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To illustrate the increasing demand in MPs' casework, I quote a couple of examples that I hope, since they do not come particularly from Labour, might convince Members opposite. According to Wilks-Heeg and Clayton, authors of Whose Town is it Anyway? The State of Local Democracy in Two Northern Towns, published in 2006 by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, an MP in the 1950s or 1960s, which is even before I was a Member of Parliament and probably even before my noble friend Lord Kinnock was-
That indicates the growing volume of work. An eloquent description of the crushing casework demand of an inner London MP was written by Greg Hands, then Conservative MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, in December 2007. He said:
If a third of an inner London MP's casework is immigration-based, an inner-city MP is likely to be doing half as much other casework as an MP with very few such cases, as I had in a rural area in Scotland. That is not satisfactory in terms of equality of representation. This points to the sense of equality of population rather than registered electorate being the key criterion, as an MP represents the whole constituency. That is covered in an amendment to which I shall come later this morning.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My noble friend has spoken about wealth in constituencies and has just reflected on the question of immigrants in constituencies as well. Is he aware of the phenomenon that always struck me so forcefully as a former MP for Oldham, which had a very significant Asian community, which was that the figures and statistics for the earning power of the constituency, which was very poor, could not take into account the fact that a significant number of people, despite earning very limited amounts of money, were in the practice of sending a considerable percentage of their earnings back home to poorer relatives elsewhere? For me, it brought to mind something not dissimilar to the old-fashioned tithe, when 10 per cent of one's income went to the church. That did not count as revenue or income that the state could tackle because it was secreted for the church. A great deal of the few resources that individuals in the immigrant community in the United Kingdom command is expatriated.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My noble friend is absolutely right. I found it starkly revealing to sit next to colleagues in the House of Commons who represented constituencies in Bradford or Birmingham, where more than half the people whom they represented were from immigrant families. They may not have been immediate immigrants-they might have been second or third generation-but there were a huge number of them. It was a real revelation to me to find out about the huge workload arising from that. Repatriation of some of the money that they raised was one way in which their spending income was reduced. My noble friend Lady Liddell was in the same situation as me, representing a former mining constituency. We had a huge case load of former miners, after the previous Conservative Government under Mrs Thatcher forced the closure of the mines in Scotland and elsewhere. They were getting compensation for pneumoconiosis, silicosis and vibration white finger. I had not dozens but hundreds and hundreds of people coming to see me and each of them had a huge problem to raise. So we learnt that from each other.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My noble friend draws attention to the large volume of casework that falls to be carried out by Members of Parliament representing, for example, former mining constituencies or constituencies with a high proportion of immigrants resident in them. In doing so, does he not highlight the fancifulness of the Government's contention that they will save £12 million by reducing the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600? I understand that that £12 million is compounded of £4 million for MPs' salaries and £8 million for their office costs. In light of the factors that my noble friend has just mentioned, they are plainly not going to save the office costs component of that. In fact, those costs would have to rise for individual Members of Parliament to enable them to carry out their duties. Would not it therefore be better to be done with it and stay with at least the existing number of Members of Parliament?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I absolutely agree. The more that we go through this Bill, paragraph by paragraph, the more it unravels-and the more it becomes clear that the original contention that we should reduce the number from 650 to 600 is absolutely crazy. The initial premise forces the Government into all the other crazy things in the Bill, such as preserved constituencies and the figure of 13,000 square kilometres.
Viscount Eccles: Does the noble Lord not think that he is stretching the meaning of the word "scrutiny" rather wide? In that connection, I strongly recommend to the party opposite that it should not try to form a team for "Just a Minute", because it would be ruled out of order in no time at all both for repetition and for deviation.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Has the noble Viscount seen the groupings list for today? Is he aware that in this group there are 12 amendments, all dealing with matters of great importance? I am talking to two of them-one in relation to the ward, which I dealt with
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Viscount Eccles: None of the amendments in the group refers to the reduction from 650 to 600. The recommendation in the 1986 Act, which rules today, was 613. Sometimes, if I may say so, the word "scrutiny" is being murdered.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Sometimes, also, actions have consequences that are unseen and unpredicted. It is only when we examine collectively the provisions that these unintended consequences become obvious. It is our duty and responsibility to point them out. But before the noble Viscount intervened, I was coming to the end of what I was saying.
Lord Howarth of Newport: Might the implication of the intervention by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, really be that we have not tabled enough amendments to enable us to scrutinise every aspect of the Bill point by point? Indeed, I suggest to my noble friend that he is being remarkably constrained. For example, we should consider the fact that in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1997 the opposition parties tabled 11,500 amendments to a Bill intended by the Progressive Conservative Government in Ontario to amalgamate metropolitan Toronto with the city of Toronto. Does that not make my noble friends on this side of the House appear to have been remarkably self-disciplined and restrained in their tabling of amendments?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My noble friend is absolutely right. I would have preferred to have had the opportunity of being on a committee to scrutinise the Bill before it came before this House. I would have been happy to deal with some of these points during the pre-legislative scrutiny. However, I know that many of my noble friends will want to come in on one or other of these 12 amendments and I certainly do not want personally to detain the House any longer.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, the statement from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that he does not wish to detain the Committee any further will perhaps be a welcome relief to the small number of people who may be watching the parliament channel at the moment. Anybody who is watching or perhaps even reads this debate in Hansard tomorrow will clearly see that in the past 26 minutes we have had yet again an extensive and irrelevant filibuster in the Committee, rather than serious scrutiny. I suggest to anyone following this debate that, were they to look at the last half-hour of our debates on Wednesday night-or the early hours of Thursday morning-which were again led by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, they would see the clearest
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Lord Rennard: No, my Lords, I am sorry. I am not going to give way because we should try to make progress. I will say why: there are some significant points that we should be looking at in terms of scrutiny. I agree with some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has made on the ward boundaries. If we were to look at all 12 amendments in this group, the last three of them, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tyler, are technical amendments to flag up formally to the Boundary Commissions the importance of the ward boundaries. Unlike Amendment 74B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, they are rather more correct because they deal with the issue of the ward boundaries in its relevant place within the Bill, rather than in just one place.
Unlike other arguments relating to other amendments within this group, it seems to me that the importance of our amendments is that they are not prescriptive in that they do not demand that ward boundaries never be crossed. However, they say to the Boundary Commissions that they are an important building block. They should not necessarily always be adhered to but they should be taken into account to some degree. The origin of these last three amendments within the group was my own puzzlement in looking at the wording of the Bill, where there is a reference to wards in Northern Ireland but none to ward boundaries in England, Scotland or Wales. I thought that it would be helpful if a little clarity were given to the Boundary Commissioners about the importance of ward boundaries as one of the factors that they should take into account.
As we know from the informal evidence provided by their members, the Boundary Commissions will, in any event, have every intention of looking at ward boundaries, but it would be better if the legislation were improved, if possible. I hope that the Minister will respond by saying that this is something that might be considered as an improvement to the legislation.
The language with which we look at issues such as ward boundaries or other boundaries is, in my view, of some importance to the Boundary Commission processes. There are alternatives within these different amendments, using either "should", "must" or insofar as they see fit. It seems to me that there is a good reason why the previous legislation on Boundary Commissions and this legislation tend to use the phrase "insofar as they see fit". You can suggest that boundary commissioners look at different criteria when they redraw the constituency boundaries, but it is very hard to rank them in any priority or say that one carries more weight than another. The commissioners have to look at competing priorities. By saying, "in so far as they see fit", independent and impartial people would be given the power to choose the relative weight of geographic ties, minimising inconvenience and such factors, and we would also avoid the danger of getting to the end of this process
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Lord Kinnock: I am very grateful to the noble Lord and I have a great deal of sympathy with the case that he is putting forward. However, will he not join me in recognising that, before any Boundary Commission gives consideration to this Bill, let alone the Bill as amended in the way that the noble Lord wants, they are completely ensnared by the reality that, in all and any circumstances, they must return boundaries for precisely 600 constituencies, or, more appropriately, 598 constituencies because two are protected? Does that not remove a great deal of the effective discretion that should be employed, in the way that he suggests, by independent-minded boundary commissioners taking full account of precisely the arguments that he is making and arguments that have been deployed on both sides of the Chamber in our debates hitherto?
Lord Rennard: I do not accept that the democratic principle is such a constraint. The criteria in the Bill given to the four Boundary Commissions are remarkably similar to the criteria we have had in historic legislation dealing with how the Boundary Commissions work. There is then the issue of the number of seats, but I do not accept that the number of seats will affect too much the way in which the boundary commissioners choose to judge the importance of those competing factors.
Lord Rennard:I am sorry but I will not give way again on this point. Perhaps I may be allowed to finish the point that I am responding to from the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, and again make the point that I have had to make when this position has been taken many, many times in debate on many amendments during the passage of the Bill over the 12 days of Committee so far. It seems to me that it is not uncommon in many countries for Parliaments to fix the size of Parliaments, usually through a written constitution. As the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, will know, my party, and I in particular, think that it is very important to have a written constitution. I believe that in this country we are moving, in one way and another, towards a written constitution, but it is absolutely not unprecedented nor considered remotely undemocratic in other countries for Parliament to determine the number of seats that there should be. In the United States, for example, it is the constitution that sets out that there shall be two members of the Senate for each state. That appears very early in the principles of the United States constitution. Therefore, I do not accept that the Boundary Commissions are unduly constrained in this way.
Lord Rennard: No, my Lords, I want to make progress on my argument and allow us to proceed with a couple of issues of serious scrutiny that I still want
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Having seen many submissions to public inquiries on Boundary Commission processes and read many of them in the past, I have thought that the criteria which people sometimes think could be applied are not serious ones on which you would expect the commission to impartially draw the constituencies in the way that it has.
Finally within this group, I want to comment on Amendment 76, which concerns eliminating references to the euro regions with particular regard to the way in which the Boundary Commission for England works. That does not seem a sensible way in which to suggest that the Boundary Commission for England should go about its business. The Bill is not prescriptive in saying that it must follow the boundaries of the euro regions but, if it is to work in a sensible way across the whole of England, it could not possibly start in, say, Northumberland, go down to the Isles of Scilly and then go across to Kent. In order to make this effective, we need to retain the language in the Bill suggesting that the euro regions may be building blocks that the commissioners use, saying that they will want to work simultaneously on the south-east, the south-west and the north-east, and have a proper process of scrutiny that could be effective with online representations. They will need to work simultaneously on the different regions rather than across England as a whole.
Lord Soley: The noble Lord who has just spoken makes a fundamental mistake when he says that Parliaments in other countries decide the size of constituencies. He is right that they do, but the problem here is that the Government are deciding it. In other countries, political parties agree it, usually jointly or independently. That is all I want to say about that but it is an important point: Governments do not decide the structure and size of Parliaments; Parliaments decide that, and they normally do it by consent.
Lord Soley: I certainly recognise that. I also recognise that this is a bicameral House and I hope that it stays as such. One of the jobs of a bicameral House is for
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I return to the core amendment. I want to speak only on Amendment 73, but there is a wider point here that affects some of the others. There is great diversity in this group of amendments, and it might have been better if some of them had been separated out. Those tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Tyler, might have been better as a separate group because there is quite a bit in them that is separate from the others.
I want to focus on Amendment 73 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy, where he suggests replacing the word "may" with "shall". Many people in this Committee will recognise that the wording of a Bill and the use of words such as "may" is critically important, because it carries legal weight. The word "should" is not very different from "may" and, I say to my noble friend, not much better.
This point is important because it relates to some of the other amendments in this group. Why do we not use "shall" in relation to my noble friend's amendment? It is a stronger commitment. The Minister will know that, in several other places following this, "shall" is used. The obvious example is in rule 6 of the new schedule, which states:
The Explanatory Notes to the Bill and many of the things that Ministers have said from time to time indicate that they also regard the things listed in rule 5(1)(a) to (d)-that is, special geographical factors, local government, local ties and the inconvenience attendant on such changes-as very important. Schedule 2, the measure that is driving them forward on this Bill, says:
I am after an answer from the Minister because this question affects other parts of the Bill-certainly some of those affected in this group of amendments-but I am trying to focus on one for the sake of clarity. There is in fact no reason why we should not also use "shall" in rule 5. If we are all saying, as the Government have done, that we want these things to be taken into consideration, the use of the word would not undermine the use of "shall" in rule 2(1)-
It would simply instruct the Boundary Commission in a much more forceful way to take into account the factors that Ministers and Members on all sides of the Committee say are important. I do not see why we should not ask the Boundary Commission to do that.
The Minister might well say that it could bring up legal challenges. I understand that that could be a problem. We do not want lots of reviews by the courts of such things. Having said that, there is no way that we can assume that these factors are not important. Nor is there any reason to assume that the number of challenges in a court of law would necessarily be different if we used the softer "may". That does not rule out a legal challenge. It might make it more difficult to win but it does not rule it out, as I understand the law.
I will focus my comments just on this one point, but it is very important because it runs throughout the Bill. I understand why the Government, for party political reasons, have locked themselves into "shall" for the number of seats in Parliament. What I do not understand is why they cannot also use "shall"-the stronger legal version-for issues that they say are important and we all say are important. This is perhaps the best example. My noble friend Lord Kennedy has drawn attention to that discrepancy. The Minister needs to explain why we cannot have a straight change to the Bill here, so that it reads:
Lord Campbell-Savours: The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, in response to my noble friend Lord Kinnock, ignored one simple issue; the Bill introduces a cap on seats. Once you introduce a cap, there is no flexibility. Whatever responsibilities, powers and so on you give the Boundary Commission, it will always have that in mind in whatever decision it takes on any boundary in the United Kingdom.
I will come to the wording of this rule in a minute, but I will first reply to something else that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said. In his preamble to dealing with the amendment, he addressed himself to the parliamentary channel and those who are listening. In so far as he did so, I will equally do so. He appeared to be in order because no one objected. It is important for people who are watching the parliamentary channel to understand that we are sitting here now at half past midnight-we may well sit all night-because some of us believe in a very simple principle. Because this is a constitutional Bill, the process by which it is being dealt with in Parliament is the wrong one. There has been no Green Paper, no White Paper, no prior scrutiny of draft legislation and no consultation with the political parties. A number has simply been pulled out of the air, inserted into the Bill in the middle of frantic negotiations over the formation of a Government, and handed to parliamentary counsel or the people who write legislation to produce it in the Bill, which now has to be rammed through both Houses of Parliament.
That brings me to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. He said that the other House voted on the Bill. It is true that it voted on it, but there was no real debate in the House of Commons on this matter because of a contractual agreement between two parties to a coalition. That contractual agreement means that there is no free debate between two major parties in British politics: the Liberal Democrat party and the
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Lord Bach: It is important that we get this absolutely right at this stage. I do not want to prolong this. I want to speak on my amendment in a moment, but let me just say that rule 1(1) of 1986 rules says:
You add to that the Northern Irish figure, which is between 16 and 18, making a total not more or less than 630. I think the wording is very important, and I think the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, will appreciate that. This Bill does something quite different.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I am sorry. I got the numbers wrong, but the point that I am making is very simple. It was not a cap; it was a target. That is what is wrong with this legislation. We are talking about caps and not targets. When you have targets, the Boundary Commission then has flexibility. It knows what Parliament wants, it knows what people are moving towards, but it can take into account all the additional pressures and considerations that normally arise during the course of public inquiries about decisions that it has to take.
I turn now to the actual wording of the rule. The amendments that we are dealing with are essentially about rule 5(1) on page 10 of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, quite rightly refers specifically to this question of, "If they think fit". Those words are very important, because they are part of the first sentence in the rule:
The Boundary Commission's function is to consider those matters, but if it cannot carry out its proper consideration of those matters because of the cap, its whole raison d'être is defeated and it may as well not
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Lord Kinnock: In the context of an earlier debate that we had on the constituency of Brecon and Radnor, much was made of the fact that because Brecon and Radnor is about a third or a quarter of the size of the very large Scottish constituencies, the whole process would be altered radically if that amendment had been adopted. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made the point, and he made it very trenchantly. Because there is a cap-not a target, as my noble friend has said, but a cap-every one of those considerations on rule 5(1)(a) to (d) would be in play so far as the Boundary Commission is concerned in Brecon and Radnor, but it will have to ignore most of (a) to (d) because any rational consideration of this most rural of English and Welsh constituencies means that in order for the number 600 to be reached, there will have to be an extension, either northwards into Montgomeryshire, Sir Drefaldwyn, or further to the west into Ceredigion or into the south Wales valleys. None of those considerations could be brought to bear by the Boundary Commission simply because it could not afford to deviate from the number 600 by one, let alone by the 13 that would have been possible under the 1986 legislation or other numbers that have been targets under predecessor legislation.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I would like to have heard in the debate more references to the distinction between targets and caps, because that is essentially what we are debating. I agree with my noble friend. I was listening to the intervention of my noble friend who moved the amendment, and the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who referred to the new constituency that would be created being the maximum. It would be a huge constituency that would be utterly unmanageable, where the issue of accessibility would simply have gone out of the window, which is why I asked the noble Lord, Lord McNally, how he understands the relevance of accessibility. That constituency would have no proper representation. It would not be possible in the context of the size of the constituency that would be created. It could not, by any stretch of the imagination, have proper representation.
as a peg to draw attention to the conversation that took place at one of my dinner engagements last week. Someone raised an issue, and I suddenly thought, "That is particularly relevant to what we are discussing in this House". The whole process in which we are involved is, we are told, essentially about equalisation. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, keeps referring to votes of equal value. That is a very interesting principle. The question is: where, when and in what circumstances do you apply that principle? I want to draw attention to other circumstances where that should equally apply, if you take the word that everyone is using, "localism", into account. I want to see whether this localism-a sort of bottom-up principle-applies to this area.
I want to give as an example what is going on in Westminster, where we now sit. We are within the area of the Westminster local authority. I have here a list of all the wards within that authority. I was wondering how far this principle of equal votes of equal value applied in Westminster. I simply draw the attention of the House to what is going here. If we are prepared to have flexibility here in Westminster, why can we not apply the same flexibility throughout the whole of the United Kingdom? In every ward in Westminster there are three councillors. There are 20 wards. I want to draw attention to the variation in electorates within the council area where the Houses of Parliament stand. Knightsbridge and Belgravia has an electorate of 6,400, Tatchbrook has 6,400, Churchill 6,500, West End 6,600, Marylebone High Street 6,700, Little Venice 7,100, Maida Vale 7,200, Warwick 7,200, Vincent Square 7,300, Abbey Road 7,300, Bayswater 7,400, Church Street 7,500, Regent's Park 7,600, Hyde Park 7,700, Bryanston and Dorset Square 7,800, St James's 7,900, Harrow Road 7,900, Queen's Park 8,100, Lancaster Gate 8,200 and Westbourne 8,300.
It seems that in Westbourne, the 8,300 electors voted in three councillors; but if you live in Knightsbridge or Belgravia, the 6,400 electors vote for three councillors. Where are votes for equal value there? We are dealing with the budget of one the largest local authorities in the country. I understand that Westminster's budget is greater than those of some government departments. What about votes of equal value? Councillors elected to those wards are taking decisions on the use of these vast resources. I find it incredible that-guess what?-the largest electorates to elect the three councillors are in the Labour wards. So, built in to the arrangements for this votes-of-equal-value principle is an arrangement in Westminster whereby Labour voters are penalised and the individual voter has less influence on the expenditure of Westminster City Council. So much for votes of equal value.
Lord Howarth of Newport: The situation in the constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster is even worse than my noble friend has suggested. It is a constituency where underregistration is particularly extreme. It is thought that the registered electorate in that constituency is only some 60 per cent of the 16-plus population. So we are talking about extremely skewed patterns of electoral representation in both local government and the Westminster constituency of this part of London.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My noble friend has referred to an issue that I intend to raise. I do not know whether we will be going at eight o'clock or nine o'clock tomorrow morning, but we may well get to the amendment where I wish to raise that issue. I have some important information to place on the public record about the population of the Westminster area and we can perhaps deal with those matters later on.
On the Westminster statistics, when I was in conversation today with others I was told that Westminster has by no means the worse differential in its electorate; there are parts of the country where some councillors
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Lord Campbell-Savours: I do not know whether the noble Lord popped in at this hour or a couple of hours ago, but he will find that it is the inconsistency that is worrying me. If we were to have a consistent approach on these matters, then the Boundary Commission would have, to some extent, greater flexibility available to it in the decisions it is required to take.
Lord Liddle: I support, particularly, the first part of the argument of my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and the argument of my distinguished noble friend Lord Kinnock. The key point about this section of the Bill which the Government have not satisfactorily answered is that the function of the Boundary Commission, as it has operated since the Boundary Commission was established by all-party agreement during the Second World War, will be drastically curtailed by this legislation.
Although all the nice, reassuring words about taking account of communities, geography and so on will still be there, the work of the Boundary Commission will be curtailed as a result of the cap on the number of MPs. The Bill does not say that we should have 600 MPs but the Boundary Commission can increase the numbers by five or 10 or 15 in order to take account of local circumstances; it imposes a rigid number. There is also the corset of the 5 per cent on either side of the quota. The effect of these two measures will be to completely change the flexibility and discretion that the Boundary Commission has been able to exercise, under all-party agreement, since the Second World War. Why do the Government feel that they have a mandate to make that change without consulting all parties through a Speaker's Conference? What argument do they have for doing this? I do not think that there is a good argument.
Once again, from my own part of the world, I shall use an illustration of what the impact of these changes will be, so that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, understands how he is tearing up decades of cross-party agreement on how the Boundary Commission should operate. Let me talk a little about my beloved Cumberland. Before my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours became MP for Workington, I remember as a young man that the Boundary Commission came up with a proposal that Cumberland-this was before Cumbria-should be created-
Lord Liddle: I am in favour of the amendments that would change the wording from may to shall or must because I feel very strongly that the wording is being kept as it was in the previous legislation but disguising
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Let us think about the situation in the 1960s when the Boundary Commission suggested that Cumberland should come down from four to three seats. There was an inquiry and it was decided that on grounds of community and geographical representation the four seats should be kept. In the 1980s and 1990s, with the new county of Cumbria, as I mentioned before, the quota did not justify having six seats. The Boundary Commission used its discretion that because of the special geographic nature of Cumbria, there should be six seats. That is what the Government will destroy. The Boundary Commission will not have the ability to show such discretion. We are all in favour of equal-size constituencies and the principle of equality, but you have to have around the edges flexibility to cope with special situations. Therefore, I urge the Government to think again.
Lord Bach: My Lords, Amendment 75A, to which I shall speak shortly, is in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. The Committee has just heard a superb speech from my noble friend Lord Liddle, which both parties in government should take note of. He put his finger on the problem with this part of the Bill more clearly than has been done before. The debate has highlighted once more what we think is the Government's undoubted folly in seeking to subordinate every other factor in the construction of parliamentary boundaries to the overriding goal of creating seats that fall within the bounds of a very narrow electoral quota threshold.
We do not oppose moves to create more equally sized constituencies; indeed, we support them. That is already the letter and spirit of the present law and what the Boundary Commissions strive to deliver. We recognise, too, that the current law could be improved in that regard. We have tried to help the Government to deliver such an improvement but, alas, they have chosen to reject every amendment that we have advanced. As a consequence of this failure to engage in the normal and proper process of revision in this House, which is the role that this House is traditionally supposed to perform, serious flaws will be left uncorrected in this legislation. I appreciate that the Government have taken away one or two amendments to look at and we welcome that very much, but there has not been the normal give that Governments accord to Bills of this kind.
The focus of this debate is the proposed new rule 5, headed "Factors", in Clause 11. We believe that this is a prime example of the Bill's fundamental defects. As the Committee knows, rule 5 lists a number of factors that the Boundary Commissions are permitted to take into account when drawing up constituencies. These include having regard to special geography, issues of accessibility, local government areas, local community ties, the inconvenience attendant on changes to constituency boundaries and the encouragement to work within the framework of the existing European
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In other words, inconvenience attendant on boundary changes may be considered by the Boundary Commission in future reviews but not in the review that the Government intend to rush through before the next general election.
However, even if that anomaly was removed, there would still be a problem about Boundary Commissions taking into account not just inconvenience but any of the factors in rule 5. This is simply-I am sorry if I am repeating a point that has been made before, but it is fundamental to the understanding of this Bill-because sub-paragraph (3) of rule 5 states that the rule is,
Those are the rules relating to the electoral quota and, in the case of rule 4, as we have debated today, to the area of constituencies. In other words, the Boundary Commission may take account of a variety of factors but only within the bounds of the overriding requirement to make constituencies adhere to within the 5 per cent threshold of an electoral quota and consistent only with the special rule on the maximum territorial extent of a constituency.
The major problem here, to which the government side appears deaf, is that the degree of tolerance from the electoral quota is just too narrow. Rule 5 might state that Boundary Commissions may take into account geographical factors, local ties, issues of accessibility and so on, but the Government know that the very tight threshold regarding the electoral quota means that in practice-this is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was making-it has very limited room for manoeuvre. We know that because the heads of the Boundary Commissions have said that the strictness of the electoral parity target will mean that local authority boundaries will have to be criss-crossed, county boundaries overlapped and wards divided. We know that islands will have to be split, historic borders transgressed and natural boundaries such as rivers, valleys and the sea just plain ignored. The Boundary Commission secretaries conclude that the application of the electoral parity target is likely to result in many communities feeling that they are being divided between constituencies.
Ironically, the Bill exposes the problems caused by the 5 per cent threshold in the special exemptions that it gives to Northern Ireland and parts of the Scottish
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When we come to Amendment 79A, we will debate that more fully. For now, we can rest on the knowledge that many parts of the UK have been, without any adequate explanation, denied that special treatment. We are trying to help the Government to tidy up the Bill and to avoid some of the negative outcomes that are the inevitable consequence of the severe electoral quota requirement, both by suggesting a number of areas that should be guaranteed an allocation of whole seats and by proposing a greater tolerance in the electoral quota threshold.
We propose that, although a 5 per cent disparity from the electoral quota should be the general aim of the Boundary Commissions when drawing up constituencies, an outer limit of 10 per cent ought to be allowed where overriding factors such as those that we have discussed on all sides of the Committee warrant it. The amendment would not make any difference to the Government's aim of adjusting a perceived electoral bias; it would just deliver a more sensible process. Alas, up to now, the Government in this House refuse even properly to debate this matter and do not give us a response as to why they are taking this attitude.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: For the sake of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, I say that I shall speak to Amendments 73, 74A, 74B, and that my remarks will be about rule 5(1)(c). The noble Lord, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, claim that this is a filibuster. He needs to get out more. I remember the Scotland and Wales Bill of 1978. As a young reporter, I remember covering Mr Tam Dalyell during that debate. I want to say that he spoke for days, but that may be exaggerating. On one occasion, he spoke for about six hours. To me, that is a filibuster. In all my interventions, I have kept my remarks very brief-to some extent because the air conditioning is going to my throat; perhaps I will get a cough sweet whenever I get an opportunity to go out of the Chamber.
I compliment my noble friend Lord Kennedy on introducing Amendment 73, because it gets to the heart of where the Bill has gone wrong and reintroduces some common sense. The Bill has been cobbled together from two different directions and been rapidly put through the Clerks with, I repeat, no consultation, no pre-legislative scrutiny, and no discussion through the usual channels. As a consequence, we have a Bill which is a dog's breakfast.
One area that most concerns me is the framework within which the Boundary Commission will operate. All of us who have attended Boundary Commission hearings know that sometimes, when the first stab is made at the shape of the boundary, extremely bizarre results come out. The late John Smith, on 10 May 1994, two days before he died, addressed the Boundary Commission about the new constituency of Airdrie and Shotts, which would have resulted in the town of Airdrie being cut right down the main street because a
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If the Government accepted Amendment 73 on rule 5(1)(c), we could ensure that any local ties broken up by changes in constituencies should be taken into account by the Boundary Commission. That is a lot more sensible than the rather vague construction contained in the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Foulkes introduced two very interesting amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, made a powerful case for his amendment on wards; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, in an earlier debate, pointed out the importance of wards and I intervened in that debate too. The other amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Foulkes relates to what he calls the "wealth" of the constituency, but I am not 100 per cent certain that that is the right expression. It should really be the "socio-economic make-up" of a constituency, because there is a difference in dealing with areas of social deprivation compared with dealing with areas where there is wealth, education and people with the self-confidence to take on issues. One of the big problems that people encounter at any level of election when they are dealing with areas of social deprivation-particularly where a number of us come from, in the west of Scotland-is high levels of mortality. In some areas-like the area that was previously represented by the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn-life expectancy of the average male is 44. That is quite a shocking statistic and it has an impact on the kind of work that has to be done by councillors, Members of the Scottish Parliament and by Members of the other place in this Parliament. It does make sense to take factors like that into account. What we really need to look at-and I believe the amendment of my noble friend Lord Foulkes is really a probing amendment-is whether there is a better way of encapsulating that into this piece of legislation
I notice that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has left his place, so I assume that it will be the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, who will be answering this part of the debate. Could I make an appeal to him? At the end of the previous debate, the response we got from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was not acceptable. I accept that he is tired: he seems to have been a one-man Government today. He answered three Questions at Question Time, and he has been going for some hours, so I have a great deal of sympathy for him. But because this Bill is so badly drafted, what the Minister says at the Dispatch Box is of vital importance. It allows the interpretation of the Bill to be taken to another level.
I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is not here, because there are many Scots in this House, and I see the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, on the other side. Although for this House it is still Monday, for the rest of the world it has now slipped into Tuesday and, of course, today is Burns Day. With the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in their places, perhaps they could say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally:
Lord Kinnock: In deference to noble Lords who have asked for specific references to the amendments that we are supporting, I am supporting Amendments 73 and 74. That is because the debate on these amendments seems to have been a focus of the real difference between those who uphold the Government's position implacably, and more reasonable counsel who really do understand what the implications of this part of the Bill so far as democratic representation in the House of Commons really amounts to.
By way of preamble, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and to an extent to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that yes, of course it is true that, in countries with written constitutions, the back-up of constitutional courts, and all the systems of appeal and representation attached to that, Parliaments do fix the number of seats in their democratic, legislative assemblies. But we do not have a written constitution; there is no prospect of one emanating from this Bill or any other Bill that I can see in the coalition agreement, and therefore I am sure they will accept this pragmatic point. We are not discussing these proposals in the context of a written constitution or anything resembling one, and if the legislation proves to be wrong in application, there is no process of appeal that can be used by the citizens of this country, noble or not ennobled, to try to rectify the problems that might result.
My second point is attached to that. It is true that parliamentary bodies or congressional bodies under the terms of written constitutions set the number of seats in their houses of representatives, and we are all familiar with the case of the United States Congress and the fact that there are very small states with exactly the same number of senators as very large, heavily populated states. There are complaints about that, but everybody is familiar with it, and it would take a constitutional volcano to dislodge that hallowed reality.
The same thing applies to the overall numbers of the lower House of Congress, the House of Representatives, but the term "gerrymandering" was effectively given meaning by the way in which, over decades, that House has been used to sort and re-sort, mix and mangle, constituency boundaries for representatives who are elected to the lower House of Congress. Some cases, in some states, in some congressional constituencies, are a mockery of democracy widely acknowledged in the United States. So even there, where there is a written constitution and Congress sets the number of seats, there is an openness to abuse that my democratic friends-with a small "d" democratic because they come from both parties-deeply regret and would like to see changed.
This is one of the reasons why they have admired our pragmatic, deliberative system of the Boundary Commission with the built-in appeals process which dislodges control of the number of seats from political hands, accepts the idea of a target number of seats in
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Lord Campbell-Savours: Is not the distinction between us and many of these other countries that we have a first past the post system? It is critical in this discussion because you can get away with a cap system where you have proportional representation and far larger seats that are more able to gather in fringe candidates. That is a very important distinction.
Lord Kinnock: It is not an area into which I want to stumble because I do not want to have a debate this evening about the benefits or disbenefits of proportional representation, save to say that my one reservation about having a much more proportionate system of representation in this country, which I favour in principle, is the implied departure from single Member constituencies. I believe that it is not beyond the wit of this House, the other House or the political community in general to discover ways of ensuring that there are single Member constituencies where the Members are elected by a much more proportionate system, but the reality remains the one spelt out by my noble friend: there are accompanying systems where the number of parliamentary seats is fixed by the Parliament buttressing considerations of vital importance, and even that does not safeguard those systems against distortion or abuse in the way that the Boundary Commission system intact has done in this country.
My final point specifically refers to the paragraph entitled "Factors"on page 10. My point is straightforward. Whether the legislation eventually provides that Boundary Commissions may, should or must "take into account" the considerations set out "as they think fit", as my noble friend Lord Liddle said earlier, future Boundary Commissions will not be able to exercise a judgment "as they think fit" according to a group of sensible criteria laid down in this Bill.
Why not? It is because of the eunuch clauses in this Bill. Eunuch rule 2 is the 5 per cent rule. Eunuch rule 4 is the 13,000 square kilometres rule. Most of all, under eunuch rule 1 there will be 600 Members of the House of Commons. There is no possibility that the Boundary Commission should be given not a target but a cap, a fixed figure, regardless of all the surrounding realities, the requirements of constituents, the workload of Members of Parliament or any of the other considerations entered into this debate in this House or in the House of Commons. There is no possibility that the Boundary Commission will in any realistic sense be able to act "as they think fit" according to these listed factors. It will be circumscribed and supervised utterly by the figure of 600. Just in case that is not enough, it will not be able to make an adjustment of more than 5 per cent either way in the numbers. And just in case that is not enough, there are the two figures of 12,000 square kilometres and 13,000 square kilometres, which would
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Why legislate for cosmetic purposes when on the previous page of the Bill the discretion being awarded to the Boundary Commission is torn to shreds and thrown to the wind by the limitations imposed by the preordained figure of 600? I know that there are noble Lords opposite who are true servants of democracy and who have dedicated their lives to trying to improve the way in which the citizens of this country and other countries are represented and governed. I beg of them, when we give further consideration to these issues related to "Factors" and the real powers of discretion, the real powers of objective judgment and the real powers to act as it thinks fit that are awarded to the Boundary Commission, to record their reservations and insist that enough discretion is given to the Boundary Commission to permit it to do its job effectively in democratic terms and with the integrity which it has so richly earned during the past 60-odd years. If it is not given enough discretion to alter the total number of seats in the House of Commons from 600 to a few more, it is being made the object of ridicule, which is why I describe the rules that will effectively deprive it of the essential power of discretion as the eunuch rules.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I start by apologising on behalf of my noble friend Lord McNally, who, as some of your Lordships noticed, left some moments ago feeling somewhat unwell. I know that that is not something that he would do lightly. I have the slight difficulty of having not having been in the Chamber for the whole debate, and I intend no discourtesy to the Committee in that. I shall do my best, although some of the arguments are perhaps familiar from previous times.
The amendments adjust the factors that the four national Boundary Commissions are to consider in drawing up boundaries. In some cases, they give the commissions additional tasks or they take away their discretion. In most contributions, the size of the House of Commons was raised. We debated that at considerable length last week and I do not propose to rehearse the arguments again.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, indicated when he spoke concisely to his amendment and those in this group, the criticism that would appear to come from the other side of the Committee is that although the Boundary Commission is given discretionary factors
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I appreciate that I repeat myself from previous discussions when I say that these rules are designed to ensure that we rein close to the electoral quota whereas, while the quota is the focus of what the Boundary Commission is currently expected to do, circumstance and the factors of flexibility that noble Lords seek in this case have taken boundaries reviews ever further away from it. It is worth repeating that the British Academy Policy Centre, in commenting on the Bill, states that,
We believe that the rules set out in the Bill strike the right balance. Some noble Lords have argued that we should remove the English Boundary Commission's ability to take European regions into account. Others say that we should compel it to do so. The Bill says that the commission should have the discretion if the regions help them to manage the review, which is the right balance.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, moved an amendment that would have added wealth as a factor. The Government cannot agree on principle that people should be banded together in constituencies on the basis of similar income. I am not quite sure how such a thing would be measured by the commissions even it was desirable. I can confirm that wealth was not a factor in previous boundary legislation. Our view is that the factors in the Bill are broadly those that are in existing legislation and that have worked well in previous reviews. Again, I believe that this is the right balance.
As I have indicated, some amendments compel the commissions to have regard for the rules, and some remove the primacy of the parity requirement. Our position is that the rules give due discretion to the commissions, but I reassure noble Lords that while the legislation says, "may take into account", it is not open to a commission simply to disregard the factors on a whim, as has perhaps been suggested in some contributions. So further tightening up of the wording is unnecessary and could prove unhelpful.
I have already said, as we have indicated in debates on previous amendments, that the Government will consider how we can add wards to the list of local government boundaries that the commissions are asked to consider at present. As for parity, the rules give flexibility within a 10 per cent variation from the smallest to the largest constituency. Again, I believe that that strikes the right balance, giving us flexibility to recognise properly local factors while ensuring that votes are fairer and have more equal weight-a principle to which even Members on the Front Bench opposite have said that they agree. On that basis, I apologise for not being able to answer as fully as my noble friend Lord McNally would no doubt have wished to, but I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions in this important debate. My noble friend Lord Davies of Stamford agreed with me that the point of "may" or "should" was to give very clear instructions to the Boundary Commission. My noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock made very many important points-on wards, on his time in local government and on electoral systems. His points about the wealth of a constituency were very interesting. We may come back to that on Report and expand those points further.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, made some points that I agreed with, although I did not agree with him on the points that he made about scrutiny. We have had no Green Paper, no White Paper and no draft Bill, which is part of the point of the problem we have today. My noble friend Lord Soley made some important points-that parliaments of other countries, not Governments, decide the number of seats. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, made the crucial point that introducing a cap on the number of seats undermines the provisions that the Boundary Commission takes account of elsewhere.
My noble friend Lord Liddle reminded the House that the function of the Boundary Commission is curtailed because of the cap and the 5 per cent tolerance figure. His point about the Speaker's Conference was well made. My noble friend Lord Bach hit the nail on the head when he said that the cap was, above everything else, the problem. He also pointed out that the failure to engage with the Opposition was a real problem and that the timescale of the review is a problem in itself. My noble friend Lady Liddell of Coatdyke made some excellent points. She explained that she witnessed some of the problems that we have been discussing both as a politician and a journalist. My noble friend Lord Kinnock, in supporting my amendment, made some very pointed and incisive comments about a written constitution and the very difficult situation that we find ourselves in today. He made a very powerful case.
In conclusion, I was going to say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who is not here now, that he is not someone I have had the pleasure to talk to yet. We have said hello to each other in the corridor and stuff, and he is always very friendly to me and says hello. It must be a very frustrating time for him, but he really does need to take a leaf out of the book of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. I do not want to get my head bitten off, but we need to look at these things very carefully.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I recollect that some 10 hours ago the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, encouraged us to be brief and to the point, and I shall be extremely brief and to the point on this very simple amendment. I shall resist all temptation to take a leisurely lane in my constituency-as was the case last week, so often during the middle of the night. Instead, I shall simply move a very straightforward amendment that would be a modest improvement to the Bill.
Under rule 5, there is no reference to existing constituencies. That, I believe, is a pity, and this simple reference in Amendment 74BA would simply add an appropriate respect for existing constituency boundaries to the list of criteria that the four Boundary Commissions should take into account in making recommendations. It is very simple and useful. It would indeed take up the point made by the four Boundary Commissions: that they want to have, to such an extent as they think fit, responsibility for examining these sorts of criteria. I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will feel able to accept this modest improvement to the Bill. I believe that all parties in both Houses, and, more importantly, the public, will welcome the recognition of the need to avoid unnecessary disruption to existing constituencies. I therefore beg to move.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, may not have expected me to rise to my feet to support his amendment, but I do so willingly. I shall also do so briefly. The effect of his amendment, as I see it, would be to create a bias in favour of not changing existing constituency boundaries. It would in fact be, for the first time in our system, recognition of the costs of change. There are costs of all kinds: costs in disruption, costs to the political parties and to local authorities and, above all, the unquantifiable but very real cost that we have discussed throughout our proceedings of individuals feeling less attached to the constituency that they thought they were a part of.
As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has taken into account all these considerations and said, "Surely, when in doubt, don't make a change"-or even if there is a small doubt, do not make a change. He has not attempted to quantify the instructions that we would be giving to the Boundary Commission if we accepted this amendment. He has left it to the judgment of the Boundary Commission, which is right. However, he has alerted it to what the view of Parliament would be if his amendment were adopted-the view that it is important, whenever possible, not to change existing loyalties and perceptions of local constituencies and much better to preserve the status quo. It is a very sensible amendment. The noble Lord is to be applauded for having conceived it and brought it forward. I hope that it meets with the approval of the whole House.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, this is not only a sensible amendment but a very important one. Because the noble Lord moved it very briefly-he was right to do that, given that he knows that the House is sitting very late tonight and is keen to make further progress-its full significance could not be brought home to us. It is important for what it does, because it is obviously
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By itself, the amendment would contribute only modestly to avoiding that malign outcome, because it has to be combined with what is at the moment the 5 per cent rule in the Bill, which, as we have seen so often, causes knock-on effects. One constituency grows slightly, which changes the next one and the next until, in the end, it is very difficult to preserve boundaries. It also has to be combined with the five-yearly review-another unwise feature of the permanent revolution. Nevertheless, a chink of light has seeped under the door on to the true nature of this Bill and the true changes that need to be made to it. Given that it comes from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I cannot believe that the Government will not wish to recognise this and support the amendment that he has laid before us tonight.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, and very much with my noble friend Lord Lipsey. I agree with the important amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, which is in his name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. They obviously understand history. They know what happened in the 1950s when, as the second boundary review came around after the Second World War, MPs rebelled at the thought that there were going to be so many changes in constituencies. That was completely reflected in debates that we had earlier in this Chamber, in which ex-MPs and non-ex-MPs pointed out that, if you break the link between a Member of Parliament and his constituency, you undermine democracy and you create uncertain relationships. The then Conservative Government produced a Bill that, in effect, made the disruption much less. From this Front Bench, we support the principle underlying what the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard, are seeking to achieve, which is to reduce the disruption.
However, the speech that my noble friend Lord Kinnock made has to be borne in mind, because we can reduce the disruption only by so much if we have what he described as the "eunuch" clauses. I anticipate that there will be those on the Benches on which the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard, sit who think that the way to deal with the points made so persuasively by my noble friend Lord Kinnock would be by moving the 5 per cent up to 10 per cent; they think that that would make a substantial contribution to dealing with the point about the ongoing relationship with a Member of Parliament.
So, yes, I support the amendment proposed by the two noble Lords, but I also hope that they will engage in this debate properly. By that I mean that I hope that they will put forward arguments and amendments that they think will genuinely improve the Bill. I read the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has put
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I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, whom I congratulate on dealing with the last amendment-he was rather given it beyond the last moment-will find it in his heart to support what the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard, have proposed. However, I also hope that he will address the issue that the amendment goes only so far and that it is only if we add more discretion-5 per cent to 10 per cent-that we make it meaningful. It is important to take into account what has been said in these debates quite widely across the House-that it is not a good idea to have a constantly changing constituency with a constantly uncertain Member of Parliament.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, this amendment proposed by my noble friend-in a way that, I am sure, if I may take the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, he genuinely thinks will improve the Bill-would add existing constituency boundaries to the list of factors in rule 5 that the Boundary Commissions may take into account when drawing up their recommendations for new constituency boundaries. I think that it is a perfectly reasonable proposal and we certainly agree with noble Lords that this would aid the Boundary Commissions in drawing up their recommendations, not only in the first boundary review but obviously in the subsequent ones as well. As has been said, it is the case that, particularly in the first review, the Boundary Commissions expect that there will be a considerable change owing to the reduction in the number of seats from 650 to 600. Nevertheless, I believe that this amendment will allow for the merits of existing boundaries to be taken into account where appropriate, thereby ensuring that the boundary commissioners do not have to start with a blank page. Therefore, the Government are content to accept this amendment.
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