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Earl Russell: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for their support. Of course, they are both right and the Committee should have expected that; we are used to it.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, I am becoming allergic to the phrase "in such manner as may be prescribed". It makes the Secretary of State sound so like a doctor, but he is not, after all, medically qualified.
I am also grateful to the Minister for the care, thoroughness and courtesy that he has devoted to answering the amendments. However, as he agrees, there is a great gulf between us. The Minister did not believe that he had succeeded in crossing it, and he has not. He said that the Government intended to handle these matters consistently and fairly. I am sure that they do, according to their lights. But the trouble is that those words do not mean the same to the Government as they mean to me. To the Government they mean laying down a very detailed set of general rules which applies in all cases. To me they mean judging cases on their merits. Between those two a great gulf is fixed and the Minister has shown no sign of seeing his way across it.
As regards my first general principle, I understand that the intention of the 1991 Act was that, strictly, step-children should always be the responsibility of their natural parents. But that risks infringing the Government's other general principle which is in the Bill; that all the children in one household should be treated equally. Inevitably, if one sticks absolutely literally to that formula they would perhaps be maintained on a different standard.
I also realise that I should have drafted my first general principle more widely. I should have included other childrenfor example, orphaned relativesfor whom one takes financial responsibility. I have not done so and I apologise for that. It simply illustrates the principle of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that a draftsman cannot foresee everything. I have proved that at my own expense.
As regards the second principle relating to legally enforceable debts, I believe that the Minister misunderstood what was happening. He invoked gambling debts but, of course, they are not legally enforceable. That is why they are proverbially debts of honour; it is the only thing that forces one to pay them. The Minister wanted people subject to the Bill to be treated in the same way as other ordinary families. I come a lot nearer to achieving that than he does. I cannot get out of my debts by pleading that I must maintain my childrenit would be very nice if I couldbut these people are forced to get out of a lot of debts on that principle. In fact, they are forced to default on them, and defaults are always to the injury of third parties.
I believe that the kind of priority that the Government give to child maintenance has in the end brought it into contempt for the law. Where people have legal obligations and they contradict each other, an attempt to strike a balance must be made. You cannot say that one takes priority over all the rest.
As regards the third and fifth general principles, the Minister believes that the Government have taken steps. I do not believe that those steps are adequate. One of us is wrong. If I am wrong the provision that I seek to put on the statute book will do no harm. It will lie there
When the Minister invokes the principle of protected incomethat every absent parent is allowed more than £30 income supporthe has not taken on board the fact that it is not the purpose of income support to provide for work expenses. Everyone knows that work expenses make life a great deal more expensive. If the Minister really believes that he has dealt with all the injusticesthat he has provided for all the cases in which the absent parent is worse off going to work than he would be on benefithe is very much mistaken. I shall not deal again with the number of cases because I shall be repeating myself.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, too was mistaken in believing that the absent parent must always be better off than the parent with care. Perhaps I may take an elementary example: that the parent with care might have married a millionaire. If one is trying to keep up the commuting expenses of a season ticket and is receiving only a small part of that back by going to work, one is a great deal worse off than if one is in receipt of benefit. On the other hand, the parent with care may be within a pound or two of the income support level. It is essential that we understand that injustice may be done to either sex and we should be equally interested no matter which sex is the victim.
I have a great deal of briefing material about cases in which Section 2 has been invoked. I shall not go into them because many are sub judice. However, I assure the Minister that subsection (2) is not having anything like the effect that he wishes. Since I wish it too, I can see only one way to go forward, which is to ask the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord how far it is proposed we progress this evening. I ask that because some of us have late amendments. I venture to remind the noble Lord that earlier in the Session we were assured that in future we should not be sitting very late into the evening; that one of the reasons why the 1991 Act went so wrong was because we sat habitually late into the evening so that there could be no realistic Divisions; and that today we had a long Statement which lasted three-quarters of an hour introduced under the rather euphemistic rubric, "at a convenient moment after 3.30".
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order is intended to give effect without modification to the final recommendations for the new parliamentary constituencies contained in the fourth periodic report of the Boundary Commission for England. Article 2 of the order substitutes the 529 constituencies described in the schedule for the present 524 constituencies in England. The draft order has already been approved in another place and, if it is approved by this House tonight, the Home Secretary will submit it to Her Majesty in Council to be made. The order will come into operation on the 14th day after the day on which it is made, but will not affect the existing boundaries until the first general election held thereafter.
The Boundary Commission for England is one of four parliamentary boundary commissions constituted under the first schedule to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. Under the 1986 Act they are required to carry out a general review of parliamentary constituency boundaries not less than 10 years and not more than 15 years from the date of the submission of their last report. The Boundary Commissions Act 1992 amended that provision to require that general reviews should be carried out not less that eight and not more than 12 years after the submission of the previous report. It further required that the first mandatory report after the passage of the Act should be submitted to the relevant Secretary of State before 31st December 1994.
As your Lordships will be aware, the report of the Scottish Boundary Commission and report of the Welsh Boundary Commission were both debated in March and the orders have been approved by Her Majesty in Council. I understand that the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland hopes to submit its report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland this month.
This is the first periodic review by the English Boundary Commission since the 1992 Act came into force. It was submitted to my right honourable friend, the Home Secretary, on 12th April. Although the report was submitted late, the 1992 Act specifically provides that a failure by any boundary commission to submit a report within the time limit of 31st December 1994 does not invalidate that report for the purposes of any enactment.
The processes by which a boundary commission carries out its task are governed by a series of rules for the redistribution of seats. The rules are to be found in Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act and, therefore, have been expressly approved by Parliament.
The rules allow the commission a good deal of discretion in meeting what is recognised to be a difficult and challenging task. The commission must have regard to a wide range of local and other concerns in considering its proposals and the rules provide the framework within
The procedures which are to be followed by a commission are also governed by the legislation. The commission must publish its provisional recommendations in at least one newspaper circulating in the affected constituencies. If the commission receives any representations objecting to the proposed recommendations from an interested authority or body of at least 100 electors, it is required to hold a local public inquiry. Following any such inquiry the commission must publish revised recommendations and may, if it so determines, hold one or more further inquiries. It is, however, not obliged to hold any such further inquiries.
Inevitably, in any area considered by the commission there is a range of opinions as to the best way in which to determine a constituency's boundaries and often several fully developed options, any of which would provide a solution with varying degrees of effectiveness. In many cases, the final recommendation may be very finely balanced and often the commission must find a compromise between closely argued local views.
That is a difficult and painstaking task. During the course of the review of the English constituencies, the Boundary Commission undertook public inquiries in almost all of the London boroughs, and in the majority of the metropolitan districts and non-metropolitan districts. Second inquiries were carried in two counties, Hampshire and Devon, when proposals not previously considered at an inquiry were introduced in representations after the close of the first public inquiry.
All periodic reports of general reviews are considered at the time to be controversial and to have effected wide reaching change. The report attracted a considerable amount of discussion and debate while the review was underway, when it was the focus of an astonishing fivefold increase in the number of representations received.
There are good reasons why there has been so much interest recorded by those involved in the process. The Boundary Commission has on this occasion taken a much higher profile in publicising its activity and has deliberately set out to ensure that its decision-making processes were as transparent as could be achieved. That has undoubtedly accounted for much of the additional interest shown.
It is, however, the case that the report now produced proposes changes to the boundaries of more than 350 English parliamentary seats. That figure represents more than 70 per cent. of English constituencies. In many cases, the changes are relatively minor, but in many other cases there are substantial changes not just to a constituency but within the whole of a borough or county.
However, before I turn to the detail of the report, I should clarify for your Lordships a particular problem which the review has shared with its immediate predecessors. The Boundary Commission's revue has coincided with that of other review bodies looking at local government reorganisation. The boundary commissions are required by the 1992 Act to report within the specified deadline and it was not, therefore, an option for them to delay or defer their work until that local government
The commission has advised that subsequent changes, particularly in the non-Metropolitan counties, could affect the constituency boundaries which are not proposed. The commission may, therefore, decide to hold interim reviews in parts of England to consider further realignments of constituency boundaries where the effects of local government reorganisation make that necessary. That is entirely a matter for the commission to decide, but I understand that it is unlikely that any interim review would be completed before the next general election.
In turning to the recommendations themselves, I propose to confine my comments to a small number of issues which I believe amply demonstrate the concerns with which the Boundary Commission has striven in reaching its conclusions.
The single most significant recommendation is that there should be an increase in the number of constituencies in England from the present 524 to 529. The commission's proposal for an increase in the overall number of seats in England is one which I know was not arrived at without very careful consideration of other options. There would have been an increase of 20 seats rather than the five now proposed if the commission had not been able to balance some increases by reductions in the number of seats elsewhere.
The major reduction in the number of constituencies has been in the London boroughs. For the first time, the commission has taken the view that in London it is necessary to cross borough boundaries in order that it may meet the requirements of Rule 5, which require it to recommend constituencies which are as near to the electoral quota as is practicable. That decision was not taken lightly: it required the commission to depart from Rule 4, which requires that the boundaries of the London boroughs should not be broken. The decision is one which the commission may make within the rules. However, before so doing, the commission set itself a number of criteria to be applied under any consideration of cross-boundary constituencies.
The criteria required the commission to consider crossing of boundaries only where the result would not be to increase the number of seats which would otherwise have been allocated to the individual boroughs; and where the result provided a better match with the electoral quota than would otherwise have been achieved. No boroughs on opposite sides of the River Thames below Kingston upon Thames were paired.
The practice has attracted a considerable amount of discussion among the London electorate and with local political parties. The effect has been that the commission is now proposing three fewer seats in Greater London than would have been the case otherwise. As a result, the commission is now proposing that the London boroughs should return 74 Members to Parliament, which compares with the current level of 84 seats and with the position in 1983 prior to the third periodic review when the capital was represented by 92 MPs.
The commission has also made it clear that in metropolitan areas outside of London it has been prepared to make much greater use than previously of the authority to recommend constituencies which cross metropolitan district boundaries. The rules require so far as is practicable that constituencies in metropolitan boroughs should be contained within county boundaries, but they do not restrict the commission from crossing borough boundaries. The commission's recommendations on this occasion call for borough boundaries to be crossed on 13 occasions, compared with six in 1983. The commission has found it right to propose a reduction of five in the number of metropolitan county constituencies against the present number.
By comparison, the review has resulted in proposals for an overall increase in the number of constituencies in non-metropolitan counties. The counties will, if the recommendations are accepted by Parliament and approved by Her Majesty in Council, return 20 more representatives to the other place from the next general election.
The recommendations on three areas outside London have given rise to particular debate. In West Sussex, the commission was faced with two strongly argued but opposing options on how to deal with the distribution of seats representing towns along the coast and their immediate hinterland. The commission held a public inquiry and considered representations made to it. The public inquiry was conducted by an independent assistant commissioner selected from a panel appointed by the Home Secretary. The commission expressed some sympathy with the proposal that the area should be represented by constituencies which linked the coastal towns with their immediate adjoining hinterland, but concluded that the better solution would be to create constituencies which linked the coastal towns together.
In Manchester and Trafford, the public inquiry revealed strong local feeling that the Wythenshawe community should not be divided as the commission had originally proposed. The commission considered a number of alternative options which had been suggested to it, and concluded that the original proposals should be modified. The effect of that response to local opinion was that it was no longer possible to bring together in a single constituency the community of Sale, which had been split between constituencies by the third periodic review. The commission's decision to reflect the strength of local views as expressed to it resulted in a further very strongly mounted campaign of petitions and representations, the "Save our Sale" campaign, seeking a reversion to the original proposals.
In the final example, the commission's proposals for the boundaries of constituencies in Lancashire proved the cause of considerable debate locally. The Rossendale community has a clear sense of local identity. The Boundary Commission's initial proposals called for the town of Haslingden to be separated from the Rossendale and Darwen constituency, breaking that community. The commission received a great many representations arguing for the retention of local ties, and in February this year I received an all party delegation on the matter headed by Sir David Trippier, the former Member for the constituency. Rossendale would have provided a coherent
Many other points could be made about the recommendations for individual constituencies and I have no doubt that some of your Lordships will have a number of issues which you will wish to raise in the course of the debate. Before I sit down to allow that debate to start it is right that I should touch on the question of the powers held by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to modify Boundary Commission recommendations.
Parliament has thought it right to give the Secretary of State an unfettered power to modify a Boundary Commission recommendation. In the debate in another place the Home Secretary made it clear that he recognises the enormous benefits which the constitutional process achieves from the impartiality which the Boundary Commission is seen to bring to the difficult and sensitive work in which it is engaged. The Home Secretary has not thought it appropriate to modify the recommendations of the Boundary Commission for England presented in this fourth periodic review. But I have no hesitation in commending the commission's final recommendations to your Lordships. I beg to move.