Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Rowallan: As regards Amendment No. 289, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for their support and understanding of my amendment. I was delighted to hear the Minister say that at Report stage we shall return to the issue of whether we are tying the number of MSPs vis-a-vis constituencies. I had thought that he had answered the point, but it is to be considered again.

I cannot emphasise enough--I feel strongly about it--that we are creating a Bill for a new parliament. It is the first of its kind. If we get it wrong, it is no one else's fault but our own. We cannot blame the new parliament when it is set up. We can blame no one but ourselves if we get it wrong. If we do so, the potential catastrophe for this country, for Scotland, is enormous.

We cannot leave the matter until after the parliament is up and running. I disagree wholeheartedly with the Minister. Three years to sort out 72 seats? Lady Cosgrove must be a little shocked to learn that she has to work so slowly. It cannot be beyond the wit of man or woman to come up with a solution. The alternative is so dreadful as regards the Scottish and English backlash that I think that we are heading into big trouble. I want more time to think about it. I shall definitely return to the issue at Report stage. I hope that the Government can do some serious thinking on the matter. This is probably the biggest minefield in the whole of the Bill. It could create so many problems that it could lead to the end of everything.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: Before the noble Lord withdraws the amendment, does he agree that there is no reason why the Boundary Commission could not start now and finish well before the three-year deadline?

Lord Rowallan: That is exactly what I should like to see happen. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 289B:

Page 39, line 9, at end insert--
("3B. A constituency which includes the Western Isles shall not include the whole or any part of a local government area other than the Western Isles."").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 290A and 290B. The amendments seek to do two quite separate things, but I agreed to group them for convenience.

In Amendment No. 289B I seek to give the Western Isles the same privileged position as is given to Orkney and Shetland. The position is quite clear. The Bill states that no other part of Scotland can be added to the Orkney and Shetland constituency. That is one constituency. While that is my reading of the Bill, it is not the reading of my noble friend Lord Monro. I do not complain about that. However, I believe that the Western Isles deserve the same consideration.

6 Oct 1998 : Column 361

When we discussed the matter in relation to the Scottish parliament, the Minister accepted the point I made and expressed his understanding and sympathy. An argument can be and indeed was made before the last Boundary Commission that the Western Isles could be enlarged to include Skye. There are now good transport links between the two. Indeed, there are probably better sea links between Skye and the Southern Isles of North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist than between the Southern Isles and Harris and Lewis in the Western Isles constituency.

Prior to the previous Boundary Commission inquiry there was some discussion about Skye being added to the Western Isles. I can see that proposal being returned to in a future boundary review. Therefore, I want to give the Western Isles the same protection as is afforded to Orkney and Shetland. That is what my amendment seeks to do and I hope that the Minister will view it sympathetically.

My second point on the other two amendments refers to a different issue; one to which I have drawn your Lordships' attention on a previous occasion. I shall try to be brief, but that does not mean that I do not believe the argument to be well-founded. Given the lateness of the hour and the business that has yet to be dealt with, I shall return to the matter on Report.

I am concerned that one of the main qualifications for the Boundary Commission has been a lack of numeracy, or that numeracy has been way down the list of qualifications. The intervention of my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser on behalf of Lady Cosgrove gives me confidence that her ability to count numbers of constituents is greater than that of her predecessors. Frankly, we have seen huge and totally illogical variations in the numbers and members in constituencies.

That is one of the things which leads to odd results at general elections where the proportionality of Members of the other place is quite out of line with the proportionality of the vote. One reason for that is that constituencies are not drawn on a nearly equal basis numerically. I am surprised that so many people fail to understand that and realise that, if we addressed the problem, we would remove part of the argument for going down the disastrous road of proportional representation which we are being invited to take.

I have already reminded the Committee of some of the amazing illogicalities in Scotland. I will give only one example, which is the difference between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Your Lordships will appreciate that, in terms of population density, demography and distance from Westminster, there is not much to choose between Edinburgh and Glasgow. There is much to choose in other ways, but not on those factors. I do not know, but perhaps Edinburgh Members of Parliament are better. Perhaps that is the secret. They manage to represent in excess of 60,000 electors apiece. The figures are 64,000 in Edinburgh Central; 64,000 in Edinburgh East and Musselburgh; 61,000 in Edinburgh North and Leith; 60,000 in Edinburgh Pentlands; 63,000 in Edinburgh South; and 61,000 in Edinburgh West. That is an average of 61,000 to 62,000 per constituency.

6 Oct 1998 : Column 362

On the other hand, Glasgow is represented thus; 53,000, 49,000, 50,000, 50,000, 57,000, 53,000, 48,000, 51,000, 48,000 and 53,000. Not one of them approaches anywhere near the Edinburgh level. I would put the average at 52,000 or perhaps 53,000. There is no logic to that, other than my deep suspicion, which of course is wrong, that over time Edinburgh foolishly elected some Conservative Members of Parliament while Glasgow could be relied on not to do so. There is no "oh, come on" about it. That is the fact of the matter. One constituency less in Glasgow at the last election to bring the numbers up a little would have gone to a part of Scotland where perhaps the Labour Party would not have been guaranteed to pick up a seat the way it knew it could in the rotten boroughs of Glasgow. It is ludicrous and I could give examples of large rural constituencies which in electoral terms are much bigger than any of those Glasgow seats.

I shall give one example because I believe that I ought to be trying to shame the Government. It is not a political point because it is another Labour seat. Poor old George Foulkes in Carrick, Cumnock and the Doon Valley represents 66,500 electors over a huge rural constituency. If the conclusion is that he is a good man, does that mean that all the Glasgow MPs are incompetent, including the Secretary of State for Scotland who has a little tiddler of a constituency because he is unable to look after a bigger one? I do not believe that for a minute. It is totally unjust and ludicrous and therefore I wish to see us take action in legislation to give numbers a greater primacy than they have had in the past.

Of course I can see the justification for Caithness and Sutherland, for example, but I cannot see the justification for the Glasgow seats. My amendment would provide that only five seats outside Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles should be outside a quota band of plus or minus 5 per cent. of the quota. That would be roughly 52,000 to 58,000. Five seats would be allowed outside it in addition to Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland. I suggest Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is a clear first one. All the others would have to be within that range.

More than half the seats in Scotland are outwith that range at the moment. Some of them that are outwith the range are quite amazing. Some of the ones above the range are among the most difficult seats in terms of distance. Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley I have mentioned; Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber has 66,500; Dumfries has 63,500. It is ludicrous that that should be the case.

As to the smaller constituencies, I cannot think who the MP is for Hamilton South but he is so incompetent that he can only cope with 47,000 constituents. Thankfully he could walk quite slowly from one end to the other in about an hour. It is totally illogical. Your Lordships, by your enjoyment of this, have illustrated that my point is well made. Nobody can defend these outcomes.

I am suggesting--and my point is made--that we really should try to put something in this legislation to tighten down the rules within which the Boundary

6 Oct 1998 : Column 363

Commission works and to make primacy of numbers a more important issue than it has ever been in the past. That would mean that the outcome of the first-past-the-post elections for the Scottish parliament and the other place were much more in line--I am not saying accurately in line--with the totality of the votes cast than is currently the case due to the huge imbalance between constituencies. On those two quite different issues, I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden: The Boundary Commission is tied up not only with the Parliamentary Boundary Commission but the Local Government Boundary Commission. If my recollection of what has gone on in the past is anything to go by, my thought must be in the case of Glasgow--which is an iniquitous situation--it all starts with the boundaries for the local government scene. Until that is tackled in legislation we shall never get to the right numbers as far as parliamentary boundaries are concerned.

I was not a little annoyed when a High Court judge was appointed to look at the situation in Glasgow and in Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber and came to the conclusion that it was a great idea to have a constituency that went from one sea to the other with 66,500 people but he had to decide that an extra seat in Glasgow was necessary, putting it up to 72 at that stage. It is all wrong. Unless we tackle the local government boundaries and the size of the local government wards in a proper way we will never get to the right numbers as far as parliamentary seats are concerned.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page