Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

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

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

To reply to one small part of my exchange with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, there are only 18 clauses in the Bill. It is so long because the

25 Jan 2011 : Column 931

schedules are included in it, which would otherwise form part of secondary legislation. There is no need to remake that point; it explains the thickness of the Bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Jan 2011 : Column 932

preferential treatment over the Isle of Bute. I was robbed of that pleasure and had to listen to the noble Lord.

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

Amendment 79B withdrawn.

Amendments 80 to 82 not moved.

10 pm

Amendment 83

Moved by Lord McAvoy

83: Clause 11, page 10, line 29, at end insert-

"( ) 3 constituencies in the South Lanarkshire council area"

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

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

25 Jan 2011 : Column 933

75,000 stops at Cambuslang and Halfway. As for the next 75,000, the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen will almost certainly get put into a Glasgow parliamentary seat.

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

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

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

I heard the noble Lord speak about this and have heard him speak about it on other occasions. I know Rutherglen and I know the pride that exists in it. There

25 Jan 2011 : Column 934

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

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

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

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

Amendment 83 withdrawn.

Amendments 84A to 87 not moved.

25 Jan 2011 : Column 935

Amendment 88

Moved by Lord Myners

88: Clause 11, page 10, line 29, at end insert-

"( ) There shall remain the current number of constituencies in Cornwall, and these constituencies shall be entirely within the county of Cornwall."

Lord Myners: My Lords, I am surprised if there was any suggestion that this amendment would be not moved because it is one of great importance to the people of Cornwall. It is one which is being watched closely in Cornwall this evening, listened to on the radio and watched on the parliamentary channel. I speak, proudly, as a Cornishman; my designated title is Lord Myners of Truro. I was raised in Cornwall and schooled there at the local Methodist school. I am deeply proud of being Cornish. The noble Lord the Leader of the House referred earlier to how people identify themselves. Our mode of self identity is terribly important and, to me, being Cornish is a matter of great pride.

I was encouraged by the surprising degree of unanimity expressed earlier in Committee on the subject of Cornwall. The Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, acknowledged the strength of opinion that was being expressed from Cornwall-from all aspects of the community and from all political parties, the national and the local nationalist organisations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, also acknowledged that Cornwall appeared to have a particularly strong case, one which was deeply held by people who are concerned on this point. I missed the earlier contribution from the Liberal Democrat Benches of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, but other Members of the House have spoken highly of the words that he expressed on Cornwall.

Having acknowledged that, I took some encouragement from the words of the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I have to say that he showed considerable insensitivity when suggesting that there really was not much difference between Cornwall and Devon and that, actually people in Cornwall worked in Devon. I have to say that a significant number of them work in the dockyards in Devon-the dockyards which this Government are now committed to closing down. The fact is that even those who live in Torpoint, Saltash or other towns which border Devon do not regard themselves in any way as being linked to Devon. They regard themselves as Cornish, and ferociously so in their expressed support.

Cornwall is an isolated peninsula. It is bounded by the full force of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, the English Channel on another and the River Tamar on the third. It is some distance from London. As my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth observed, it really takes a considerable time to get to the far end of Cornwall, let alone to the Isles of Scilly. It is not easy to get national politicians to come to Cornwall. Jonathan Powell, in his recent book, describes the great difficulty he had in persuading the right honourable Tony Blair to visit Cornwall and the even greater difficulty in getting him to stay for more than a few hours. It is

25 Jan 2011 : Column 936

pleasing to see that the current Prime Minister adopts an altogether different attitude. Indeed, he even arranged to have his daughter born at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske.

The fact is that the people of Cornwall, as my noble friend Lord Knight observed earlier, feel themselves to be denied and ignored by London-and detached from that which goes on in London. They have a particularly strong affinity with their local Members of Parliament. They have a relationship with them regardless of which party they represent, which is distinct and different from that which one would see in many parts of the country. The Cornish economy is facing considerable adversity. We have seen a decline in the fishing industry. Mining for tin is almost now non-existent and quarrying for kaolin, or china clay, is in considerable decline.

The people of Cornwall have had to be innovative. They have been very successful in developing new industries, harnessing technology and promoting businesses around digital communication and biotechnology. Of course, Cornwall continues to have an extraordinarily attractive offering when it comes to tourism, be it the wild beaches and cliffs of north Cornwall or the sheltered and wooded valleys of the south. These are augmented by a number of significant new developments; the wonderful Eden Project, just outside St Austell; the National Maritime Museum's extension in Falmouth and Tate St Ives, which was the first of the major national initiatives to give heart to Cornwall and begin to help the Cornish economy to turn the corner. Of course, tourism in Cornwall continues to benefit from the fact that Cornwall is one of the sunniest places in the country.

10.15 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Am I not right in thinking that the Duchy of Cornwall is based upon the fact that in times long past Cornwall was almost a kingdom of its own? Does it not have a language and is it not the only Celtic part of England? Are these not further strings to his already overladen bow?

Lord Myners: I was about to bring my address to a close, but I now feel that I have been given an opportunity to expand on the virtues of Cornwall. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is correct. More than 300 people now speak the Cornish language. It is taught in 12 primary schools and an increasing number of secondary schools. There is a deep and long history in Cornwall that sees Cornwall as a separate nation, based, indeed, upon the Duchy. I tread with some caution because earlier the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who represented a Cornish constituency with great aplomb and skill for many years, rose to speak when I pointed out that at one stage Cornwall had 44 Members of Parliament, compared to the current six. I suggested that this was due to the tin mining industry and its prosperity and importance. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, suggested that it was due to other factors. I have since checked AL Rowse's Tudor Cornwall and I find that my original observation that it was largely a reflection of the prosperity of the Cornish tin industry is the same conclusion that AL Rowse reached.

25 Jan 2011 : Column 937

Of course, the tin mining industry explains the flag of St Piran, the national flag of Cornwall. We do not talk about it as the county flag, but as the national flag, because we regard Cornwall in many respects as a nation. That is reflected in the views of many people in Cornwall who deny the status of Cornwall as a part of England, who deny that Cornwall is a county and continue to believe that the Duchy of Cornwall affords special constitutional privileges which are not presently recognised by this Parliament.

I spoke about challenges, but there is hope in Cornwall. There are a number of extraordinary people who are turning Cornwall around; an inspiring leader in the chief executive of Cornwall County Council, the new unitary authority for Cornwall, Mr Kevin Lavery; Alan Livingston of the Combined Universities; Lady Mary Holborow, the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall; and Sir Richard Carew Pole, who has done so much for the arts and culture in Cornwall. Those, together with the young people who are now coming to Cornwall to study at the Combined Universities, are turning the corner in Cornwall, enthusing people with their identity and passion for the county of Cornwall.

At the last election, Cornwall was allocated an additional seat by the Boundary Commission. Cornwall had previously had five seats. Noble Lords will remember that that number compared with the 44 or so MPs that Cornwall had from the mid 16th century until 1832, but the number of seats in Cornwall was raised from five to six by the Boundary Commission. How did the Boundary Commission come to the conclusion that Cornwall needed an additional Member of Parliament? By sensitively listening to representations from the people of Cornwall on the nature of local communities, how people defined themselves and how local organisations worked-clear and distinct communities. Even within that, of course, in creating an additional constituency there needs to be movement. So, for instance, Truro, having previously been part of St Austell, has now become part of the Falmouth constituency.

There was recognition, however, that there were key focal points of community living and cultural identity in Cornwall that should be recognised in parliamentary constituencies. That is the Boundary Commission doing its work in a proper and sensitive way, having regard to local opinions, customs and practice. Instead, in the Bill we are being told to support an arithmetic division of the country into 600 constituencies of equal size, with a modest flexibility of 5 per cent either side of the-

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: Will the noble Lord give way?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Colwyn): My Lords, I must put the Question before the debate proceeds. Is the noble Lord, Lord Myners, moving his amendment?

Lord Myners: I would have been more than happy to have given way to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, who was my local Member of Parliament for many years. I look forward with great interest to his later contribution to the discussion on this amendment.

I was bringing my remarks to a close. I am sure that Members of the House realise that I can talk about Cornwall for some considerable time, but I will not

25 Jan 2011 : Column 938

delay the House further than to say that an approach that is based upon arithmetic simply will not be acceptable to the people of Cornwall. In an earlier debate the question was asked: "Would the people of Cornwall prefer to have five constituencies, none of which went across the boundary into Devon, or six representatives in the other place, one or more of whom had seats that went into Devon?". The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, answered correctly, I believe, that the people of Cornwall would much prefer to have five committed Members of Parliament who stood for Cornish seats rather than someone who stretched across into a part of the world that the Cornish people regard as a different country. They look at Devon as part of a different country and they would not be able to understand why a constituency strayed across the Tamar into a country with totally different economic and social circumstances.

The obvious place where that would happen would be into Plymouth, yet the European Union, through the granting of Objective 1 and follow-on status, has recognised the acute poverty of Cornwall, which is very different from Plymouth. Indeed, one of the reasons why Cornwall was slow in getting support from Europe for its manifest poverty was that it was originally co-joined with Plymouth and Torbay, which had the effect of giving an illusion that Cornwall was more prosperous than is the reality. That is why my Amendment 88 proposes that Cornwall should retain six parliamentary constituencies and that they should remain within what is now the county of Cornwall.

Lord Tyler: I yield to no one in my pride at my Cornish ancestry. I am a direct descendant of Bishop Jonathan Trelawny, on whose behalf 20,000 Cornishmen threatened to march on London. Of course London gave way, so they did not have to march.

I have great affection for the noble Lord, Lord Myners. It is great to have him here fighting for Cornwall. I wish he had been more effective in doing so when he was a member of the previous Administration. However, I have to correct several of his misapprehensions. First, the reason why there were so many seats in Cornwall had nothing to do with good representation, unfortunately. It was simply that they were rotten seats, rotten boroughs, effectively owned by the Crown through the Duchy of Cornwall-it was a way of bolstering their majority in the other place. In my own north North Cornwall constituency, for instance, Bossiney had a notable Member representing it: Francis Drake. I am not aware that he ever went there, and there were only about three electors if he did.

Secondly, and much more seriously, if the noble Lord thinks that it was somehow through the advocacy of we who represented Cornwall that we managed to increase the number of seats from five to six, that is simply untrue. It was arithmetic-just as now, quite rightly, we are looking at the arithmetic. My noble friend Lord Taylor of Goss Moor and I can guarantee that because of the increase in population in Cornwall, the Boundary Commission had to give us another seat.

I will also take the noble Lord up on his history. I know, for example, that when miners went over the border into Devon-it having been found that, as a result of the running down of the mining industry in Cornwall, there were more jobs in west Devon, as it

25 Jan 2011 : Column 939

now is-they allocated to themselves the description of working in greater Cornwall. That enabled them to say proudly that they were still Cornish miners. They could then emigrate to New South Wales, for example, knowing that they would not have to mix with Welsh, Scottish or Yorkshire miners. There would be only the real thing-Cornish miners.

I have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment-a great deal more, I am sorry to say, than with the selection we considered earlier. The big difference is that many of the other exceptions claim to be able to have overrepresentation. Their reasons are understandable; I do not deny the special claims that have been made. The Isle of Wight and Cornwall are, as far as I can see, the only areas of the country that may be prepared to accept underrepresentation. The case for six seats in Cornwall is not very strong. It makes a real difference if the people of Cornwall are prepared to accept underrepresentation with five seats, as was the case when my noble friend and I were Members in the other House and had very large electorates. The difficulty is of how to test that. Even if a referendum in Cornwall showed that people were prepared to accept a level of underrepresentation at the moment-which would be very persuasive to me, as a good democrat-what about the future? What about a year or two hence, when people say, "Why should we have less effective representation than other parts of the country?"? It is a real dilemma.

I do not know whether the noble Lord intends to press his amendment to a vote-perhaps he does-but we must give very careful consideration to that issue. In the mean time, it is much better that we treat Cornwall as a special case and examine it as such, as in the case of the Isle of Wight. It would have been wrong to put it into a longer list of exceptions, as I said at some unearthly hour last week.

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: In following my noble friend and the noble Lord's comments, I will briefly reflect on a couple of points. First, the noble Lord suggested that the Boundary Commission, in its wisdom, had decided at the last review that Cornwall should get six seats, rather than five. That was certainly not the case. It was a process of mathematics. Indeed, in the previous review we nearly crossed the threshold of five and a half seat entitlement to just above that to get six seats, but we fell just below it and got five. Any arguments in this place that representation has been based on a sense of entitlement or natural community are wrong. It has been a mathematical process, but one defined by one boundary-the county or borough boundary, which should not be crossed.

As somebody who represented two districts for a long time, I find some of the arguments about crossing local government boundaries rather untenable. It is perfectly possible to do that. What I profoundly believe-and always have-is that representation based on natural community is important. I have written about this and I do not like the Bill in its present form in that respect. I understand the belief that reviews should take place quickly and frequently to make sure that no party is disadvantaged by the slowness of the review process. The boundary review process has been too slow. There

25 Jan 2011 : Column 940

has been in place a genuine imbalance in the system for the past decade or two. It was clearly the case at the 2010 election that if the Labour Party had received a similar number of votes to those for the Conservative Party, the Labour Party would have been hugely advantaged by the distribution of seats. It is perfectly proper that Parliament is seeking to address that issue.

However, I agree with my noble friend that where communities are willing and able to be a little underrepresented to maintain a natural community of interest in their representation, there should be flexibility to allow for that. I should like this Bill to encompass that flexibility. If the noble Lord, Lord Myners, chose to press the amendment, I would vote in that way. I have written about this issue in that way. However, we should not in any sense present this issue as some special cause of Cornwall. It is about the representation of genuine community. We should not suggest in any way that what went before was right, because it was clearly not right. It was a different mathematical process which did not properly ensure a democratic outcome in elections, although I do not think that it ever affected the outcome of an election. I have consistently believed that the proposals before us, in that respect, should have a greater element of flexibility.

10.30 pm

Lord Howarth of Newport: I shall speak briefly, but with strong conviction, in support of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Myners. I have never been resident in Cornwall, nor have I had the privilege to represent a Cornish constituency in the other place. However, I have frequently visited Cornwall, it has been an important part of my life, and it has been a source of deep pleasure to me.

I had the opportunity to gain some insight into the distinctive culture of the people of Cornwall when I was a Minister responsible for heritage. I spent two days in Cornwall at a time when we were reconsidering the listed status of nonconformist chapels in the county of Cornwall. That is a remarkable heritage. They are beautiful buildings whose main fabric and furniture were constructed with extraordinary craftsmanship that derived from the boat-building skills of local people. Those skills are something of which Cornish people are very proud indeed, and are emblematic of a distinctive vigorous culture that ought to be respected.

It is not that the people of Cornwall have been introverted. It is not that they are seeking to retreat into some kind of bunker by demanding that their parliamentary representation should be contained in whole constituencies in the county of Cornwall. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, spoke of incursions by Cornishmen into Devon. I believe that it was Cornish miners who brought football to Mexico. The influence of Cornwall throughout the world has been powerful and beneficent. I simply make the point again in this context, as I have in many others.

Lord Davies of Stamford: Before my noble friend leaves his personal reminiscences of Cornwall, will he tell the House-we are all full of suspense-what ministerial decision he ultimately took on the heritage status of the nonconformist chapels of Cornwall?

25 Jan 2011 : Column 941

Lord Howarth of Newport: It was a rather complex set of decisions, simply because there is a significant number of these chapels. They had been listed rather unsystematically over some years, and English Heritage and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport thought that it was time to take a more systematic look at them. In many cases, we raised the listed status of these chapels. However, I do not wish to detain the House further on that point. I simply use it to illustrate something important, which I regret to say is that this Government are apt to ignore and underestimate its value.

It is insensitive and foolish of the Government to legislate to bring about a system whereby parliamentary constituency boundaries are to be drawn through slavish adherence to rigid mathematical formulae, with a minimal tolerance of 5 per cent on either side of a quota of 76,000 electors. That does not leave adequate scope for the boundary commissioners to take account of very important considerations of community, history, tradition, identity and local ties. In this debate on Cornwall-as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, suggested -we are talking not simply about a particular set of circumstances there, although those considerations are very important, but about the unwisdom of a policy that discounts and effectively disparages a passionately held sense of identity on the part of people living in particular communities. That is not a wise thing to do in politics. It is the course that the Government appear determined to persist in. It is foolish and I hope that they will agree to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Myners, not only in deference and respectful response to views that are unanimously and vigorously presented across the political parties and across the communities of Cornwall, but in recognition that throughout the country people believe and insist that their local identity should be respected and expressed in the patterns of their parliamentary representation.

Baroness Corston: My Lords, I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Myners. Thirty-five years ago I was the regional organiser of the Labour Party in the south-west of England. I spent a lot of time in Cornwall. What struck me was that whenever I went there, I would be asked one question: what is the weather like in England? People would talk about driving through Devon to get to God's own country. When I was in Devon, they would say that you have to drive through God's own country to get to Cornwall. That illustrates the tension between the two counties.

During the boundary reviews of the 1970s and 1980s, I assisted on behalf of the Labour Party. One thing that was always said was: "We don't even care if we are underrepresented so long as we keep the county of Cornwall". I noted that the two noble Lords who spoke in this debate who have represented Cornwall in the other place-as I represented Bristol-addressed themselves to whether there should be five or six constituencies, but did not acknowledge the truth of what they must know: that their county would not wish its border to be crossed. That was my experience then. On subsequent visits to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, I have seen no evidence that there has been any change of view. Given the antagonism between Devon and Cornwall, it would be profoundly misguided to have any constituency crossing that boundary.

25 Jan 2011 : Column 942

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I visited Cornwall for many years. More recently, I became a resident there. Unsurprisingly, I get involved quite a lot in transport issues there. I agree with all noble Lords who said how important it is to keep Cornwall separate. I look on Cornwall as an island. Only six miles of land separate Devon and Cornwall on the north side. The river Tamar is the frontier. Crossing the Tamar on a bridge has always been difficult. There are not many road bridges, and many were fearsome in the past. There is one railway bridge. The roads are so bad that about the only railway in the area apart from the main line that was preserved by Dr Beeching was the interesting line that goes up to Gunnislake-which involved reversing in the middle of nowhere-because the local residents rightly argued that that was the only way in which they could get out in the winter when it was snowy. The line is still running very well.

I therefore compare Cornwall, as a semi-island, with some of the Scottish islands, which, as we have heard, have already been granted what you might call their own constituency status. I see how the Scottish ferries operate extremely effectively and efficiently, subsidised and supported by the Scottish Government, and I compare that with what happens in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. We have two very good ports in Cornwall in the shape of Foy and Falmouth. I am pleased to be a harbour commissioner in the port of Foy.

Penzance, at the end of the railway, is where the ferry goes to the Scillies. As we have heard, about 2,000 people live on the Scillies who maintain a very nice existence-I go there often-but it is very dependent on tourism. The dear old "Scillonian", which is a passenger and freight ferry, is about 40 years old. It has basically been condemned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The service has been given a stay of execution for another year or two, provided that a new ferry is procured. It operates daily in the season with passengers and freight. It needs upgrading because the facilities in the quays are not good. The fear is that one of these days there will be an accident and a piece of cargo will hit a passenger. That could happen at either end, so rightly it has been insisted that the service be improved.

The partnership that is trying, with the aid of European, county council and Department for Transport money, to develop and finance extensions to the quays at both ends-at St Mary's and Penzance-and a new passenger and freight combined ferry, has had the most appalling trouble getting a project together. Alternatives have been produced and everyone is agreed on the best alternative. It has had planning problems because it had to extend the quay slightly at Penzance. Someone objected at the public inquiry that the quay could not be extended because it would go on to sacred ground. When the inspector asked where was the evidence was that the ground was sacred, he wastold, "Come and look at the footprints of Jesus at low tide".

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I hope the noble Lord will not be upset by my question, but I have completely lost the drift of his argument vis-à-vis Cornwall as a separate entity.

25 Jan 2011 : Column 943

Lord Berkeley: I was illustrating the difficulty for a small community of 2,000 people of getting a new ferry link out of this Government and the previous Government. It is still not resolved; I gather that the final decision has been delayed, which will be extremely bad for those people next summer. I compare that with what happens in Scotland. There, with the support of the Scottish Government, these things seem to happen much more easily and quickly, because the Government there recognise the importance of the island life. I do not think that the English, or British, Government, recognise that in the same way.

My point is that it is important to have the strongest lobby in Cornwall to support such things. I have no particular view on whether it should be five or six Members of Parliament, but it must be a group of Cornish MPs.

Lord Tyler: I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, for whom I have a lot of affection and with whom I have worked together on Cornish issues, for giving way. Can he confirm that his amendment, which I am sorry he has been unable to move, leaves open the issue of whether the number of Members of Parliament should be five or six? My remarks and those of my noble friend were directed at the possibility that Cornwall might be prepared to accept underrepresentation with five Members if it retained the integrity of the county. By contrast, the problem with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Myners, is that it is prescriptive. It would have to be six. That is an important difference. Perhaps the noble Lord would develop a step further his point about the difference between five or six Members for the county.

Lord Berkeley: I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I am no great expert on sizes of constituencies. Under the number of 600, 650 or somewhere in between that is decided on in the end for the rest of the country, there could be increases or decreases in population in Cornwall-and, for that matter, on the Isle of Wight-which would affect that. I am happy to accept six and equally happy to accept five, but from my discussions with the people of Cornwall, the key thing is that they have a number, be it five or six, that is peculiar to Cornwall and does not go across the Tamar. Members of Parliament lobby for Cornwall in a very good way, and that would be lost.

I live in Polruan, which is in the South East Cornwall constituency. I know the Member of Parliament there, Sheryll Murray, who has written to me in support of the campaign for keeping Cornwall separate. She would be very unhappy to have a bit of Plymouth in her constituency. I agree with her, and all the people I have talked to would be equally unhappy. My main point is that Cornwall must be kept separate. I do not have a strong view on whether there should be five or six constituencies, and I am sure we can come back to that later if my noble friend does not press his amendment tonight.

10.45 pm

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we have had a tour around Britain right around the House since supper. Every place we have stopped at has been

25 Jan 2011 : Column 944

absolutely fantastic on the basis of the speeches that have been made, but Cornwall should be very proud of my noble friend Lord Myners, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who is not in his place for reasons I cannot understand, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who is also not in his place. They make not just a strong case for Cornwall, but a case that obviously catches the mood of the House.

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

"Parliamentary constituencies shall not cross the county border of Cornwall".

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Jan 2011 : Column 945

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

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

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

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

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

Several constituencies have widely varying cultural factors. I recognise the strength of the arguments but, given the parity that the Government seek and that exceptions should be limited to where there are extreme

25 Jan 2011 : Column 946

geographical considerations, it is not possible to accept the amendment. I therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Myners, to withdraw it.

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

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

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

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

That leads one to say that Cornwall at the moment appears to be eligible for five and a half seats in the other place. We have heard arguments about whether Cornwall should have five or six seats. Perhaps my amendment is deficient in specifying six, because I

25 Jan 2011 : Column 947

readily acknowledge that many of the people in Cornwall who express an opinion on this-I fully appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked how we would test this and prove it to a high degree of competence-say that they would rather have seats that fell within the boundaries of Cornwall even if that meant having fewer seats.

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

11 pm

The balance of arguments seems to support the conclusion that we should have six Cornish constituencies in the other place rather than five, but I acknowledge that, if I were given the choice, I would personally be in favour of having only five constituencies if they remained within an intact Cornwall rather than straying into the foreign territory of Devon.

From my own Front Bench, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer referred to a tour around Britain on subjects of geography, culture, regionalism and local identity, but he said:

"I sense that the House wants to do something about Cornwall".

I also get that sense. In that respect, I draw considerable encouragement from the remarks made earlier by the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because Cornwall is special. Cornwall is a special community with special needs. Mr David Penhaligon recognised that. Others who have represented Cornwall with a passion also recognise that.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to whom I referred earlier, was not in his place during part of my noble and learned friend's concluding remarks on the amendment but I believe that the people of Cornwall will look carefully at Hansard tomorrow to see what their two previous Members of Parliament who now sit in this place have said in this debate. Looking through the Delphic language and the comments about arithmetic and national issues, they will not fail to spot that neither the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, nor the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, spoke unequivocally in favour of Cornwall retaining constituencies within its own national boundaries.

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: If the noble Lord was under any illusion about that, let me say that I am unequivocally in favour. That was the thrust of my comments. I am not convinced that we should be overrepresented, but I would not want my comments to be understood in any other way.

25 Jan 2011 : Column 948

Lord Myners: I am most grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has-

Lord Tyler: Ditto to that. Would the noble Lord like to conclude by putting his amendment and testing the opinion of the House? Then he could stop talking.

Lord Myners: I find the discourtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, which seems to be present at any time that I speak in this House, quite extraordinary and contrary to what I understood to be the custom and practice of this House. That is reprehensible. Fortunately-and I am closing my remarks now-it will not be long before the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, will be able to speak on matters relating to Cornwall. The noble Lord is a recent and most welcome addition to our House. He has previously contested seats in Cornwall and I know that he has a great affection for Cornwall. I also know him as a man of considerable courtesy and look forward to his interventions rather more than I can look forward to those from one or two others who sit with him.

In closing, and before inviting the House to take a position on the amendment, I take considerable encouragement from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that Cornwall is worthy of special consideration and from the endorsement given to that view from my own Front Bench by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. I hope, notwithstanding the somewhat dismissive approach to the case for Cornwall from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, that careful consideration will be given to the issue of Cornwall and that the Government will bring forward their own amendments at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 88 withdrawn.

Amendment 89

Moved by Lord Fowler

89: Clause 11, page 10, line 30, at end insert-

"Isle of Wight

6A (1) All parts of the Isle of Wight must be included in a constituency which is wholly in the Isle of Wight.

(2) Rule 2 does not apply to any such constituency."

Amendment 89 agreed.

Amendment 89A

Moved by Lord Falconer of Thoroton

89A: Clause 11, page 11, leave out lines 12 to 26 and insert-

"Allocation of constituencies

(1) The adjusted UK electoral quota shall then be calculated as the total electorate of the United Kingdom less the areas listed in rule 4(1) divided by 650 minus the total number of seats allocated to the areas listed in rule 4(1).

(2) Each part of the United Kingdom shall then be allocated a whole number of seats as follows.

(3) The first seat shall be allocated to the part of the United Kingdom with the largest electorate.

(4) The second and subsequent constituencies shall be allocated in the same way, except that the electorate of a part of the United Kingdom to which one or more

25 Jan 2011 : Column 949

constituencies have already been allocated is to be divided by-


where C is the number of constituencies already allocated to that part.

(5) An electoral quota shall then be calculated for each of the four parts of the United Kingdom by dividing the electorate of each part of the United Kingdom by the number of seats allocated as described in rules 5(3) and 5(4).

(6) The total number of seats to be allocated to any part of the United Kingdom shall not be more than 10% above or below the current number of constituencies, and if the number of seats allocated by the process described in rules 5(3) and 5(4) exceeds that limit, then additional or fewer seats shall be allocated as appropriate sufficient to bring the allocation within 10% of the current number of seats in the part of the United Kingdom concerned.

(7) This adjusted number of seats shall be the allocation for that part of the United Kingdom for the purposes of rule 5(5)."

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, disappointingly for Members of the House, this is not part of our tour of Great Britain. This is about the maths of the proposals made in the Bill. The practical purpose of this particular amendment is to create an adjusted electoral quota for each of the four parts of the United Kingdom, having first discounted the whole constituencies that we suggest should be allocated to certain parts of the country including Cornwall and the Isle of Wight. It also prevents any part of the UK having an increase or decrease in representation of more than 10 per cent of its seats at any one boundary review.

As noble Lords who have studied this amendment will appreciate, and I imagine that there are many of you who have, it is a rather technical revision which is easier to understand and easier to explain in the context of the other amendments we have tabled to Clause 11 of the Bill. This is because these amendments, when added together, would comprise an alternative set of rules for drawing parliamentary constituency boundaries. However, because we have tried to follow the chronology of the Bill when tabling our amendments, we have been forced to split our alternative scheme into individual elements. To use a motoring analogy: if our full set of amendments adds up to a car, Amendment 89A on its own only represents the spark plugs. However, because it would be difficult to describe a car if one was only allowed to refer to the spark plugs, I hope the House will allow me to explain the reasoning behind this specific amendment with reference to the others that we have tabled to the same clause.

Our amendments to Clause 11 would, if taken together, establish a new basis for drawing boundaries that would anchor the House of Commons at around 650 seats. They would create more equal-sized seats-reducing the disparities between electorates that the Government are anxious to tackle-while providing the Boundary Commissions with adequate room for manoeuvre to take account of wider factors including geography, community and history. Our rules would also ensure that in a limited number of cases, certain parts of the UK would be guaranteed an allocation of whole constituencies, to preserve the particular geographic or historic integrity that marks them out.

25 Jan 2011 : Column 950

As your Lordships are no doubt tired of hearing, the proposed new rules for drawing constituencies put forward in the Bill are, we say, overly rigid and inflexible. They start from the premise that the Commons should be fixed forever at 600 seats. Two Scottish island constituencies are then discounted and a United Kingdom-wide electoral quota is calculated by dividing the rest of the UK electorate by 598. The Bill then employs the Sainte-Lague method for allocating seats to the four parts of the UK. Once those calculations are made, the Boundary Commissions are tasked with constructing the electoral map according to a strict electoral parity rule. Every seat must fit within 5 per cent either side of an estimated electoral quota of approximately 75,800.

In separate amendments, we have sought to inject greater flexibility into that parity rule, so that proper consideration can be given to concerns about geography, community ties and so forth. We have also tabled amendments to replace the Government's rule for a 600-seat House of Commons with a "fixed divisor" that would anchor the House at around 650 seats but allow a small margin of leeway which would be of practical use to Boundary Commissions. Amendment 89A, the central focus of this debate, follows on from those amendments.

Under our scheme, an initial UK electoral quota would be calculated by dividing the total electorate of the UK by 650. That quota would then be used to calculate the number of whole constituencies that would be allocated to the areas listed in our Amendment 79A -which in our scheme would be the rule 4(1) referenced in Amendment 89A. Once that had been done, an adjusted UK electoral quota would be produced by the method outlined in Amendment 89A, which would become rule 5 in our scheme, reading:

"The total electorate of the United Kingdom less the areas listed in rule 4(1)"-

that is our Amendment 79A-

So I imagine that that is very clear.

Once that calculation had been made, we would employ the Sainte-Lague method to work out the allocation of seats for the four parts of the United Kingdom. It would then be down to the Boundary Commissions to draw the constituency maps within those areas, guided by an electoral parity rule which states that constituencies would contain broadly the same number of electors. In our scheme, the level of tolerance in respect of the electoral quota would be 5 per cent in most cases but with a maximum level of disparity of 10 per cent where Boundary Commissions deemed it necessary to take account of significant other factors.

The Bill states that the electoral quota, which forms the basis of the parity law, should be universal across the UK. In other words, there should be a single UK electoral quota. However, our scheme would allow-once the initial calculations about whole constituencies had been made and discounted, and the Sainte-Lague formula used to allocate numbers of seats to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland-for a slight variation in the electoral quota between the four parts

25 Jan 2011 : Column 951

of the UK. That would be done by dividing the electorate of each part of the United Kingdom by the number of seats allocated to each part through the Sainte-Lague method. This would be only a very slight variation and would not cause any significant distortion. It would simply be a practical measure to give boundary commissions a little flexibility to cope with any awkward roundings up or down they might otherwise encounter when trying to impose a uniform UK electoral quota everywhere.

That could be a genuine problem in Northern Ireland and Wales which, given their smaller size, may struggle to construct an electoral map on which every seat is able to meet the narrow tolerances that the Bill sets around the proposed uniform electoral quota. Indeed the Bill already recognises this potential problem in the case of Northern Ireland, which is why rule 7 enables the Boundary Commission in that part of the UK to disapply the electoral parity rule when it feels that is necessary. We believe that our overall scheme provides a more sensible way of tackling these problems. As I made clear at the beginning, it would deliver more equal-sized seats but would inject more common sense and practicality into the process.

Finally, Amendment 89A would ensure that the total number of seats to be allocated to any country shall not be more than 10 per cent above or below the current number of constituencies, and if the number of seats allocated by the process I have outlined exceeds that limit, additional or fewer seats would need to be allocated as appropriate to bring the allocation into line with this rule. That is particularly pertinent in the case of Wales, which under the Bill would see a reduction of 25 per cent in its parliamentary representation, from 40 to 30 seats. That is too great a reduction in one review. I remind noble Lords of the speech of my noble friend Lord Touhig about what the effect of such a sharp reduction might be on the union. It would cause massive disruption to long-established patterns of representation, producing one seat that would be almost half the landmass of Wales, and others that would divide valleys irrespective of community ties and problems of accessibility.

Perhaps even more significantly, that sudden reduction, which would cut the number of Welsh parliamentary seats below the current legal minimum of 35, could alter the way in which the UK Parliament is viewed in Wales. I think the Government need to think quite carefully about introducing major political and administrative changes that could undermine the union. The Conservative Party historically adopted a sensitive approach to issues concerning the union, but in this Bill that is less evident than previously. That is an important point.

Overall, this is a quite technical amendment which, as I explained at the beginning, cannot be viewed in isolation. However, when seen in the round I hope that it illustrates that there is an alternative to the scheme set out in the Bill which would nonetheless deliver more equal seats, which is the Government's central objective. I hope that it is symbolic of the fact that we have thought very carefully and deeply about this matter and have endeavoured to propose a scheme that would improve the Bill. Our alternative goes with

25 Jan 2011 : Column 952

the grain of the Bill's main aim, which is to create more equal seats, but it does so more practically and sensitively than the plan which the Government have put forward. I ask the noble and learned Lord, a man of great practicality and sensitivity, to explain why his scheme is better than ours. I beg to move.

11.15 pm

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

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

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

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

Has the noble and learned Lord done any modelling on the 650-seat base, given the absence of a size limit on the House in his amendment and given that the Sainte-Lague formula could continue allocating seats? His amendment says 10 per cent more or 10 per cent less, so it could work in a way that the number of seats reached the absolute limit of 10 per cent above each nation's current allocation and we could end up with a House of 715, which would be 10 per cent more than

25 Jan 2011 : Column 953

650. I fully understand what the noble and learned Lord said about a phasing-down, but his amendment would allow also for the total to go up by 10 per cent. I suspect that that is not the intention of his amendment, but is he able to reassure us that that would not be the effect? I think that there is enough doubt and complexity in the amendment for me to invite him to withdraw it.

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

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

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

Amendment 89A withdrawn.

Amendment 89AA not moved.

Amendment 89B withdrawn.

Amendment 89BZA

Moved by Lord Wallace of Tankerness

89BZA: Clause 11, page 11, line 22, at end insert-

"( ) Where the figure given by sub-paragraph (3) above is the same for two or more parts of the United Kingdom, the part to which a constituency is to be allocated shall be the one with the smaller or smallest actual electorate."

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, Amendment 89BZA deals with the unlikely, but nevertheless mathematically possible, scenario in which the Sainte-Lague formula results in a tie in entitlement between two or more nations as to the final seat. In the Bill as

25 Jan 2011 : Column 954

drafted, there is no way of resolving such a tie, so it would be unclear as to which of the four nations of the United Kingdom would have the final seat. The amendment proposes, in these circumstances, that the final seat be allocated to the nation with the smaller or smallest electorate. Although both nations would have equal mathematical entitlement to the seat, I hope noble Lords will agree that, in these perhaps highly unlikely circumstances-nevertheless, we have to take account of all possibilities-it would be fairer for the nation with the smallest electorate to have it, given that the nation with the larger electorate will almost certainly have a larger number of constituencies across which the extra electors could be spread. On that basis, I beg to move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment 89BZA agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 11.25 pm.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page