Baroness Warsi: My Lords, small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy and have a vital role to play in growing the big society. Businesses already make a significant contribution in supporting local voluntary and community organisations by sharing assets and expertise, philanthropic donations and exchange of staff. In December of last year, we launched Every Business Commits, asking businesses to do their part in growing the economy as well as in helping to tackle social problems and building stronger communities.
Lord Harrison: Given the Government's failure to define the big society and, indeed, the role of small businesses within it, especially in helping to strengthen local communities, will the Minister look again at the regional growth fund, whose administrative possibilities-the £1 million threshold that it applies and the early closure date-mean that there has been a restriction on small businesses? Also, given the Government's failure in their tepid approach to getting the banks to help out small businesses, will she take up the idea proposed by the chairman of the London Stock Exchange to encourage blue chip companies to contribute to funding small businesses, especially those that are regional and have an innovative flair to them?
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the big society is defined by many in this House as being what most of them have done for most of their lives. It is a volunteering, social action, philanthropic approach to life, but it is also about the opening up of public services to local control and devolution of power. The regional growth fund is a discretionary fund to stimulate economic growth and employment and will operate over a period of three years. In particular, it will help those areas and communities that currently depend on the public sector to make the transition to sustainable, private sector-led growth and prosperity. Small and medium-sized enterprises have a vital role to play in that.
Lord Laming: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, if the big society means nothing more than what many of us have been doing for most of our lives, that would be a disappointment? I say this on a purely non-political basis. We now have an opportunity to regenerate local communities and to help them to
9 Feb 2011 : Column 222
Baroness Warsi: I agree with the noble Lord's comments. Indeed, the big society goes beyond what noble Lords have been doing because, as I said, there will be devolution of power and an opening up of public services to local control. However, I am sure that noble Lords around the Chamber will agree that we can always do more.
Baroness Browning: Does my noble friend agree that for small businesses to play their part in the big society they need more of what the Government have already started, which is to remove the burden of regulation imposed by the previous Government, such as the burden of proof in disputes in court cases? I am also thinking of reducing the employers' national insurance contribution and, particularly, maintaining a stable economy. In that way, small businesses will thrive, create jobs and play their part in society.
Baroness Warsi: I agree with my noble friend. We must also ensure that we cut back the red tape that stifles those businesses. Indeed, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are jointly working on a task force to do just that. It is also important that we open up public and government contracts to small and medium-sized enterprises to ensure that they have a part to play not just in helping communities but in bidding for and having access to all government funding.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I know that the Government share the concern of all of us who live in rural communities that small businesses in rural areas should also be encouraged. I also know that there has been a commitment to widen broadband and speed it up. However, the two things throttling small businesses in the countryside, which has a higher ratio of self-employed people than elsewhere, are broadband and fuel and therefore transport. Will the Government say something about the urgency with which they take those issues, so as to encourage small businesses in rural areas as well?
Baroness Warsi: The right reverend Prelate raises some important points. As your Lordships may be aware, one of the first vanguard areas for the big society was in Cumbria and it dealt with that very point: the extension of broadband to rural communities. However, I take on board the other concerns as well.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I declare an interest as the secretary of the micro-business APPG. I became very aware as a Minister of the value of SMEs, VSMEs and micro-businesses to the security environment. Today, almost 105 years to the day since the launch of the "Dreadnought", built by British workmen and enterprise in 12 months, can the Minister please assure me that we will reduce the red tape that is between those small companies and the Government? That is across government but particularly with the MoD, where it damages the ability of those companies to really help us.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, we are committed to reducing red tape in all sectors. Noble Lords will agree, and the Benches opposite will recognise, that business has been stifled over the past decade by excessive red tape.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, there is time for both Peers. Perhaps we could have my noble friend Lord Cotter first and then, if it is the will of the House, the noble Lord on the Cross Benches.
Lord Cotter: My Lords, it is well recognised that small businesses are a crucial part of the local community and are ready to deliver on the big society. Local enterprise partnerships were recently established to do this and to help small businesses. However, I point out to the Minister that there is great concern that big business is overshadowing small businesses in the local enterprise partnerships, which were intended to give opportunities for small businesses in the community to provide employment for local people. Will she look at that issue?
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, business has always played a vital role in the community. The organisation Business in the Community has been doing that for many years. In light of the fact that 60 per cent of those employed in the private sector work in small and medium-sized enterprises, it is vital that small businesses play a role when local communities are planning local regeneration as part of the local economic partnership.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, the Government have access to a wide range of statistics about remuneration and have two reviews taking place in this area; the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' call for evidence, A Long-term Focus for Corporate Britain, and Will Hutton's independent fair pay review. The Government will take further decisions following the conclusion of these reviews.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply and note the initial steps, which are really quite good, in dealing with bankers' pay. Is she aware, as I suspect she is, that the remuneration ratio of FTSE 100 chief executives' pay and employee pay is currently well over 100:1 and that a recent figure I saw was 128:1, and that the gap has more than doubled in the past decade or so? Do the Government
9 Feb 2011 : Column 224
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I am aware of the growing differential over the past 10 years in the pay of chief executives, executives and employees. The noble Lord will expect me to comment on the fact that this occurred in the decade of the previous regime and we inherited it. We are now looking very carefully at how we can get fairness into this. Excessive differentials are not helpful. At a time of challenging economic conditions, it is important that the focus is on linking rewards to growth.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I find myself very much in line with the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, on this. Does my noble friend agree that the prime interest in this matter lies with the shareholders of the FTSE companies? Is it therefore not reasonable and sensible to require in law that quoted companies compare the total remuneration of their chief executive with the average wage of their workers, and do that in their annual report which everyone can read?
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, we are in the middle of discussions about these very subjects. They are areas that have been under review for quite some time. Some people ask that shareholders should have separate votes, and some people ask the Government to intervene in all sorts of ways. There are ongoing discussions, particularly about the role of remuneration committees. I emphasise that it is for shareholders to go to shareholders' meetings and say what they think.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I was for many years a member of the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth which looked at data going back to the 19th century. We are now going back to the 19th century in so far as we had these ratios certainly before the First World War. Although it may be said that the gap occurred under a Labour Government-and some of us raised this question then-do this Government think it is satisfactory that it continues to grow, rather contracting?
Baroness Wilcox: I suppose what the noble Lord is really asking about is directors' pay and fairness. That is where we all are now. I think we would all agree that there must be a robust link between the pay of those who run companies and the performance of those companies; that rewards for failure are not acceptable; and that exceptional rewards for mediocre performance are not in anybody's best interest. I can assure noble Lords that this Government are very interested in making sure that companies are run well and that there is fairness in distribution on the payment for everybody in a company.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, in the previous Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Gavron, introduced a Bill, widely supported on all sides of the House, that provided for publication in the annual report of public companies
9 Feb 2011 : Column 225
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, before I came to your Lordships' House today to answer this Question, I rather thought that this question was going to come from the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, who commented greatly on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Gavron, when it was debated in 2009. The question on that Bill, which will fit with the questions I have been asked now, was: should the AGM meeting vote on the directors' remuneration report be binding instead of advisory?
Baroness Wilcox: On the publication of information. At the moment, we are going through this again with the first report to which I referred, A Long-Term Focus for Corporate Britain. I shall be reporting on this just before Easter.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I raised this question previously with the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, and I referred him to the Private Member's Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Gavron. His response was that it was too radical. Does the Minister share that view?
Baroness Wilcox: We shall look at this carefully. I do not think anything is beyond review. I am very happy to look at anything and I am not afraid to either, so I am delighted to answer your question.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness has said that she is concerned about a widening gap. I want to refer to the agricultural sector. If the Minister is concerned about such a gap, why are the Government proposing to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board which provides some protection against the exigency of the wage structure in that sector for very low-paid and vulnerable workers?
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, during the period of extreme cold weather, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland met
9 Feb 2011 : Column 226
Lord Shutt of Greetland: As far as water is concerned, there is no shortage of water in Northern Ireland. The good Lord makes good provision. The problem is getting the water to where it is needed. Extra water was pumped into the pipes but the problem was that some of that leaked out. However, the call centres were very important indeed and we must not forget that. An offer of assistance was made by the First Minister of Scotland-a sort of Christmas gift-and 160,000 litres of Scotland's water were taken across to Northern Ireland. I am sure that those in Northern Ireland were very pleased to have it. However, Northern Ireland's daily consumption of water is 625,000,000 litres. In other words, the gift from Scotland, welcome though it may have been, was 0.000256 per cent of a day's water usage.
Lord Rogan: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the people of Northern Ireland were greatly appreciative of the generous donation of Scottish water to Northern Ireland? Will he confirm that the Sinn Fein/IRA Minister, Conor Murphy, the Minister responsible for water in Northern Ireland, declined to ask for aid from a British Government or agency to the people of Northern Ireland in their hour of need?
Lord Shutt of Greetland: I would not detract from the Scottish generosity to Northern Ireland. I am aware that the Minister in Northern Ireland was involved in discussions with my honourable friend. It is not clear to me whether he believed that there was a request that he ought to make. Assistance was offered to him in regard to the call centres. I would like people to understand that more than 400,000 people on one day tried to telephone Northern Ireland Water and only 4,000 of those calls were answered. Therefore, bringing in the call centres, which were available through Water UK, a UK and Northern Ireland-wide body, was a tremendous help to people who were seeking it.
Lord Smith of Clifton: Does my noble friend agree that successive Administrations, from the first Stormont through to the second Stormont, to both periods of direct rule and to the Stormont Assembly as now constituted, have totally neglected the refurbishment of water ducts and so on in Northern Ireland and it is now time that they addressed that?
Lord Shutt of Greetland: Something like £2,000 million was invested in water in Northern Ireland in the 18 years up to 2006-07. Since then, a further £1 billion
9 Feb 2011 : Column 227
Lord Dubs: My Lords, given that the level of rainfall in Northern Ireland is probably not very different from that in the Republic of Ireland, why was there such a serious problem in Northern Ireland when there does not appear to have been one in the south?
Lord Shutt of Greetland: I was there at the time, so I can tell the noble Lord that there was a bit of bother in the south as well. Incidentally, a piece of work was published yesterday by the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland showing that the biggest problems were people understanding what was going on, indicating that they had problems, wanting assistance and getting through to those who could help. That was the problem in Northern Ireland. If you look at the 60-page paper that was produced yesterday by the consumer council, you will see that it believes that Northern Ireland Water-these are the council's views, not mine-was not prepared for an emergency of this type. It has been asking Northern Ireland Water whether it could see the advanced planning in case there is an emergency and it had not had it.
Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, my noble friend has sought to distinguish between the crisis and the long-term structural inadequacy that most people believe is the reality in Northern Ireland. I hope he will not mind me saying that the big problem that the Northern Ireland people had was not a lack of information so much as a lack of water. Does he believe that getting structural change in the hope that such a crisis will not happen again is more likely to take place if the water service is privatised?
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, it does not matter what I think about whether it is privatised or not. It is not up to the Government either. This is a devolved matter. You cannot devolve something and then say, "We are going to make the decisions". The water service in Northern Ireland is a devolved service and it is up to the people in Northern Ireland-I believe there will be an election there before too long-and to those who are elected to decide what sort of water service is required. Northern Ireland and Scotland have state water and in England we have a privatised service. It is their decision because it is a devolved matter; it is not our decision.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, the Government are strongly committed to investment in apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds. The latest data show that 116,800 young people started an apprenticeship in 2009-10, a 17.5 per cent increase on 2008-09, and we are keen to see continued growth. Some 60 per cent of the overall apprenticeship budget for 2010-11 is for 16 to 18 year-olds. We expect there to be more than 131,000 16 to 18 year-olds starting an apprenticeship in 2010-11. Funding for 16 to 18 apprenticeships will increase by a further £19 million in 2011-12.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I thank the Minister for his Answer. I was impelled to ask this Question as this is National Apprenticeship Week, as I am sure he is aware, and we have record levels of youth unemployment. The previous Government achieved a record number of apprenticeships, rising from 65,000 to nearly 280,000. I am glad to see that there will be an increase in spending. The Government are asking businesses to co-operate in recruiting apprentices but what pressure are the Government putting on government departments and local authorities to recruit apprentices, especially in the 16 to 18 years range?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the Question in National Apprenticeship Week, as he said. I am very aware that few people in this House have done more to promote the cause of apprenticeships than him. I know that he takes a personal interest in this. During his time as a Minister, he and his ministerial colleagues did a lot to get apprenticeships taken seriously again and to increase the number of them. I personally, and the Government generally, are keen to build on that. In National Apprenticeship Week, we have already seen a number of employers in the private sector coming forward with new apprenticeship schemes. The Government should absolutely keep up the pressure on the public sector to do so. There is an exemption on apprenticeship recruitment in government departments-that is one way we can help. However, I agree with him that we all need to keep up the pressure. I would be very keen to work with him and other noble Lords to raise the profile of apprenticeships and do what we can to encourage the provision of more places.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, how far have the Government succeeded in finding employers to take up these new apprenticeships, and how many of them are college-based, programme-led apprenticeships?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I believe that 85,000 employers are involved. A number of large employers have increased their offers of apprenticeship places in National Apprenticeship Week. The National Apprenticeship Service can encourage more employers of all sizes-not just large employers-to become involved. There is a task for everyone in raising the profile and importance of apprenticeships, and in making it easier for employers to become involved. There is an issue around the bureaucracy involved in this. If we can make it simpler for employers to participate, we should do so.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I congratulate both Governments on their records on making more apprenticeships available. Does the Minister agree that it is equally important to make more apprenticeships available to those in the age group somewhat above the 16 to 18 year-olds, who may well have missed out on previous opportunities, no doubt often due to circumstances such as deprived backgrounds?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I am glad to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that as well as increasing the number of apprenticeships available for 16 to 18 year-olds, we are increasing the number available to people older than 19.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, the Minister is right to pay tribute to the excellent work of my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green, who, when he was a Minister, legislated in this House to bring forward a guarantee of an apprenticeship place for every suitably qualified 16 and 17 year-old. Why, then, will the Minister's own Education Bill get rid of that apprenticeship guarantee?
Lord Hill of Oareford: The difference between us is in essence a philosophical one. As I hope I have demonstrated, both sides of the House are committed to the idea of increasing the number of apprenticeships, their status and the esteem in which they are held. The difficulty with the previous approach of offering a guarantee is that, given that apprenticeships are employer-based, they are dependent on employers providing the place in work, which is not in the gift of government to control. Giving a guarantee on which one cannot deliver does not seem to me to be a guarantee.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I welcome what the Government are doing with regard to apprenticeships and giving young people a chance, but can steps be taken to contact self-employed journeymen and journeywomen- there are far more of them now than has ever been the case previously-to encourage them to take on apprentices? Small businesses and self-employed people are worried about the administration involved in apprenticeships. Can they be helped with the administration? Nothing beats a self-employed man or woman taking on an apprentice and becoming a mentor to him or her.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I have huge sympathy with the noble Lord's point and agree with him entirely. I am sure that we can do more. We are trying to establish a system across the country but journeymen face difficulties in this regard. I know of a local farrier in my village who wants to take on a young lad but it is not straightforward, so I very much take that point on board and will certainly look into it.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, the Minister referred to the challenges of getting businesses and organisations to take on young people as apprentices. That is why the Labour Government required public sector bodies to commit to provide a number of apprenticeships. Therefore, why have this Government now absolved the Civil Service, local authorities and health bodies-all of them major employers-from
9 Feb 2011 : Column 230
Lord Hill of Oareford: As I have already said, I accept fully that there is a role for both the public and private sectors to play. If we are able to encourage more people from the private sector to offer good apprenticeships with good opportunities for employment and progression, that is good, and young people are keen to get into those kinds of jobs. However, I also accept that we should do as much as we can to encourage the public sector to play its fair share as well.
(a) it is necessary to do so in order to achieve a viable constituency, and
(b) such necessity arises from special geographical considerations or local ties, as defined in rule 5(1)(a) or (d) above, of an exceptionally compelling nature,
(c) no less than 92.5% of the United Kingdom electoral quota; and
(d) no more than 107.5% of that quota."
The purpose of the amendment is to recognise and address the competing strength of the arguments advanced from each of the Front Benches on a matter of considerable significance: namely, the extent to which the Boundary Commission should have flexibility to depart from the electoral quota for each constituency laid down in the Bill. The Government contend-this is a very forceful argument-that equality in this area is of enormous significance. They have already recognised
9 Feb 2011 : Column 231
The amendment recognises the force of each of those arguments and it suggests that the solution is to confer on the Boundary Commission in its discretion a very narrow-I emphasise very narrow-additional discretion to allow for a departure from the electoral norm of up to another 2.5 per cent either way. That would apply only if the Boundary Commission believes, in its judgment, that two criteria are satisfied. The first criterion is that a further departure must be necessary-not reasonable nor desirable, but necessary. The second criterion is that it must be necessary in order to address special geographical considerations or local ties-already the criteria in Rule 5-of an exceptionally compelling nature. On a matter as important as this, it is appropriate to include in the Bill that limited additional flexibility outside the 5 per cent norm, but I accept that it is absolutely vital that any such flexibility is defined in a way that ensures that the exception does not swallow the rule.
Amendment 22D has been drafted with the assistance and encouragement of noble Lords from all parts of the House. It has been drafted in a manner that I am confident achieves this narrow objective. I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Mr Mark Harper, the Minister in the other place and the Bill team for the time and trouble that they have taken in discussing with me very patiently and courteously the Government's concerns about this issue. I really have tried my best to accommodate those understandable concerns in this amendment in a constructive manner. There remain, I understand, four main concerns that Ministers still have. I will briefly identify and seek to address them.
The first concern is that the criteria, particularly the term "exceptional" are subjective. The Boundary Commission will, Ministers fear, be under pressure from people in many constituencies to recognise that their cases satisfy these criteria. The answer is that the criteria are very narrowly defined and the Boundary Commission will, I am sure, respect the clear limits in both the language and purpose of the amendment. I refer noble Lords to a 1998 judgment by the late and much lamented Lord Bingham of Cornhill, where he explained in another statutory context what "exceptional" means. He was, incidentally, rejecting arguments from counsel, Mr Clegg QC-no relation. Lord Bingham said that exceptional means something,
The second concern of the Government is that that discretion will cause practical problems. It will involve large amounts of work for the Boundary Commission and cause potential delays in the whole process of boundary review. I do not share those concerns because the Boundary Commission will in any event be looking at precisely the special geographical considerations and local ties to see whether, in its judgment, it is appropriate to vary the electoral size of a particular constituency by up to 5 per cent from the norm. That is already its job. The amendment will simply mean that, if the Boundary Commission concludes that, in its judgment, there are special geographical considerations and local ties that make it appropriate to go up to the 5 per cent variation, it may if it wishes ask a further simple question. Is this a case of necessity and of such strong geographical considerations and local ties that it would be appropriate to exercise exceptional discretion and use the additional 2.5 per cent margin? I suggest to noble Lords that to allow the Boundary Commission to ask and answer that question will not cause practical problems.
The third concern expressed by the Government is about the knock-on effect. They say that this discretion will inevitably have a knock-on effect on neighbouring constituencies if it is exercised. The answer again is that Clause 11 already allows for variations of up to 5 per cent either way. To the extent that the Boundary Commission exercises that power, there will already be a knock-on effect on neighbouring constituencies. There is nothing different in principle if you expand the band of discretion to 7.5 per cent to be exercised only in these exceptional circumstances. Of course, the Boundary Commission will not exercise discretion to allow a variation of up to 7.5 per cent without taking into account any potential knock-on effect.
The fourth and final concern that the Government have expressed to me is about judicial review. Of course, the exercise of this exceptional power, if we give it to the Boundary Commission, will be, like all other public powers, subject to control by the courts, and rightly so. But the Government's concern about judicial review in this context is wholly unrealistic. Any judge faced with a judicial review application in this context will adopt the approach that the Boundary Commission has been given a very narrow discretion. It is for the Boundary Commission and not for the courts to decide whether the criteria of necessity and exceptionally compelling circumstances are satisfied and it is not the role of the courts to substitute their discretion for that of the Boundary Commission.
The Government then say, "We're not so much concerned about judicial reviews that will or may succeed; we're concerned about hopeless judicial reviews which will delay the process of boundary review". The answer to that is that judicial review applicants are required to present any claim speedily where the context so requires, as this undoubtedly does. No judicial review claim can proceed to a substantive hearing without the permission of the court, and the court will not give permission unless the claim is proper and has a realistic prospect of success. The Government's position is simply not tenable given the narrow nature of the
9 Feb 2011 : Column 233
I very much hope that, even at this late stage, the Government may feel able to accept this compromise amendment in the spirit in which it is put forward. It is a compromise amendment that recognises that we are dealing with an important and sensitive area of national life. It is an area where equality is a most important value, but it is an area also where a little extra flexibility is needed to mitigate the rigour of the formula in those cases, if any, where the Boundary Commission is satisfied that the criteria of necessity and exceptional circumstances are met.
I very respectfully suggest to the Minister who is to answer this debate that wisdom and maturity on the part of the Government require recognition of the importance of consensus in this sensitive political context. This amendment recognises the strength of the competing arguments on both sides of this debate. I commend it to your Lordships as being reasonable and workable. I beg to move.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, my name is also on the amendment, so ably presented by my noble friend in moving it, and I rise to support it. The amendment is of course a compromise, but it is perhaps all the better for that, because I think that some noble Lords think that compromises have not been very frequent during the long passage of the Bill.
There are two, very strong reasons for noble Lords to support the amendment. First, with the proposed reduction in the number of Members of Parliament and the redrawing of the constituency boundaries, we are entering into, through the work of the Boundary Commissions, a very substantial operation. It is very difficult to foresee where some of the difficulties may arise for the drawing of sensible constituency boundaries. Is the 5 per cent proposal in the Bill enough? We are not sure. This is perhaps a typical situation where a very small increase in the margin for exceptional circumstances could make the difference between a good-sense constituency and a nonsense constituency.
Secondly, this amendment has been very carefully drawn up, as my noble friend explained, to ensure that, while providing a small additional margin for use in exceptional circumstances, it does not significantly conflict with the Government's objective of achieving an equalisation of the size of constituencies. This is quite clear, because the use of the extra margin in the amendment is limited to cases where it is "necessary"-a very strong word-to achieve a viable constituency. Surely the Government want viable constituencies. The amendment provides also that such necessity must arise from special geographical considerations-inconveniently placed mountains and so on-or local ties of an exceptionally compelling nature. These considerations or local ties are already in the Bill at Clause 11, but, in this amendment, they are permitted to play a role under very strict conditions.
From time to time, I speak to schools about the work of the House of Lords. I intend to cite this amendment as an example of a wholly reasonable amendment that has been tabled in the spirit of the
9 Feb 2011 : Column 234
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, perhaps I may make a wholly reasonable response to the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Williamson, and commend them on the way in which they have put forward their amendment. I entirely accept the spirit in which it has been proposed. We have had some pretty unhappy times in past days in this House. I have not yet spoken on the Bill, but I felt that we had reached the moment when I wanted to make a contribution.
I am one of the Members of this House who has had his boundaries changed often enough in his earlier life. It is not totally world shattering; it happens; there have to be adjustments. There has sometimes been rather too much suggestion that it is almost a criminal offence to change some constituency boundaries. I do not regard it in that way. It is a necessary move. With population changes and demographic growth, there is an obvious need at times for boundaries to change.
As noble Lords said, the amendment is a compromise. It is not unfair to say-I do not wish to misrepresent the noble Lords-that it might have been conceived at a moment when it appeared that there was deadlock in this House and when we were going through a very unhappy period. I think and hope that the House is now conducting itself in a way that many of us hoped for, where there is reasonable debate and where there are then proper votes on which-as is clearly the Government's point of view-you win some and you lose some. That is surely what democratic debate is about.
I come to this part of the Bill with two considerations. I believe that there must be more equal constituencies. I do not know whether anyone in this House would challenge the fact that there are serious discrepancies in the size of constituencies that must be put right. I believe also that that must be achieved by 2015. I was very struck by a comment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, who said in moving the opening amendment yesterday:
"If we took no action, the next boundary review may not take effect until 2020. This would mean that in 2018 there will be electors who reach voting age and register to vote who will not even have been born when the basis of the pattern of representation in the Commons was determined".-[Official Report, 8/2/11; col. 128.]
Does the amendment help? Is it making constituencies more equal or less equal? There is only one answer to that. At the moment, the Government are proposing a spread of 10 per cent. This amendment proposes a spread of 15 per cent, which would allow for the possibility of less equal constituencies. I admired enormously the noble Lord, Lord Pannick-I hope that that does not sound patronising-when he said that the knock-on effect of moving from 10 per cent to 15 per cent, meaning that other constituencies might have to have more or less, is not different in principle. Of course, he is right, but it is rather different in quantum. I think the noble Lord will
9 Feb 2011 : Column 235
Another thing that concerns me, which the noble Lord dealt with fairly and frankly, is exceptional circumstances and the issue of judicial review. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, with his great experience, advised the House exactly how a judge would handle circumstances that came in front of him. He appeared to give a guarantee that the court would also deal with it extremely promptly and speedily. I do not know that I absolutely share that confidence in every case, given what has happened in some of the circumstances. I thought that that might be generally true, but if the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, with his skill, is handling the case in front of that judge, I am not sure that very interesting further legal arguments, or exceptional circumstances of one sort or another that someone has discovered but that have not been taken fully into account, would not be found, which would mean that the matter would have to be further delayed. That is my point, because it would be outrageous if we could not have proper, more equal boundaries by 2015.
This amendment opens up the certainty of less equality and the possibility of further opportunities for delay. I put it no higher than that. Although I say this, I do not want in any way to suggest that I do not appreciate very much the leadership of the Cross- Benchers, the Convenor, and her colleagues in what was clearly a difficult situation and in trying to find a way forward by the House. I think that circumstances in the House have now changed and that the House should take a straight decision on this.
I know that many people were worried that we were heading towards a really serious breach of convention in a timetable Motion. Perhaps I may presume to say that another convention might be under threat. We all respect the Cross-Benchers for the individual independence of mind and experience that they bring to this House. The suggestion that there should be a Cross-Bench position on this is not the sort of House that I expected to find.
Lord Pannick: I reassure the noble Lord that there is no Cross-Bench position on this. Each Cross-Bencher who has considered this issue has a position. Many of them agree with the views that I explained to the House, but some of them no doubt will not agree. There is no official Cross-Bench position.
Lord King of Bridgwater: I am extremely grateful and, of course, I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, says. That is entirely as I understand and hope it will always be in this House. There have been suggestions in other directions, and I am very glad to have the authoritative response of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, on this point. I accept that this is entirely well intentioned and is intended to be a constructive amendment for the reasons that I have given, but it fails to pass the two essential tests of this Bill: more equal constituencies and getting new boundaries in by 2015. I hope that the House will not support it.
Lord Maples: My Lords, I, too, hope that the House will reject this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, moved it in extremely reasonable and persuasive terms, but it is a bit of a split-the-difference amendment. There has been a call for a 20 per cent spread-10 per cent either way-in the debates in Committee, and 7.5 per cent seems to be a nice compromise between 5 per cent and 10 per cent. However, 5 per cent is quite a lot.
The underlying principle of this Bill is that constituencies should be of equal size. Five per cent either way seems to be reasonable latitude to allow the Boundary Commission in setting those constituency boundaries. It means that the biggest constituency will be about 8,000 voters bigger than the smallest. If we went to 7.5 per cent, that difference would be somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 voters. I do not believe that there should be any exceptions to this rule. I am not persuaded about the Isle of Wight or the Scottish island seats. I do not see why those specific geographical considerations should outweigh others.
I was a Member of the other place for two constituencies, one urban and one rural. All of us who have been in that position can construct reasons to persuade the Boundary Commission why our constituency is special or different. We have all had different geographical considerations and a weight of problems and correspondence in one area that another constituency does not. In my experience, they roughly balance out and the workload is about the same. I do not expect that the number of immigration cases in the Western Isles is very large, and I have some difficulty with whether the workload there is great enough to justify a constituency electorate of, I think, 21,000. There is a principle at stake here that constituencies should be of equal size.
Another issue with this amendment is that, whatever the noble Lord says, it introduces areas of vagueness and subjectivity, including what is "viable", what is "an exceptionally compelling nature" and "local ties". Some of these expressions are already in the Bill. When the noble Lord said that judicial review of a Boundary Commission decision was unlikely to get very far and would be dealt with very speedily, I could not help asking myself whether he would give a client exactly the same advice as to whether this was a hopeless prospect.
It seems to me that there is not just the possibility of one case of judicial review; there is the possibility of a great many cases of judicial review. I think I share with my noble friend Lord King an absolute determination that these new boundaries should be in place for the
9 Feb 2011 : Column 237
At the next election, the biggest constituency, if the Bill stays as it is, will not just be 10 per cent bigger than the smallest; it will be considerably more than that because the Boundary Commission's decisions will be based on the electoral registers as they were at the end of last year. If one looks at the problem that this has created in the past, in the 2005 election-I shall pick just two examples-Sheffield Brightside was 19,000 voters under the quota and Banbury was 19,000 over. By the 2010 election, which was based on the year 2000 registers-10 years earlier-the Banbury constituency was about 9,000 voters over quota and the Sheffield Brightside constituency was 9,000 under. At the last election, only 218 seats were within the 5 per cent quota; 161 were within 5 per cent to 10 per cent; 200 were within 10 per cent to 20 per cent; and 60 were more than 20 per cent out.
The next boundary review will be a bit better than that because it will be only five years in arrears, but it will still be based on registers that will at that point be about five years out of date. I have done some very rough arithmetic; one would expect 200 seats to be more than 5 per cent out and about 60 to be more than 10 per cent out. Anything that goes further from the principle that the constituencies should be of equal size should be resisted. Five per cent gives the Boundary Commission considerable leeway, and I would be very reluctant to see the Boundary Commission allowed more subjective judgments and more opportunities for judicial review, or a result in which a considerable number of constituencies were more than 5 per cent away from the average.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: I should like to make it clear to the House that I speak as an individual and support what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said: that the Cross-Benchers are never to be seen as a group. We all vote according to our individual consciences, as we see our position in this place. I live in an area that has had three changes of constituency in the past three elections, and I have not had the slightest problem with that. I also recognise the importance of all these changes being done by the next election in 2015. Consequently, I totally support the Government's approach that there should be a leeway of 5 per cent each way. However, I support the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I played no part whatever in drafting the amendment, and indeed had not read it until I came into the Chamber this afternoon. If one reads the amendment with care and listens with care to what the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Williamson of Horton, have said about it, it is perfectly obvious that it would give the Boundary Commission leeway in an
9 Feb 2011 : Column 238
As someone who has been a judge, I would say that it would be most extraordinary if there was a judicial review of any of these cases. If there was one, it would be very unlikely that the result of that one would encourage further judicial reviews.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, I wish to address individual consciences on this matter. I do so having reflected on yesterday's debate about public inquiries and the role of lawyers and legal challenges in the Boundary Commission process, and having noted that that debate was almost entirely dominated by those from the legal profession. I speak as someone who is very much not a lawyer and who cannot possibly say that he is in any way above the political fray between parties about elections, campaigns and constituencies. However, I am someone who, over more than 30 years, has had extensive experience of fighting and organising elections in many dozens of different constituencies in every part of Great Britain, in general elections and in parliamentary by-elections, as well as extensive involvement in the Boundary Commission processes that have gone into drawing up those constituencies in the past.
I very much appreciate the very sincere efforts of the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Williamson, and other noble Lords, to try to see whether some reasonable consensus or agreement might be reached and to try sincerely to improve aspects of the Bill in reasonable time, so that the Bill is agreed on the timetable that the Government want. However, there is a fundamental problem with the definition that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and his noble friends have drawn up. There is simply no reasonably agreed and commonly accepted definition of the key phrase "a viable constituency". There is no agreed definition, and to try to agree on it would be a subject of great controversy. Without a definition of a viable constituency, we are simply inviting four different Boundary Commissions to devise their own definitions of the phrase, which I believe would be very controversial. Nor was it clear to me-or I think to anyone else, although I am not a lawyer-what the meaning of the phrase "exceptionally compelling nature" might be. The Boundary Commissions would have a lot of argument about what considerations of an exceptionally compelling nature are.
I can easily see large numbers of lawyers in many courts arguing for a very long time over definitions of a viable constituency and over exceptions, such as geographic ties and local considerations, which in themselves are very vaguely defined, that might be considered to be of an exceptionally compelling nature. Such phraseology will, I am in no doubt, lead to many legal challenges to the Boundary Commission's processes, which should be determined by independent boundary commissioners using the criteria given to them by Parliament. They should not be determined by lawyers in the courts arguing over these definitions. Too many problems in the past have been caused by legal arguments. A noble friend of mine, when a Member in the other
9 Feb 2011 : Column 239
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that he was creating a narrow definition in this amendment. With great respect to the noble Lord, it is absolutely not a narrow definition to try to say what a viable constituency is or what wholly exceptional circumstances are. They are two very widely defined concepts. He also said that he was trying to reassure Ministers who are concerned that the exception might become more general. This amendment will fail, because the exceptions will become very general.
Lord Scott of Foscote: My Lords, I rise simply to say a word about the possible effect of litigation on the timetable proposed for litigation. The possibility of delay was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Pannick, who has great experience in this field. It is my experience that the prospect of obtaining a favourable end result to the litigation is not the only reason why people commence litigation. Both as a barrister and as a judge, I remember cases in which litigation was commenced not with any realistic prospect of success at the end but simply for the purpose of achieving delay. Where judicial review is concerned, the permission of a judge is required. So the applicant goes in front of the judge and sets out his case, asking for permission to start judicial review. Sometimes a judge will grant him permission when he ought not to have done. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, proposed the likelihood that permission would be refused in the cases of judicial review as a result of this amendment, and I do not dispute that-but there might be a judge who would grant it. If permission is refused, the applicant can then renew his application for permission in front of the court of appeal and try again. Throughout this process, which will take a little time, whatever expedition might be granted by the courts, the pending litigation will deter the Boundary Commission from getting on with its job.
I support the amendment-or at least I think I do; I am listening carefully to the arguments for and against-but I would not wish this House to proceed on the footing that a degree of delay might not be occasioned by litigation of the sort that I have described, which may be vexatious litigation.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Would it be unfair to ask the noble and learned Lord to utilise his vast experience of judging to comment on the point just made by my noble friend Lord Rennard as to whether the definition
9 Feb 2011 : Column 240
Lord Scott of Foscote: A competent lawyer will give an opinion on that after he knows the facts. The notion that the constituency proposed is not viable will have to depend on facts, some of which are bound to be much stronger than others. As a general proposition, the question of what a viable constituency is and is not will be a subjective matter and one properly for the Boundary Commission. Whether there was an angle that would allow an attack to be launched would depend on the facts of an individual case and is not something that could be answered in the abstract.
Lord Elton: My Lords, before we come to a conclusion, there is something about which I need to remind myself and your Lordships. It is necessary to keep two or three things in mind. As my noble friend Lord King has already reminded us, at present the Bill permits a variation of 10 per cent, whereas what is proposed is a variation of 15 per cent. I need to remind myself that we are talking not about numbers, areas or acreages but about the value of votes. The proposal is to raise to 15 per cent the discrepancy between the value of a vote in one constituency and in another.
The principle of the Bill is to try to reduce the variations so that everybody's vote is roughly equal. My subjective-but not, I think, unreasonable-view is that 10 per cent is quite enough. That gets around an awful lot of arguments that have been made and, for me, it is conclusive.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, may I take up the point which I made yesterday? It is really for the Boundary Commission, which exerts no political influence and has no political influence upon it, to decide what is a viable constituency. That cannot be explained in a definition which you write out in black and white; it is a matter of common sense for the commission. To impede that by a lot of legal processes and lawyers-I am one, although I am a bit past my sell-by date now-is a tremendous mistake and, although it is well intentioned, I do not support this amendment.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, once upon a time there was a man called Procrustes. He made a very beautiful bed, and he liked people to come and lie on it. Being a man of very high and strict principle, he insisted that the bed and the people should fit. Unfortunately, he made the bed unalterable, so he had to make the people fit the bed. He either stretched them out a little if they were too small or chopped a little bit off if they were too tall, with painful, serious and sometimes fatal consequences for the people concerned. Quite apart from the consequences for the people concerned, Procrustes found his reputation deeply damaged; great hostility was shown towards him and there were demonstrations in the street.
Then four good, independent people came along and suggested a simple mechanism whereby some of the strain could be relieved. It was closely restricted; it could be used only in exceptional circumstances and for reasons of an extraordinarily compelling nature. It was a simple mechanism whereby, in these very exceptional
9 Feb 2011 : Column 241
There were many arguments about the principle; it was thought to be very proper, good and strictly maintained. I am sorry to say that Procrustes grumbled greatly about the idea that there should be any stretching or changing of the bed. But in the end he accepted that there had been one or two cases which he agreed should be allowed past and the exceptions and exceptionally compelling reasons were such that the further breaches of the principle which would ensue would not be very serious or great. Therefore, grumbling, he accepted-to the relief of those few people whose lives and bodies were spared and, in the end, to the contentment of Procrustes himself, who accepted that this small degree of flexibility had enabled the bed to survive and the principle to be broadly maintained.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, this amendment allows the Boundary Commission, in very exceptional circumstances, to exercise its discretion within a range of 15 per cent rather than 10 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, made the point that this would give people who wished for one reason or another to delay the operation of the reforms greater scope to introduce litigation. Of course, even within the 10 per cent provided in the Bill, the Boundary Commission is exercising discretion. It is not clear to me why, in these very exceptional circumstances, there would be more scope for challenging under the 15 per cent variation than under the 10 per cent. If people, for reasons of their own, wish to obstruct this process, is there not exactly the same power to do that under the 10 per cent provision? The advantage of having 15 per cent is that without giving much greater scope-or, indeed, any greater scope-for challenge, the Boundary Commission can reach reasonable recommendations in cases where it is necessary.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, my point about the prospects for potential legal challenges is not relevant to the 5 per cent or 10 per cent consideration. It is purely about the existing Boundary Commission criteria as in the five previous general reviews undertaken by the Boundary Commissions.
Lord Rennard: I understood that an intervention on a matter of clarification was allowed. My point is that the criteria of the Boundary Commissions are clearly established and therefore not likely to be subject to future legal challenge. Interestingly, the amendment contains wholly new criteria regarding viable constituencies and considerations of a wholly exceptional nature.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we have had a very good and a very short debate. I support entirely the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. We moved an amendment at an earlier stage in these proceedings proposing 10 per cent in exceptional circumstances. As the noble Lord has described, the Government, through a variety of Ministers, raised a number of reasons why a succession of amendments would not work. In relation to each of the problems raised by the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, produced a sensible solution.
At the heart of what the noble Lord is suggesting is acceptance of the principle of much greater equality, but there will be exceptional cases where it is necessary to give effect to an exception based on geography or local ties where a small bit of procrustean flexibility is sensible. That is a classically common-sense amendment which should be considered on its merits.
With the greatest of respect to the well known legal expert, the noble Lord, Lord King-a much respected figure in the House-I suggest that noble Lords look at the matter on the basis of the merits of the argument being advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. They should ignore views about the conduct over this Bill, ignore what the position may be in the future and ask themselves, "If we, as a House, agree this amendment to the Bill, will people outside this House think well of us and think that we improved the Bill in a way that gave a sensible degree of flexibility?".
Almost the most powerful speech that we have heard in the course of the debate came from the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, who said that this should be an object lesson in how this House should operate. That is, the power of the argument on the merits should succeed. Of course, I am parti pris and therefore not in a position to give an argument that would be regarded as anything other than subjective but, my goodness, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has done the work, which nobody else has done in relation to this debate. I commend his amendment to the House.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for his amendment. I also thank all those who have contributed to what has been a very good debate. Given the way that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, presented his amendment, I am sure several constituency associations will be lining up to engage him for various cases when the Boundary Commissions bring forward their proposals. I appreciate not only the manner in which the noble Lord presented the amendment but his willingness to engage. As he recognised in moving the amendment, considerable efforts have been made to see whether the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, could find common ground.
The effect of the amendment would be to give the four Boundary Commissions discretion to propose constituencies with an extended 15 per cent range-from 92.5 per cent to 107.5 per cent of the United Kingdom's electoral quota-in the event that the commission considers that exceptional local ties or geographical circumstances make it necessary to create a viable
9 Feb 2011 : Column 243
The principle that constituencies should contain an equal number of voters is not exactly new. The existing legislation-the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986-requires the Boundary Commissions to recommend seats that are as near to equal as practicable. The problem with that legislation, as has been mentioned on many occasions during our debates in this House and the other place, is that although it clearly sets the goal of equal constituency sizes, the mutually contradictory rules in the Act result in a wide variation of constituency sizes. That is not an abstract problem. One person, as we have said, should mean one vote. Nor is it just a matter of local representation; the nature of our parliamentary democracy means that one's vote is one's stake in who forms the Government of the day. As we have also heard in debates, turnouts will vary but the system should not compromise an elector's stake in the Parliament long before a ballot has been cast.
That is why the Bill that the Government brought to this House had very few named exceptions to the parity principle-only two constituencies out of 600. The specific exceptions that we made were born of the necessity to guarantee effective representation in constituencies that were not only geographically remote but had no obvious link to a mainland constituency. The same principle informs the geographical size limit, which also has very limited application. I acknowledge that there is a range of views across your Lordships' House on which specific areas, if any, should have such treatment in the Bill. However, as has been said, the general principle of equality is accepted on all sides of the House. That equality informs the guiding principle in the rules in Clause 11. It is clear that absolute equality is neither desirable nor practicable. That is why the Bill already moves from absolute equality to allow flexibility for the Boundary Commissions to vary seats by 10 per cent between the smallest and the largest. My noble friend Lord Maples made that point. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, would allow a range of more than 11,000 voters between the smallest and the largest.
The figure of 5 per cent, moving as it does from absolute equality, has a rationale. We have made it clear that in our judgment it is the closest to equality that can be achieved while allowing wards to continue being the building blocks of constituencies in most cases in England. For local government reasons the wards in Scotland and Wales are somewhat different. However, the figure seeks to strike the right balance
9 Feb 2011 : Column 244
I hope no one can doubt the Government's commitment to the guiding principle in the Bill: that as far as practically possible there should be equality of treatment between electors. In our view, the only case for exceptions to this principle should be where Parliament has determined that the exception is merited. We have debated, and will return later, to several specific exceptions. That is how we should move forward when we approach these very difficult issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, fairly pointed out some of the concerns that the Government have rehearsed with him as we have discussed these matters. Our first concern is that, although I understand where the amendment comes from, it breaches the principle of equality of treatment. The Boundary Commissions would be set a clear task by the Bill's provisions: to propose constituencies that are within the same range of 7,500 electors across the whole of the United Kingdom, subject to the two named exceptions. There is also the exception that has already been voted for by the House. The same rule applies to everybody unless an exception has been explicitly approved by Parliament. That does seem to be an approach that is rooted in some principle.
By contrast, the amendment asks the Boundary Commissions to grant a number of special seats outside the general rule, effectively conferring special status on electors who live there. That could put the Boundary Commissions in a difficult position. Let there be no doubt that the Boundary Commissions would be in an invidious position. A decision about special treatment for one elector has a direct impact on an elector elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that the impact would be felt in a next-door constituency, but it does not necessarily follow that it would. This is particularly the case in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where there is less scope in the number of seats to make adjustments. To take Scotland as a case in point, on the 2009 electorate figures Scotland would have 50 seats plus the two exceptions. Once the commission had proposed a number of smaller seats at 92.5 per cent to take account of the sparsely populated areas in the highlands, the result would be that it would have to allocate larger seats on average elsewhere.
That could already happen to some degree under the Bill; the key difference is that at present under the Bill there is one rule for everyone. In other words, one part of the country's exception would be another part of the country's squeeze. There would be less flexibility in another part of the country, which might be some distance away. Under the amendment, the commission would be asked to award greater power to electors in a smaller number of seats outside the norm for the rest of the country. As my noble friend Lord Elton said, that goes against the principle of the value of the vote as set out in the Bill. The noble Lord's amendment would ask the commissions to trade off the rights of different communities alongside potentially far-away constituencies.
There is a further point, which relates to timing. If these changes were made as a result of representations taken after the first period of consultation, because exceptional circumstances had been identified at the second phase, constituencies that were perfectly happy and content with the original proposals might well find that because a change was made in one or two places the ripple effect meant that what was acceptable first time around would not be acceptable second time around.
I recognise the attempts that have been made in the amendment. Regarding judicial review, on which much has been said in this debate, I agree with the noble Lord that the amendment would send a clear signal to any court considering a judicial review of the Boundary Commission's decision to exercise flexibility. However, I am concerned less about the verdict of the court than the effect that the amendment might have on the conduct of the boundary review in practice. There might be an effect not only on how the commission balanced the specific factors referred to in the amendment but in the greater subjectivity to which the amendment could lead. The noble Lord's prediction that a commission may ultimately have the support of the courts, if the matter were put before them, might turn out to be right, but the effect of giving the commission discretion for exceptional circumstances might, in the real world, mean that it felt compelled to use that discretion. The experience of trying to set a high bar to limit the exercise of discretion is not always encouraging. In reality, a procedure sanctioned expressly on the basis that it is intended as exceptional can, and sometimes does, end up becoming common practice.
My noble friend Lord Rennard made an important point on the question of what a viable constituency is. To whom is it viable? Is it viable to the electors or to the Member of Parliament? Also, there are four Boundary Commissions. If each took a different view on what constituted a viable constituency, the danger would be that we could move even further away from trying to achieve the equality that is at the heart of the Bill.
Even unsuccessful judicial reviews will have an impact on resources. I hear and give careful consideration to the points made by noble Lords with considerable experience, including the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I also heard what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, said about the opportunity to use litigation and judicial review as a means of stringing things out. On many occasions in our debates, noble Lords have mentioned that it is important that the Boundary Commission proposals are presented to Parliament and passed in good time for the 2015 election to be fought on new boundaries.
I make a further point on the figure of 7.5 per cent on either side of the UK boundary quota. I have already described the Government's case for a range of 5 per cent on either side. I am not sure what rationale there is for the figure of 7.5 per cent; perhaps it is because it is half way between 5 per cent and 10 per cent. Sometimes compromise is right, but, as I have indicated, strict equality would be zero. Our movement to accepting a 5 per cent variation already allows for some of the geographical considerations and local ties that have been mentioned.
In conclusion, exceptional treatment would not help some of the specific cases that have been debated-for example, in Argyll and Bute. It would not guarantee the sanctity of the Tamar. I recognise and welcome the spirit in which efforts have been made to find common ground on which we could have moved forward. I thank all noble Lords who have sought to help us make progress. However, I hope that I have set out that, in practice, the amendment not only would place the commissions in a difficult position but could breach the principle of equality of treatment that is at the heart of the Bill. There would be a potential risk that the Boundary Commissions' target of reporting before the next election is fought in 2015 would not be met. I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Pannick: I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this important debate. I particularly thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for the reasoned way in which he addressed the points that I have made at all stages. I hope that this House is performing its vital function in relation to constitutional matters.
The noble Lord, Lord King, said that his concern was whether the amendment would promote equality, but equality is not the only value recognised by the Bill. The Bill accepts that there should be a 5 per cent variation either way. It accepts that there should be exceptions for Orkney and Shetland, the Western Isles and, as a result of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, the Isle of Wight. Equality is not the only value; there are other considerations that noble Lords will wish to take into account. The noble Lord, Lord Maples, said that he would not accept any of those exceptions. That is a logical position that I respect, but it is not the position taken by the Bill. It recognises that there are and there have to be exceptions to equality.
The second concern of the noble Lord, Lord King, which was shared by some noble Lords, was about delay. The noble Lord, Lord Maples, asked me specifically whether I would advise a client that a judicial review is hopeless. My short answer-indeed, it is also the long answer-is yes; in the context of a statutory provision that confers discretion, by reference to the criteria of necessity and exceptionally compelling circumstances, I would advise that it is hopeless.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, expressed-if I may say so-a more nuanced view. I hope that that might demonstrate to the noble Lord, Lord King, if nothing else does, that the Cross-Benchers do not think and act as a group. If the noble Lord still has any suspicions in that respect, he may wish to look at yesterday's Division lists, which will confirm that we do not think and act as a group on these vital issues.
My point is not that judicial review can never be used to delay action in any context. My point-which, with respect, was not addressed by noble Lords who are understandably concerned about this-is that in this context, where the criteria are so narrow, subjective and political, judicial review is simply not realistic; it is not an appeal to the merits. The key point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who
9 Feb 2011 : Column 247
The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, expressed great concern about the term "viable". The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "workable" and "practicable". It is not simply that "viable" is in the amendment; it is linked to a concept of necessity and a judgment by the Boundary Commission of what is necessary. That is the answer to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, expressed concern that, under the amendment, Boundary Commissions would set different standards for different constituencies. They would not; the same criteria would apply to all constituencies. Of course, their application would differ according to the circumstances, just as the application of the existing Clause 11 criteria-the same criteria for all-will differ according to the circumstances of the constituency, and rightly so, in the judgment of the Boundary Commission.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord King, pointed out that noble Lords should not accept an amendment simply in order to secure a compromise. He is right. I commend this amendment to the House not because it is a compromise but on its merits. It is fair, reasonable and workable. I say to all noble Lords that in the context of a Bill that makes fundamental changes to our constitutional arrangements-a context where consensus is vital if it can be achieved-it would be desirable, if possible, to give the Boundary Commission a carefully controlled discretion outside 5 per cent, which will undoubtedly give a large degree of reassurance to those who are concerned about the fundamental changes that we are making to an important aspect of our constitution. That would be a wise step for Parliament to take. My central point is that the amendment is right on its merits and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
(1) The geographical area of a special authority shall, so far as is practicable having regard to the rules of this Schedule as they apply to England, form part of not more than one constituency at any time.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I last moved this amendment, prior to withdrawal, in Committee last month in the small hours of 19 to 20 January. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, who eloquently supported the amendment on that occasion, has drawn my attention to the House of Lords newsletter entitled Red Benches, No. 23 dated 7 February 2011, and its column "Procedural Corner", where we are reminded that the Companion states:
The amendment relates to the City of London, where I served for 24 years as Member of Parliament in the other place, making me the City's third longest-serving Member since 1283. I commented in Committee that the definition of a "special authority", referred to in paragraph (3) in the amendment, is,
In other words, it is an area that is primarily commercial and not residential, and that applies uniquely in the United Kingdom to the City of London. The fact that this anonymous description uniquely applies to the City avoids any suggestion of potential hybridity. I will add to this arid language only the verdict of the Duke of Wellington's ally at Waterloo, Field-Marshal Prince Blücher, who, on being taken up to the dome of St Paul's to survey the City from on high, simply opined: "What a splendid city to sack".
In Committee, I set out the long history of the City of London constituency, which merged with Westminster as recently as 1950, and described how it led up to its precise present status. In Committee, the Minister kindly agreed to a meeting with us between Committee and Report, and I thank him both for that and for his open-mindedness. I thanked in Committee those who universally spoke in favour of the amendment on that occasion, and I single out in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on the Benches opposite, who moved a similar supportive amendment of her own that evening. I beg to move.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I rise briefly to support this amendment, as I did on the previous occasion. The City of London is the very heart of the community of London and of the country. It is bounded on one side by the Thames and on the other by very different areas. It is worth keeping as a discrete area. It has been laid down in law that it should be a single constituency ever since it lost its own unique representation. I support the amendment because the City has an unusual local electorate, with many businesses voting. I think it is right that the City, which is so important as a financial centre, should have a single Member in the other place to which it can relate and who will speak on its behalf. Therefore, it should be kept whole, rather than risk being moved into two or even three other constituencies.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend Lord Brooke and reiterate my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for his kindness in meeting several of us to discuss the amendment.
One has to remember that the City has fewer than 7,000 electors. It is smaller than a great many wards. The arguments for keeping it as a single whole to be attached to one other constituency seem to me to be overwhelming. The idea that one should split the City between two or three different constituencies is very
9 Feb 2011 : Column 253
Lord Bach: We on the opposition Front Bench also support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. We hope that he has, in his usual way, managed to persuade the noble and learned Lord of the good sense of what he proposes. I give him a word of advice: if he does not get satisfaction from the noble and learned Lord, I suggest that he presses the issue to a vote.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Brooke for tabling the amendment and the other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, who have spoken to it. As my noble friend said, Amendment 22E requires that the area of a special authority, as defined by the Local Government Finance Act 1988, should form part of only one constituency, and the constituency name should refer to that special authority. As he said, in practice, only one authority area satisfies the definition of a special authority, and that is the City of London. As has been explained many times, the number of exceptions in the Bill has deliberately been kept as low as possible. In introducing the Bill, the Government accepted only two seats where there is genuine extreme geography precluding them from being readily combined with other constituencies.
As has been said, we debated an equivalent amendment in Committee moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. That made clear the expert knowledge of many noble Lords of the past and present of the City of London, and their connections with it. I certainly would not wish in any way to diminish the rich history of the City, nor the importance which the City has played and continues to play in the life and economy of our nation.
From a practical point of view, I hope that I can offer some reassurance by reminding the House that in the 25 wards in total, the City has approximately 7,000 electors, which is smaller than some individual wards. Although it would be for the Boundary Commission to decide, I suspect that it is unlikely that the City would be split between two constituencies. Nevertheless, I recall the argument made that it is desirable from an economic point of view to have one MP who can say unequivocally that he or she represents the City of London's interests in Parliament. I certainly valued the opportunity to meet my noble friends Lord Brooke and Lord Jenkin and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. They elaborated on the potent arguments that they made in their speeches in Committee, which they have made again today.
I have clearly heard the case that they make. The Government understand the strength of that concern. Although I cannot commit myself to the wording of the amendment, I am happy to tell your Lordships' House that we will take this away and that I fully
9 Feb 2011 : Column 254
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I thank those who have spoken in the debate; I am grateful to them for what they said. Everyone who has the welfare of the City of London at heart will be grateful for what the Minister said. In the light of his response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) a constituency named Brecon and Radnor, comprising the present constituency of Brecon and Radnor"
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, we had a very good debate on the case for keeping the constituency of Brecon and Radnor on 24 January-my, that seems a while ago-at cols. 795-805. The case was supported then not merely from these Benches but from the Cross Benches in remarkable speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who said that it would be a "colossal, monstrous injustice" if that constituency were changed.
The case, in a nutshell, is that this is the largest constituency in England and Wales. It takes one and a half hours on poor roads from one end to the other, but at 58,000 its electorate is well short of the electoral quota. What really makes it different is that it cannot expand south, because that would take away still more voters from the valley constituencies, which are themselves short of electoral quotas. It cannot expand east because constituencies cannot cross country borders. Therefore, it has to go into sparsely populated and unrelated areas, either to the west or to Montgomeryshire, to the north. That argument was strongly put, including again by my noble friend Lady Hayter. I hope that I have the same luck on this amendment as she had on the previous one.
Only one person spoke against that proposition: the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who was not, perhaps, at his formidable best, because he went off to hospital soon after-I hope not as a result of any remarks that I made about him. He has, happily, recovered-he is smiling on the Front Bench now-so I hope that, having thought about it long and hard in his hospital bed, he will now feel able to accept the amendment.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, although in better health than the last time I spoke, I am not sure that I will be able to please the noble Lord any more. When he tabled the equivalent amendment in Committee he argued that the exception was necessary for two reasons: first,
9 Feb 2011 : Column 255
Although I was tempted to use the old joke, "I had a car like that once", I know-because I visited my late and most lamented friend Lord Livsey in his constituency-that it is an enormous place, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has acknowledged. However, I do not think that it would be useful to compare exact distances and journey times in various constituencies because one person's enormous place is another person's back garden. The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke, reminded us in Committee of some Australian parliamentarians whose constituencies are the size of Portugal. Nevertheless I believe that, in general terms, there is a real distinction in magnitude between a 90-minute car journey that may be undertaken at almost any time of day or night and, say, a 12-hour ferry trip from Shetland to the Scottish mainland which is possible at only a handful of times each day.
Concerning the difficulty of constituencies which cover large surface areas, it is also worth remembering that the Bill takes that into account. The Bill provides for a maximum size of around the largest current constituency area because the Scottish Boundary Commission recommended that this area was manageable for both MP and constituents. As that was the last time that this question was considered at length, and using the independent expertise of the Boundary Commission, this seemed to us the best benchmark to use in our proposals today, and it was also discussed last night.
We are open and ready to be flexible with the noble Lord's proposals where they do not contradict a key principle of the Bill. Keeping preserved constituency exceptions to an absolute minimum is important to support the Bill's fundamental aim-the degree to which votes throughout all four parts of the UK have equal value. Provided that the constituency sits within a 10 per cent band of tolerance as the Bill provides, the Bill allows specific geographical factors to be considered, as is the case today.
I do not in any way dismiss the challenge that the MP and constituents have in a constituency such as Brecon and Radnor. However, we are testing against a high bar: the principle of one elector, one value. Because the bar is set high we feel that it is justified to test these
9 Feb 2011 : Column 256
"( ) a constituency named Ynys Môn comprising the whole of the island of Anglesey"
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I will not detain the House long; many distinguished noble Lords will know Wales and the island of Anglesey much better than I do. It is an island constituency which deserves exemption in much the same way as your Lordships agreed to exempt the Isle of Wight recently. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to my amendment. I beg to move.
Lord McNally: My Lords, this is another attempt to except a single constituency; we have already debated a longer list of proposed exemptions. In the case of Anglesey, where geography is concerned, the two road bridges crossing the Menai strait clearly show there is no question of Anglesey being a difficult place to travel to or to travel around for the MP or constituents. We believe that parliamentary constituencies often cross the boundaries of a local authority without taking away all the sense of identity of each community within the constituency. Nor does it take away the ability of an MP to represent various communities with different senses of identity in one constituency.
I understand the noble Lord's motives in moving this amendment, as I do those of other noble Lords who have a particular attachment to a constituency. However, the fact remains the same. If we are to pursue our overall aim of having votes of equal weight we do not want to make the type of exceptions that the noble Lord proposes. I therefore invite him to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I can perhaps help my noble friend on this one because this amendment is not at all about a single constituency-it is about something that is far more important than that. I remind noble Lords that, back in the early 1970s, a royal commission-the Kilbrandon commission-looked at the situation prior to the first attempt at devolution. It also looked at Cornwall. The report stated that what the people of Cornwall,
I do not think that Cornwall's position could be described better than that. Indeed, Cornwall is seen by many-not just Cornish people themselves but its residents and those who move there-as the fourth Celtic nation of the United Kingdom. It has a Celtic language. It has Celtic place names and family names. It has that whole tradition. It was not a part of Anglo-Saxon England, and many will say even now that it was not seen as a part of England until well into the previous millennium.
It is the area of culture, history and geography that makes Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly a very important exception which should be recognised within the Bill. The background of its culture, as I said, is Celtic. Its industries-fishing, agriculture and particularly tin mining, which goes back many centuries-are a particular characteristic of Cornwall. More recently, China clay has been mined there. Apart, I concede, from a little bit of Devon, that is a unique feature of the area. Many noble Lords will know that place names beginning with "Pol", "Tre" and "Pen" are unique to Cornwall and to be found at a high density. They go back to the Celtic language, which is actually closer to Breton. Brittany is a region with which Cornwall still has a close relationship.
I stress to the House that the wish to keep Cornwall constituency boundaries separate is not just a Liberal Democrat wish. In Cornwall I chaired a group that was genuinely made up of all political parties and none, but which was unanimous in its support for the proposal that the boundaries of constituencies should remain within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The group included representatives of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, Mebyon Kernow-the Cornish
9 Feb 2011 : Column 258
It is often argued that much of east Cornwall depends economically on Devon and the unitary authority of Plymouth, and indeed that close economic relationship is welcomed by people in Cornwall. But I recall in the 1990s when trying to become the Member of the other place for South East Cornwall that, if there was one thing sure to arouse strong feelings in the border town of Saltash, it was to suggest that maybe the boundaries of Plymouth could extend over the Tamar into Torpoint and Saltash. Believe me, the reaction to that suggestion was far greater than you would have seen in West Penwith or Truro or on Bodmin Moor. The feeling throughout Cornwall of its political, geographical and cultural integrity is as strong as that. As the noble Lord, Lord Myners, pointed out in the debate yesterday, this cuts across all political parties and none.
I strongly support most of the principles of this Bill but what I know and what I believe is that, in politics and in government, there has to be a human factor and there is no perfect formula that cannot be moved or changed slightly to accommodate communities that people feel they are a part of. They are limited in number, and that is why on Report I am promoting a change only for Cornwall. But the human factor means that boundaries which are historic and arouse strong feelings in citizens can, in extreme cases, be recognised. I believe that this is one of those cases.
The House has already recognised the argument for the Isle of Wight, and this amendment is written in exactly the same way as that for the Isle of Wight except that it applies to a number of constituencies rather than just one. I also point out to noble Lords that if this amendment becomes part of the Bill, which I hope it will, it will mean that rather than Cornwall having five and a half constituencies, it will almost certainly have only five, yet the people of Cornwall are satisfied with a smaller representation in the other House rather than share or go up to six. That is the feeling in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The Bill also recognises that there should be exceptions, of which Orkney and Shetland is one example. That is why I believe that this amendment is vital in terms of people's belief in the way that the parliamentary system in this country works, and that is why it is being supported by a wide range of people, including all six Members of Parliament for Cornwall, both Liberal Democrat and Conservative, in the other place.
My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness is not in his place at the moment, but on the first amendment we considered today I think he referred to the "sanctity of the Tamar". I believe that is what he said, rather than the "sanctity of this Chamber". Although I know he did not mean it, he said it in a slightly disparaging way. But what I would say is this: there is a sanctity about the boundary of the Tamar that is felt by people in both Cornwall and Devon. It has been a boundary for over a thousand
9 Feb 2011 : Column 259
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, as a Cross-Bencher, I wonder whether I might be permitted to say something as someone who has lived in Devon for 45 years. I should like to endorse the fact that Devonians have absolutely nothing in common with Cornwall. The Tamar is a genuine barrier between Devon and Cornwall. Perhaps not all noble Lords will know that although you are welcome to go into Cornwall, you have to pay to come out. I wonder what a Member of Parliament with a constituency partly in Cornwall and partly in Devon would be expected to do if, every time he visited a constituent on one side of the Tamar or the other, he actually had to pay the toll. That is just an indication of the fact that Devon and Cornwall are quite separate places.
So far as we in Devon are concerned, Cornwall is foreign territory. Indeed, that is exactly what the author Daphne du Maurier said in her famous books about Cornwall. She wrote a splendid one that I think is called Rule Britannia in which she wished Cornwall to become independent of the rest of the country. I am not suggesting that Cornwall should be independent, but I believe it should have its own MPs and that they should not trespass upon Devon.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, it is good to follow the noble and learned Baroness from across the water and probably across the frontier too. I support the amendment and I endorse everything the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said about the view of the people of Cornwall, particularly of those at the eastern end where I live. The noble Lord did not mention the treaty between the Celtic Cornish and the Saxon English signed in AD 936 by King Athelstan which started all this off. I would compare this debate about the Tamar and the problem of mixing two races with the thought of what would happen if there was a constituency that crossed the border between Wales and England. I do not think that the people of Wales would like that.
I want to mention just one other thing. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have recently been awarded a local enterprise partnership, one of the first to have been made. It is a great tribute to the county council and the other people who promoted it, and it is a fine achievement. It also demonstrates that the Government think that Cornwall is different and that it is separate. It has economic problems as well as many other ones, but the LEP demonstrates that one part of the Government thinks it should be separate. I trust that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will express his support.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the human factor, and I think that I am actually the human factor, so on this occasion I wish to intervene. I carry a heavy load
9 Feb 2011 : Column 260
Lord Newton of Braintree: Briefly, I ask my noble friend why, if this river and estuary are to be written into the law in this way, others should not be? We have already had arguments about the Mersey. I live in Essex and the Thames is at least as substantial a division between Essex and Kent, I suspect, as the Tamar is between Devon and Cornwall. One can think of a number of other rivers including the Severn, which is a big division between the south-west and Wales, so why are we going to pick out only one? The problem with most of these rivers-I am afraid I do not know the West Country well enough to know whether it is thus with the Tamar-is that a dividing factor at the mouth, where that is so big, becomes a uniting factor further inland, where towns straddle the same river: the Thames, the Severn or whatever it might be. It is not rational to build this kind of consideration into this kind of legislation.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I fear that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who, through the conduct of this sometimes slightly choppy Bill, has consistently carried the hopes of the people of Cornwall on his shoulders. He has spent a lot of time inside and outside the Chamber persuading people that Cornwall should be treated differently. He has persuaded us, strongly supported by the fact that we-and everyone else in this House-have heard forcibly from people who know about Cornwall. We support the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and this House owes a lot to him.
In this Bill, the Government have understood before they started that certain places required special consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, persuaded this House that the Isle of Wight should be given special consideration; the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has done the same service. Please listen to what the people of these places are saying. I very much hope the Government will accede to what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has said.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I do not have any doubt about the passion, sense of identity and pride that my noble friend Lord Teverson brings to this debate about
9 Feb 2011 : Column 261
I also understand the argument being put that Cornwall would rather have only four MPs than five if one of them crosses the Tamar. I am not sure whether that is actually in the best interests of the people of Cornwall. I do not really understand the argument that the pride and the identity-the pride in Cornwall's rich history and the talk of strong community-that we have heard of will be diminished simply because one MP is going to take responsibility outside Cornwall. The answer to my noble friend Lord Newton's question is that I totally agree that there is no unique argument about river borders and we have not applied that in the Bill.
I recognise the strength of feeling in Cornwall but I cannot agree that Cornwall's position is similar to the Scottish island constituencies in terms of why the exceptions were accepted. By this, I mean that the Bill originally provided for exceptions on the practical level. Without these exceptions, we would be faced with constituencies that would be impractical for Members and constituents and so would deny effective representation. In other words, the genuinely extreme geography of the dispersed Scottish island groups does not make it possible to combine them with the mainland, for practical reasons. If we look at the Scottish island groups in this way, we do not think it possible to argue the same case for Cornwall.
I recognise the strong sense of identity that many have in Cornwall. I do not agree that parliamentary constituencies can create or destroy that identity. I believe that a parliamentary constituency can cross the boundaries of a local authority, without taking away at all from the sense of identity of each constituent community within that constituency. The fact that a parliamentary constituency might cross boundaries, be it in Ayrshire or Cornwall, in no way takes away from that sense of identity. I repeat; I have heard no argument that convincingly sets out the opposite case.
I know that we have had a lot of fun about Cornwall and Devon. I occasionally have jousts with my noble friend Lord Shutt about the relative merits of Lancashire and Yorkshire. That is part of a long tradition within our United Kingdom but it is very difficult to push those arguments too far. Further, I argue that there is strong evidence to support the case that constituencies can and do exist that contain more than one community with more than one sense of identity. Many Members of the other place represent diverse communities today, from constituents with rural and urban communities to those containing the speakers of dozens of different languages, all of whom have their different cultural identity. Belonging to one constituency does not detract from one or diminish that diversity. I believe that
9 Feb 2011 : Column 262
Again, I recognise the strength of feeling and pay tribute to the campaign that my noble friend has waged, but I cannot agree that we should depart any further from our objective of greater equality in the value of votes unless the geographical ramifications of doing so might create an impractical constituency. We do not see a sense of local identity and the setting of a parliamentary constituency as an either/or decision. Instead, we seek the best balance between respecting a local objective and a national one. Locally, the opportunity to voice one's opinion to the Boundary Commission at a public meeting means that those commissions will be able to take local factors into account on a case-by-case basis. Nationally, we want electors to know that their vote counts and has equal weight as much as we possibly can. The Bill, we believe, presents the best balance between those two important principles, so, although I respect his passion, I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply, but I am deeply disappointed by it. Perhaps I might first take up the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree. I stress again that I am not just talking about physical rivers and saying, "Those are the boundaries". The Tamar is a symbol of that boundary, rather than the river itself. Other rivers act as boundaries which this Bill does not allow to be crossed. Much of the passage of the Wye, at its south, is the border between Wales and England, and the Bill does not allow that to be crossed. How does Cornwall see itself? Some call it a nation; others see it as a historic nation of the United Kingdom.
I also disagree with the Minister on the importance of this. I stood for South East Cornwall in the 1992 election, and I was blessed with a visit from my noble friend Lord Ashdown. He was going to walk with me and all the media-there was a question of a hung Parliament at the time-down the high street in Saltash. He got off his battle bus and said to the gathered press of the south-west and the nation, "It's great to be back in Devon". That is why I never became a Member of the other House. Cornwall really believes in its own destiny, its future and its contribution to the United Kingdom, but it wants its own parliamentary constituencies, and on that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, in the forlorn hope that, as I have not moved three previous amendments, the House will be a little tolerant of me for a couple of minutes, I would like to spend those two minutes moving an amendment about Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway. I have illustrated the arguments for Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway many times before, so I do not intend to repeat them and abuse the patience of the House.
Those areas have been together now for about 100 years. There are close connections and a bond between the historic Royal Burgh of Rutherglen, the Cambuslang community and the former mining area of Halfway. In 1975, there was an attempt by a previous Conservative Government to destroy the communities by moving them into the City of Glasgow. A more enlightened Tory Minister, Allan Stewart, and I got Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway out again. If one starts from the border with blocks of 75,000 or 76,000 people, as the Bill suggests, Cambuslang and Halfway could end up in the lower part of Scotland and Rutherglen could be in the northern part of Scotland; there would be only one way for Rutherglen to go and that would be with the City of Glasgow, which would mean the end of our parliamentary cohesion.
I hope a Liberal Minister replies because that would certainly make it plain to the people of Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway that it is a Liberal Minister who is rejecting the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, as a coalition Minister, I am more than delighted to reply to the noble Lord's amendment, which would result in an exception for Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway so that they remained in a constituency which does not cross the boundaries of the South Lanarkshire Council area. The amendment in the Marshalled List brought back memories, as I recall my great aunt and uncle had a Halfway telephone number-I cannot remember the digits, but it was certainly Halfway exchange and, as a child, that always interested me as I wondered where it was halfway between.
I recognise the strength of the communities that the noble Lord used to represent in the other place but, as has been made clear on a number of occasions in Committee and on Report, the Bill as originally drafted
9 Feb 2011 : Column 267
However, I have no doubt that when it comes to the Boundary Commission having regard to the circumstances and the community ties that link Cambuslang, Rutherglen and Halfway, it will be permissible under the rules for the Boundary Commission to take those ties into account and give such regard as it thinks fit to the fact that those communities have had historic links. I have no doubt that, under the public hearing arrangements for which the House voted yesterday, the noble Lord will-I have every certainty-make a very eloquent case when the opportunity for a public hearing comes, assuming that the Boundary Commission does not, in its original proposals, have Cambuslang, Rutherglen and Halfway together.
I think the noble Lord recognises that the case has not been made for an exception to be on the face of the Bill in this respect, but, of course, as I have indicated, community ties is an issue to which the Boundary Commission can have legitimate regard. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord McAvoy: Obviously, I do not wish the Minister any ill will but I certainly hope that his late auntie and uncle are on his mind tonight when he is trying to get to sleep if he is going to do this to Halfway. I certainly hope that they have a word with him. Halfway is so called because it is halfway between Glasgow and Hamilton-I offer that bit of information to the noble and learned Lord.
The areas I have referred to suffer from the fact that they have had a Labour Member of Parliament for 46 years, and that seems to be a problem; other areas seem to find the circumstances to enable them to get exemptions from the Government. However, I recognise the reality and the bigger picture here in the sense that we will be dealing with different countries in the next amendment. I fully accept that. However, I assure the Minister that, when it comes to the campaign, the fig-leaf of claiming to be a coalition Minister will not do the Liberal Party much good in Rutherglen. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(6) The total number of seats to be allocated to any part of the UK shall not be more than ten per cent fewer than the current number of constituencies; and if the number of seats allocated by the process described in sub-paragraphs 1 to 5 of rule 9 exceeds that limit in any part of the UK then additional constituencies shall be allocated to that part to bring its allocation within ten per cent of the current number of constituencies.
(8) Any reallocation to one or more parts of the UK made under the terms of sub-paragraphs (6) and (7) above shall not result in any change to the allocation already allotted to any other parts of the UK."
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we have in this group two amendments which relate principally to Wales. The Bill will have a greater impact on Wales than on any other nation in the UK. Wales is projected to lose 10 seats of the 40 it currently has; that represents a 25 per cent reduction in its Westminster parliamentary representation. In Committee, we heard noble Lords from across the Chamber passionately describe the effect of that on Wales.
The Welsh Affairs Select Committee in the other place produced a report in October last year that was highly critical of the proposed changes. A decision to cut the representation in Parliament of one of the nations of the United Kingdom-Wales-by a quarter at a stroke should be shown to have been subject to the most careful and measured consideration and should be taken in the light of proper examination of alternative approaches, including a slower pace of change. The impact of the Government's proposals on Wales is a complete departure from the current legal minimum of 35 seats for Wales enshrined in the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. It is also a significant reduction in the number of Welsh constituencies in place when the Welsh people voted for the devolution settlement in 1998. That settlement, as the former Welsh Secretary, the right honourable Paul Murphy, noted in debates in the other place, was a package. It was, he explained,
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|