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My noble friend Lord Lipsey has said that this is a probing amendment and described it as tentative in some respects. I am very keen to hear the Minister's answer to the amendment, particularly as Ministers have acknowledged the problem but, with respect, have not really come up with a solution. They have said, "It is just one of those things. We're doing some data matching pilots". I hope that there will be proposals to deal with the issue because, if there are not, in my respectful submission that undermines what has been said about the fairness which the Government seek to obtain.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is now in his place as, in answer to a question from me a long time ago, he gave the House an assurance that the Government would attempt to ensure that the problem that my noble friend Lord Lipsey has raised would be tackled. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, can now explain to the House how the Government have been tackling it and intend to tackle it.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I join the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, in expressing pleasure at the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. However, I am disappointed that, far from it being the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who is to reply to the amendment, and who could have explained how the Government will deliver on their assurance, it will be the noble Lord the Leader of the House.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I assure the Committee that I have no intention of allowing the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to steal my thunder on this amendment. I have waited some 11 and a half days to reply to this subject, which we have discussed several times. I want to become more knowledgeable on many of these issues and this gives me an opportunity to do so. I admire the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for the way in which he introduced his amendment. He said that it was a probing amendment and I can understand why. I will spare him all the details but it is not technically perfect and I do not think that it would achieve what he wants it to achieve. However, I understand the issue that he is trying to resolve.
The amendment seeks to amend the definition of "electorate" to include those eligible to register who have not done so. It would require the Electoral Commission to make an estimate of the unregistered electorate and include this in the figures used by the Boundary Commission to draw up constituencies. The amendment would require the Electoral Commission to take into account the socioeconomic profile of each constituency in estimating the number of unregistered eligible voters.
The most important principle here must be to make sure that one elector means one vote. For this to be the case there must be broad equality in the number of registered electors in each constituency. That is the key principle. The only question then is of how best to achieve it. Surely that is to use the register of electors and make sure that it is as accurate as possible. While we know that there is underregistration, we must also remember that the registration rate in the UK-estimated
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Lord Beecham: Do the Government have a view on the impact of individual registration on the likely overall levels of registration when that comes into effect? Is it not likely that individual registration will reduce the number of registered electors, particularly in those areas with a socioeconomic profile that already causes problems?
It is also not straightforward to determine the number of people missing from the register. Although it would be possible to match population estimates against registration numbers to generate a notional rate, population data are estimated and would include some people who are not eligible to register to vote due, for example, to nationality. The Electoral Commission itself, in its recent report on underregistration, calls the process of estimating registration rates "an imprecise science" and says:
Introducing estimated figures-acknowledged as imprecise and imperfect-into the calculation of constituency size risks introducing inaccuracies or inconsistencies across the UK, as my noble friend Lord Rennard pointed out. In the interests of a fair and equal system, where each person's vote across the UK has the same weight, constituencies should be calculated on the basis of registered electors, as the Bill proposes. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate a situation in which some votes are more equal than others.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I want to pick up on something that the Minister has just said. When asked in an intervention whether individual registration would lead to a reduction in the register, he just said no. I asked him earlier whether he had read the report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons, which deals with that matter in great detail. All the witnesses, including those from the Government and Boundary Commission people, have conceded that there is likely to be a drop. Does the Minister not think that at this stage on the Bill, with controversial areas to come, he should read that report, which will hugely enlighten him on these very important areas?
Lord Tyler: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the issue of individual registration cannot possibly make any difference as far as the amendment is concerned, because we are of course referring to the electoral register of December 2010, which could not possibly be affected by individual registration? I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has introduced a completely irrelevant red herring.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Can I make a suggestion before the noble Lord sits down? He might want to visit those jurisdictions in various parts of the world where you do not even have to come to the Dispatch Box to read your brief. All you have to do is give it to the Clerks and they can put it on the record for you.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked about the Boundary Commission's use of databases when drawing up these constituencies. He will know this, because we have had this debate several times during Committee and I am not planning to give a hugely different answer from the one that he has already heard. This year, we plan trials-
Lord Maxton: The problem is not whether there is a database-we have had that debate-but what use will be made of the database once the Electoral Commission and local authorities have that information. Will it be to add people to the electoral register, or is it just to check the electoral register?
Lord Strathclyde: No, the commission will be using a register of electors. It may well wish to use a database to see where potential electors are, who can then register. What are these databases? Let me just-
Lord Strathclyde: Let me just finish the point that I am trying to get to on the databases. I have a fascinating list: the databases that we are concentrating on are those held by the DWP, HMRC, the DVLA, the national pupil database held by the DfE, MoD data on service personnel and the Student Loan Company. I am happy to give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Harris of Haringey: Perhaps the Leader of the House can enlighten me, but I had understood that the fundamental principle of data sharing was that the use to which data would be put would be made explicit. Therefore, my noble friend Lord Maxton's question on what permissions are being given to the Electoral
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The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has worked hard on all this. He said that the amendment was probing. He has demonstrated great care in bringing this issue forward again. I am extremely happy, if it would be helpful, to facilitate a meeting with him and my officials to go through the matter with him.
Lord Lipsey: I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for that offer, which I would happily take up for my education, if not for that of his officials. It enables me to make a point, because a lot more noble Lords are in the Chamber now than when they were enjoying pudding and I was moving the amendment. With the exception of the utterly disgraceful spat between north and south on my own Benches, anyone reading the debate, which has lasted for just over an hour, would agree that it was in the very best traditions of this House-as was the previous debate about the Isle of Wight. Without going into the past, I hope that I speak for the House in being glad that, on this amendment, we have returned to our great traditions in this Chamber.
Perhaps I may make one point to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Perhaps, having just come into the Chamber, he missed the point that I made at the beginning, which goes to the heart of this matter. He rightly said that these estimates of notional electorates would be imprecise, which of course is true. However, a figure that is imprecise is not necessarily worse than a figure that is utterly precise and utterly bogus, and that is what the electoral registers are. By consent, the registers are only 91 to 92 per cent accurate overall. Also by consent, in many areas their accuracy is very well short of those figures. There would also be imprecision in the estimates-of course I accept that and it would be silly to do otherwise-but I think that that imprecision would be very much less than the precise falsity represented by the numbers on the electoral register.
Lord Harris of Haringey: Before the noble Lord concludes and decides whether he wishes to press the amendment to a vote, perhaps, like me, he was so bowled over by the very engaging offer of a meeting by the noble Lord the Leader of the House that he missed whether he accepts the principle that the unfairness of the underregistration is differentially spread around the country and that, if the Government's objective of fairness is to be achieved, something must be done about that in this Bill.
Lord Lipsey: I wholly agree with what the noble Lord says, and I would have drawn attention to it if I had not been so excited by the prospect that, instead of a weekend off after tonight, I shall spend my time closeted with the Minister's officials. I can offer them 3 am on Sunday morning or 7 pm on Sunday evening in between writing my speeches for Monday's proceedings on this Bill, should there be any. I do not want to go on for too long, so I shall resume my seat and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Lipsey: I apologise for the vagaries of the Marshalled List, which mean that I am on my feet twice running. This, again, is a slightly exploratory amendment but it has a serious purpose. The intention behind it is to suggest that, if we are to equalise anything, there is quite a strong case for equalising not electorates but population of voting age. This issue has come up from time to time during our discussions. It is not necessarily a question of either/or; it would be possible to arrive at a figure for equalising which contained an element of both. I may well put down a formula to that effect on Report but I shall not try it out now because I think that it would be a little hard on the Hansard writers.
First, I should say that there are big differences between large constituencies in terms of population and large constituencies in terms of electorate. To take an obvious example, which noble Lords will be able to relate to after our earlier discussion, the Isle of Wight is by a long way the biggest constituency in terms of electorate but it is only the third largest in terms of population. In Regent's Park and Kensington North, the population of the relevant age was 146,000, which is nearly double the number of registered voters. For Kensington and Chelsea the figure is 135,000 compared with 65,000 registered voters-that is, more than double the electorate. There are 45 seats in which the electorate is less than two-thirds of the population.
Of course, an MP represents everyone who lives in a constituency and not just those who have a vote, so it would seem fair that some allowance should be made for that in terms of workload. This is particularly the case as lower registration tends to be correlated with people with particular kinds of problems, the most obvious being black and ethnic minorities, who are about 30 per cent less likely to be registered but are likely to give rise to a great many problems, such as immigration matters relating to their families. Therefore, there really is a case for taking population into account. The second thing-
Lord Anderson of Swansea: Does my noble friend agree that certain constituencies have a disproportionate amount of asylum seekers because they are designated by the Government as areas to which asylum seekers will go? I will give an example. I found that in my constituency surgery perhaps two-thirds of the people who came to me were not on the electoral register because they were asylum seekers. I concede that many of them were sent to me by solicitors, who no doubt hoped to obtain some form of financial assistance
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Lord Lipsey: My noble friend is right. It says a lot for his assiduity, and for that of most Members of another place, that they are prepared to work very hard for people who will never have the chance to vote for them. Those who are cynical about Members of Parliament should bear in mind that remarkable and cheering thought.
I turn to another fact that I had not realised before I prepared for this debate. The system that I propose for discussion in this amendment, whereby constituencies are equalised by virtue of population rather than electorate, is more common in other countries than the use of electorates. Britain has a jolly good constitution; we love it very much and certainly I am not knocking it. However, we should consider this. It is not a silly idea for a system that no country uses. Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit states:
"Most countries use some measure of total population to serve as the basic measure of constituency size, either total population or a modified population such as voting age population ... or citizen population. Britain is a member of a minority, albeit a significant minority, of countries that use registered electorate".
He states that the ACE Project shows that half the countries of the world use total population and one-third use registered voters as the population base. No doubt there are all sorts of ingenious combinations of the two. Countries that use population include decent democracies such as Germany, perhaps slightly less decent democracies such as Italy, and Hungary and the Czech Republic. That is a pretty good list of countries that think the population measure is right. If we are internationalists, we should consider whether we could learn from them, as my other argument suggested that we could.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will reply to this debate. I should be astonished if he did not stand up and say that estimates of population are to a degree inaccurate, which of course is right, and are to a degree out of date. That is also true, although it does not mean that if we decided to go down the population route, it would be beyond the wit of the Office for National Statistics and others to produce more up-to-date estimates of population for this purpose than they do at the moment.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Is not one of the problems with the Bill the fact that the Lewis Baston material on countries that use population bases does not include how those population statistics were produced? One would have thought, when obviously the Bill was going to be surrounded by discussion about population, that research would have been done by officials in the department to establish the basis on which other countries use population figures. Have they a different way of drawing up census information? None of that information has been made available, which makes it very difficult for us to argue the question of population during the passage of this legislation.
Lord Lipsey: My noble friend makes a very shrewd point. I look forward to discussing that with officials when we have our exciting meeting on notional electorates. It might mean that we go from three to 4.30 in the
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This makes at least a basic case that the principle of equality of representation of constituencies, which is the principle that underlies the Bill and which we are not really arguing with, might, if anything, be stronger if the equality that we are seeking was equality of population in constituencies rather than, as we are, the equality of electorates. That is a strong case in its favour. It would require very strong evidence, evidence that I would be surprised to find forthcoming, to prove that the numbers available on electorates are more accurate than those that could be made available on population.
Having made this case reasonably succinctly, I hope, I look forward to the Minister's response. I will be interested to hear what other Members of the House have to say. Should we reach a consensus, perhaps on a measure that combines in some degree electorates and population, I look forward to bringing forward an appropriate amendment on Report to embody it in this legislation going forward. I beg to move.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, my amendment is very simple. I am not quite sure why it is grouped as it is, but I have no interest in degrouping because I hope that there may be some movement from the Minister on this. My amendment is simple and straightforward. There are four characteristics that the Bill tells us a Boundary Commission may take into account when drawing new boundaries. I want to add a fifth which is entirely based on my experience in the other place and with the constituencies that I was privileged to represent.
The fifth characteristic that I would like to add is that the Boundary Commission may take account of local government areas with rapid increases in population. Unusually among amendments, I suggest to the Government that this one could conceivable save them money, which might make ears prick up. The reason I have brought this forward is that the two constituencies I represented had huge electorates. I represented Lichfield and Tamworth until 1979. When I was defeated, the electorate was 101,343. In The Wrekin, which was the second constituency I was able to represent, the electorate before the boundary changes was 90,892. The reaction may well be, "So what? Populations change and move. That is what Boundary Commissions are for". The reason why I suggest to the Committee that my experience might be relevant and might be worth changing this Bill for is that the population increases in both these constituencies was entirely predictable and pretty accurate. They were both new towns in the West Midlands. Tamworth was a growing and expanding town with projected increases in population and The Wrekin contained Telford new town, which likewise had completely projected and predictable increases in
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I can anticipate one of the things that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, might say, which is that under the Bill as it stands there will be boundary redistributions every five years, so it is easier for these rapid population changes to be taken into account. I stand entirely by my position on this Bill throughout: it is a big mistake to make constituency changes every five years because of the massive uncertainty and instability that creates for MPs and the communities in constituencies. There would be no need for redistributions as rapidly as are compensated for by the five-yearly alterations of the constituency boundaries because in most cases, large increases or changes in population do not come out of a clear blue sky. Certainly in the case of new towns, they are predictable and predicted. This is where my suggestion for money saving comes in. If these factors were taken into account, there would not be the need for quite the frequency of boundary changes.
I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to suggest that there are going to be any changes on that basis, but given that in the case of The Wrekin the population increased by 8,000 between one general election and the next, it would make sense if we made the amendment that I am proposing. As happens when one sits down and looks again at one's own amendment, I can see a better way of doing it which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and his officials might feel is simpler. Clause 5(1)(a) on page 10 says that,
can be taken into account by the Boundary Commission. If the noble Lord were to be emollient enough to include "planned population growth" as one of those characteristics, he would make me a Member of this House with a great sense of achievement, so I hope he might consider that.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there are five amendments in this group. The noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, has her name to one to them. I do not know if she is going to speak to it, but let me deal with them all briefly.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, says that determining the size of constituencies should not be done by reference to the registered electorate nor by reference to the registrable electorate but by reference to the whole population of the constituency. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, is saying that there should be an upper limit in relation to constituencies, just as there is a geographical upper limit in the proposed Bill, so that no constituency should have a total population which is more than 130 per cent of the electoral quota. My noble friend Lord Grocott proposes something slightly different from the others, which is that the Boundary Commission can take into account the explicit consideration of population growth. Where there are local government areas with rapid increases in population, on the basis of the current drafting, that would only be able to be used in relation to the 5 per cent deviation on either
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All of these amendments wrestle with the problem that we discussed in the previous group of amendments-namely, what is to be done about the fact that there is substantial representation? I am not in favour of determining the size of constituencies as a starting point from people other than either registered electors or registrable electors. But just as the geographical size of the constituency, based on the burden on the MP who has to get around it, determines that no constituency should be bigger than a certain size, it seems to me to be legitimate to take into account whether or not one has an exception by reference to the total population. That means you still have the electoral quota approach. I see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, is about to intervene. I am more than happy to give way.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: I think that I am right in saying the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, relates to the electoral quota. It cannot be right to use population as the basis for calculating size of constituency with the 95 per cent to 105 per cent variation proposed in the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord last night-I am assuming that the Government may think kindly of it. On that basis, the numerator and the denominator have to be in the same currency: either population or electorate. You cannot have the top of the fraction as electorate and the bottom as population.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: That may be right. What I understand the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, to do, though he must defend it, is replace both the denominator and the numerator, because he puts the total population at the top of the fraction and the number of constituencies, less the two-or now the three-at the bottom and gets to the figure that way. I am not sure that I am following the noble and learned Lord.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern:The figure is essentially a portion of the population, whereas once you get to the stage of calculating size of constituency with the 95 per cent to 105 per cent variation, it is the electorate that is so far used. I have not seen an amendment which deals with that relationship. Both bases of calculation have to be the same. Which is the better one, I am not saying, but they both have to be the same.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As far as I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is taking U as the total population in Rule 2(b) rather than the registered electorate and dividing it by 600 minus 2, now 3. That then produces something called the electoral quota. Paragraph 2(1)(a) of the new schedule states that the electorate of any constituency shall be no less than 95 per cent of the United Kingdom electoral quota and no more than 105 per cent. I assume that we do not need as a matter of drafting to amend paragraph (2)(1)(a) because the electoral quota is simply
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I am rather against that approach. [Laughter.] That is ultimately because the way that our system works is that Parliament defines who is entitled to be on the electoral register. By doing so, it is in effect defining who is entitled to participate in the process of elections. It would be wrong therefore, as a matter of principle, to seek to define constituency boundaries by reference to people, some of whom may be entitled to be on the electoral register and some of whom may not. You will therefore find, for example, that there are constituencies in particular areas-I have in mind central London constituencies; for example, the City of London as well as Kensington and Chelsea-where the population is very high and appears to be very much larger than those on the electoral register.
Lord Reid of Cardowan: While I am inclined to agree on the need for a definitive basis for the size of a constituency, as someone who has represented a constituency I can say that you do not represent only those who vote for you. Among the important considerations for any Member of Parliament are families, their children and their education. To ignore the population below the age of 18 when selecting the size of a constituency that MPs are to represent seems entirely at odds with what MPs do. By all means make the registrable electorate the basis of a constituency, but do not rule out, as some of my noble colleagues have said, all considerations of the population size of the constituency. At present, that element appears to be not included for-in fact, by its omission, it is specifically precluded from-the Boundary Commission's consideration.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I agree-not from experience but from what I have been told-that whether or not you are a registered elector does not make any difference to how a Member of Parliament will treat you.
I also agree that, if a constituency has a very large population, that should be reflected in what happens. That is why-although this is a probing amendment and I am speaking tentatively, I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, says-the most attractive way of dealing with the issue, in my view, is through the amendment that might be moved by my noble friend Lord Boateng if he is here. Amendment 67A in his name would provide:
Just as it is accepted that the limit cannot be increased for a constituency with a large geographical area, there should be a similar provision for constituencies with a large population. I have a note to say that my noble friend Lord Boateng is not here, but it is legitimate to refer to his amendment as one of the possible routes that the Government could go down.
The Opposition's position is that they do not favour the approach of my noble friend Lord Lipsey, although we think that it is a sensible probing amendment. We are attracted by the idea that my noble friend Lord Boateng has put forward, and I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has to say about that.
The amendment of my noble friend Lord Grocott concerns a different issue. It seeks to provide that, in relation to the plus or minus 5 per cent, regard should be had to the fact that an area may be having rapid increases in population. As we understand it, such matters can be taken into account under the current arrangements, but it does not look as though such matters could so easily be taken into account under the new arrangements. When boundary commissioners are considering what the boundaries should be, it would be sensible for them to take that into account.
Lord McNally: My Lords, when I saw Amendment 66ZB on the Marshalled List, with its strange fraction of U over 598, I thought, "I hope to God it's Jim Wallace's turn to answer the debate". I hope to match the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in his grasp of statistics, but I certainly cannot match that of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, because, thank God, I do not sit up at 3 am poring over electoral statistics.
Lord McNally: Noble Lords on all sides of the Committee will take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, that everyone who has ever stood for Parliament and has been lucky enough to win has said in their victory speech that, although they were grateful to the people who had voted for them, it was their determination to serve everyone in the constituency. That is certainly the case.
Lord Maxton: What my noble friend Lord Reid quite rightly said was that it was not just the complete electorate that we represented in the House of Commons, but the total population. That means babes in arms right through to the person lying in hospital about to expire. It means everybody.
Lord McNally: What makes this an absolutely Alice in Wonderland debate is that, when the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, reads Hansard, he will see that that is just what I said. I thank him for his support.
The commitment to represent everybody in the constituency does not necessarily mean, as has been made clear a number of times, that we should look to population rather than registration for basing the electorate. The electoral register has been the basis for boundary reviews since the 1940s. Current constituencies in the other place are drawn up on the basis of electorate, not population. It was made clear earlier this evening that there are reasons and principles for
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A further argument has been put that the constituency boundaries should be drawn on the basis of population rather than the register of electors because a Member of Parliament is elected to represent all his constituents and a significant part of an MP's work can be on behalf of those who are not registered to vote. That argument has been made several times. However-this point has been made several times, but I shall say it again loudly-no Member of Parliament has a free ride. MPs have different kinds of pressures and different areas of responsibility, so it would be invidious to start deciding that constituency X rather than constituency Y had more problems. Most MPs will give a full description of the kind of problems that their particular constituency brings. That is why the Government believe that it is the right of electors to have a vote that is of equal weight between, as well as within, constituencies throughout the United Kingdom.
There have been ideas that we could use population. The difficulty is, as the Office for National Statistics has pointed out, that there are limitations with population estimates. Although I have heard in previous debates the suggestion that we could use the census, the data from the forthcoming census will not be available until far too late for the Boundary Commission to complete the task of reviewing the boundaries by 2015, which would mean that, up to the 2020 general election, the pattern of representation in the House of Commons would reflect the electoral register as it was in the year 2000. I cannot believe that we should do such a disservice to every elector in that way.
Nor, as I noted in the earlier debate on a similar amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, can we accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, that the total population of a constituency could not exceed a number that is 130 per cent of the electoral quota. I recognise the intention behind that amendment, but the data are not available that could make that work in practice. The Boundary Commission would need population data at a very low level of geography in order to ensure that the tests in the amendment were met. Those data are not available. It would be far better to use the electoral register, as has always been the case for boundary reviews, and concentrate our efforts on improving the registration rates. The census may provide valuable information that can support that work. The provisions in this Bill for a review once a Parliament, rather than once every eight to 12 years, will mean that the work will be reflected in a review very much sooner than would be the case under the existing provisions.
I note what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who made a valid point. I know that boundary reviews cause problems in terms of sitting MPs, but this proposal is for the benefit of the electors. Amendment 74C proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, would allow the Boundary Commission to take into account likely rapid changes in population when making recommendations for boundary changes. Amendment 78A, which has not been moved by my noble friend Lord Maples, would require the commissions to take into account projected increases in the electorate.
My concern is that, however calculations were made on the projected electorate, there would, by definition, be an element of interpretation that would be subject to repeated challenge. Furthermore, the amendments would abolish the fixed figure and replace it with a moving target. I am concerned that interested parties would be likely to use this for arguing for a more advantageous calculation method for the projections. In order to maintain the high levels of trust in our system, we must base boundary reviews on the availability of actual data.
That said, I hope that we can reassure noble Lords on this issue. The Fifth Periodical Report of the Boundary Commission for England notes that the commission takes into account projected electorate changes where it believes that the projection is likely to become a reality. We are confident that the Bill does nothing to stop the commissions continuing that practice, and we would expect them to apply this practice where they judge that the specific circumstances warrant it. I would advocate continuing to rely on the professional and expert judgment of the commissions.
We agree that constituencies should be as up to date as reasonably possible in order that boundaries reflect where electors live and in order that votes have equal weight. The answer to this is the Bill's provision for redistributions to take place every five years.
At this point, in the tradition that has been established in the last hour in this House, I would offer the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, a meeting on this, but I think that his diary is probably already full. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Grocott: I am baffled by the Minister's response. He is saying that the Boundary Commission can take account of factors that are not mentioned under factors (a), (b), (c) or (d) that are listed in Rule 5 of new Schedule 2. All I am saying is that if the Boundary Commission can take account of factors that are not listed-obviously, my amendment would add to those four factors-what on earth is the point of specifying the factors that are listed? My amendment would not impose a compulsion on the Boundary Commission; it would simply list a possible consideration that may allow for specific local circumstances. I simply did not understand his answer. I am also a bit upset because he did not suggest a meeting. Perhaps he will write to me.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply. I am sure that he will want to be present at the meeting that I am to have with his
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It is good to see that Members of another place have come to observe proceedings in the House this evening. They will be able to return to the other end after doing so with two assurances. First, this House is indeed conducting detailed scrutiny of this Bill in good humour and in good order and with reasonable dispatch. Secondly, the reading skills of Ministers in this House far surpass those of Ministers in another place.
I shall resume my thread on the debate on the Bill, as we are all anxious to proceed with it as rapidly as possible. We have just had two tentative debates on what I hope are interesting points of validity, which any Government in setting policy on these matters would have considered. It would have been so much better if we had had a consultative document before this Bill was brought forward that set out these alternatives and explained the pluses and minuses of each. It might have been unnecessary to debate these amendments this evening, and we could certainly have done so in a more informed way. So it does illustrate a defect of process.
To sum up the debate, there was an understanding that population is a relevant factor in determining the workload of MPs and therefore in all these matters, but at the same time there was no support for the proposition that I tentatively floated-that population should replace electorates as a basis for drawing constituencies. I accept that, but I shall make another tentative suggestion, which the Minister might like to think about. In Rule 5 in Clause 11, in the new rules that the Boundary Commission observes, there is a set of things that it may take into consideration, including special geographical circumstances. It might be worth considering adding to that list of things that it can take into consideration-at the moment within the 5 per cent limit-something relating to population, so that in cases where population is very large in relation to electorates it can explicitly make some sort of allowance for that in drawing up their final recommendations within the limits, which are 5 per cent each way at present. I leave that suggestion with the Committee and, on that basis, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I did not just propose this amendment because it allowed me to get a formula on the Order Paper. I was going to describe it as a paving amendment when I moved it, but it is no longer a paving amendment. The formula in the Bill has as its denominator the number of constituencies not otherwise exempt in the Bill-598. When I drafted the amendment, I thought that was a silly way to do it, because if we added to the list of exemptions the formula as in the Bill would no longer apply. It would have to be changed, which seemed a waste of everybody's time, since it is perfectly easy to draw up a formula which adapts to however many exemptions you want to make.
I would not want to claim foresight; that would be a very dangerous thing to do in your Lordships' House. But in fact it turns out that this showed some foresight, because the Committee has agreed to add the Isle of Wight to those constituencies, so it is now 597 not 598. I believe that there is a large clutch of other amendments to be put before noble Lords, which the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, will of course oppose. For example, the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, wanted to make one in the case of his local area, and there will be other cases for exemptions. Who knows, noble Lords may want to agree to them. So making this amendment at this stage not only accommodates the change that we have already made but will allow the Bill to accommodate future changes without us needing to return to this and go over it. I therefore commend the amendment to the House.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, this is an important amendment and my noble friend Lord Lipsey has shown foresight in raising the matter. He will also have seen Amendment 79, which is in the name not of one of our colleagues on this side but of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The number of constituencies named in that amendment include not only Orkney and Shetland, the Western Isles in their Gaelic name and the Isle of Wight, but the Isle of Anglesey, Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly, the Highland Council area and Argyll and Bute. As my noble friend said, a number of us have tabled amendments in relation to areas that we have a particular knowledge of. My noble friend Lord McAvoy tabled one in relation to the Royal Borough of Rutherglen, which includes Cambuslang and Halfway, if I remember correctly.
I tabled an amendment in relation to the city of Edinburgh, arguing that Edinburgh should continue to have five constituencies once this boundary review is over and that that should be an instruction to the Boundary Commission in Scotland. There are a number of other amendments in relation to this, such as Amendments 66C, 78B, 79C, 79, 80, 81, 82, 85, 85A, 85B and 85C, which we will discuss.
My noble friend Lord Lipsey, with his usual sagacity, foresight and burning of the candle at night, has managed to table an amendment that, if the Minister was wise, he would see was like the amendment to Part 1 moved by my noble friend Lord Rooker. That
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I will not now argue the case for the five Edinburgh constituencies. I have a lot to say about them. I have a tour d'horizon for them just as I had for South Ayrshire-or Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley as it is now. I would like to describe some of the important facets of Edinburgh constituencies, but I will leave that until we get to Amendment 80. In the mean time, I am keen to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lipsey, which gives us this necessary flexibility.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, it is clear to me that the amendment is correct. Therefore, I hope that the Government will accept it. It is simply a drafting amendment to take account of changes that have been made-and if the noble Lord is correct in his prophesying, some further changes will be made. This amendment takes account of that in an accurate way. There is no question of discretion or anything of the kind. It is simply a drafting amendment that takes account of existing changes.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. My experience as a Minister was that when an amendment was passed even in opposition to the Government in Committee or at any stage of the Bill, the Government would bring the Bill up to date. Therefore, when it went back to the other place it would be a coherent Bill on which the Commons could then form a view about which amendments to accept. I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Lipsey. I hope that the Government will indicate that they will make the necessary amendment to reflect what happened earlier on today.
Lord McNally: Not exactly, because one has to realise that, as noble Lords will know, the other place has still to take a view on the amendments that we pass. It may well be that all the amendments that have been threatened or made may succeed. Believe me, if I am not convinced by the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, or the command of figures by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, I certainly have a tingle between my shoulder blades when my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay announces that he is about to abandon ship.
By the way, it has just occurred to me that of course I would not, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, pointed out, make any comment about what was happening below the Bar, but it crossed my mind that government Whips in the other place might be shipping younger Members down here to take a look at us to stiffen their vote when we come to reform of the House of Lords.
Lord McNally: Again, I hope that people read Hansard as I deliberately did not make that mistake but I understand the noble Earl's sensitivity on this. The other point was that not only does this amendment have another of those amazing fractions in it but, in my brief, there is the Gaelic name for the Western Isles. I was happy to notice that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, did not try the Gaelic name, so I will be excused as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, gave me some wise advice. In fact, I was trying to encourage him to be my adviser for the rest of the Bill but he wanted to protect his amateur status as an adviser to the Government. However, he said that you should not be afraid to take decisions at the Dispatch Box. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is making a very valid point: the final calculation of exclusions may not be what is in the Bill. On the other hand, they may be, because the other place will have to look at what we send back to it. This is not an empty gesture; I really would like to take this back with the intention of bringing something back on Report.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: If I have understood the effect of this amendment and the existing drafting of the Bill, an amended clause of this nature could persist in the Bill even if the other place overturned any additional constituencies that were added to the list. In fact, this amendment creates a Bill that is proofed against any changes, whether they persist or not. This is actually a better piece of drafting than the original, which had a figure in it, because it is a calculation that will persist in any set of circumstances.
Lord McNally: I hear what the noble Lord says and I hear my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay behind me saying that he is right. All that I am asking, being a simple Lancashire lad, is to take this back with a firmness for Report. If what the noble Lord is saying is absolutely right, I assure the Committee that this will go in at Report.
Lord Lipsey: I rise, my Lords, with a deep sense of disappointment at the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has risen twice. I have been in keen anticipation of the remarks he was about to make on the substance of the amendment-indeed, of the Bill-and I will now have to postpone the satisfaction of my appetite for a later date, at which I look forward to hearing his views on these matters, expressed with his usual skill and verve.
I am not disappointed at the Minister's reply. My noble friend is absolutely right about the effect of this amendment-it is a circumstance that fits all; 598, 600, 520 or whatever. When the noble Lord, Lord McNally, considers this, he will see that it will be useful for the future. Let us suppose that the House of Commons overturns the Isle of Wight amendment.
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I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to consider this further. I am grateful for the support I have had from all over the House, including from the esteemed noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, who knows much more about the law than I do. I very much hope that this may yet be my one mark, in my 10 years here, upon the statute book.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, in the spirit that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, offered the House some hours ago, I shall be relatively brief. I am encouraged by some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has accepted the advice of my noble friend Lord Rooker about not being afraid to take decisions at the Dispatch Box.
I start, unusually, by confessing that the amendment is not wholly fit for purpose on the matter of prisoners and their ability to vote. It omits to recognise that remand prisoners either awaiting trial or awaiting sentence having been found guilty are currently able to vote. After the Minister accepts the spirit of this amendment, which I anticipate he is going to do, it will give his parliamentary draftsmen no more than a fleeting diversion to put this oversight about remand prisoners right.
The amendment aims to make sure that, in the fine arithmetical balance upon which the Boundary Commission shall decide on the new constituencies, the impact of convicted prisoners and those on remand with the ability to vote shall be included in that arithmetic. The amendment assumes that only those sentenced prisoners serving a prison term of four years or less will have the vote. That matter has still to be decided by Parliament. I hope that it will be rejected and that all prisoners will be able to vote, as part of a better attempt to rehabilitate them and to reduce the expense of perpetual reoffending.
As a backdrop to this amendment, I was amazed to read in the Evening Standard tonight that my right honourable friend Jack Straw-not simply a former Home Secretary but, your Lordships will remember, as I do, a former Lord Chancellor-is now attempting, having won a debate in the other place for next month, to persuade the House that no prisoners should be given the vote, in breach and defiance of an order of the European Court of Human Rights made in 2004. It may explain why the last Government, to my disgrace and shame, did nothing to accept the judgment of that court. My right honourable friend incites Parliament to continue that disobedience. It is another slippery slope when Governments think that they can pick and choose what they do in reaction to decisions of the court of human rights and it gets us into an extremely difficult place.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: I have not followed the issue of prisoner voting very closely, so I would be grateful if my noble friend could tell me where, if prisoners are successful in getting the vote, their vote would be. Would it be in their constituency, if they have a home somewhere, or in the place where the prison is? I ask this with some feeling, because my former constituency held one of the biggest prisons in Scotland and even with a 22,000 majority I would have been a bit nervous.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My understanding on this matter is that prisoners will be able to vote either by proxy or by post. Where they do not have permanent home addresses, and many will not, they can use the address of the prison.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: I yield to no one in my admiration for the right honourable Jack Straw as both a former Foreign Secretary and a former Lord Chancellor, but can my noble friend say whether Mr Straw has attempted to make any calculation of the aggregate of fines that this country would incur if all the relevant prisoners were to take us to the European Court of Human Rights?
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My noble friend has reminded me of a point that I meant to make. At the moment there are 2,500 outstanding claims of compensation by prisoners being denied the vote, which, if they were proceeded with and accepted, would cost the taxpayer £100 million to meet.
This is not the time or place to debate at length the merits of votes for prisoners, but surely it is time that this outdated sentence of civic death upon prisoners was removed. It was imposed under the Forfeiture Act 1870, although in my opinion it should never have been, and it has lingered for far too long. As I said earlier, the European Court decided in 2004 that the blanket ban on the ability of convicted prisoners to vote was unlawful and should be removed. I much regret that the previous Government did not obey that judgment, and welcome the fact that this Government plan to do so.
It is all about enabling prisoners to take civic responsibility, which chimes in well with the extra emphasis by the Secretary of State for Justice on better attempts at rehabilitation to reduce the expensive
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It is time for change and time to ensure that the number of prisoners anticipated under the proposed government legislation be entitled to vote, and those prisoners on remand from wherever they are on the electoral roll should not be overlooked when the maths is being done by the Electoral Commission to determine the new constituency boundaries.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: Before my noble friend sits down, would he answer a question for me? In looking at his calculation of how many additional prisoners would be entered on to the electoral roll, is he aware of any estimate of how many prisoners were not on the electoral roll prior to them going to prison? There is a case to be answered that a number of prisoners who get into a life of crime lead somewhat chaotic lives and may never have voted or be on the electoral roll in the first place.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: I accept my noble friend's point. Part of this touches on our earlier debates about the accuracy of the electoral register. It may well be that prisoners in that position should be encouraged to get on the electoral roll from the only address that they currently have, which would be prison.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I have added my name to my noble friend Lord Corbett's amendment, even though in many ways I disagree with the stance that he takes on prisoners' voting. My instincts would be to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, when he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Constitutional Affairs as was; when he announced that the Government of the day were appealing against the European Court's ruling in 2005, he said that,
That is a sentiment that I can certainly agree with. Indeed, as the Secretary of State for Justice is currently pursuing a progressive path of trying to ensure that fewer prisoners are locked up, it follows that those who remain in prison will be there for more serious offences, and in my view that in turn somewhat lessens the argument for votes for prisoners. That does not mean that I am not in favour of rehabilitation and that I do not think that there is a good principled argument to be made, but I happen to disagree with it. However, as my noble friend said, we should not rehearse the arguments at any length tonight.
However, in the context of this Bill, the Government have to allow for prisoners when deciding the boundaries for future general elections, given that the Prime Minister has said that he reluctantly accepts that he has to bow to the European court ruling in the case of John Hirst. This amendment enables me to ask the Minister a few questions that are directly pertinent to the Bill. First, the amendment refers to prisoners who are serving a term of "4 years or less". What is the Government's view on whether all prisoners should get the vote, as
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Secondly, what is the right number of years? Does the Minister have a nice round figure that he might want to share with us, given that we have talked a lot about other round figures when discussing the Bill? My third question relates to the question that my noble friend Lady Liddell asked of my noble friend Lord Corbett in relation to the location of prisons. I hope that my noble friend gave the correct answer in that respect. When I was the Member of Parliament for South Dorset, I represented two prisons for some of the time and three prisons for another part of the time because the prison ship was located in my constituency, which meant that there were up to about 1,500 prisoners in my constituency. I would not have relished canvassing them and I certainly would not have relished the casework implications of representing the inmates in the various prisons. Some of them occasionally wrote to me. Contrary to what the Minister said about MPs representing absolutely everybody in their constituency, I am afraid that I tended to try to duck the casework involved with the issues that the prisoners raised as it would have occupied all my staff's time and would have constituted a very slippery slope for me and for them. In addition, South Dorset was a very homogenous community in terms in ethnicity and religion with the exception of the prisoners. The majority of the inmates of the Portland young offender institution come from London and reflect the ethnicity and different religious make-up of London rather than that of Portland. Their inclusion would certainly change the character of the constituency significantly. Indeed, given tonight's vote, there is the question of how the Isle of Wight will be accounted for in terms of the significant number of prisoners who now live on the island, and how they will be catered for.
Thirdly, if registration is based on the home address, as has been suggested, what would the Minister do to ensure that we avoid fraud in postal voting? That may become a sensitive issue as regards prisoners having postal votes given that postal voting has raised enough difficult issues as we have extended the opportunities for people to vote by post. It would be useful if he could tell us what arrangements will be made to enable candidates to canvass prisoners. Finally, what is the timetable for changing the law in respect of prisoners getting the vote, as that is critical for the Bill?
Baroness Smith of Basildon: I listened with great interest to my noble friend's questions on this issue. It helps to understand the complexity of the issue facing the Government on giving prisoners the vote. I add a further complexity to the issue and the questions that my noble friend is posing. In this country, we allow those who are citizens of this country but who live
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Lord Knight of Weymouth: My noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon asks a fine question, which I had not previously thought of. However, I am sure that the Minister will have done so, will not need to think on his feet at the Dispatch Box and will be able to give us a precise answer.
On the question about the timetable, it is highly pertinent whether it coincides with the Boundary Commission review period to agree the boundaries for the next general election. If it does not, which arrangements will stand the test of time in respect of prisoners getting the vote?
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The noble Lord has eschewed acting on behalf of the interests of prisoners in his constituency. Who acted on their behalf in the absence of the noble Lord? To which agency was it left to represent them in any of the problems that a Member of Parliament might normally address in any constituency?
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My noble friend can help me in a moment, once I have had a chance to help myself. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, raises a question that is right at the heart of the legal case as I understand it and as interpreted by the BBC. John Hirst, who took the case to the European Court said:
"I'd read books that said if you want to change something you start up a pressure group, and then you put pressure on MPs and then you get things changed in parliament. Well that's alright if you've got the vote and you've got some clout behind you. When you're a prisoner, the only thing you can do if you want to complain and no-one listens is riot and lift the roof off-which isn't the best way of going about things. Because we didn't have a vote, there was no will in parliament to change anything".
If a prisoner who had been a constituent of mine, or whose address was in my constituency, had written to me with a case when I was a Member of Parliament, I would have taken it up on their behalf, but I was unwilling to do so for people who happened to be resident in my constituency at Her Majesty's pleasure. That was most difficult in respect of the large number of foreign nationals who were in Verne prison in my constituency. It was very difficult for them to get anyone to listen to them. It would have been a significant resourcing issue for me if word had got around the prison that they had a local MP who was willing to do all their legal work for them.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Never mind the resources-is the noble Lord saying that he was happy that there were people in his constituency, whether they were there at Her Majesty's pleasure or whatever, who had no political representation or access to Ministers through a Member of Parliament? Was he happy that people who had no home addresses that they could give to the constituency MP where they had formerly lived were left without any resource or recourse at all?
Lord Knight of Weymouth: I would not have been happy if that situation had existed. I sought to do my duty, as I saw it, to my constituents, whether they were in prison in other constituencies or not. The local prison for my constituency was Dorchester. The right honourable Oliver Letwin would, I am sure, have wanted me, rather than him, to deal with my constituents. I am sure that prisoners will have listened to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and will now be writing to him at the House of Lords to take up their issues if they seek representation.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I had a fairly large prisoner mailbag. Prisoners get full service from Members of Parliament. Not only did they get full service, I visited prisoners from outside my own constituency on several occasions, including some of the most violent of offenders. Their stories were absolutely fascinating. It is a very interesting area of political representation.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: At present, the law states that prisoners are disqualified under an Act of Parliament and, unless and until that is changed by Act of Parliament, there is no question of having to cater for them in this Bill. If and when a Bill is produced to change the 1870 Act-although I understand what the noble Lord is saying about that-it should answer the kind of questions that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, has asked. Until that happens, the law is as it has been since 1870. I am not going to deal with the merits of the issue, except to say that we believe in the rule of law, part of which is our country's subscription to the European Convention on Human Rights and obedience to the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. That court has said in this case that a blanket ban is wrong, which leaves at least a certain amount of discretion to Parliament and the Government to decide what the change is to be. Until that happens, it is not for us here to speculate, because there is plenty for us to deal with in this Bill without introducing more material into a Bill that is not yet drafted.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has said. Let me therefore briefly add some comments. When the time comes, which I hope will not be too long, for the Government to bring forward their measure to give prisoners the vote, we will have to ensure that in that process we amend this legislation to accommodate it.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: I understand the point that my noble friend and the noble and learned Lord are making, but surely the Bill before us seeks to set the boundaries before the next general election. I anticipate that if the Government put through legislation, in line with the European judgment, to give prisoners the vote, they will do so before the next election. We in this House and the other place will therefore have to amend legislation that we have already passed before the next election. We will find ourselves in a legal muddle at that point.
Lord Dubs: I am bound to say that I am persuaded by my noble friend's argument. The principle and the arithmetic are obviously right, but the details of how prisoners are to be given the vote-and there will be a lot of details-are a matter that the House will have to
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I have been a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights for some time, and we have been anxious that the Government should adhere to their obligations under the Human Rights Act and under the European convention. We were disappointed-I was certainly disappointed, as was my noble friend Lord Corbett-that the previous Government did not bring this proposal into effect. I hope that this Government will do so. Given that public opinion, spurred on by some of our newspapers, is not sympathetic to this, I very much hope that more voices will be heard to say that this is a good thing and that it is right that people in prison, at least many of them, should have the right to vote and to have a civic responsibility that will help them when they come out. There is an important point of principle here, which has been totally lost in some of the hysteria in the popular press, which is arguing against this, to say nothing of the fine that we would have to pay as a country.
I have two brief final thoughts. I introduced a Private Member's Bill when I was in the other place to give certain rights to prisoners. My noble friend Lord Soley and I discussed it, and he persuaded me to include in the Bill a proposal to give prisoners the right to vote. It was a 10-Minute Rule Bill and was therefore not going to get much further. It received a lot of publicity, but all that the press were interested in-even in the 1980s; it was a long time ago-was the clause about giving prisoners the right to vote. Nothing else in the Bill did they take notice of. I am bound to say, in all honesty, that the Labour Shadow Cabinet did not support my Bill and said that it was not in favour of it.
I have a final little anecdote, if I may indulge myself-it is getting late. I was in a pub in Battersea just before an election. I was meeting a journalist who wanted to take a photograph. The pub was almost empty because it was mid-morning. A man at the bar came up to me and said, "'Ere, are you Alf Dubs MP?". I confirmed that I was and he said, "I came out of the Scrubs this morning. You've got a good reputation inside". I thought of all the votes that I was not going to get and I then lost my seat.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I should perhaps say that I am president of the Citizenship Foundation, although I do not speak for it. Surely we could deal with the point raised in this amendment by an amendment to the Bill that says simply that prisoners serving a term of four years or less shall be entitled to vote. That would take care of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, seeks to address in this amendment. I should be interested to know whether the Minister would be amenable to that being brought forward at the next stage of the Bill.
This is a very important issue. For years we have put off grappling with the question of the prisoner vote. I think we would all say that one of the main badges of citizenship is the right to vote. We in this House all agree that rehabilitation is essential and that we do it rather badly in this country. To that extent-I shall finish on this point-we talk about punishing prisoners
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: I hope the Minister will concede that this is an important point, and perhaps he can truncate this debate by offering to have a cup of tea with his officials and my noble friend. I see that there are problems, but it is clear that the Government will have to respond in some way to the determination of the European Court of Human Rights, which has said, in terms, that the matter cannot be delayed for much longer. Indeed, the Government have said that they will respond. We know that there could be substantial expenditure implications if they do not respond and a multitude of applications. However, I see some problems in practice.
Once upon a time I was a barrister and I did a fair amount of work on the criminal side. All too often one's clients were of no fixed abode, so how is one going to determine the constituency in which the prisoner votes? That is one obvious problem. Equally, prisoners are more likely to come from socioeconomic groups that might be determined among the population but are not on the electoral register because they are alienated and do not bother to put themselves on the register. Therefore, there are problems in deciding which will be the relevant constituency in this matter.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, from the information that the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, has given the Committee this evening, it sounds as though my noble friend is going to have to have a cup of tea with Mr Jack Straw if any advance is to be made on this matter.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this amendment. I have to be absolutely honest and say that I have not followed in great detail the question of prisoners and voting, although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, very succinctly put the issues into context. I should say that I have a bit of an interest, having been a former non-executive director of the Scottish Prison Service and having a major prison with a secure unit in my constituency. I suppose that I have also just spent almost five years in a form of penal colony, so these are issues in which I tend to take an interest.
However, there is a very specific point to be made on where the vote of a prisoner is held. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, does not know that one of the most heinous crimes that a Member of Parliament can commit is to take up an issue for someone who is the constituent of another Member of Parliament. It is a problem that Ministers in particular face. I do not know what other former Members of the other place did. I had a sign in my office, and I know that many Members of Parliament have an attachment to their e-mail saying that they cannot take up the issue of someone who is a constituent of another Member of Parliament. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McNally, would address the consequences of an increased number of people on the electoral register from prisons.
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Lord Soley: I will be even briefer than my noble friend. I agree very much with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. This is not the time to go into detail; that will happen when the Bill arrives. Like my noble friend Lord Dubs, I agree with the principle. There is no great problem in deciding who deals with this. Normally the home address should be used for registration, otherwise it is a matter for the local MP and occasionally for a solicitor.
There is a more important issue to address. Perhaps the Minister should refer this to the Electoral Commission. If it is the Government's intention to give the vote to prisoners, there is a case for instructing the Electoral Commission to look at the problems of registering to vote. The registration process needs to be thought about in advance. In one sense, the problem is like that of other groups who cannot easily register. Prisoners are a captive population. Complications will come over where their home addresses are. There will be particular complications for the fairly small number of very large prisons that have a large percentage of people with no fixed address. I remember that when my noble friend Lord Rooker was a Minister, he arranged for people to give a non-registered street address so that they could have the vote.
There are many complications inherent in what the Government are proposing. I will support them and when the Bill arrives I will spell out some of the issues. At this stage, I simply say that there is a lot of sense in warning the Electoral Commission. As an adviser to the commission, I should do that too, and I will, but it would help if it came from the Government too. If the Government are going to do this, they should start to think about the complexities of registration.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I have one question for the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Would it be possible through secondary legislation to put an enabling power in the Bill whereby this section of the Bill could be amended in the event that the wider law on the right of prisoners to vote was to come into being?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I shall be brief. I thank my noble friends for raising the issue. Of course, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, gave the Committee a proper warning about the issue. The announcement was made through the Cabinet Office. We regret that it was not made in Parliament, because it is important. The point that my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon made about the intention of the Government to legislate in time for the 2015 general election under redrawn boundaries, and perhaps on an alternative vote electoral system, is relevant today. We would like to know the Government's thinking on these matters. When do they intend to legislate and how will they deal with some of the issues raised by the decision that they have made?
One issue that particularly fascinates me is that of prisoners who have their voting rights denied by sentencing judges. Will they have the right to appeal against the judge's decision? Under the proposals, the judge will have discretion in certain cases. That does not strike me as sensible, or something that judges would want. The amendment asks some questions that the House-
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: It strikes me that it might also be useful if we could have any information that you may have on the amount of research that has been undertaken in this area on the number who are registered. It seems that the problem may not be on quite the scale that some people think, given that earlier we were debating the problems relating to 3.5 million people who are denied votes-I do not want to go over the issue-because they are not registered. If there is any information that could be supplied in this area, it would help us all.
Lord Bach: I am grateful to my noble friend. He is quite right. There are a number of questions the Minister can bring us up to date with when he responds on this important amendment. This is a matter that has concentrated the minds of this House a great deal over a long period of time. I think the Committee would like to be brought up to date with how the Government see the relationship between this Bill and giving prisoners the right to vote and how that would be legislated for.
Lord McNally: My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate. Whether it is within the scope of the Bill is very debatable indeed. Nevertheless, a number of very valuable contributions have been made, not the least the fact that the noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Knight, disagree about whether prisoners should have the vote. That is part of the dilemma that we have in Parliament. When I have answered Questions at this Dispatch Box as a Ministry of Justice Minister, it has been very clear that there are strong opinions on both sides. I have never concealed my view that, like the noble Baroness, I believe that giving certain prisoners the vote would be a very useful part of rehabilitation. The prospect of being-did the noble Baroness not say that? Sorry, I thought she had. For some prisoners who have perhaps never participated in any aspect of what my noble friend Lord Phillips referred to as civic life, it might be the thing that gets them thinking about their role in society when they leave prison. I have never found the concept of prisoner voting so horrific.
Although my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay sits where a PPS usually sits, he is not my Parliamentary Private Secretary although, my God, I wish he was because he comes in with a number of interventions that are genuinely to the benefit of the whole House, if occasionally to the discomfort of the Minister at the Dispatch Box at the time.
To take the last intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, the numbers we are dealing with will be small. If you gave every prisoner the vote, you would be talking about 85,000, so you would be talking about a much smaller number spread across the whole of the country because, to clarify, the Government have already indicated that when they bring forward
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Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: The Minister has used the expression "home constituency". Could he be a little more specific about that? I have represented constituencies for a long time with several prisons in them. My understanding is that many of these men-my experience was exclusive with men-did not have homes. One of the problems that they had as individuals in society was that they were totally rootless. The idea that they could be identified as belonging to a particular place was very difficult to establish. To use expressions such as "home constituency" in this loose and glib way creates an impression that it can be very simply dealt with. It is rather more complex than that. He should talk to the people in the Box and get some better advice.
Lord McNally: I am trying to make an intelligent response. The noble Lord talks about glib responses. Would he like to suggest a term other than home constituency? The point has already been made in this debate that of course there are going to be difficulties about prisoners with no fixed abode. One of the other problems that we are looking at on rehabilitation is that too many of our prisoners leave prison with no fixed abode, which is almost an invitation to further offences.
Lord Maxton: Could I raise almost the opposite point of view? Many people who are in prison are already registered to vote at their home address. What is to stop them using the postal vote system to cast their vote, even though they are in prison? All it requires is for them to apply for it from that home address. The postal vote arrives at their home. Some relative takes it in to them, they cast their vote, the relative takes it back, puts it in the post and they have voted. Or are we going to use prison records as part of the access data?
Lord Grenfell: I seem to remember that just before the general election, at about one in the morning, we had a very interesting debate on this question. I regret greatly that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is not in his place, because we rehearsed all of this before and he had some very interesting statistics. It might be worth going back and looking at Hansard to see what he said and what the responses were.
Lord McNally: I am quite sure that we will refer back to that. Indeed, I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, knew that we were going to go down this byway this evening, he would have been here. I know how assiduous he is on these matters. But the fact is that these matters will be covered in that-
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Does the Minister agree that if the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is right, the absence of a vote is not the only problem that prisoners have to face? If they do not belong to any particular constituency, they have no parliamentary representation and nobody who can act on their behalf in dealing with the Government.
Lord Reid of Cardowan: I was about to give the Minister the answer. He will know that prisoners can be represented by the local Member of Parliament. I did it very often for Shotts prison. I would go and meet them occasionally. On one occasion, I offered three dates to the Shotts lifers association; none of them was convenient for it. There is a manner of representation for those in prison, whether or not they vote.
Lord McNally: Now that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is safely out of the way, I am able to say that I hope some of the people below the Bar are keeping careful note, because some really good advice is being given here. It illustrates a point that was made earlier: that different Members of Parliament face different problems. Surely the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight will have a caseload that reflects the existence of major prisons on the island.
The boundary review will be based on the register as of 1 December 2010, which will be before any legislation concerning prisoner voting rights is in place. We have determined that we will deal with this matter. I am not in the habit of scoring cheap party political points-your Lordships know that it is not my style-but in less than eight months we have addressed a problem that the previous Government sat on for six years. It will require careful study. I hope that the Electoral Commission will look at some of the issues that have been raised. I do not believe that this amendment is the place to deal with them. There will be a full and final statement of the Government's intention in these matters. However, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and others, and underlined by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that we are accepting the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. To continue to defy it exposes us possibly to being sued on quite a grand scale and to enormous cost to the taxpayer. Even those who grit their teeth at the thought of giving prisoners voting rights might like to put that in their calculations. However, it cannot be in the current calculations of this Bill. It is an important matter to raise and it will be drawn to the attention of the Electoral Commission. I hope that, before they
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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. I said in moving the amendment that this was not the time and place for a long debate about the merits or otherwise of giving certain categories of prisoner the vote. I also take on board what many noble friends on this side of the Committee have intimated about some of the perils of getting involved in this area.
I had one of the two national youth treatment centres in my former constituency of Birmingham Erdington, Glenthorne. It did a magnificent job with some of the most disturbed and chaotic young people in the country-14 year-olds convicted of murder, rape and offences of that kind. During one general election, each of the candidates was invited to go in and talk to some of the inmates and answer questions. The first question that I was asked came from a 15 year-old and was about income tax levels. I thought that this showed a very commendable interest in current affairs. On the Friday, about a week ahead of the election, the governor of Glenthorne phoned me and said, "I have got some very good news for you, Robin: you came top of the poll". I immediately said to him, "Eugene, do me a favour, please, will you keep this quiet?".
I thank the Minister for his assurance that he will draw the attention of the Electoral Commission to this matter but I am unconvinced about his reasons for not wanting to do something about it in the Bill. I understand what he said about the register last year being used as the basis for the Electoral Commission's considerations under the Bill but, nevertheless, provision could be made for what we anticipate is going to come. The Government have the votes in both Houses now to get their will, as we know, so surely it is sensible to make the provision now rather than having to do so later.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Maples, I beg to move Amendment 66C.My noble friend has not vouchsafed to me the precise rationale behind his deceptively attractively simple amendment but I shall draw to his attention any answer in Hansard which my noble friend the Minister gives to him, if such a reply is given.
Now that Amendment 66C has been moved, I shall speak to Amendment 78B, which stands in my name and the names of my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Newby. In introducing the amendment I should refer to my personal association with the City as the parliamentary constituency which I had the privilege to represent as Member for the City of London and Westminster South, as it then was, between 1977 and 1997, and then for the Cities of London and Westminster between 1997 and 2001.
The amendment aims to recognise the position of special authorities. It is aimed at the City of London, which has failed to make it into a very short list of constituencies subject to special provision on account of their particular characteristics even though the City's individuality has been recognised throughout history. The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, which currently governs boundary reviews, continued that recognition. This Bill does not. The effect of the amendment is to require the whole of the City of London to be contained within one parliamentary constituency, as provided for by the current legislation.
As your Lordships will not need reminding, the City of London has existed as a discrete community for a very long time. It had evolved a legal personality by 1189 which, as noble Lords may recall, is the beginning of legal memory. Accordingly, the City Corporation which administers the square mile does not owe its existence to Parliament. Parliament has, however, underwritten the City's rights and privileges. One of the very few remaining statutory provisions confirming the Magna Carta still in force is Chapter 9 of an Act of 1297 confirming the City's liberties and customs under the charter.
The current legislation on parliamentary constituencies affecting the City is largely the product of the past 75 years. It is particularly relevant because the Bill marks a substantial departure in the electoral treatment of the City of London.
Permanent Boundary Commissions were established by the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1944. At that time the City of London had no less than two Members of Parliament, and that situation was preserved by the 1944 Act. There was then a business vote in parliamentary elections, as well as a voting entitlement of husbands or wives of occupiers of business premises, entitlements which were removed by the Representation of the People Act 1948. In consequence of those changes, the City of London's electorate diminished to 4,542. The City was then linked up with the former seat of Westminster Abbey and called the Cities of London and Westminster constituency. To complete the picture, during the period of my incumbency between the February 1974 and 1997 general elections it was named the City of London and Westminster South constituency. Noble Lords will note that the one constant throughout has been its reference to the City of London.
When the changes were made in 1948, it was never suggested that splitting up the City's relatively tiny parliamentary electorate between different constituencies would be an appropriate option. More than that, there was a specific provision in that Act and the further one
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The effect of this Bill through the replacement of Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act by a new schedule is to remove the provision requiring the City to be contained within one parliamentary constituency. It is perhaps a little surprising that the provision has been removed without a specific repeal. Magna Carta is without doubt a constitutional measure, and so therefore is the Act of 1297 which preserves the City's liberties and customs. The Bill your Lordships are considering is also a constitutional measure. There is modern legal authority which has been much referred to by academic lawyers giving evidence to the EU Scrutiny Committee in the other place on the European Union Bill suggesting that a constitutional provision requires specific statutory repeal.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Will the noble Lord give way? We are having trouble hearing him, but that might just be the audio arrangements in the Chamber. Can he explain in one sentence what he is actually trying to do? We think that his amendment is a nimby amendment, but we are not quite sure.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, with whom I have duelled on a number of occasions. I shall try to move closer to some form of microphone. I hope that that is better. By the time that I have concluded my remarks, he will recognise exactly what I am seeking to do and why I am doing it in so discreet a manner.
Schedule 11 to the Bill includes in Part 2 the provisions to be repealed, but the 1297 Act does not feature there or in Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 10, which deal with amendments to existing legislation. I do not wish to make too much of this because a great deal, not least interpretation, is uncertain when dealing with statutes of such antiquity. In the City of London context, significant elements of the franchise are, however, covered by the law of custom, which the 1297 Act protects. This prompts me to query whether the existing very specific provision relating to the City of London, which has been included in the legislation governing parliamentary constituencies until the appearance of this Bill, was inserted in deference to the Act of 1297. Perhaps the Minister might be prepared to offer an observation on the provenance of the existing provision when he replies.
I do not think that I need to exercise any great powers of persuasion to convince your Lordships that the City is demographically atypical. Its administration is quite different from that of the London boroughs. It has a local business franchise as well as a residential one, and business dominates. It currently has 5,939 parliamentary electors, which is slightly more than in 1948 but still very small in comparative terms.
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Having said all this about the constituency and the manner of representing it, I recognise that the Bill before your Lordships' House lays down precise rules for the conduct of future boundary reviews. I also appreciate that there is a strong desire on the part of the Government to avoid special cases other than those which the Bill itself identifies. Recognising the constraints, I believe that the amendment does not simply seek to reimpose the requirements in the current Act that the City should be part of a single constituency. Rather, it proposes such an outcome where "practicable" -to quote from the amendment-with wording that has been specifically devised to avoid special pleading and to rely on uniqueness.
The amendment would create a strong presumption that this will be the result without making it an absolute. That is the effect of paragraph (1) in the amendment, which also relates the requirement to a "special authority", a term defined in paragraph (3) in the amendment. In the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which is referred to there, the term "special authority" is defined as an authority covering an area with a population of less than 10,000 whose gross rateable value divided by its population is more than £10,000. In other words, the reference is to an area that is primarily commercial and not residential. The only geographical location to satisfy that definition is the City of London, which simply goes to reinforce how exceptional it is; hence my claim for uniqueness.
Avoiding specific reference to the City of London in the amendment avoids any suggestion of potential hybridity and, therefore, any need for me to discuss it. Paragraph (2) in the amendment is modelled on Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, which requires the City of London to appear in the name of the constituency that includes the City. As noble Lords would expect, I believe the continuation of this practice to be entirely appropriate. I hope that the Minister feels that I have given enough to provide him with the encouragement to look favourably on the City's treatment under future boundary reviews. I beg to move.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: The amendment in my name is, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has said, slightly firmer in that it leaves out the words "where practicable", and asks that a constituency shall exist,
It does not mean only that, but it should certainly include the City of London. I have to confess that when I read the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Brooke, Lord Jenkin and Lord Newby. I did not understand it, which is why I tabled this amendment. I wondered at that time, "Dick Whittington, where are you when we need you? What is happening to the City of London?". I was then taken to one side and it was explained that the amendment that has just been spoken to is in effect the same and is to preserve the City of London.
As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has said, the City of London has been a special case for longer than anyone's memory, even in this sage House. Its rights
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The present Bill removes the current bit of legislation that is set out in the 1986 Act, which requires there to be a constituency that includes the whole of the City of London and the name of which shall refer to the City of London. It has continued for centuries, not just more recently, as a constituency. Recently, however, the words "City of London" have to form part of the name of a parliamentary constituency. Even these words were inserted into the name of the GLA division, which is now, I think, City and East London. More recently, as has been mentioned, in 2000 the rules for redistribution of seats again preserved the constituency.
There is also the interesting constitutional point, which has been touched on, that the current Bill has been characterised as a constitutional measure and accepted as such by being taken on the Floor of the House in the other place. The early 1297 Act is also a constitutional measure, as has been mentioned, but there has been no provision to amend that.
There are, as has been referred to, many legal arguments. I will spare the House the details that I have here. What is interesting, as far as it affects this House, this Committee and the Bill in front of us, is that the existing provision for a constituency that will include the whole of the City of London, as well as the name, will cease to exist if the Bill is passed. It will not automatically mean that the City as we know it will be split, but it allows for that as an outcome, because there will be no preservation of the boundaries around that. It is important for this House to consider some of the same comments that were made earlier, in the case of the Isle of Wight, of an island surrounded by water.
Lord Winston: I am finding it quite difficult to understand the noble Baroness's argument, simply because there is so much chatter around her. I am sure that it would be courteous to her if we listened to the argument that she is presenting to the House.
Historically, there has been a recognition, including in the boundaries, that the City of London is a special geographical area, that its boundaries are special and that that uniqueness should be recognised in the way in which the boundaries and the name of the constituency exist for election to the other place. The Bill would put an end to that and to the special nature of the City, which it is recognised should be a special part of the voice in the other place.
It is as important to take account of locality and the commonality of interests, which we have discussed, in this particular locality as in many others-as with the Isle of Wight. In the City we have an area with very special sorts of employers, its own police force and mayor. It has its own museums and theatres, too.
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Noble Lords might not expect to hear any of that from someone from this side of the House, but the issue is one of locality. It is similar to the commonality of interests, which I believe the drawing of boundaries for parliamentary representation should respect. I tabled Amendment 85C to recognise that special area at the very centre of the capital-of this great city of ours. We would be wise to preserve those boundaries, not necessarily as a single constituency but to ensure that the whole of the City is within the same boundary and that the name "City of London" remains with that constituency.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: After that eloquent speech, I can be extremely brief. I very much appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has said on this subject. She obviously knows a great deal about it. I had Epping Forest in my constituency, and the Conservatives represented the City as the body that ran Epping Forest. I add one thing. The noble Baroness made the point that this should be a completely non-party issue. I have a long quotation, but at this hour of the night I shall keep it very short. I shall quote what Mr Herbert Morrison said at the time of the 1944 Act, when there was some suggestion that perhaps the City organisations should disappear. He said:
The noble Baroness has adumbrated what might happen if the City were redistributed among its neighbouring authorities. That could cause great difficulty for those who seek to represent those areas and the City in the other place. It could make for considerable complications when determining priorities and matters of that sort.
Of course, this does not affect the City's government of its own. It is a bicameral legislature. It is sometimes argued by historians that our Parliament was based originally on the bicameral legislature of the City, which is why my noble friend who moved this amendment said that the City does not owe itself to this House; we owe ourselves to the City.
I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will recognise that this is a strong case. As my noble friend pointed out, this is a body that is less than the size of a normal ward in London. With its tremendous
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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Amendment 80 is in this group so it would be appropriate for me to say a few words in relation to that now. With no disrespect to the previous three speakers, who talked about the City of London and the capital city, I am not a nationalist, as everyone here knows, but I must point out that London is only one of the capital cities in the United Kingdom. Edinburgh is the second capital city of the United Kingdom.
I will be accused of special-case pleading, but a lot of the arguments put forward in relation to the Isle of Wight, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, dealt with in his usual careful way, apply to other areas as well. I do not have the Hansard yet, but I could quote from the eloquent arguments put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Forsyth, about the Isle of Wight and relate them to other parts of the United Kingdom. However, I want to argue a wider range in relation to the capital city of Edinburgh.
Amendment 80 would have five preserved constituencies in the city of Edinburgh council area. When I stood in West Edinburgh in 1970 and in Pentlands in 1974 we had seven constituencies in the city of Edinburgh. I never won Pentlands or West Edinburgh on those occasions and had to move down to Ayrshire ultimately to get elected. I gave a graphic description of the constituency that I used to represent at about six in the morning on Monday or Tuesday; I think it was Tuesday for normal human beings outside but Monday for parliamentarians. Then, prior to 2005 Edinburgh was reduced to having six constituencies. My noble friend Lady Liddell of Coatdyke was responsible. I do not blame her in any way, but she was the Secretary of State who had the duty and the responsibility to reduce the number to six on that occasion. Subsequently, from 2005, the number of constituencies has now been reduced to five. Yet, during all this time, the population of Edinburgh has been rising substantially while that of Glasgow has been going down.
In Edinburgh East, represented brilliantly now by Sheila Gilmore, there are 74,505 electors; in Edinburgh North and Leith, represented-brilliantly, I had better say also-by Mark Lazarowicz there are 74,762 electors; in Edinburgh South, which Ian Murray now represents, again brilliantly, there are 68,884 electors; and, in Edinburgh South West, which is represented by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, even more brilliantly-or had I better say, equally brilliantly?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: With distinction, then. There are 75,787 constituents there. In Edinburgh West, which is represented currently by a Liberal Democrat-equally brilliantly, I had better say, since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, is replying to this debate and I seek his support on this-there are 70,603 constituents represented by Mike Crockart.
If the quota is 76,000 and the plus or minus allowance in relation to it is 5 per cent, all those constituencies will have to be looked at. If it is plus or minus 10 per cent then, if my arithmetic is right, at least three or probably four of the constituencies would be not immutable but able to continue at their present size and with their present boundary, without violating that variation. That would be a sensible thing to do, but in Edinburgh-we were talking earlier on in a debate about taking account of projected increases in population-there are substantial projected population increases. As my noble friend Lord O'Neill will know, because he lives in the area, in Edinburgh North and Leith there is expected to be extensive population growth.
Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: I am grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to intervene but he very quickly passed over this fact: I do not live in Edinburgh, but live in Leith. I am not a Leith nationalist. Indeed, it could be argued that I live in the village of Newhaven, which was never the subject of a plebiscite, as Leith was in the 1920s-a very controversial plebiscite that the people of Leith have always disputed.
I draw it to my noble friend's attention, and I do not wish in any way to diminish the strength of his case, that it is fair to say that adjacent to Edinburgh and slightly to the east is the town of Musselburgh. As I am sure he is aware, although it has enjoyed a presence in both the Edinburgh East and East Lothian constituencies, the proud boast-in fact, the chant-of the Musselburghers was that Musselburgh was a borough when Edinburgh was only a town. Therefore, we have to be a wee bit careful here when we start claiming historical precedents, first, in respect of Edinburgh and Leith, where you have to take account of the fact that the Leithers are a significant group within the city; and secondly, if we are to extend the primacy of representation and the boundaries of constituencies, and ignore the claims of the good burghers of Musselburgh, we are getting into rather dangerous waters.
I know that my noble friend spends a lot of time swimming in those waters and that it has always been the hallmark of his political contributions. However, at this stage of the day-or, perhaps, the night-we have to be a wee bit sensitive to some of those feelings, particularly at this time given the fortunes of the football club which resides in Leith. At the moment, we are suffering. We do not need more pain because of his reluctance to give us our proper place in the panoply of Edinburgh constituencies.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: That was a very accurate, rather long and not very helpful intervention from my noble friend. I ask everyone here to forgive him for it. I forgive him as well, because he has gone through a very painful experience. The football club that he supports-the lesser of the two Edinburgh clubs-when we were struggling through debate here the other night was beaten by lowly Second Division Ayr United in the Scottish Cup. So he is suffering a little and we understand that. In his lifetime and my lifetime-that is quite a long time for both of us-Leith and Granton and Newhaven have all been part of the city of Edinburgh. He was a distinguished member of the Edinburgh City Labour Party.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I will have to be very careful because I am not a nationalist and I do not want to do anything that would argue the case for separation, but the city of Edinburgh has a great history, as I am sure my noble friend would agree. I think there is a very strong case for it having five separate constituencies. My noble friend should take account of the fact that I am currently an elected representative for an area that includes the city of Edinburgh. I am putting forward my argument today because I have been approached by the four Labour Members in the city of Edinburgh, who represent four of the five constituencies and who feel very strongly about this. That includes Mark Lazarowicz, whose constituency includes Leith.
Because of the growth that I was describing in the Leith area we expect about 25,000 additional residents on the waterfront and Newhaven. Creating five constituencies in Edinburgh would in no way breach the plus or minus 5 or 10 per cent thresholds that we have discussed earlier-certainly not 10 per cent and probably not 5 per cent. It would allow those five constituencies to be agreed within the one local government area, the City of Edinburgh Council. Other constituencies in Scotland, apart from the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland, which have already been dealt with, could be dealt with moving out from Edinburgh, creating them one after the other as we move around Scotland.
I hope we can give this kind of guidance to the Boundary Commission. If we are able to take special account of the special needs of the Isle of Wight, I hope we will also take account of the special needs of the city of Edinburgh.
Lord Myners: My Lords, I rise to speak in support of the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lady Hayter-Amendment 85C-and I endorse the very wise observations made from the opposition Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding.
As I look to the opposite side, I see many people who, like me, have enjoyed a career as a result of the great focus of skill that we have in the City of London. I look to those who have represented the City of London, such as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who was for many years my Member of Parliament-I may not have agreed with his politics, but he was an extremely good constituency MP-and to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, who was a City editor.
Without wishing to inflame the views of those behind me, I would say that the City is the City of London. We do not use the term "the City" as shorthand for Birmingham, Manchester or Truro, where I come from. The City is the City of London-the square mile-which is a source of great excellence and a centre of economic prosperity. Of course, some firms based in the City have experienced recent difficulties, but we must not forget that many sectors of activity conducted within the City of London, under the supervision of the Corporation and the guidance and framework that the City of London provides, have continued to prosper. I think here particularly of fund management and of insurance.
The City is the square mile, and we cannot see this great centre of excellence divided as part of a rounding error to make weight for adjacent constituencies with wholly different profiles. To ensure continuing effective liaison among Guildhall, the City Corporation and Parliament, it is important that the City resides within a single parliamentary constituency. That is why I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Hayter.
I was fortunate to be offered a ministerial position in the previous Government. My formal title was Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury, but the office was commonly referred to in the press and elsewhere as "the City Minister". I endeavoured at all times to recognise that I had a particular responsibility to speak for the activities that took place in the City. Other centres such as Edinburgh, Manchester, Norwich
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Lord Martin of Springburn: I wish to speak to Amendment 81, on Argyll and Bute. I make no criticism of the other House when it debated this matter-far from it, as I served in that House for 30 years-but the different practices that exist in the other House are such that perhaps constituencies and the problems of them in legislation like this are not always highlighted in the way that can happen in this Chamber. Please be assured that bringing up Argyll is not a reason to delay. I just want to explain that Argyll should have the special consideration that the Minister's former constituency is to be given because of its vastness.
I asked the Library to look at the size of other constituencies along with Argyll and Bute. Penrith and The Border was represented by David Maclean-Lord Maclean as he will now be, as he is about to come here-whom I considered a good friend regardless of the fact that we belong to different political traditions. Penrith and The Border covers 113 square miles. Anyone who has been in that part of the world will acknowledge that Penrith and The Border is a very big constituency, but in comparison Argyll and Bute is 2,751 square miles. Westmorland is 61 square miles compared with the 2,751 of Argyll and Bute.
My noble friend Lord Robertson-an Argyllshire boy, born and bred-tells me that, if you were to measure every inch of the Argyll coastline, the distance would be such that it would take you from Glasgow to New York. The islands are not small by any means. There is Mull, Jura, Islay, Colonsay, Tiree, Gigha, Coll and the beautiful and ancient Iona, where Columba brought Christianity to Scotland.
For the local Member of Parliament to travel in Argyll, from Oban he would need to travel by car 68 miles to get to Campbeltown, not by motorway but by old-fashioned, traditional roads. To get to some of the islands, the Member of Parliament would have to take a ferry to one island and, if he wished to go to another island, he would have to take another ferry. As my noble friend Lord Foulkes will know, when you get to Campbeltown and the famous Mull of Kintyre, you are to the south of Ayr and the constituency that he represented-although you are separated by a vast amount of water.
If the boundary commissioner was to look only at numbers and close proximity, there could be some strange notions because places such as Campbeltown
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I have been neutral for 10 years. When I took the great office of Speaker of the House of Commons, I gave up my membership of a political party, as other Speakers did. Being in a political party is an enjoyable experience. It is not only about political belief, but friendship and kindredship, going to conferences and meeting friends, who are like family. I have given that up, and I know that people would argue that I was in the Labour Party at one time-I do not deny that, and am proud of the membership that I had-but I am arguing for a constituency that, to my knowledge, has never been represented by a member of the Labour Party. In fact, one of the great offices of state-that of the Secretary of State for Scotland-was performed by Michael Noble, who was a Conservative Member of Parliament for Argyll. As a Peer, he then served this House so well after he left the House of Commons-he was a Chairman of Committees-as did the late John Mackay, who had also been the MP for Argyll.
A lovely lady whom we all got on with was Ray Michie, who served the House of Commons so well and also came to this House and served so well here. She used to regale us with the stories of how, when she had to go and see her constituents on some of these islands, she had to get on to an old trawler ship and share the accommodation with cattle.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: As an aspirant politician in 1992, I had the temerity to take on Ray Michie. When I took over the candidacy, the Labour Party was fourth of four parties in the constituency. When I handed it on to my successor, we were fourth of four parties in the constituency.
I endorse all that my noble friend has said, but I could not pass up the opportunity to pay tribute to Ray Michie and, in particular, to her husband, who campaigned for her assiduously during every election by going round the constituency, knocking on doors and encouraging people not to vote for her so that he would not have to make his own tea as she was absent in London. He charmed constituents into voting for her.
Of course, there is fantastic compensation in a Member representing a constituency like Argyll. My fondness for the music of the Highland pipes comes in part from the fact that there are so many tunes, Strathspeys, reels and marches that are named after the romantic places of Argyll and the beautiful islands there.
At the moment, the seat is represented by Alan Reid. I have not spoken to him recently, but I received a note from him in which he encouraged me to highlight my amendment. What is significant is that, when I met Alan, serving in the House of Commons as Speaker, I was a Member of Parliament in my own right. Every Thursday I headed north, as did every other Scottish Member of Parliament. Many a time we shared the rooms at Heathrow airport waiting for a plane. I used
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There is unfairness in that. With a vast area of mainland, the Mull of Kintyre, Oban and all the other areas and then out to those beautiful islands that I have inadequately described, a boundary commissioner would then have to go landward, further into Scotland, to get the numbers up. That would be extremely unfair on any Member who had to take in Argyll. I know that the term "special case" has been bandied about for several days now, but Argyll should be made a special case.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: I support my noble friend's case about Argyll. I have had a home in Argyll for almost 30 years. The issues that he raises about the complexity of travel cannot be overstated. Most of the roads in Argyll and Bute are single-track roads with passing places. I used to travel up on a Thursday night with Ray Michie. As I pointed out the other night, I would be home in bed before she had even managed to get her car defrosted to do a journey of up to two and half hours to get to Oban in Argyll.
I travelled around the islands a lot, particularly as Secretary of State for Scotland. There are many islands that it would be impossible for the Member of Parliament to visit and come back from on the same day, so the MP would have to remain overnight on the islands.
The unfairness of the way in which Argyll and Bute is being treated in this legislation gives me cause for alarm. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, represented a constituency that was a series of islands. He, more than anybody else, knows the complexity of representing islands. It is an oversight of overwhelming proportions that Argyll and Bute should not be given special status in the Bill. If a boundary commissioner were even to visit the islands and look at their complexity, the commissioner would probably be lost for a month.
Lord Martin of Springburn: The noble Baroness is perfectly correct. She reminds me about the single-track roads. The difficulty is not only in getting around the islands but in getting around the great sea lochs of Argyll, such as Loch Goil. For getting landward from these, it would be easier to go by boat because of the single-track roads.
No noble Lord should be thinking "Well, this is a nice, rural area and it will be just rural problems that have to be looked at". There are pockets of poverty in
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Lord Grocott: My Lords, I speak to Amendment 85A in my name, which adds to the list of preserved constituencies the constituency of Telford, which I represented in the other place. The immediate reaction of the House, I am sure, when anyone starts his or her remarks with something like that is to say, "Oh, this is a purely parochial point, and we can think about breakfast or whatever takes our minds off the passing speech". That is not the case. I am doing so because it illustrates at least three serious weaknesses in the Bill. I do not need to repeat that I think that this is a very bad Bill with little support in the House of Commons, despite the votes which in no way reflect what members of all parties in the House of Commons are actually saying about it.
I will admit five seconds of self-indulgence. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to put my former constituency on the Marshalled List. I would love to see it in Hansard, and so I will have to mention it: the constituency of Telford, comprising the wards of Brookside, Cuckoo Oak, Dawley Magna, Horsehay and Lightmoor, Ironbridge Gorge, Ketley and Oakengates, Lawley and Overdale, Madeley, Malinslee, The Nedge, Priorslee, St Georges, Woodside, Wrockwardine Wood and Trench. No doubt that will be interpreted as gross filibustering; I point out to the House that it took about five seconds.
On the substantive point-much encouraged as I am by the decision of the House to add one more name to the list of preserved constituencies, which gives me a bit more confidence in making my point-the Bill proposes boundary redistributions every five years, which is a bad decision in any case. It was only at the 1997 general election that at long last we got five Members of Parliament for Shropshire. There was a pretty overwhelming case for that happening over a longish period of time. We had always had four, but we were given five. That was welcomed across the political spectrum and by representative bodies across the country. If this Bill becomes an Act we will undoubtedly go back down to four constituencies.
I issue a gentle piece of advice, if not warning, to the government Front Bench. While they may find large numbers of people and Members of Parliament who are in favour of, and can argue the case for, reducing the number of MPs by maybe 50, I challenge them to find any substantial local government area, town, city or county across the United Kingdom that says, "We want fewer Members of Parliament representing us in Westminster". They never say that, and they certainly did not say it in Shropshire. It will come as no surprise to the House that when a draft set of constituency boundaries under the Government's
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I do not ask the Government to tell me the result of their survey, but I put it to the Liberal Democrats that they should consult their own Members of Parliament as to whether they favour their constituencies being made bigger and, in particular, ask them whether they think that in their own county or city, or wherever the happen to live, there should be a smaller number of Members of Parliament. It would be wonderful if they did that and reported it to the House, but I predict that they will do neither. They would not like the result that they got.
The disadvantage from our point of view, having argued long and hard for five MPs and now being told that we are almost certainly going to get four, and the knowledge that right around the United Kingdom there will be people making points of this kind-"By all means get rid of a few MPs, but not in our area"-should be taken into account by the Government if they have any sense. I have always known that there is a big majority of Members of Parliament, particularly Conservative Members of Parliament, who are totally opposed to Part 1 of the Bill. I increasingly realise that there is a large number of Conservative Members of Parliament who may be in favour of Part 2 of the Bill for everyone else, but not for their own area.
I conclude with this appeal. The three exempt constituencies so far are Orkney and Shetland, which is Liberal, the Western Isles, which is SNP, and the Isle of Wight, which is Conservative, so perhaps in the mood of generosity that we have noticed once or twice in ministerial responses today the Government will take the magnanimous decision, in the interests of harmony right across the House, to exempt a constituency such as Telford, which is, of course, a Labour seat.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, I have listened to this debate with great interest. I listened with great sympathy to the paean of praise for Telford by my noble friend Lord Grocott. I happen to know Telford because, when I was Defence Procurement Minister, among the agencies for which I was responsible were the Defence Support Group and the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency. I visited them in Telford on more than one occasion. I watched them doing superb work repairing vehicles that had been repatriated from Afghanistan after having been extremely seriously damaged by improvised explosive devices. I was immensely moved-that is the only word that I can use-not only by the skill but by the extraordinary dedication of the people who were working on that job. They knew how enormously important it was for the military and they were proud to do the job, which they did with absolute perfection and dedication. If any group of men and women in this country deserves special electoral recognition, I should find it hard to deny it to the people of Telford.
Apart from that consideration, I had no idea that anybody was thinking of making a special concession to Telford. Neither was I aware of the attractions of the Scottish islands off the coast of Argyll. Having heard the idyllic descriptions of them from several quarters of the House this evening, I shall certainly make it a priority to visit that part of the country.
With the leave of the House, I will revert to the City of London and speak in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who spoke with the historical erudition that the House will associate with him. I also support the equivalent amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayter, which would have a similar, although slightly more forceful, effect. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made a case for the historic privileges of the City and for the City of London's right to continue to be recognised as a constituency, or as part of a constituency with that name included in it, as has been the case since Parliament existed.
I follow my noble friends Lady Hayter and Lord Myners in making a more pragmatic case. I am in no way detracting from the historical case, but I think that there is an important practical reason for continuing to ensure that one individual-one man or woman-can be described as the Member for the City of London. So that I do not get into trouble, I had better declare an interest, although it is not really a current interest. Before I entered politics, I was engaged full-time in the City of London, latterly as a director of a merchant bank. I was a colleague of the noble Earl, Lord Home, with whom I shared an office at one time. I saw him in his place a moment ago, although he has now left the Chamber. Even after I had been elected to Parliament as a Back-Bencher, I continued my role in the City and subsequently, before entering the Government, I was on the council of Lloyd's of London, which is one of the biggest insurance and reinsurance groups in the world. However, I have no current financial interest in the City of London. I am a liveryman of the Goldsmiths' Company, which is one of the ancient City companies, but I do not know whether that in any way constitutes a material interest.
Having said that, I recognise that it is difficult to say anything favourable about the City at the present time. Bankers and politicians are the two most unacceptable groups of humanity at the moment in this country and, indeed, elsewhere and we just have to accept that for the time being. As I have said in the House, there is no doubt that in commercial banking, which is just one area of activity that takes place in the City, serious professional mistakes were made. An awful lot of the criticism and, indeed, vituperation has, I am afraid, been all too well deserved.
Nevertheless, the City of London is much more than commercial banking or investment banking, which is my field. The City of London involves stockbroking, securities trading, fund management, international fund management-an enormously important field of activity, as my noble friend Lord Myners said-commodities trading, insurance and reinsurance, both the company market and the Lloyd's market, and shipping. The Baltic Exchange is the world's greatest centre of trading in ship charters. I do not have the figures in my head, but we all know that the City generates an enormous proportion of gross domestic product. Some people may say that it is disproportionately great, which may be true in the sense that it would be nice to have a more balanced economy, but the solution to that is not to run down the great asset and generator of wealth that we have, it is to nurture it and ensure that we are in no way inhibiting the development of other sectors of economic activity.
The City is an enormous national asset. It is the envy of Europe that we should have achieved here in London, in this time zone, far and away the greatest financial market in the world. It is a great source of employment. The latest figure which I have, which may be out of date but it sticks in my mind, is that half a million people work in the City every day. The vast majority of them come into the City. We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that only about 4,000 or 5,000 people live in the City and some of them do not work there, so it is an enormous generator of wealth and employment.
I think that the House is familiar with the importance of the City to the national economy and will therefore bear with me when I say that it would be an enormous mistake to deprive the City of a representative in Parliament who is explicitly that, who is the Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster, or whatever the name might happen to be. It clearly needs to be for the City and somewhere else, and Westminster seems to fit it very well, but it must be a single Member of Parliament for the City. If the City was divided between two, three or four constituencies-the neighbouring constituencies at present-that responsibility would not fall on any one man or woman. We would not have a clearly defined interlocutor for government who could say truthfully that he or she represented the City; we would not have one person to whom the City could appeal.
Before I give way to my noble friend Lord Myners, perhaps I may say that he was an enormously distinguished Minister for the City. We need a Minister for the City and it would be nice if we could again have such an able and effective Minister as my noble friend, but the
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Lord Myners: I am grateful to my noble friend for his correct anticipation of my point. It is disappointing that we no longer have a City Minister. We no longer have in government a Minister who is seen to have specific responsibility for the City. Instead, the responsibility is divided between Mr Mark Hoban in the other place and the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, in your Lordships' House. It is clear that there is a dispute between the two of them as to who speaks on behalf of the City; they fight for the juicier parts of the responsibility and eschew the more burdensome ones. The need to have a powerful voice for the City should be reflected in the constituency structure. Also, I urge the Government to designate one Minister as the City Minister. That has gone unnoticed, unnoted and uncommented on at a time when the City needs representation and a direct dialogue between the Government and the City.
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