contributed to the debate that the Government accept the case for reducing the representation of Scotland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. That seemed to be the main theme of some of the speeches in the debate. The point has been accepted by the Government and has found expression in the Bill. What we are dealing with is the speed at which the Boundary Commission should progress its next report.
Some noble Lords have been critical of the way the Boundary Commission goes about its work and about the outcome of the Boundary Commission's deliberations. I just wonder what would be the reaction of some noble Lords if the Boundary Commission, having done a rush job, came up with a conclusion which they did not like. I really wonder what the response of some Members of your Lordships' House would be if that circumstance came about.
Why are we adopting the timetable that we propose to adopt? It is basically as simple as this. The Boundary Commission needs a proper amount of time to do the job. I put it to noble Lords that because of the reduction in the number of seats in Scotland for the Parliament of the United Kingdom which will come about following the next review, that review is likely to be more difficult than previous reviews. The Boundary Commission must quite rightly provide opportunities for public hearings and must take evidence. I should have thought that people would very much wish to make representations to the Boundary Commission--I am sure that the political parties would wish to make representations to the Boundary Commission--considering that such a major change in the political geography of Scotland is envisaged. I do not think that ought to be done on the basis of, "Put the program in the computer and see what comes out". That is not satisfactory and would be rejected.
Under the present procedures a Boundary Commission review normally takes three to four years to complete. There are good reasons for that and I would not wish to bump the Boundary Commission into coming out with a half-considered or ill-considered set of proposals. But given the three to four-year period that is required, if the Boundary Commission started work tomorrow it could not produce a report in time for changes to be made and implemented before the next Westminster general election, which must be held by May 2002. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asked about the reason for delay. I do not think it is a delay, but I would rather get it right than get it done quickly.
The argument is simply that the amendment, which requires the Boundary Commission to report some 12 months after the first ordinary election, is impracticable. It is impossible to deliver with anything like the due consideration, thought, scrutiny and inquiry which the Boundary Commission properly brings to its task. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell me when it is envisaged that the next Boundary Commission will start its work and when it is envisaged that it will report? May we have an absolute guarantee that it will report for the new constituencies to be in place before the election after the next one?
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I shall reply to that question but, first, I may be able to deal with an earlier question which I answered with a "Don't know". I am told that the Local Government Boundary Commission is currently concluding its review of the Scottish local authority wards. That review and its conclusions will be available to the Parliamentary Boundary Commission in carrying out its next review. The answer is that it is not absolutely in place. If the Parliamentary Boundary Commission were to begin now those new building blocks would not be available to it, but by the time it came to consider the matter in normal course they would be. I believe that that is another powerful argument for sticking to the original timetable.
I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. The timetable is driven by the fact that the Boundary Commission should report not less than eight or more than 12 years from the date of its last report. The commission submitted its last report in December 1994 and its next mandatory report is due to be submitted between December 2002 and December 2006.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for their powerful and well-argued support. As for the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, he appeared to be singing from a totally different hymn sheet from that of most of his noble friends--certainly his Scottish ones. However valid his criticisms may be of how things worked in Scotland and Wales in the past, I am sure he agrees that two wrongs cannot possibly make a right.
The Government argue that the Boundary Commission will need much more time than the time provided by this amendment. However, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, with his great mathematical expertise, has argued convincingly that that need not be so. Perhaps I may again quote the words of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood:
I wonder whether the Government realise that there is a danger that cynical people will suspect that they are trying to postpone the reduction in the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster until after the next general election for reasons of party political advantage. I am surprised that New Labour wants to run such a risk to its good reputation. The Conservatives have supported this amendment and at Committee stage most of the Liberal Democrats were strongly in favour of the principle of a much more radical amendment. Therefore, I feel that I must test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.