Qurban Hussain, Esquire, having been created Baron Hussain, of Luton in the County of Bedfordshire, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Rennard and Baroness Hussein-Ece, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Dame Joan Dawson Bakewell, DBE, having been created Baroness Bakewell, of Stockport in the County of Greater Manchester, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Puttnam and Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Rachael Heyhoe Flint, OBE, having been created Baroness Heyhoe Flint, of Wolverhampton in the County of West Midlands, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Coe and Baroness Verma, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we are aware of reports of disturbances at Camp Ashraf on 25 and 26 December last. Embassy officials in Baghdad regularly discuss the situation with the United Nations, the United States and the European Union; our UN contacts met the Iraqi Government's Ashraf Committee on 9 January and raised their concerns about these and other recent events. The United Kingdom has underlined the need for the Iraqi authorities to deal with the residents of Camp Ashraf in a way that meets international humanitarian standards.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: I thank the Minister for that response. Can he tell me what representations the UK has made to Iraq about the round-the-clock use of about 180 loudspeakers constantly blaring out threats to kill Ashraf residents, amounting to psychological torture? Given Iraq's breaches of its undertakings to secure the safety and security of these pro-democracy refugees, will the UK now ask the United Nations to station a monitoring force inside Camp Ashraf to prevent further abuse of residents by Iraqi thugs in uniform?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We have made, and indeed are making all the time, representations through our work with the United Nations and we are also planning another direct meeting with Iraqi government officials. I know the noble Lord appreciates that this is Iraqi government sovereign territory and therefore we have to make our approaches, apply our pressure and express our concerns, which he expresses so well, through the Iraqi Government. As to the United Nations, it has taken certain views about withdrawing the regular monitoring operation it had when the United States and the allied forces were there. Now that they have withdrawn it makes fairly systematic and regular visits but it is not at the moment ready to return to a monitoring system. That is the current position but I would be the first to agree with the noble Lord that it is far from satisfactory.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have the feeling that since the Question was put by a Member on the opposition Benches, the mood of the House is that the Cross Benches should have an opportunity to speak, perhaps followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the House and to the noble Baroness. Has the Minister had the chance to study the decision of the Spanish authorities to bring before the Spanish courts on 8 March some of the officials of the Iraqi Government because of the violations of human rights which have occurred at Camp Ashraf, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale? Given that this is in breach of Article 4 of the Geneva Convention-it is on that basis that those officials are being brought before the Spanish courts-why are other members of the international community, other members of NATO and the European Union not taking the same position as the Spanish authorities?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I have not had the chance to study in detail the Spanish decisions. As to Article 4 of the Geneva Convention, there is a difference of view on that. As I think he knows well, the advice we have been given is that the people at Camp Ashraf are not protected under the fourth Geneva convention
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Baroness Turner of Camden: Is it not a fact that the unfortunate people in Camp Ashraf, who include women and children, have been subjected to a long campaign of persecution and harassment by the Iraqi authorities, with food and medical treatment being denied to them? This is really quite insufferable and something ought to be done about it.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I agree it is a miserable situation and I hope it does not turn into an even worse tragedy. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, has rightly drawn our attention to it and to the organised disturbances apparently promoted by the Iraqi official authorities outside the camp in December and again in January. I myself had an opportunity-not of course to visit the area as it is very difficult to get to-to see the rather grim videos available on the internet, to any noble Lord who cares to watch them, about what was going on and the apparently deliberate provocation: the heaving of stones and the damaging of people in a most unpleasant way. The noble Baroness is also right that there are a lot of women and children in this camp. We have pressed the Iraqi authorities again and again and they undertake that medical, food and all other vital supplies continue to be delivered to Camp Ashraf. That is what they tell us and we will continue to hold them to that. However, in the longer term they have also made it clear that the camp cannot stay as it is and those involved may have to be moved. This is the prospect we will have to deal with.
Lord Elton: My Lords, in his original reply the Minister referred to disturbances, which gives the impression that this is something going on with the notice, but not the support, of the Iraqi Government. In fact it appears, from all the evidence which the noble Lord has cited, that this is being done with the cognisance of the Government; it is not just harassment, it is physical assault. It is the sort of thing that was the precursor to the most dreadful things under the Nazi regime. It is something of which the United Nations should be not merely cognisant but actively oppose.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I agree with the sentiments of my noble friend. Having people gathering and parking outside the entrance to Camp Ashraf, with the loudspeakers and the throwing of stones, is something more than a disturbance. It is a sort of provocation and it appears to be organised or permitted by the Iraqi Government. My noble friend is right-this is a pattern which could build up through intimidation to something much more serious. I repeat that, although this is Iraqi sovereign territory and the Iraqi Government must act, all the authorities outside, including ourselves and all those countries and institutions that uphold civilised values, must press for this to avoid becoming a tragedy which it otherwise threatens to become.
Lord Howell of Guildford: It is a legal matter. It has been ruled that the convention is not applicable as the residents of the camp are not prisoners of war. This is apparently the ruling that has been laid down by the United Nations. I could fill in more detail, but this seems to be the basic reason why they are not deemed to be covered by the fourth Geneva convention.
Lord Sheldon: I am grateful for that response. Over the past 10 years, there has been a major improvement in our national museums and galleries. The increase in funding has been of great benefit, and the high standards are internationally recognised. What action is being undertaken to retain these high standards and the importance of the funding?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, many of your Lordships know and appreciate the valued contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts and Heritage, especially as president. I quite understand his preoccupation with the future of the museums and galleries. We have in this country not only the finest museums and galleries but, as he so rightly says, the finest directors. I assure him that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is in close contact with these directors and will make certain that they will not be put into difficulties or forced to lower their exceptionally high standards.
On the positive side, the Secretary of State has limited the reduction in resource funding for national museums and galleries to 15 per cent over four years, to protect their unique role and world-class status and to maintain free admission to the permanent collections. The Secretary of State has also secured more than £20 million of capital funding per annum to enable the national museums to maintain their buildings and to protect their collections. He has also focused £11 million on completing the British Museum's development and transformation of Tate Modern.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Does the Minister recall that when a previous Question was asked on museums, the suggestion was made that the Treasury
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Baroness Rawlings: My noble friend has a good point. It has been brought up. We have an excellent scheme, the acceptance in lieu scheme, which recently marked its centenary during which it has helped to enhance public collections across the UK and ensure public access in perpetuity to many great buildings and works of art. I am aware that it has been suggested that this scheme should be extended to promote the donation of works of art during one's lifetime rather than after death. Tax measures are of course a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, given the Government's professed commitment to localism, is the Minister concerned that the education, access and outreach programmes are most likely to be immediately affected by the cuts, and that such cuts are already being made at the National Museums Liverpool, for instance? Will she be mindful of the depth of feeling in the Liverpool area about these issues as demonstrated by the 18,000-strong petition presented to the Government to maintain proper NML funding?
Baroness Rawlings: The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has a good point, of which the Government are aware. The Secretary of State has announced his firm funding plans for the national museums and galleries over 2011-12 as part of the spending review, as I said. I hope that we will go further into the noble Earl's point in the debate in his name next week.
Baroness Rawlings: The Government are well aware of the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Myners, in philanthropy, and the Secretary of State is aware of its importance in running alongside what the Government are doing. We have several projects and some meetings set up. The noble Lord will see these projects over the next couple of months which I trust will be to his liking.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the National Museums Liverpool. Is the Minister aware of the assessment that the £20 million that the Government spent on museums in Liverpool generated £120 million in the local economy? Will Her Majesty's Government take this into account in their spending plans?
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, one thing that the Government have done to encourage philanthropy is to establish an £80 million match-funding fund. However good encouraging philanthropic giving
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Baroness Rawlings: Yes. My noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter makes an important point, of which the Secretary of State is fully aware. He will be doing as much as possible to encourage private giving, as I was saying to the noble Lord, Lord Myners. We will be protecting regarding the cuts to museums so that we protect the fine quality we have in this country as expressed in the question of the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, does the Minister recognise the crucial role of local councils in funding local and specialist museums and galleries? What steps will the department take to preserve these collections when the cuts in local council funding inevitably take their toll on those collections?
Baroness Rawlings: The Government are very much aware of these issues, which is why we have followed through with the Renaissance programme for arts, galleries and museums in the regions. The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and some other bodies are being passed on to the Arts Council England to ensure that these galleries and museums are properly looked after.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, we are continuing to implement the initiatives that were detailed in the strategy for acquisition reform that was published last year, and we have already put in place new measures such as increasing controls over the equipment plan and improving key acquisition skills. We continue to examine how we can further improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the acquisition system as part of the wider defence reform agenda.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, while we speak, contractors are poised to start scrapping the Nimrod fleet, a £4 billion investment that is equivalent to £60 for every man, woman and child in the country. The Permanent Secretary at the Treasury has now gone on record, stating that the MoD was out of control. While we obviously hope that the noble Lord, Lord Levene, and Bernard Gray in their work can manage
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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting point. Defence is hugely important. The more cross-party consensus that we can achieve, the better for our Armed Forces, their families and the defence industry. My door is always open to any Member of the House who has any concerns or observations.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, has the Treasury agreed to 2 per cent year-on year growth in the defence budget post-2015, as the Prime Minister indicated in the other place, to allow Vision 2020 to be met? If not, how on earth can we have a coherent procurement strategy?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we will have another defence review in 2015. Of course, the Prime Minister has said that there will need to be real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond the current spending review to make Future Force 2020 affordable.
Lord Touhig: In a report published last month, the Public Accounts Committee in the other place concluded that the Ministry of Defence had failed to identify core spending priorities. This must have an adverse effect on procurement. When do the Government expect to develop and implement such a strategy?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, my party was not in government for most of the time with which that report was involved, but I point out that we now have a Permanent Secretary who is proving to be a rigorous accounting officer. She has a very good working relationship with the Secretary of State and the Chief of the Defence Staff and is determined to get on top of the MoD's financial situation.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, in future, we will be able to land and sustain a Royal Marine commando group of 1,500 to 1,800 personnel from a sea helicopter platform with protective vehicles, but we have reluctantly decided that one of the Bay class ships, the RFA "Largs Bay", will have to be decommissioned.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, the tragedy of all this is that we needed, and continue to need, the Harriers, the carriers and the Nimrods. Can the Minister assure the House that this country can continue to meet its maritime surveillance obligations and its international obligations for search and rescue at sea in the absence of the Nimrods?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, Ministers and service chiefs have made it very clear that the decision taken in the SDSR not to bring the Nimrod MRA4 into service was very difficult, but it will not be reversed and the dismantling process will be under way very soon. The severe financial pressures and the urgent need to bring the defence programme into balance meant that we could not retain all existing programmes. We will continue joint maritime patrol activities with our allies and ensure the integrity of the UK waters by utilising a range of other military assets. For security reasons, I cannot go into great detail about what those are.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, in his report, Mr Bernard Gray talked about a 10-year run of figures from the Treasury against which the procurement processes could be planned. In view of what has been said about an increase in capabilities by 2020, those figures should indicate a rise in funding availability for those procurements. Do those figures yet exist?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, as the noble and gallant Lord knows, Bernard Gray was appointed CDM last week. This is a very important step for the department; it is a sign of our commitment to drive through further change. The previous Government published the Gray review of acquisition, which examined the way in which new equipment is purchased for the Armed Forces. In February this year, the MoD published a strategy for acquisition reform that outlined a number of measures to improve defence acquisition. Implementation is going well and is now part of the wider defence reform agenda. A key part of the work is to look at how acquisition is managed and structured. We are looking at various operating models to determine the most efficient and effective way of designing our acquisition system.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, a National Audit Office report of 15 October last year, and the year before, found that Bernard Gray's department was ever improving. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said that,
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the noble Lord is obviously referring to an article in the Daily Telegraph this morning. SDSR implementation work is ongoing and the MoD is also undertaking its annual planning round. This is used routinely to look forward over 10 years and ensure that the department's commitments are in line with available resources. We keep under consideration at all times a range of options on future
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, removing the blanket ban on prisoners' voting is not a choice but a legal obligation. The Government will bring forward legislation in a first-Session Bill for the current blanket ban to be replaced. Work is currently under way to deliver this.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank the noble Lord for his reply, but does he not see the irony in the Government's position? On the one hand, they are seeking to give votes to prisoners and, on the other hand, they are denying law-abiding citizens the right to make their case at local boundary inquiries-people are allowed only to send in a letter. Is that not a ridiculous position for the Government to be in?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I am sure that we will have an opportunity to debate that question shortly-indeed, we seem to have been debating it for quite a number of days in the recent past. It is important to emphasise to noble Lords that this Government believe in fulfilling their legal obligations. Development of policy on this issue is being brought forward. We believe that it is important that we comply with the European Court of Human Rights.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, if convicted criminals are to get the vote, would there be any possibility of the reasonably law-abiding Members of this House having the same privilege? Do we not, too, have some human rights?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I note what my noble friend says, but when we came into this House the Reading Clerk very carefully stated that we had a seat, place and voice in this place. We are truly privileged, for we are indeed Members of Parliament in our own right and need no one to represent us.
Lord Clinton-Davis: What is the Government's view on the clear and tested proposition that the public are likely to be endangered? Do they agree that suitable steps should be taken to protect the public in those circumstances?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I do not think that that necessarily affects the voting right of prisoners, which is a matter of a human right. How the Government facilitate that is a matter of debate. Indeed, there will
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Lord Bach: My Lords, the idea of giving prisoners the vote was described as ludicrous by the current Attorney-General when he was the shadow Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and has been described by the present Prime Minister as making him sick. Does the noble Lord agree with his right honourable friends?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Sometimes one's legal obligations give everybody the opportunity of revisiting things that at first sight might strike one as being contrary to one's instinctive reaction. I think that noble Lords in this House may well feel the same. There are clearly defined opinions on this matter, but there is an argument for saying that, by establishing prisoners' voting rights, we enable their rehabilitation to be that much more effective. That must be something that the debate will bring out.
Lord Ramsbotham: I am glad to hear that the Government are bringing forward a Bill. Bearing in mind the furore that has accompanied the decision to determine whether prisoners should vote on the length of sentence, can the Minister say whether consideration has been given to the way in which this is done in France and Germany, where, instead of length of sentence, it is the crime that decides whether people should vote? When the judge sentences somebody in court, they decide whether the vote should be removed. We have the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which is perfectly capable of drawing up such guidance as judges may require.
Lord Tebbit: Will my noble friend answer a question that I put to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, when he was in government? When were the British people given the opportunity to express their view on this matter?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The British people express their view on these sorts of issues through Parliament and through parliamentary debate. We are signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights-indeed, we were one of the founding signatory states-and
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have the temerity to ask for the forbearance of the House to say that, on behalf of those on these Benches and, I think, of the whole House, I would like to send good wishes to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who is unwell. We hold him in very high regard-indeed, we are very fond of him-and we hope that he returns soon.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks, and indeed for the way in which they were responded to throughout the House. I will ensure that they are passed on to my noble friend.
"( ) Should the Boundary Commission conclude in the case of any individual constituency or constituencies that these considerations are of exceptional importance, and that they cannot be appropriately accommodated with the provisions of rules 1 to 4, it shall have the power to give priority to those considerations over the provisions in rules 1 to 4."
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I assume that I will not be accused of filibustering if my first remarks are not as relevant to the amendment as my later ones will be. They are to enable those who have more pressing engagements to leave the Chamber. Such very modest success as I have achieved in my life has been due to one thing only, and that is people confusing me with the genuinely world-class economist, Richard Lipsey-Lipsey being a very rare name. That name got me into
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Richard Lipsey is known to anyone who has studied economics at university as the author of An Introduction toPositive Economics, the standard textbook. However, among economists, his main reputation is founded on the paper that he wrote with Kelvin Lancaster in 1956 called The General Theory of Second Best; and, in pursuing the guru's great career, the amendment that I put before noble Lords today concerns the practice of second best. It is a practical second-best solution to the problem that has been bugging the House throughout proceedings on this Bill.
This problem, which has emerged from so many debates that by now the penny must surely have dropped, is the extreme rigidity of the Government's proposed 5 per cent variance in constituency size. There is complete consensus in the House that there should be greater equality in the size of constituencies-that is not in question-but there is no consensus that that should be within the 5 per cent limit, under which only 36 per cent of present constituencies would qualify.
I make no apology for saying again that the best solution to this issue would be to move, wholly or perhaps in part, to a 10 per cent variance, which would, at a stroke, remove nearly all the problems that we have with this Bill. No doubt it would also prolong the nights of sleep which some of us are enjoying at the moment, because it would then be a much better Bill. I say that yet again without hesitation. The second best solution is the one incorporated in this amendment. It is not a full substitute for 10 per cent. It might be a modest supplement to 10 per cent, and it is designed with that in mind. I understand from what the Leader of the House said yesterday-and very welcome it was-that discussions are taking place. I trust that that is happening and I hope that this amendment might provide some grist for that mill.
The amendment starts from the chunk of the existing Bill that is rule 5. Rule 5 lays out that the Boundary Commission can take account of special geographical considerations. Those would include the following: size, shape and accessibility of a constituency; local government boundaries; local ties; any inconvenience that it would cause by change; and, mirabile dictu, as a result of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, last night and accepted by the Government, existing constituencies. It is a very good list. I commend the Government for accepting the amendment on rule 5. It is a great improvement on similar provisions in previous Acts on this subject. I echo the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, who has referred to the British Academy's study of the subject, which says that these are a big improvement and that they have the enormous advantage that now we do not have rules that contradict rules within the system; we have rules that make perfectly good sense and stand up.
You could add one other exception to the list of exceptions. It is not a subject of this amendment, but we could consider it. It is the problem, which came to light in our earlier debates, of some seats having very
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Whatever bizarre shape a constituency might be, however many local authorities it might include, whatever local ties will be shattered-one thinks again of the Welsh valley constituencies-and however much inconvenience the change might make, none of these counts for anything should the seat differ by one single registered elector from the 5 per cent limit laid down in the Bill. My noble friend Lord Kinnock rightly described the resulting rule as a "eunuch rule". It is castrated from having the effect that it should have because no exception is made to the 5 per cent rule. I was trying to devise a way around that restriction so that second best could apply and we would get some progress on the rigidity, which has been recognised from all sides of the House.
This amendment would do this because, if the Boundary Commission thinks that a particular case is exceptional and cannot appropriately be accommodated within the 5 per cent rule, the special circumstances take priority over the 5 per cent. In other words, the constituency becomes an exceptional constituency, and that takes priority over the other provisions in rules 1 to 4. Where might it apply? At the moment, the Isle of Wight is dealt with directly, although it might not be when the Bill has been to the other place. The Isle of Wight is a good case, because it is one of the few anomalies that would not be dealt with by a 10 per cent rule, because the electorate is just too big. The Boundary Commission might well decide-because it would be a matter for the Boundary Commission, not for politicians-that in view of the very strong feeling of the islanders and their MP the Isle of Wight was an exceptional case that should be exempted. That would occur under my amendment.
My amendment would also deal with the Cornish problem, which we will come to later. If the Boundary Commission agreed that the case of Cornwall was as strong as the case that it has put to Members of this House, it could exempt Cornwall under these terms. It could also exempt the other very difficult problem, which I am not sure is fully recognised yet, which is that of the valley constituencies in Wales. The thought of having constituencies divided by unclimbable mountain ranges is absurd, and the Boundary Commission might well take that into account. A case has been made very well in this House for some of the big semi-island constituencies of Scotland. I also pray in aid the case of Brecon and Radnor, which I argued in this House to very widespread support, including from the Cross Benches, last night.
However, this is a very narrowly drawn amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, is not in his place at the moment, sadly, but he has argued strongly for no exemptions, which is a perfectly viable point of view, although I suspect that he will not be booking his
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I emphasise that the amendment is narrowly drawn for this reason. When faced with other amendments, including the issue of 10 per cent, Ministers have pointed out-and the first half of this point is certainly fair-that the disparity in the size of constituencies has grown despite the fact that the Boundary Commission is already supposed to aim at equality. They draw from that the implication that there will be a constant and underlying drift to more and more exceptions if the Boundary Commission is given more freedom. We can disagree about how desirable it is to allow drift, but I hope we would not disagree too strongly that it is right that the Boundary Commission should have an important say, at least in these judgments, as to how much there is. However, given the word "exceptional", and given that the 5 per cent must be tried for wherever possible, I really do not think that there is room for drift. I am sure that the Boundary Commission will have read carefully debates in your Lordships' House and another place and will have understood and taken on board the universal view on every side of both Houses that we need a greater equality of constituency size, taking in some of the arguments as to how that has changed over the years, so that we can now go for greater equality without prejudicing the result or affecting the rights of MPs-or, most importantly, their constituents.
I do not believe that there is a serious risk that this measure will lead to unreasonable drift or that we will get a huge crop of exceptions as opposed to half a dozen or a dozen. If it did, it would be perfectly open to the Government to legislate to change the rules so that that did not happen in future. We have five-yearly reviews of constituencies. I regret that, but one advantage would be that it would not even take very long. It might be all skew-whiff once, but then the Government would no doubt get support if they said that they wanted to remove the rule in their discretion because it was being abused. In the light of the debates that we have had in both Houses, I am sure that they would get fair wind for that, but I would be astonished if it ever proved necessary to go down that line.
My amendment would also fit very well with the wider 10 per cent variance, for which there has been much support throughout this House. There would be a consensus in favour of it, if a couple of people were excluded from the discussion, one of whom is probably the Prime Minister. I hope that flexibility is occurring even there. If the 10 per cent went through, this would
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The amendment would also fit with another amendment if the Government were worried that this went too wide. The Government could decide to deal with the Isle of Wight by a specific exemption and go above 5 per cent if they needed to, to accommodate exceptional circumstances, but with a limit to say that they could not go beyond 10 per cent to cope with exceptional circumstances. The Government could easily bring forward amendments on Report that included the principle of this amendment, which would prevent the proposal from going too wide.
This is a modest amendment, but I mean it sincerely and I hope in my heart that the Government will give it a fair wind. I have a more remote but, I hope, not empty hope that it might play some part in the kind of negotiations that are needed to resolve the dangerous impasse in which the House finds itself.
Lord Howarth of Newport: Can my noble friend clarify his thinking in two regards? His amendment provides that the Boundary Commission should be able to give priority to the very important factors set out in rule 4 over the requirements of rules 1, 2 and 3.
Lord Howarth of Newport: I apologise to the Lord Speaker and to the House. Will my noble friend clarify his thinking, so that we really understand what he is inviting the House to agree to? He is saying that the Boundary Commission should have the power to give priority to the very important considerations set out in rule 5 and give those priority over the requirements of rules 1 to 4. Rule 1 is the one that says:
It is my view that the Boundary Commission might frequently conclude that an exception should be made if it had discretion to exercise its judgment and to attach significant importance to various factors in rule 5 such as geography, local government, local ties and so forth, within existing constituencies' boundaries. The consequence could be that the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom would rise significantly above 600. I would favour that for a whole variety of reasons, but would my noble friend draw out the implications of his amendment in that regard-or what he thinks the implications could be for the eventual number of constituencies in the United Kingdom?
Here, I would be much less happy with the consequence of my noble friend's amendment if the Boundary Commissioners took the view that the factors in rule 5 were so important that it made sense for constituency boundaries to cross the frontiers between England, Wales or Scotland. Indeed, while it is a reductio ad absurdum, conceivably there could be a constituency jointly drawn between Scotland and Northern Ireland under the terms of his amendment. I am sure that he does not mean that but does he envisage that it would be appropriate, in circumstances which the Boundary Commission would take into account, that constituencies should cross the boundaries of the countries of the United Kingdom?
Lord Lipsey: To fill the silence for a minute, my noble friend is of course right on his first point that this could lead to a small rise in the number of constituencies-I said half a dozen to a dozen. However, if the Government do not like that, since we are in Committee and these are exploratory proposals, they could remove rule 1 from my amendment and apply the other three rules as the exception. They would then need to change the formula, for reasons which will be evident, but they might have to change that anyway. On my noble friend's second point, it is inconceivable in view of the guidance given to the Boundary Commission in the Bill on its general rules, that it would consider crossing a national boundary. What he describes is a perfectly fair theoretical possibility and if the Committee wished to nitpick, it could draw the Bill accordingly to prevent that in law. I do not think it would make any practical difference to his very good point.
Lord Soley: Briefly, I support my noble friend on this amendment. I agree entirely that it would be better if the Government chose to go for the 10 per cent rule option, which would take a lot of the sting out of this Bill and reduce the dangers of long-term gerrymandering. One of the things that constantly troubles me about the Bill is that, although we might not like the amount of time it is taking, it is allowing a situation where, after every Parliament, a Government come in and change the rules on boundaries and numbers in the House of Commons in a way that suits their party-political advantage. Down that road lies gerrymandering and I really do not recommend it. They really need to think again but, if they are not going to move on the 10 per cent rule, the proposal being put forward by my noble friend is a good one.
I have a couple of points on this amendment. First, last night I raised the issue of "may" in paragraph 5 of the proposed new schedule in Clause 11 as opposed to "shall" which, as the Committee will know, has a much stronger legal meaning. It would therefore state that,
instead of "may". That was on an amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Kennedy. Unfortunately, the Minister replying at that time was not able to respond because he was rather sadly taken ill, as we know. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace,
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I do not want to spend too much time on it, but I draw attention to this; the Committee has heard quite a bit, over the past day or so, of the problem of large, rural areas and the drawing of their boundaries. I really do not want to go into the details of my previous constituency, or others, but at times-and this would have applied to my constituency and to many other inner-city ones too-the Boundary Commission is faced with particularly difficult situations on areas which have suffered as a result of a development there which has divided the community in some way. It might be a major road, a shopping site or whatever. The Boundary Commission needs to have the ability to take that into account. That is why I would prefer the stronger wording in paragraph 5 to allow the Boundary Commission to say, "We regard this as being of such importance that it must override the four points otherwise".
There are many examples; the geographical ones are probably the best, inasmuch as they deal with both rural and urban areas where the geography changes significantly. For example, the building of the Westway in London divided communities very significantly, which had a big effect on my constituency. Obviously, in rural areas it would be mountains, rivers, estuaries or whatever. That geography example is very important. To put the Boundary Commission into a position where it is, in my noble friend's words, tied in to such a degree that it cannot be flexible is a big mistake. The same applies to headings (b), (c) and (d) in paragraph 5(1). All of those will come up from time to time and the Boundary Commission will be faced with that decision.
As I indicated yesterday, I would prefer a situation where we change the wording in the proposed new Schedule 2 to read "shall" not "may" and, at the same time, to accept my noble friend's amendment. The better alternative is to accept the 10 per cent rule but the Government seem thoroughly dug in on that, for many wrong reasons. It is one of the things giving us so much trouble on this Bill, because of its long-term implications for the political structure of our Parliament. The Minister is always very thoughtful on these things. I appreciate why the noble Lord, Lord McNally, could not answer the point about "shall" and "may" last night but perhaps the Minister could bear this in mind when he sums up: my noble friend's amendment, combined with the use of "shall" instead of "may", which therefore gives the Boundary Commission greater authority and strength in its decisions, would benefit the Bill. It would be a small step forward and I recommend it to the Government.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, this is a good moment in the Committee to look quite clearly at the contrast between the provisions in the 1986 Act, which currently apply, and those which the Government are trying to bring forward in this Bill and, against that contrasting background, to evaluate the amendment
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Then there is the rule about the City of London. We have already discussed the City of London and the issue of its single Member does not seem to be controversial in the modern world. In effect, the only real limiting provision on that rule in the 1986 Act is the requirement that the number of constituencies should particularly be 613.
What happened in the 1986 Act was that the recognition of the importance of county boundaries was stated as an absolute rule and the Boundary Commission has to look at it as such. Then at paragraph 6 of that schedule to the 1986 Act, the commission is told that it is given a let-out from an absolute rule. The rule is stated as absolute, subject to the conditions that I mentioned. Then there is this let-out:
"A Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of rules 4 and 5 if special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, appear to them to render a departure desirable".
Our predecessors in 1986 thought that there was an absolute importance in having county boundaries respected and an absolute importance in having a particular number of constituencies, but the county boundary rule could be broken if there was an unreasonable outcome in terms of the size of constituencies. The Government have changed this completely in the Bill, in which the absolute criterion is not a total number-a different number, as it happens-of constituencies, but the 5 per cent rule; that the electoral quota must be observed, or must not vary by more than 5 per cent. That is stated as an absolute rule. Then, in paragraph 5 -we dealt with this yesterday-the Bill says:
That is in paragraph 5 of the new Schedule 2 on page 10 of the text before us. That has been the shift that has occurred between 1986 and now, and the real importance is that the Government now think that the criterion of uniformity of number, or near uniformity of number of constituencies, is the only important thing. In fact, the phrase,
My noble friend Lord Lipsey has brought forward a third model, which is that, while the uniformity of numbers point, the 5 per cent rule, remains enormously important, the Boundary Commission may waive that on one condition; that it states that these other considerations are of exceptional importance. That requires a very explicit decision by the Boundary Commission and would be something which the Boundary Commission would have to defend. Presumably it would have to be defended at judicial review-there is not going to be any parliamentary debate on the subject nor, if the Government have their way, any public inquiries.
Nevertheless, if there was some bar before which the boundary commissioners had to defend themselves, they would have to state very clearly how they came to conclude that these consideration were of exceptional importance. It is a very high threshold and any public body would be very cautious of stating that something was of exceptional importance-it is a very major judgment to make and one which potentially exposes them to a great deal of criticism, so they would be quite reluctant to make it. However, if they really felt persuaded that these other considerations were so important that a real scandal and injustice would be created, or real damage done to the fabric of our electoral system if, let us say, some local government or county boundary was not respected, they would, at least, have that let-out.
So it is a very small concession that the Government would be making if they were moved to accept my noble friend's amendment. In most cases, it must be very much less than likely that the Boundary Commission would want to use this provision. By definition, they cannot say that everything is exceptional; they cannot say that most things are exceptional-if they stated that, they would be contradicting themselves. In practice, therefore, it is only on very rare occasions that they would be able to use this provision.
Lord Bach: My Lords, my noble friend's Amendment 75 alters the extent to which the Boundary Commission is able to take account of possible factors extraneous to the size of parliamentary constituencies when conducting boundary reviews. It alters the weight that it can place on these additional factors. It would permit the Boundary Commission to give priority to special geographical considerations, including the shape and accessibility of a constituency, to local government boundaries, and any local ties when defining the new boundaries. It would subordinate the size of a constituency, its fit within the electoral quota, to these other factors if, but only if, the relevant boundary commission were to deem the other factors to be of exceptional importance.
The various boundary commissions are acknowledged experts in this field. They have been doing their job for a long time. It is their job to come to an informed and reasoned definition of a constituency boundary. I judge that it is they who are in the most suitable
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My noble friend's amendment strikes us as reasonable, but I put it to the Committee that, if the Government had been amenable to accepting the Front Bench's Amendment 75A that we debated last night, during the long debate that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, answered in the wee small hours, the amendment before us would not be necessary. As the rules currently stand, without this Bill being passed-I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for reminding the Committee of the 1986 rules, which stand today-boundary commissions are permitted to use their judgment in cases where geographical or local factors may need to override the size of constituencies. We think that this should remain the case. A concerted effort to achieve more equally sized constituencies can be consistent with allowing the Boundary Commission this discretion.
Lord Howarth of Newport: How does my noble friend consider that the Boundary Commission could be in a position to make a well informed judgment as to whether factors in rule 5 should be considered to be of exceptional importance if it is not to have the opportunity to hear representations from members of the public in the process of inquiries?
Of course, the Boundary Commission draws up conclusions at present and then, in many cases, particularly where there is controversy, there will be public inquiries in order to see whether the original suggestion by the Boundary Commission should stand or be altered. Of course, arguments as to whether these are exceptional cases or not would be argued out both early on, I suspect among the commissioners themselves, and then also at the boundary review-that is, the public inquiry. That has proved to be incredibly successful over the past number of years and I think that the boundary commissioners, if they were standing here, would agree that this has prevented some Boundary Commission suggestions that were not very sensible coming into effect. Therefore, I agree with my noble friend's point.
My noble friend Lord Lipsey emphasised in his amendment that he is thinking about exceptional factors. He is not advocating-nor are we, for that matter-that the factors mentioned in rule 5 should dominate in all cases, just that they should be given their due weight and that, in some areas, this weight is pretty significant. Existing rule 6, by which I mean rule 6 in the 1986 rules, says:
"A Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of rules 4 and 5 if special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, appear to them to render a departure desirable".
That does not make the present rule 6 more important than size but makes it equally important. Both are considerations that the independent Boundary
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I remind the Committee that if the flexibility in the variance in the size of constituencies were increased from the 5 per cent stated in the Bill as it stands, the problems that my noble friend set out when moving his amendment, and which his amendment seeks to avoid, would be far less likely to occur.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I start by indicating to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that in the days when I had to attend economics lectures from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, I also had to read Richard Lipsey's Positive Economics. I hope he will take it in the spirit that it is intended when I say that I find the noble Lord's contributions much more engaging than what I recall of his textbook.
The amendment would allow the Boundary Commission to decide, in particular instances, that the factors in rule 5 are so important that it should override the preceding rules. It has been evident from the debates that we have had so far that the core principle of this part of the Bill is to ensure that votes cast across the country have an equal weight. The best way to achieve this is to ensure that there is broad equality in the number of registered voters in each constituency. The principle of parity must be paramount.
In introducing his amendment, the noble Lord said that there was consensus in the Committee on the principle of equity, although he indicated that there was no consensus on the 5 per cent or 10 per cent variation from the electoral quota figure. I pay tribute to the noble Lord's ingenuity for coming forward with this amendment. He claims that it is a very narrow exemption but, while ostensibly reasonable, the amendment would undermine the principle of parity that we have said ought to be paramount by allowing other factors to take precedence over the equal weighting of votes. This could, and almost certainly would, perpetuate a situation in which constituencies can be of very different sizes, and votes cast in one part of the country can have a very different weight from those cast in another.
The amendment would override rule 2(1), so it would not just be a question of a debate about a 5 per cent or 10 per cent variation. Indeed, by that rule being overridden, the variation could be sizeable indeed. Existing differences in constituency size matter. There is a 41 per cent difference between Manchester Central, with 85,522 electors in 2009, and Glasgow North, with 50,588 electors in 2009. That means that 10 voters in Glasgow North have the same weight as 17 voters in Manchester Central. Frankly, that simply cannot be right.
Lord Howarth of Newport: One of the reasons why we are still here in this Committee on the 13th day is that the Government persist in the illusion that if they equalise the number of electors in every constituency, desirable of course though that is in principle, that will produce votes of equal value. The reality is that differential
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Obviously the noble Lord is right to the extent that differential turnout has an effect on the value of votes, but the Bill at least gets everyone to the same starting point. The argument that seems to be coming from the noble Lord is that somehow or other you can have an equal starting point that would then be compounded by differential turnout, making the situation even worse. That is what I find unacceptable.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Why is it not right in terms of constituency sizes but right in terms of London elections-in Westminster in particular? The Minister was here last night when I read those statistics out for Westminster that showed a huge differential between wards in central London. Why is it all right for one and not for the other?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I was here last night and I heard those interminable statistics. The point is that this is not what we are debating at the moment; we are debating parliamentary constituencies. I have enunciated a principle that the Government consider important for this part of the Bill, and one that we believe would be seriously undermined by the proposal that is implicit in the amendment.
In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, acknowledged in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, this also overrules rule 1, and the Committee has debated at considerable length the question of the size of the House of Commons and the fact that the Government's position is that there should be a House of 600.
The current situation is that there is no hierarchy of rules and there is a flexibility to move away from the aspiration, which is there in the current rules, that the Boundary Commission should go as close to the quota as possible. It was clear from the exchanges that took place in the debate that in fact there is that flexibility to move away that has led to the kind of wide variation that I have just illustrated with the difference between Manchester Central and Glasgow North, and indeed has led to a steady increment over many years, almost invariably in an upward direction, in the number of seats.
Lord Davies of Stamford: I have followed the noble and learned Lord's course, and I am going to try to be helpful. He is worried that the amendment put forward by my noble friend would conflict with rule 2 on parity; he has made that point and I understand it. Not for the first time, I shall put to him a possible compromise. Would he be prepared to have a provision under which there was a 10 per cent divergence from the electoral quota that was an absolute ceiling and could not under any circumstances be exceeded or broken through, but the Boundary Commission would
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: That is not far away from the amendment that we debated almost exactly a week ago. Indeed, I have already had discussions with at least one of the noble Lords over this, and I believe that other discussions have flowed on from that between Mr Harper and representatives of the Opposition.
Lord Davies of Stamford: I think there is a misunderstanding. What is new about what I have just said, as against the proposal that we discussed before, would be the incorporation of the phrase "exceptional importance", drawn from my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I hear what the noble Lord says, but the point that I was on at the moment is not just that there is no limit on the 10 per cent-I shall come on to the question about exceptional circumstances in a moment-but that the number of 600 could be reached. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Eccles yesterday who raised the question of 630, which is the target aspirational number. Even that varies, though. With the one exception of when the Scottish seats were redistributed following devolution, the number has gone up after every Boundary Commission review.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, asked about "shall" and "may". The fact that it is at the Boundary Commission's discretion whether and to what extent at present it should take into account the factors in rule 5 does not mean that it is able to decide simply to ignore a relevant factor on a whim. The commission cannot just dismiss it. I shall give two reasons why "may" is preferable to "shall". First, and this reflects back to what I was just saying, the 1986 Act currently has conflicting rules. The British Academy said that,
because they are clear and not contradictory. Our fear is that changing "may" could reintroduce conflict between the rules. Secondly, it is important that the independent Boundary Commission has the freedom to use its discretion. Many of the noble Lords moving amendments similar to this have talked about the importance of giving the commission flexibility. I fear that by using "shall" rather than "may", one takes away with one hand what is perhaps sought to be given with the other.
As I have indicated, the Boundary Commission cannot ignore these factors on a whim. Issues such as local geography and historical factors are important. We have also provided flexibility; we have allowed a margin of 10 per cent-5 per cent either side of the quota-for these factors to be taken into account. However, we do not believe that they are so important that they justify a situation in which one person's vote
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I am concerned that rule 6, under the existing rules to which the noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred, is the part that does away, as it were, with the hierarchy and leads to contradictions. The amendment would blur the clear hierarchy and introduce potential inconsistencies and confusion. With regard to the point about there being exceptional circumstances, we all know, if we are honest in our heart of hearts, that these words open the door to arguments, particularly from political parties, that considerations of exceptional importance arise in nearly every constituency. This would make the commission's task far harder. Boundary reviews would become slower and lengthier, and the result would be the unequal weight of votes that we see today. I have tried to answer the noble Lord's points.
Lord Davies of Stamford: There is still confusion here. On that matter, there is a great difference between individual political parties arguing that their cases are of exceptional importance-the noble and learned Lord is absolutely right: they will all say that-and the Boundary Commission sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity and allowing itself to be seduced into accepting that something is exceptional in a majority of cases. That could never happen; the Boundary Commission would not do that. It would be too jealous of its own credibility and integrity to allow a procedure that could be justified only in exceptional circumstances being used in anything more than a very small number of circumstances. There is a great difference there between the impact of this word on the Boundary Commission and the likely arguments-about which I quite agree with the noble and learned Lord-that individual litigants and representatives will make to the Boundary Commission.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, even if one puts aside for a moment the question of public hearings, there is still opportunity under the Bill for representations to be made. The minute you import words such as "exceptional importance", however the case may be presented, you can bet your life that organised groups such as political parties would find some means of suggesting exceptional importance in almost every constituency. Some have argued that the constituency boundaries should be drawn on the basis of population. We have heard that argument; it was suggested earlier that it would be one way of dealing with the situation, but I hope we have dealt with that in times past.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said that this is a modest amendment. However, some of the key principles that the Government have enunciated about what is important in the Bill-for example, that there should be no increase in the size of the House of Commons
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Lord Lipsey: I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this brief but informative debate-my noble friends Lord Howarth, Lord Soley, Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Bach. They have all made substantial contributions to moving the argument forward. I thank the Minister for a comprehensive reply but I cannot apply the phrase "moved the argument forward" to his remarks. I know there is a feeling in many quarters of the House that this debate has gone on too long; I share it. However, one reason for that is that scrutiny is not just about making changes to the Bill; it is about listening to each other's arguments and hearing what we are saying-not merely repeating one's starting position. I was saddened to hear the Minister repeat what we debated last night when the noble Lord, Lord McNally-I join in wishing him a very quick recovery-repeated this stuff and nonsense about the equal weight of votes. Indeed, he did not seem fully to have wrestled with the concept because he thought we were talking about something to do with differential turnout.
Differential turnout has nothing to do with it. In a majoritarian system only some votes affect the result of a general election. Those are votes cast in marginal seats. Everybody else's vote has no weight whatever, except in so far as it is used to claim that the system is biased in some way after the election. Sadly, under our system most people might as well not bother going to the polls for all the chance they have of affecting the result. To talk of some cast principle of equal weight for equal votes when our system embodies a quite contrary principle seems wrong. Moreover, it is sad that it is still being repeated after 13 days of argument
Lord Howarth of Newport: My noble friend has been very generous and tolerant. Does he share my puzzlement that the Government are so obsessed by this question of exact numerical equality across electorates in different constituencies, given that the existing distribution of electors across constituencies in this country is not out of line with what is found in other countries, such as Canada, France, Australia and the USA? The Minister expressed his great concern that there was a 41 per cent difference between the size of the electorate in one constituency and another. However, is it not the case that in the United States of America, where it is generally held that the distribution of districts for the US Congress is pretty equal, there is an 88 per cent difference between the electorate of a single seat in Montana and the electorates of two seats in Rhode Island? There is nothing particularly out of line in our existing arrangements by international
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Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I come to another point that the Minister appeared not to have absorbed fully in our earlier discussions. He again said that there was constant upward movement in the number of seats in the House of Commons. This is simply incorrect. In 1918 there were 707 seats in the House of Commons- 57 more than there are today. In 1983 there was precisely the same number of seats in the House of Commons as there is today. The figure varies, and I agree that there is a flaw in the rules at the moment. It is like the Schleswig-Holstein question; I have forgotten exactly how it works but it has something to do with the use of the harmonic mean. There is a flaw in the rules that can tend, if not otherwise compensated for, to raise the number of seats. You just deal with the flaw; you do not need a Bill of this kind to deal with that. It simply is not true to say that the number of seats has increased.
Lord Grocott: My noble friend is absolutely right, although the number of seats has tended to increase in recent years because of the tendency to round up, rather than down, at the end of a redistribution in individual areas. I mention this point simply to remind my noble friend that at some unearthly hour on Monday I spoke to an amendment that was intended to do precisely this in an attempt to meet some of the Government's concerns. That would have provided that in each of the five-yearly boundary changes-of which I am not in favour, but we have to give and take in this kind of situation-there would be rounding down and not rounding up. I need hardly remind my noble friend that that persuasive amendment was not listened to by many noble Lords because it was spoken to at an unearthly hour. However, that is the kind of thing that we need to do if we are to reach a settlement on the Bill.
Lord Lipsey: Indeed, and the point about the escalation in the number of seats could quickly be dealt with if the admirable Professor Iain McLean were to be summoned by the Bill team to explain the changes in the rules, which I have heard him explain at innumerable academic conferences, to my great edification. That is how I know that the harmonic mean comes into it, even if its precise meaning escapes me for the moment.
I want to conclude where the Minister ended, when he said that the task of the Boundary Commission in producing a reasonable electoral map would be far harder if my amendment were to be passed. I agree that it is hard work being a boundary commissioner. However, although far harder work might be produced by my amendment, his Bill makes that work not harder, but impossible. We cannot produce an electoral map of Great Britain that makes sense with this Bill as it stands. I hope that in discussions on either the Floor or discussions that I devoutly hope are taking place elsewhere, there will turn out to be more flexibility in the Government's position than the Minister, with all his courtesy, has indicated this afternoon, and that we
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Baroness Morgan of Huyton: My Lords, I wish to introduce the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady McDonagh and to speak to the amendment tabled in my name, which has a similar theme. It was after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, speaking last week about the Isle of Wight that I was minded to table my amendment. The noble Lord and many others in this House have, over many hours, talked graphically about the importance of geography and community, but the noble Lord also talked powerfully about the effect of water in that context and its psychological importance.
I know that levels of weariness are increasing and I will speak briefly. In doing so, I am attempting to highlight the difficulties of an inflexible approach by the Boundary Commission in relation to a defined geographical feature and its cultural effects. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, reminded me of the significance of the River Mersey in designating and affecting communities around Merseyside and the marked differences in the history, culture and community on each side of the river. When I was growing up and at school in Liverpool, no one ever talked about Birkenhead or the Wirral; it was always "across the water". Frankly, that could have meant the Atlantic, such was the feeling of otherness. My only contact as a child was on ferry trips during school holidays to the beaches at Hoylake or New Brighton.
Of course, before the creation of Merseyside, which is still not accepted by many, Liverpool was part of Lancashire, while the Wirral was part of Cheshire. Liverpool was a city with a strong, confident personality, built around the port and then reinvigorated by the Industrial Revolution. It remained dominated by the docks, with all the labour implications and challenges of that beyond the 1960s. The container port, still on the Liverpool side, is now closer to the mouth of the river, and the old port area has been successfully regenerated in the past 15 years. It is a thriving, busy area, with a lot of tourism.
In contrast, Birkenhead retained its agricultural status until the advent of the steam ferry service in 1820, which opened up the town. In later years, Birkenhead developed a successful shipbuilding industry based on a very different employment base from that in Liverpool. It was employment for skilled workers. The Wirral today, beyond Birkenhead, remains a markedly different place from the concentrated urban community of Liverpool. The Wirral still contains villages, large areas of land owned by the National Trust, country parks and beaches. It looks more to Chester than
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When one looks at that feature of modern culture, football, Liverpool has two strong and competitive Premier League clubs-Liverpool and Everton-while people on the Wirral look to Tranmere Rovers. Liverpool has a tight, strong and famous arts scene, renowned for a distinctive identity in its poetry, art, theatre, comedy and, as we heard today, art galleries and museums. Liverpool's strong cultural identity is tightly focused within the city-around the pier head, between the cathedrals, around Hope Street and around the universities.
So-called Manchester bands, which are compared with Liverpool bands, are in fact from a much wider region. People talk about bands such as Joy Division, who were actually from Macclesfield, not Manchester, or the Verve, who were from Wigan. By contrast, Liverpool bands are from a very small area within Liverpool. I have here a long list of Liverpool bands, courtesy of one of my sons, but, frankly, given that I do not recognise most of them, I suspect that most noble Lords will not either. However, noble Lords will have heard of the Beatles, and possibly the La's and Ladytron, who are more recent. If anyone wants to see the longer list, I can provide it afterwards.
On a more serious note, it is inconceivable that a constituent could consider crossing the river to see their MP. The train networks and timetables for Liverpool and the Wirral are not connected. Getting from Liverpool Lime Street to Birkenhead takes 45 minutes. Alternatively, a constituent would have to pay to drive through the tunnel or would have to undertake a round trip of an hour and a half to go over the free bridge at Runcorn.
The strong personalities of Liverpudlians are well known. At worst, they could be described as somewhat inward-looking and defensive against the world; at best, they are independent and confident. Perhaps less well known are the strong views of those on the Wirral, who object strongly to any notion that they could be perceived as part of Liverpool. This was ably demonstrated by a letter in the Guardian last year from a previous mayor of the Wirral. He was commenting on a description of the Wirral as part of the "Liverpool city region". He said:
"This ghastly term relegates our community to a suburb of Liverpool, which is far from the case. Wirral, with over a third of a million inhabitants ... [does] not need either Cheshire ... or our cheeky neighbours over the river to mould our identity".
I anticipate that the Minister will say that it is inconceivable that a constituency will be divided by the river. He will even mean it. However, the point of my amendment is that, if we remove the necessary flexibilities, foolish and inappropriate decisions may indeed be made. I beg to move.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: I speak in favour of Amendment 75ZB, which is about boundaries not crossing the Thames. It is possible that in the far west of the Thames, near its source, this may not be an issue, but I will leave that to one side and address just what we know as this great river on which this great city of ours developed.
When one talks about some of these areas, it is always important to mention where one has lived. I should say that I once lived in Chelsea with the poshest address that I will ever have-Cheyne Walk. Unfortunately, I was on a house-boat there; nevertheless, my address was Cheyne Walk. I moved from there to Battersea. Going to the other side of the river was seen as an enormous move.
The difference between Chelsea and Battersea is not simply what we all know. They have different schools, catchment areas and transport links-akin to the situation in Merseyside. As far as my research has been able to discover, they have always had different health authorities. During the time that I lived there, we had the North West Thames, North East Thames, South West Thames and South East Thames Regional Heath Authorities. Despite all the reorganisation that has happened since, there remain great differences within London-including our phone numbers, which are slightly less important to this issue.
Us Londoners joke about having to take a passport or a visa to visit friends on the other side of the river, but there are reasons for that joke, because south London is definitely south London. It would be difficult for an elected Member to do justice to representing very different communities on both sides of the river. However, as I have said previously, I am less concerned about the difficulties faced by a Member of the other place representing people from those two communities than about the difficulty for citizens of those communities in addressing their Member of Parliament. There are different patient groups, parent groups, rotaries and charities. Their organisations differ on both sides of the river. The parishes and even the Girl Guides are divided in their organisations between north and south, partly because the divisions are of long standing.
However, London has developed in that way. That makes it hard for people to reach their Member of Parliament. It is not simply a question of transport. As I have said before to the Committee, constituents often want to group together on an issue-for example, as parents or users of the health service-to address policy concerns. The idea that they would have to address two different MPs or find a similar charity or group on the other side of the river in order to take a common approach is difficult. From the point of view of residents of London, this much loved city of ours, we should respect the border that the Thames provides and make sure that no constituency covers both sides.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I will speak to the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lady McDonagh and Lord Kennedy. I will make the same case for the River Tyne as has been made for the Thames and the Mersey. They should not be crossed in order to make up the numbers. I appreciate that the Minister or anyone else can say, "Well, there are no proposals to do that". Of course there are not, but this is a warning shot across the bows. If the public are going to be deprived of their say at a public inquiry, we have an additional responsibility to air their views here.
I was born on Tyneside, in a place called Scotswood Road, which runs parallel to the River Tyne. It was years before I crossed the river into Gateshead. Now, of course, people talk about Newcastle and Gateshead
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There was never any enmity or animosity, just indifference. Of course we on Tyneside and in Newcastle knew that Gateshead was there. It had a football team in the Third Division; Newcastle United was in the First Division. We were the Magpies and the other team had its own name. The Minister would be wise to give an assurance that this is not intended. The sad fact is that that is what we are relying on, rather than a public inquiry.
I am delighted to see in the Chamber my good and noble friend Lord Dixon-Don Dixon. When he spoke on an earlier amendment, he injected a level of passion and emotion that we have seen rarely in this House. Whenever I see someone emotionally involved in an issue, I say to myself, "He's doing a Don Dixon". The noble Lord was able to convey to this House-and, I hope, to the local press and to those whom he represented so well in Jarrow-that this is the place where, if it has to be said, it will be said, and with passion.
When I wrote my book, I called it From Tyne to Thames Via the Usual Channels. The title wrapped up three aspects of my life. I chose it because all my memories are of Newcastle and not Gateshead. There is nothing wrong with Gateshead, Jarrow, Hebburn, North Shields, South Shields or any of the other shipbuilding towns along the Tyne such as Wallsend. However, one is proud of one's roots and I am proud to come from Newcastle. I once had a trial for Newcastle boys. I was 13 and played in goal. I never wondered afterwards why I was not selected, because we were beaten 5-0. I was not very good. However, there is nothing wrong in pride. There is nothing nasty in not wishing to be associated with somebody else.
There has been a renaissance in Newcastle and Gateshead over the past 20 or 30 years. It had a shaky start. My noble friend from Jarrow will have memories of the Jarrow march in the 1930s. He and I worked together in 1986, when the march from Jarrow to London of 1936 was replicated in commemoration. I am sure that I do not have to press the Minister too hard for him to recognise that people feel very strongly about protecting the memories of their youth. This is not idle talk. I am not standing up merely to take up five or 10 minutes of the House's time. We have an opportunity here. I have resented very much the way in which colleagues have had to use the opportunities over the past few days to say what they want, because I fear that this is the only place that we have at the moment, given the possibility that the Boundary Commission will act in the absence of a public inquiry. I have attended public inquiries and so have most noble Lords here. We pleaded, won and lost cases, but at least we were able to say what the people whom we represented wanted us to say.
Good luck to Gateshead and to all the developments. People there should be as pleased as I am that the Tyne Bridge was built in 1924. Very few people comment on the fact that the Sydney Harbour Bridge was modelled on the Tyne Bridge. It is a feat of engineering. Whenever I talk about the things that I am proud of in Newcastle, I mention the bridge. I also mention the
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The Minister would be well advised to say that the amendments are well understood. He might say that they are not necessary-he has his own speech to make. However, I support the argument that on either side of the River Tyne, good as it is-better as it is, with fish coming out of the Tyne that have not come out for years because of the clean-up of the pollution-Newcastle and Gateshead should remain distinct and separate. They both have good Members of Parliament: men and women who speak up, and speak positively and strongly, for their areas. But leave us divided.
Lord Cavendish of Furness: My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for intervening in a debate on a Bill in which I have hitherto played no part. I have listened to noble Lords opposite talking about rivers being boundaries. It was part of my early education to be taught about mountain ranges. These were discussed in the early hours of this morning, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, who talked about people making boundaries having looked at flat maps, although he put it rather more strongly. In Cumbria, we had county divisions made from flat maps, which presented problems. However, whereas each noble Lord who spoke about their own area may well have had a point about their communities, it is not because of rivers that communities are different. Water unites and mountains divide. That is a historical rule that the Committee might take note of.
Lord Dixon: My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lord Graham for his kind words, which I have not earned. I will talk about the amendments dealing with the River Tyne. I spent 32 years working as a shipwright on both sides of the River Tyne. I do not think that the Boundary Commission or the Minister realise the rivalry that exists between the north and south.
I served my time on the south side of the river in Palmers. I remember working in Wallsend, which is on the north side of the river. One of the shipwrights in North Tyneside said to me, "You people from the south side-from the other side of the river-are taking our jobs". I had to remind him that, if it was not for the river, there would be nobody in a job, because there would be nowhere to launch the ships. So there is a rivalry.
I think that it was in 1979 when the River Tyne was breached for a parliamentary boundary for the election of MEPs. The first MEP elected for our area was my noble friend Lady Quin. In 1983, we had the nonsense of the Boundary Commission creating the Tyne Bridge constituency, which was half in Newcastle and half in Gateshead. The first Member for the Tyne Bridge constituency was my late great comrade Harry Cowans.
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In the 1983 boundary changes, we had quite a lot of constituency changes. At that time, most of the Labour MPs had already been selected. What we had then was called a resettlement, where, if someone took part of a constituency, the other MP could claim that constituency, and vice versa. In the northern region at that time, we all agreed on who should go and who should not for various constituencies. For example, my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere was MP for South Shields; I was MP for Jarrow. If part of Jarrow went to South Shields or part of South Shields came to Jarrow, we could both go for that constituency, but only us two could go for it.
That worked well all around the northern region, with the exception of North West Durham, where Consett was eliminated as a constituency. The two MPs at the time were the late Ernie Armstrong and David Watkins. Ernie Armstrong was the father of my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top. They fought for that constituency; Ernie won and David Watkins lost. The new constituency of Sedgefield was created during that reorganisation. David Watkins did not have a claim on Sedgefield because none of his constituency went into it, so the result of the 1983 boundary changes was that we lost an MP and gained a Prime Minister, because Tony Blair got the Sedgefield constituency. So constituencies and constituency boundaries are important, especially across the river. My exiled Geordie friend, Ted Graham, talked about Newcastle and Gateshead. I can remember the Callender brothers playing halfback for Gateshead-do you remember that, Ted?
Lord Swinfen: In the first part of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon, pointed out that the River Tyne brought work to both sides of the river. That is exactly the same with the Thames. The river is therefore a unifying force within the constituency and is not divisive at all.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: My Lords, I find what the noble Lord says interesting. My experience all through my life has been that sometimes the river is unifying and sometimes it is divisive. I was born and brought up on the Wear, which is the river further
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However, there are other things that the amendment is really about. It is about saying that democracy is a precious thing and that, yes, voting is the essence of democracy, but people's culture, identity and sense of belonging and pride in their area are also very important parts of a democratic system. When we are voting, we are voting not just for an anonymous object, we are voting about a relationship that we will have with someone who will represent us, whoever are the Government. For me, that means that if you say that community and identity do not matter, you break the opportunity for that relationship.
I have listened very carefully to the Minister's words. He keeps saying that I was wrong, in essence, last week when I said that I thought that it was part of the coalition's ambition to break that link. I want to hear more from him to show that I was wrong and that he is right-that the Government see the link between the elector and the representative as very important. The problem is that once you admit that, you need flexibility.
I remember well the occasion that my noble friend Lord Dixon was talking about when the boundaries were changed in County Durham. My father was a very loyal member of the country but also of the Labour Party. He would always do what the Labour Party asked. This was the first occasion when he did not. They wanted him to go for the Sedgefield seat, so he is sort of to blame for Tony Blair. He had only one ward going from North West Durham into the Sedgefield seat, and he felt strongly that, if he represented anywhere, he wanted to represent the area he was born in and that he had played football in. As we have heard, football is very important in the north-east. I have to say that my noble friend Lord Dixon and I both disagree with my noble friend Lord Graham about loyalties and the success of Newcastle in the 1960s and 1970s, but there we go.
My dad played amateur football and was also a referee. He knew intimately the folk around him. I remember someone from the Consett side saying to me, "Why is he not doing it?". I said, "You've just got to listen to him". They came to me later and said, "We absolutely understand it. Your dad has a passion for Little Stanley"-as it was called. We all called it the Hill Top, which is why I took that title. It is not the name you find on the map, but that is what we knew it as. Dad had a passion for that area because it made him who he was. It gave him his values and his sense of real passion for community and opportunity. I think that they are important elements of democracy for both the elected and those who are electing. My fear about the Bill is that it drives a dagger at that whole concept that drives us and gives us a passion for democracy. Democracy is often not the easiest or most straightforward method of government. Sometimes it drives us all dotty, but we have not come up with anything better. We also know that it is fragile.
This amendment simply reminds the Government that whether it is the Tyne, the Mersey or the Thames, there are identities and cultures that add to our democracy and enable us to feel strength in representation. The
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Lord Harris of Haringey:My Lords, we owe my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton a debt of gratitude for introducing this group of amendments which are extremely important in the context of this Bill. First, they raise the issue of geography, and we have already had some debate on that on the amendment that was passed in respect of the Isle of Wight. Secondly, they raise the question of the way in which communities are divided. This group of amendments is about division by rivers. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said about rivers uniting and driving communities, but the reality is that rivers do divide communities, and communities on one side or other of a river feel very differently from those on the other side. My noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top has just articulated it supremely well. If we believe in the principle of representation whereby individuals are elected to the other place on the basis of a community of feeling and are able to represent that community of feeling, that should be taken into account as part of these discussions.
I know that the Government are committed to the concept of fairness. There are other ways of achieving fairness. For example, I fail to understand why it is a given that when Members of the House of Commons go through the Division Lobby and are ticked off in the way that we are familiar with in this House, they each count for one vote. If you really want to have equality of representation, have them have a statistic associated with them so that one gets 1.1 votes and one gets 0.9 votes and, at a stroke, you have solved the problem that the Government claim they are trying to deal with. I am not suggesting that that is a solution that we should follow, but it is a much easier way than the many hours that this House has debated this issue.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: Does the noble Lord recollect the myth that when the Habeas Corpus Act was passed, it did not achieve a majority but fat men were counted as two? Some of us would have served the cause of liberty magnificently.
What is it that creates a community? Do we value community in terms of representation? I should have thought that for the quality of our democracy we want to value the quality of representation and the way in which there is a link between the community that elects a representative and that representative. It is interesting that if you look at constituencies and the history of where there has been division by a river, you see this problem. For example, my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton talked about the Mersey. I have a report from a Boundary Commission inquiry into that issue. The Boundary Commission clearly wished to cross the Mersey on that occasion but was overwhelmed by the nature of the representations. It stated that,
That is why we should recognise those considerations regarding the Bill. I particularly want to speak, but shall not speak at length, about Amendment 75ZB, which deals with constituencies not crossing the Thames. I appreciate that those who are not part of London may not realise that there are such strong feelings between the north and south of the city. I speak as someone who, although an unabashed north Londoner, has had the privilege of representing the whole of the city when I chaired the Association of London Government, now London Councils. I was very well aware of the strong feelings between the north and the south. It goes into every aspect of community life. A study published just a few weeks ago demonstrates-I think this is fascinating-that 54 per cent of Londoners living north of the River Thames never, not occasionally, but never, venture south for work or cultural pursuits. It is interesting that south Londoners are more likely to go north. I make no comments about the quality of life in south London or about whether anyone would wish to travel south. I have travelled south of the river on many occasions for cultural pursuits. However, it is interesting that more than half of north Londoners have never done so. If that does not indicate that there is a difference in terms of community feeling, then nothing does.
The same survey demonstrates some quite interesting findings about the different interests of north Londoners and south Londoners. I am a north Londoner, and
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Where does this come from? In the 1850s, London was already the world's wealthiest city, but that success had come at the expense of many of the people of London. Population growth and overcrowding had created a divided city, with Londoners living in separate worlds of rich and poor. Up to half of those born in the capital's slums did not survive their first year. However, not only the poor died young; tuberculosis, smallpox, cholera and typhoid also killed the rich. The significant point was that London had failed to provide clean water, basic sanitation and housing for its growing population. In its analysis, the People's City, the Museum of London stated:
Even more modern literature reflects this. Wise Children, the novel by Angela Carter, centres on a particular family and focuses on the distinctions between members of the family as represented by the physical divide of the River Thames. A very deep-seated difference exists between north Londoners and south Londoners.
If we are to have any concern whatever about the importance of geography and community to representation in Parliament, we have to take these issues into account. If the Government say that that would wreck the central purpose of the Bill of fair representation, I would ask two questions: first, will they consider an alternative which changes the value of the votes of Members at the other end of the Corridor; and, secondly, what is the value of fairer representation if you destroy the basis on which it rests in the communities that elect Members of Parliament?
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, over the centuries, rivers have been essential to the characters and fortunes of the cities of this country. My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey has given an account of the significance of the Thames in the life of London. In Our Mutual Friend,Dickens compellingly describes the myriad human lives on the Thames; the power of the river is a symbol of the power of the city.
The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, suggested, as a general proposition, that rivers unite while mountains divide. However, some of the speeches in this debate have demonstrated that that is too simple an antithesis. My noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton has described convincingly the divide that the Mersey creates. Equally, I agree with my noble friend Lord Harris that the character of London south of the river feels and is profoundly different to the character of London north of the river. On the other hand, Newport, which I had the honour to represent in the House of Commons, is a city united by its river. Notwithstanding that the
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Whether rivers unite or divide-or whether, indeed, there is no river, in which case it is not an issue-almost all our major cities and towns have grown up astride a river and, I would say, have been unified by a river. Birmingham is an oddity; it is perhaps the one great city in this country that does not have a river. I broadly accept the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness-with the important exceptions that have already been discussed-but the point is that this matters and people have strong feelings about it. It is foolish of the Government to design legislation that will, in practice, make it difficult for the boundary commissioners to take adequate account of this extremely important factor.
The Government will certainly say that, under rule 5 in Clause 11, the Boundary Commission has a measure of discretion to take account of important geographical factors. However, as we have argued almost to the point of wearying ourselves and others, because of the other constraints in the Bill it is not possible for the boundary commissioners to give proper attention to this. Given the exceptions outlined in rule 5 to take account of geographical considerations, the alignment of local authorities-presumably one of the problems about the creation of the constituency of Tyne Bridge was that the Member of Parliament representing Tyne Bridge would have to relate to different local authorities on either side of the Tyne-local ties and inconveniencies, on all the grounds set out in the rule it must be right for the boundary commissioners to be able to take account of the significance of rivers.
The consideration of the significance of rivers has underlined the point that we have been making again and again. We need two things: a wider tolerance than 5 per cent either side of the numerical norm; and a continuation of the rights of people to give evidence to the boundary commissioners in public inquiries. If they were able to do so, my noble friends Lord Graham of Edmonton, Lord Dixon, from Jarrow, and Lady Armstrong of Hill Top-all of whom have spoken eloquently and with strong feeling about the significance of rivers in the parts of England that they understand intimately in political terms and about which they care deeply-would give evidence to those public inquiries and press on the boundary commissioners the fact that, while appearing to be, perhaps, an accident of geography and history, this is a factor of emotional, almost visceral, importance to the people whose lives are made on these riversides.
Lord Grocott: On this point, I should say to my noble friends of many years, Lord Graham and Lord Dixon, that the idea of a member of the Boundary
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Lord Howarth of Newport: My noble friend is right. Communities and territories will be divided up, presumably on a computerised calculation, in a way that entirely ignores the feelings that, rightly and powerfully, animate people in their political views.
The Boundary Commission in its wisdom-or in its unwisdom-made a judgment some time ago that the constituency of Tyne Bridge should be created and no doubt vigorous representations were made then. However, the fact that it got it wrong on that occasion-if it did get it wrong, and I am persuaded by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton that it did-does not mean that it should not have to take account of the expressions of public opinion that would come to it through public inquiries.
Building into the Bill one exception after another to take account of specific circumstances is not the right way in which to legislate on this matter. It would be much better if the Bill were constructed on general principles that enabled the boundary commissioners to make sensible judgments and decisions.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I have no wish to delay proceedings and I shall be extremely brief. I was born in a place called Rowlands Gill on the River Derwent, a tributary of the Tyne, and I went to school in a place called Spennymoor, which later became part of the Sedgefield constituency. When I moved as a student and later spent my professional life in Newcastle, it was made very clear to me that the south began at the Tyne Bridge.
There was a story about the man from the south of England who came to Newcastle. He was walking up and down Northumberland Street and said to Geordie, "Can you show me the way to Gateshead?". Geordie said, "Well man, it's quite simple. Ye gan doon yon street and ye gan ower yon bridge. On t'other side ye'll come to a whole lotta hooses and ye'll say to yersel, 'This canna be Gateshead', but it certainly is".
I make these points to stress the sense of community, which was stressed so effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. Newcastle and Gateshead are speaking together and collaborating very well indeed, but it is important to recognise that people in the north-east regard the Tyne as an important barrier.
Lord Judd: My Lords, the amendments that we are considering this afternoon go to the very heart of the widespread anxiety about what this Bill is doing to our democracy. Anyone who has felt the spirit of democracy, let alone studied our constitution, knows that the fundamental principle on which we operate in the two
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I will spell that out a little further. As I understand it, the Government have a deep commitment to the individual. They believe in enhancing the role of the individual in society. They have a great commitment to localism and making sure that as much government as possible is conducted away from the centre, in the community where it really matters. How on earth will that happen without communities in which people can find their place, discuss and formulate their ideas and bring pressure to bear on those in authority? The danger is that, deliberately or just by unforgivable accident, the Bill will undermine the very purposes that the Government express on other occasions in other proposed legislation.
There is another consideration. I was very glad indeed that in the brief but telling intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, he referred to the fact that, while rivers were significant in some people's minds, they were not the only consideration. For example, in the county in which we both live, there is a strong sense of community. In a rural area, it is important that people can find identity in a community, because they can become very isolated and disempowered in their isolation. Communities are very important. In a great county such as Cumbria, there is history and tradition. We have had quite a job-in fact, some people feel that it has never really happened sociologically-in making the county of Cumbria, because we have Westmorland and Cumberland and people's loyalties are for one or the other.
Lord Cavendish of Furness: We also have Yorkshire and north Lancashire and much else besides. While I am on my feet, I will say that a beck runs though my village and I remember that, when I was a boy, there was a seat on either side of it. There were men sitting on those seats who in their entire lives never crossed the beck. Today, because of local leadership and the fact that we participate and have mobility, those people talk to one another and I think that the communities are probably better for it.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord took the opportunity to expand a little more on his strength of feeling, much of which I share, about our county. I think that the noble Lord will agree that the arguments that we have heard about London and Tyne and Wear strengthen the concern. They are a geographical reality, which emphasises the point that we are both making.
There is one other issue that needs serious consideration. We live in an insecure age and one of instability. It is important to have communities as the basis for security and stability. London is a huge multicultural gathering of people. It is possible in that situation for people to feel that they have no particular identity whatever. Surely in London of all places, with its great mass of people coming together, it is important that people can develop a sense of community and belonging, a sense of being able to discuss their anxieties with others and bring their representations to bear. For all those reasons, the issue of the constituency community base is fundamental. I simply cannot envisage how we can continue to have a representative democracy if we diminish the significance of the constituency.
My noble friend Lady Armstrong made a particularly powerful speech. I was a friend of her father and knew him well. She made a strong point about her father breaking his loyalty with his party because he felt so strongly about these matters. I would have only one argument with her. The other day, she talked about the link being broken. I ask her to consider that it is not a link but the fundamental cornerstone of a meaningful representative democracy. If we tamper with that, what road are we beginning to go down?
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, this is the first time that I have spoken on the merits of the Bill and I want to be brief. I have two points to make. It is important that there is a degree of flexibility for certain communities. The community that I want to speak about is Newcastle. As a complete outsider to Newcastle, I sat there as a judge on numerous occasions and was the family division liaison judge for the area. There is absolutely no doubt that Newcastle is, among other parts of the country, one of the most obviously tightly knit communities. The river undoubtedly divides Newcastle from Gateshead. I could have replicated the lovely story told by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, although without his accent, because I actually asked where Gateshead was and people were very unkeen to tell me.
Lord Soley: I support Amendment 75ZB on the River Thames. It is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, because she has put her finger on the problem again, just as she did in the debate on the Isle of Wight. If the Government are really concerned to do the equal voting bit, they need to face up to the fact that the way to do that is to go down the road of PR and get rid of the constituency link. I personally would strongly oppose that, but that is the way in which you equalise votes. In doing that, you destroy the constituency link, which has always been the centrepiece of British parliamentary democracy.
I remember being followed around by a Dutch television team in two general elections. Each time they expressed amazement that an MP had to stand on corners and go out into the constituency to campaign for votes in the local area. Their own MPs, because they were on a list system, could talk about general issues and not relate them to constituencies in the same way. It is a major difference. Now that the Government have accepted-although they might reverse it in the House of Commons-the Isle of Wight
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Lord Soley: Absolutely. I am no great expert on voting systems, but my understanding is that certain PR systems inevitably destroy the constituency link. I think that the list system is one of those. It is true that AV+ and one or two others allow for the constituency link to be kept, so it need not be ruled out. However, if you are going down the way of full equalisation of votes-that is, a full PR system-it is hard to maintain the constituency link. The acceptance of the Isle of Wight as an exception is a recognition of the importance of community.
All that my noble friend Lord Harris said about London is true. I have spent an awful lot of my life in London-I spent some time in the Mersey area when, for reasons that were beyond me at age five, I was taken from the bombings in London and moved to Liverpool, where I thought that they were trying to get me the second time round because they had missed the first time-and I agree that the Thames presents an interesting issue. I do not wish to dwell on the issue, but my noble friend Lady Hayter made the important point about the powerful impact of such factors on people's lives. The south and north of the river are very different.
However, I do not entirely disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, when he says that rivers can unite. I do not know whether this was just an experiment, but there was an interesting attempt in the early 1980s-by, I think, a group of companies connected with the river, including, if I remember rightly, Thames Water-to form a group of riparian MPs comprising those of us whose constituencies fronted on to the water. It was felt that the river's importance was not truly recognised. I was enthusiastic about that, but I have to tell the noble Lord and others that the attempt failed. That was a great pity. In my case-I was representing Hammersmith at the time-the group ended up dealing with all the house-boat people. I distinctly remember having meetings on house-boats near Cheyne Walk. I do not know whether my noble friend was there at the time, but this would have been in the early 1980s so I guess probably not.
The point is that the river is important, but it divides. You would have had great difficulty organising community activity across the river. If you ran a campaign because someone had led off with an issue-not necessarily on school closures but perhaps on other wider issues-it was really difficult to unite people across the river. Transport was another example. For reasons that I understand are to do with the geography
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The community bit is important. We need to give the Boundary Commission much more flexibility-as we have said a thousand times-so if the Government were prepared to move towards 10 per cent, if they were prepared to make any movement at all, that could help significantly. While the Government are not prepared to talk or move, that makes it difficult to ignore individual cases, whether those relate to the Thames, the Tyne, the Mersey or whatever. We then have to address these issues, which seems a rather painful way of making these points.
As I mentioned before, another factor that came out of the research that was done on my constituency casework was that the majority of an MP's cases-this seems to apply particularly in inner city areas-come from the wards immediately round the centre. The further that you try to go out, the more difficult it is to reach out unless you go to those areas. I know that that happens all the time in rural areas-you have to do it, and I know that you can get round it to some extent with modern technology-but the reality is that that brings home the importance of the community.
Indeed, when I represented Hammersmith for many years, my constituency was virtually the smallest in the UK. I had grand plans to persuade the Boundary Commission to let me link up with the north-west coast of Scotland, so that I could do that in the summer and Hammersmith in the winter, but the Boundary Commission did not buy that. The important thing for me was that, when the size of the constituency was increased and I took over the Ealing-Acton part, there was a significant difference between the outer London borough and the inner London one. The groups in the inner London borough had a different psychology.
I will finish on one point to remember about all great cities, which is particularly true of London. We all think of London as the greatest city in the world, and it is. London is recognised as such for its variety, ethnicity, wealth, diversity and everything that makes it so. Yet we forget at our peril that London is made up of villages. I talked the other day about the turnover of people on one of my constituency's estates being 25 per cent every year, but the other 75 per cent included another group who never moved, who were there from birth to death and who remembered their parents, grandparents and so on. There was a real
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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: I do not want to ruffle these apparently cathartic and calming waters, but the speeches that I have heard from noble Lords opposite would, each in turn, make ideal personal representations to the Boundary Commission when the Boundary Commission is sitting, when it is appropriate for noble Lords to make such representations. Even though they are unelected and unrepresentative, under existing law the noble Lords would still have a right to give their views to the Boundary Commission. In my experience of at least four Boundary Commission reviews in my constituency, everybody was widely consulted, everybody was able to put forward their views and often those views were listened to. Noble Lords opposite have also made the point that there is something undemocratic about imposing this legislation on the Boundary Commission. I remind them, briefly, that 10,726,614 people voted Conservative at the last election for this legislation, some 6,836,824 voted Liberal and less than half that amount-if we put those two figures together-voted for something that is not in the Bill. Therefore, as far as I am concerned-no, I will not give way-the case is made.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Does the noble Baroness believe that noble Lords should be allowed to give oral evidence to these inquiries? That seems to be the thrust of what she is saying. Does she believe that they should be allowed to give that evidence in oral form?
Lord Kinnock: On the subject of reading and remembering, and since the issue of manifestos has been brought up and how many millions of people voted for them, I refer to two manifestos on the subject of parliamentary reorganisation. One manifesto said that the number of seats in the House of Commons should be reduced to 500 with proportional representation and devolution in England. The other manifesto said that the number of seats in the House of Commons should be reduced by 10 per cent to 585. The figure in the Bill is neither 500 with PR and devolution, nor is it 585. The figure is 600-no more, no less, no movement, no negotiation, no pause, no hindrance and no let. At the same time, the Boundary Commission, uniquely in history, is to be constrained by a 5 per cent movement either way and with further constraints related to geographical size. In those circumstances, nobody voted for this legislation.
Lord Trimble: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I could suggest to him that he look again at the Cunningham report on the conventions of this House. The Cunningham report made the point very strongly that the Salisbury convention, which was originally formulated in terms of manifesto commitments, now operates and has for some time operated on the basis of applying to the major Bills of the Government of the day. The point-
Lord Trimble: Whoever said no should also go and read the Cunningham report. That report, which was from a cross-party group, was unanimous and was accepted by this House. The points made about manifestos by the party opposite are wholly and totally irrelevant.
Lord Kinnock: My Lords, I am glad that I gave way, even though I did not give way. The point about manifestos will be in the clear recall of the noble Lord. It was explicitly and forcefully made by the noble Baroness opposite. I was responding for the sake of accuracy and in the interests of this House on that very point. I am well aware of the Cunningham report and of the conventions of the House. I do not think that any convention or any established custom is superior to the truth.
I was born in Brixton-hence my title Baroness Nye, of Lambeth-but I strayed north of the river at one point, where I had a very nice time as I got married and had three rather lovely children. So there are advantages to both sides.
When I looked at Amendment 75ZB, I wondered why the Boundary Commission would ever want to split constituencies on either side of the River Thames. Let me read one section of the British Academy report, which I think proves that the inflexibility of the Bill is such that we could end up in the situation where constituencies could cross the river. The report states:
"Greater London is the part of the UK where borough boundary-crossing has been most common at recent reviews, and where it is likely to be widely necessary under the new rules. With an electoral quota of 76,000 only three of the 32 boroughs would have an entitlement of as many as three constituencies (Bromley, Croydon, and Ealing). No more than eight of the boroughs have an entitlement which means they could be treated separately in the allocation of constituencies, but because of the non-integer entitlements of their neighbours it could well be that virtually all of the boundaries have to be crossed".
I know that you could just as easily say "It's the Thames not the Amazon". However, as has been demonstrated by my noble friend Lord Howarth and others, with a
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Baroness Quin: My constituency was Gateshead, as my noble friend knows only too well. Perhaps in just making a very short contribution I can confess to something of a split personality, because I was proud to represent Gateshead for many years in the other place and would like to pay tribute to the huge economic development achievements that it has realised in recent years. Indeed, it has brought a great deal of jobs and prosperity to Tyneside and the whole of the region as a result. Although I am fiercely proud of having been a Member of Parliament for Gateshead for that time, I also happen to be in my spare time a tourist guide for the city of Newcastle upon Tyne. Perhaps any of your noble Lordships who have visited that city would care to come on one of my tours this coming August and learn about the history and development of that great city. Therefore, I believe that, on occasions, rivers can unite as well as divide, but the point that has been made so powerfully during this debate-that the sense of community has to be recognised-is the one that is really important. Occasionally, as my noble friend Lord Dixon reminded us when he spoke of the tremendous parliamentary record of Harry Cowans, it is possible for a Member of Parliament to be a perfect representative for two constituencies across the river, but at the same time we know in the course of this debate that people's geographical identities are extremely important, and it would be very unwise for the Government to ignore these in the way in which they are approaching this legislation.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I was born in the borough of Hackney. I lived in Hackney. I was a member of the council there and I represented Hackney in the House of Commons for nearly 13 years. People who came from Hackney came from all different parts of the world. There were Turks, people from the West Indies, Indians, Pakistanis and many, many Jews. The important thing was that they had a common bond, as my noble friend Lord Graham would acknowledge, and the important thing from their point of view was that they were quite different from people in adjoining boroughs such as Islington and Tower Hamlets. They had some shared preoccupations, undoubtedly, but in the main they were different and they recognised that difference. It was very important to them as far as their lives were concerned. I do not think that that ought to be underestimated. We are talking about the River Thames but we are also talking about tributaries of that river, such as the River Lea. In my time, it was absolutely inconceivable to consider that people in Hackney could be divorced from the River Lea. They were part of it, they recognised it, and when we think of the possibilities
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Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton for introducing this group of amendments, which have led to an engaging and important discussion about both rivers and communities. My only regret was that she did not reveal the list of bands that her son gave her to see whether noble Lords knew about Liverpool or not. I have to say I have longed for many a year to use the expression that the unfortunate High Court judge used many years ago, "Who are the Beatles?", but I am sure all noble Lords these days know very well who the Beatles are and many of the other bands that she kept from us. I am very grateful to her for moving this amendment.
We have heard from noble Lords on all sides of the Committee today. It is interesting to consider that the following place names have arisen from their speaking: Huyton, Kentish Town, Edmonton, Furness, Jarrow, Newport, Detchant, Hill Top, Harringey, Portsea, Marsh Green, Lambeth, Tankerness-he hopes very shortly, I am sure-Hammersmith and, last but not least at all, Gateshead. For unelected noble Lords, place names are important. Lutterworth is important to me, and I am sure that Tankerness is important to the noble and learned Lord. That shows that a sense of community runs not just in the House of Commons, where it would run a great deal for those fortunate enough to represent people of a particular community, but in this House.
On the rivers that make up the three amendments in this group, the amendments are a direct consequence of the stringency of the proposed 5 per cent variance in constituency size. Such a tight discrepancy in the size of parliamentary constituencies will result in unavoidable anomalies. Similar strict rules were applied in recent boundary reviews into the Scottish Parliament constituencies, which my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey talked about briefly. There were numerous well chronicled objections to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. One of the most contested was a proposal to have a cross-Clyde constituency. The assistant commissioner's report wrote of the proposed cross-Clyde constituency, of what would have been called North Renfrewshire and Clydebank, that,
"I have to say that the opposition voiced at the inquiry from both sides of the river struck me as not only vociferous and strongly held but also as based on sound sense. I did not think I was being made to listen to opposition voiced for opposition's sake nor to objection being made merely against change. It appeared to me on the contrary to be true to say that the communities on the two sides of the river live very separate lives save for the fact that each looks eastward toward Glasgow".
There have been other similar examples of river-related boundary controversies. A recent boundary review provided for a constituency in Liverpool that would cross the Mersey. The report of the public inquiry, called on the Boundary Commission's recommendation, reveals that,
It is common sense that if those public inquiries had not been held, the assistant commissioner would not have picked up in both those boundary reviews the sense of popular feeling among politicians and, markedly-from what the two commissioners were saying-among ordinary members of the public about what was proposed. An open element in public inquiries is absolutely essential. Our debate today about rivers is proof of that.
If the rules remain as they are envisaged in the Bill, these and related problems, such as constituencies divided by hills or mountains, will occur when the then Boundary Commissions present their reports in 2013. The first boundary review will precipitate wide-scale upheaval by redrawing the entire UK constituency map on a basis of 50 fewer seats. We strongly believe that allowing a 10 per cent variance in constituency size could avoid some of the anomalies. It could prevent constituencies crossing, for example, the Mersey, the Thames or the Tyne.
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